By Jenelle Senske ’23
Interning at the Chautauqua County Public Defender’s Office this summer was such an eye-opening experience for me. I was able to shadow multiple attorneys as they went through their daily tasks of interviewing clients, attending court, writing motions, and much more. I have grown closer ties to my community and am looking forward to being able to give back to all those who have gotten me to where I am today. I am extremely grateful to Francis and Cindy Letro for their generous donation to The University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program. This donation provided me with the opportunity to truly make the most of my summer internship with the Public Defender’s Office.
After observing (and even participating in, through a court-issued practice order!) Chautauqua County Court, Jamestown City Court, and town courts, I noticed an overwhelming majority of our clients took part in the methadone clinics in Buffalo. This led me to conduct more research on what exactly a methadone clinic is, and how effective of a program it is.
A methadone clinic is a treatment program for those suffering from opioid addictions. The patients receive medication to help stabilize the body from symptoms of withdrawal as they work toward recovering from their addiction. Patients are monitored by professionals who provide consistent support and offer individualized programs to help ensure successful recovery.
From Jamestown, the cost of transportation to the methadone clinic is $400 per day ($200 each way). Additionally, it’s an hour and a half drive, totaling 3 hours of solely transportation time. Thus, those who are attending the methadone clinic from Jamestown spend the majority of their time in a cab or bus on the way to Buffalo every day. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for these people to have a steady job, watch their children, or have any sort of normalcy whatsoever. Fortunately, Chautauqua County will soon have its own methadone clinic in Dunkirk. This will cut the trip in half, which will save on time, gas, and money.
Drug crimes were the majority of the crimes for which we were defending our clients. In a small place like Chautauqua County, it was shocking to witness how many people suffer from addiction. Sentencing these people to time in jail is simply not the answer. It’s hard to come up with a solution and a policy that will work for everyone, but the methadone clinic truly is a good idea for some. Public Defender clients who attend the methadone clinic are making a valiant effort to resolve their addiction. Treatment court and rehabilitation programs have also proven to be effective; unfortunately in Chautauqua County, there are only so many beds and spots available. Therefore, many people are forced to stay in jail until a spot opens up.
Fortunately, our judges were pleased to hear whether people who were suffering from addiction were attending the methadone clinics and treatment programs. It proved their determination to fight such a devastating disease. Additionally, witnessing clients successfully graduate from treatment programs was incredibly reassuring to see. So many people suffer from drug-related and alcohol-related addiction, but knowing that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel is a reason to remain hopeful.
My summer at the Public Defender’s Office was one of learning, inspiration, and determination. I was able to apply skills and information that I learned from my first year at UB law school, while becoming more knowledgeable on a variety of criminal law topics. Witnessing the attorneys I worked with be so passionate about fighting for their clients’ rights was empowering and has made me even more certain about my future career as a lawyer. I am ready to get back to school with all of the new tools I have learned, as well as a refreshed feeling of wanting to promote and ensure justice for all. Thank you again, UB Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program, and Francis and Cindy Letro, for making this summer possible.
Name: Jennelle Senske ‘23
Name of Fellowship: University at Buffalo School of Law Public Interest Fellowship
Placement: Chautauqua County Public Defender’s Office
Location: Mayville, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “Witnessing the attorneys I worked with be so passionate about fighting for their clients’ rights was empowering and has made me even more certain about my future career as a lawyer. I am ready to get back to school with all of the new tools I have learned, as well as a refreshed feeling of wanting to promote and ensure justice for all.”