By: William Christ ’24
I want to begin by thanking the University at Buffalo School of Law Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program and Francis M. and Cindy Abbott Letro. Without Mr. and Mrs. Letro’s generosity, my experience this summer would not have been possible.
This summer, I had the privilege of being a judicial intern for the Honorable John L. Sinatra, Jr., United States District Court Judge for the Western District of New York. During my ten weeks at the Courthouse, I observed a few oral arguments that involved civil matters. However, most of my time was spent watching criminal cases when defendants had initial appearances, oral arguments, and sentencings. From these proceedings, I was able to see that the job of a lawyer involves much more than arguing. Most of the time, both the defense attorneys and the prosecutors acted collaboratively and maintained respectful demeanor while vigorously arguing their positions. Being able to watch talented lawyers interact with each other and the judges was an incredible experience for me because I can now adopt their techniques and become a more persuasive advocate.
Throughout my summer, I heard the same guidance from almost every judge when sentencing a defendant: sentencing is the most important, and most serious, aspect of being a judge. During the summer I witnessed drug dealers, arsonists, sex offenders, and murderers receive decades-long sentences. I often wondered how a judge or a clerk could continue to come to work constantly being exposed to these gruesome crimes. On the other hand, I witnessed defendants who faced and received lower prison sentences than were recommended to the judge. Initially, I was puzzled as to why this was the case. Then it hit me – the judges recognized that some defendants were bad actors while other defendants committed bad acts. This made sense to me because, over the course of the summer, I witnessed defendants who committed crimes because of addiction, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or familial circumstances. These defendants were so unlike the other defendants because they did not have a long criminal history, or an aggressive, violent past. Plainly put, they were not bad actors; they had committed a single, bad act.
Having the opportunity to intern in a judge’s chambers is hard work, but I strongly recommend it for anyone considering it. The topics that come before the bench are often complex legal issues that are difficult to digest emotionally, but seeing the daily operation of the courthouse and learning what clerks and judges value will continue to inspire me during my career. Of everything I learned this summer, I found it most helpful to know that the clerks and the judges most appreciate punctual, clearly written submissions because it saves them significant time and resources. I also learned that the workers at the Courthouse have awesome restaurant recommendations!
I cannot thank Judge Sinatra, Kristen Flick, Christine Gibbons, or Julian Sharp enough for the experience I received this summer. In addition to being some of the nicest people to work with, they are also very talented lawyers from whom I learned so much. Also, I want to thank Kirstie Henry, Bonnie Weber, and everyone else who made the Courthouse a welcoming place for me this summer. Finally, I want to thank my classmates Claire Hofmeister and Taylor Phelps for helping me with my summer projects – and for putting up with me the whole summer! I have learned so many valuable life lessons this summer and I hope to continue them throughout my legal career.
Name: William Christ ’24
Name of Fellowship: Francis M. and Cindy Abbott Letro Fellowship
Placement: United States Federal Court for the Western District of New York, Hon. John L. Sinatra
Location: Buffalo, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “Of everything I learned this summer, I found it most helpful to know that the clerks and the judges most appreciate punctual, clearly written submissions because it saves them significant time and resources. I also learned that the workers at the Courthouse have awesome restaurant recommendations!”