Job Shadow day takes teens behind the scenes of the law

Issue March 2006 By Bill Archambeault

Gathered around the large oval table in Mirick O’Connell’s 17th-floor boardroom overlooking downtown Worcester, a dozen teenagers asked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick why he wants to be governor and why he became a lawyer.

Photo by Jeff Thiebauth
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick speaks with students at the start of their Job Shadow Day in Worcester.
Photo by Jeff Thiebauth
Worcester Judge John McCann explains how televisions mounted above the jury box are used in the courtroom.
The high school students, from the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, are some of the 30 youths who participated in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2006 Job Shadow Program. The program was also held in Springfield and Boston. In Boston, students were paired up with individual attorneys and spent the day with them, visiting law offices and courtrooms. A few even managed to watch portions of trials.

In Worcester, Mirick O’Connell associate Michael D. Badger guided the students on a day-long tour at Worcester Superior Court and Mirick O’Connell’s offices, beginning with a 20-minute meeting with Patrick.

“What made you want to be a governor instead of a big-time lawyer?” one of the students asked Patrick.

“Because the same-old insiders aren’t getting it done,” Patrick told them. “I’m just tired of that. We’re the only state in America where young people are moving out because they can’t find an affordable place to live. We’re not taking advantage of our young people, even those who want to step up.

“As a parent, I’m used to giving advice and having it ignored,” Patrick said, telling the students that they shouldn’t be talked out of taking school seriously. “It wasn’t a popular thing to be interested in reading, doing your homework. But it counts. It matters as you try to build a better life.”

He also explained that lawyers have the flexibility of putting their careers on hold to enter politics or business, then return to practicing law. He explained the need for better education and health care programs in the state, but what really grabbed their attention was mentioning the time, a couple of years ago, when he met controversial rapper 50 Cent backstage at a concert he’d brought his then-14-year-old daughter to see.

“I don’t even like his music, but he’s very disciplined about his music,” Patrick said, praising the rapper’s focus and hard work even though he doesn’t approve of the messages he sends. “First of all, stay in school, but don’t just put in the time, make it count.”

Patrick said he had previous plans to meet with lawyers at Mirick O’Connell and appreciated the chance to speak to the students, even if most of them aren’t able to vote.

“I know there is talent in that room,” Patrick said on his way out of the meeting room, “and we’ve got to call that talent out and give them reason to hope.”

Next on the agenda was a visit to Worcester Superior Court, which is preparing to move into a new building a few blocks down the street that’s scheduled to open in 2007. Badger, who practices business and employment litigation, introduced the students to Francis A. Ford, the clerk of courts and magistrate for Worcester Superior Court.

Ford, who is also president of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation (the philanthropic partner of the MBA), gathered the students in the crowded aisles of the clerk’s offices, pointing out the building’s shortcomings.

“It’s old — you can see the paint peeling, the file cabinets overloading,” Ford said.

He explained that Worcester Superior Court has 4,300 civil cases pending and 400 to 500 criminal cases pending. “It’s kind of like shoveling against the tide,” he told them.

Leading them down several hallways, Ford stood outside Courtroom 203, where the Joseph L. Druce trial in the murder of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan was held recently.

“It was a very odd case,” he explained. “The defendant got on the stand and said, ‘Yep, I killed him.’ He’s now doing a life sentence on top of another life sentence.”

“The judge is now telling the jury what the law is,” Ford continued in a low voice. “It’s the only time you can’t walk into a courtroom.”

One of the students asked him, “Do you enjoy being a lawyer?”

“I love being a lawyer. In fact, I am going to be a practicing attorney again in a year,” he said, explaining that he will retire soon as a court official and return to practice. “I’d encourage you to look into it. We can always use good ones.”

Ford and Badger led the students into the courtroom next door, which was empty except for a half-dozen people — bailiffs, clerks, an assistant district attorney, a defense lawyer, a newspaper reporter — all waiting for a jury that had been deliberating for four days.

Judge John McCann, the regional administrative judge, entered the high-ceilinged room and welcomed the students, explaining the types — and volume — of cases he handles. During his talk, all eyes moved to the door when a bailiff brought in a young man in handcuffs. They walked behind and around McCann, who fell silent, until the bailiff escorted the prisoner through a door to the lockup facility.

McCann apologized, explaining that the elevator leading directly to the lockup room is broken.

“It’s hard work,” he said of being a judge. “It’s sad, too, because I have to sentence people and I don’t like to send anyone to jail.”

Fortunately, he explained, he’s able to put his day’s work out of his mind when he goes home every day.

After a few questions, McCann explained the role of the jury, and the students had several questions.

“When you get picked for jury duty, do you have to do it?”

“If they didn’t have an excuse, if they just didn’t want to stay, do they have to do it?”

“Do they get paid?”

McCann answered the questions, then asked them, “Anybody sit on a jury before? No, you’re all too young. Anybody sit in jury box before?”

McCann ushered them toward the front of the courtroom and watched them pile in.

“Feels different when you sit in a jury box, doesn’t it?” he said, standing in front of the jury box.

One of the students was on crutches and had a little trouble getting seated. McCann explained that disabled jurors are actually encouraged to serve on juries. And diabetics, he told them, are allowed to keep snacks and bottles of soda or juice in the jury box with them.

McCann then asked the Assistant District Attorney Thomas E. Landry and the defense attorney, Leonard Staples, to explain their roles to the students. McCann explained some of the qualities he thinks make for good lawyers in his court: being prepared, speaking loudly enough to fill the large room and being civil.

“There’s combat going on, but you have to be civil,” he said.

He left the students with some advice gleaned from presiding over serious drug cases.

“I know you young people are exposed to it, and I’d just say, stay away from it entirely,” he told them. “I see too many people when they’re 25, 26, 27 when they’re going away for 10, 15 years.”

After a tour through the building’s law library and its cramped rows of books, Badger told the students, “Everything that happens here is important to somebody.”

Back at Mirick O’Connell’s offices, the students took a lunch break before getting a tour of the firm.

Keishla Morales, a 16-year-old student at Woodard Day School in West Boylston, said she “thought lawyers were just laid back.” The jury system surprised her the most.

“I never knew that if you became a juror that you got paid,” she said. “And I thought a juror had to be a doctor or a teacher.”

Rachaud Russell, an 18-year-old student at Doherty High School in Worcester, said he had thought about a legal career before, partly from talking to one of his basketball coaches, who is an assistant district attorney.

“I like what happens, how everything goes down,” Russell said, in a shirt and tie. “You can put away people who should be put away.”