Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Over recent semesters, the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office and Pepperdine University School of Law have been developing the Veterans Law Practicum. In the Practicum, upper-level law students from Pepperdine work with the Public Defender to represent clients in Veterans Treatment Court. Vet Court is part of the Collaborative Court Program of the Ventura County Superior Court. Pepperdine law students work in a rich, immersive experience alongside expert attorneys to improve and expand restorative justice for veterans.
I have rarely seen a field placement as committed, organized and expert in the supervision of law students while ensuring that their work is effective and useful for clients.
Chief Deputy Rod Kodman, other attorneys at the Public Defender’s Office, and Pepperdine law students have prepared the attached guide for Public Defender Law Clerks in Veterans Court and Veterans Sentencing Programs. This is a detailed kit with standard operating procedures, forms and guidelines for students in the practicum. The Ventura Public Defender has been generous to share this material with defenders throughout California, and we are making it available nationally through several communities committed to veterans’ services.
From the Introduction:
This guide is designed to assist other jurisdictions in making optimum use of Public Defender law clerks as part of programs that give effect to veterans sentencing statutes, including Veterans Courts. The goal of such programs is to establish a secure pathway for veterans to restorative, alternative sentencing, which greatly increases access to justice for vulnerable veterans. The Ventura County Veterans Court is a collaborative effort, but other jurisdictions can implement the practices outlined here as part of a more adversarial process. Also, this guide refers throughout to the activities of “law clerks.” Other jurisdictions may wish to assign some of these roles to social workers, paralegals, sentencing mitigation specialists, or other professionals. In doing so, they should be careful to follow all applicable rules regarding the unauthorized practice of law.
The guide informs students’ work at arraignment, in the defenders’ office, at the Vet Court team meeting, before and in court, then in the delivery of legal or other benefits to clients.
We hope these materials can be helpful, and we welcome questions, suggestions and ideas to make them better.