Second year law student Ashley Oddo interned this summer as a Law Clerk at the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office in Reno, Nevada. As an aspiring Deputy Public Defender, she was immersed in the field of criminal defense and said the job was “the most valuable experience in my life to date.” Oddo attended jail visits, court hearings, and worked on research projects in addition to writing briefs and motions.
Oddo was one of many USF law students that were awarded grants to work in a public interest job; a large part of funds granted to students this year will come from the auction put on last Friday by USF’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF).
PILF is a student run organization that seeks to allow students to work in the public service sector. Last year, the funds provided by PILF’s Annual Gala, among other fundraisers, raised over $40,000: enough to send 20 students to work with $4,000 grants each in Summer of 2013. Totals for funds raised by last week’s gala are still being calculated.
This past summer, students were given hands on opportunities to assist communities in jobs that deal with issues within the justice system. Students worked for organizations inside and outside of the Bay Area, including the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Health Law Program in Los Angeles, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, numerous public defenders’ offices, and many other influential institutions.
Service to the public is a large part of USF’s traditions, according to the dean of the Law School, John Trasviña: “We serve the public sector. We serve those who might have have access to an attorney, access to education, or access to medicine.”
Oddo finds this tradition to be crucial because “people from all walks of life need representation and assistance navigating through the complexities of the criminal justice system,” said Oddo, who visited two alleged murderers waiting for their trial. She realized these clients are “just ordinary people, with families, thoughts and feelings.”
The job reinforced her desire to be successful in the public interest sector. Being successful however, does not always amount to winning each trial, said Oddo. Success means “fighting hard for my clients and advocating zealously to protect their constitutional rights.”
PILF gives out an award each year for excellence in the public interest sector; this year granted to Chief Justice of the CA Supreme Court, Hon. Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who accepted it on behalf of the Judicial Council, 2,000 judges in California, 19,000 employees, and an array of others who work under intense time constraints with little revenue.
Echoing the words of Mother Teresa, the Chief Justice stated, “the reason we don’t have peace is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
That is what public interest is, according to Cantil-Sakauye. It is “giving yourself to the voice of the public that don’t have the voice to that themselves,” which is something that not only California is a beacon for, but USF as well, she says. She expects great things from USF’s students, she says, as “you have leadership in your veins.”