Students who participated in the Katrina-Gideon Interview Project over the winter break shared the impact of their experience - both emotionally and academically - at a recent luncheon event open to everyone on the Delaware campus.
"It was like walking into a war zone," student Eric Lubin said of the destruction still evident in New Orleans, a place he had never visited until Jan. 1. "It was unbelievable to see a city of that size taken down to its knees."
The students, Professors Judy L. Ritter and Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, and Everett Gillison of the Public Defender's Office in Philadelphia, who accompanied the Widener group to New Orleans because he wanted to volunteer, explained how they helped the Public Defender's Office in New Orleans over the five-day trip. They worked in pairs with oversight from the professors and made contact with detainees, conducting interviews, doing investigations, contacting family members and potential witnesses and, where appropriate, writing up motions to leave behind in the case files for public defenders to file in court.
The group was struck by a lack of paperwork on open cases and worked hard to document information that could be helpful in getting the court cases moving. Student Rachel Ramsay said she was still typing up a request for a defendant's medical records three hours before the group was due at the airport to return home.
"I really felt the time crunch and the pressure. It felt like a real job and it helped me see the big picture," Ramsay said. "We'll have a lot of files cross our desks as attorneys and we have to remember every file is a person, and now we'll respect all the work that went into that file. We'll be better lawyers because of this experience." Captions:Photo 1: Students Dave Iannucci and Lisa Vetro talked about the challenges of getting clients to trust them and share information about their cases.
Photo 2: The brown bag lunch panel included, from left, Professors Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Judy L. Ritter, volunteer Everett Gillison, a member of the Public Defender's Office in Philadelphia, and students Eric H. Lubin, Brett Bendistis, Lisa M. Vetro, David Iannucci, Rachel A. Ramsay, Danielle A. Graham, Jessica Sanchez and Julie A. Serfess.