Summer in the Federal Courthouse

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By: Claire Hofmeister ’24

This summer, I was a judicial intern for The Honorable John Sinatra, Jr at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. It has opened my eyes to the world of the federal court system and gave me important skills that I will use in my legal career.

Prior to starting this internship, I never gave much thought to crime happening near me. I always would pay attention to higher profile cases that were in the news, but never considered that there is much more crime happening every day, not even fifteen minutes from my house. Additionally, observing so many court proceedings also humanized the defendants in ways that the news and media never portrays. So many of them were going through tough periods in their lives, had difficult childhoods, or had problems with addiction. It does not justify committing a felony, but it does give one a sense of the circumstances that lead to the crimes and the aspects of society that need to be improved.

Judge Sinatra gave his interns insight into all the factors that go into his decisions, both in criminal cases and civil cases. He would describe how he tries to distinguish bad acts from bad people when he determines sentences for criminal cases. Judge Sinatra would also share the legal theories that were presented to him for civil cases and why he found certain arguments more convincing. The interns also had opportunities throughout the summer to speak with Judge Arcara, Judge McCarthy, and Judge Vilardo, who were all kind enough to impart their wisdom and experience on us. Amazingly, every judge echoed similar messages, saying that making the decision on whether to detain a person is one of the most difficult, albeit necessary, parts of being a judge.

One of the best parts of working downtown after 1L year is the social aspect of the job. We got to meet and talk to the AUSAs, US Marshals, Federal Public Defenders, and other talented attorneys in the area. There were also many UB Law interns working within walking distance of the Courthouse, so we would frequently meet up for Food Truck Thursdays and happy hour after work. The interns were able to experience the most fun parts of being a lawyer while also learning what a legal career is like outside of the classroom.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the  University at Buffalo School of Law as well as Francis M. Letro ’79 and Cindy Abbott Letro for allowing me to have this experience and be able to afford it. I would also like to thank Judge Sinatra for teaching me so much this summer and giving insight into how judges think. I would also like to thank Kristen Flick, Christine Gibbons, and Julian Sharp for the unique research projects, feedback, and general advice that they gave. Thank you to Kirstie Henry and Bonnie Weber for the endless laughs that made me enjoy coming to work every day. Lastly, I would like to express gratitude to Bill Christ and Taylor Phelps, my fellow interns, for a very fun summer.

This is truly an experience I will never forget and one that I know will be integral for my future as a successful lawyer.

Name: Claire Hofmeister ’24

Name of Fellowship: Francis M. Letro ’79 & Cindy Abbott Letro Fellowship

Placement: United States District Court for the Western District of New York, The Hon. John L. Sinatra, Jr.

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “The interns were able to experience the most fun parts of being a lawyer while also learning what a legal career is like outside of the classroom.