Like a lot of people, Garrett Kampf was scared the first time he went before a judge.
“There’s no amount of studying or sitting in a classroom that can prepare you for that initial appearance,” said Kampf, a University of Oregon law student who worked this summer as a clerk in the Deschutes County Public Defenders Office. “It’s quite surreal.”
Thanks to the state’s Law Student Appearance Rule, second-year law students such as Kampf — who’ve passed classes in evidence and legal ethics — can get certified to work real cases in front of real judges under the supervision of certified attorneys.
Kampf was one of three law clerks in the public defenders office in Bend — also known as the law firm Crabtree & Rahmsdorff — but, as a second-year student law student, he was the only one certified to appear in court. Three clerks also worked in the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, writing motions in misdemeanor cases and shadowing deputy district attorneys.
Public defender Tom Crabtree said law clerks add energy and good humor to the office.
“When I’m hiring attorneys, I look very positively on any clinical experience,” he said. “Law school doesn’t exactly teach you what the real world will be like.”
Due to time it often takes a case to work through the justice system, law clerks don’t often see a case through to resolution. But this summer, Kampf was involved to varying degrees in dozens that passed through the public defender’s office. He wrote memos and motions to suppress evidence, and appeared in court on mainly procedural matters between 15 and 20 times for cases involving wildlife violations, people caught with “usable” quantities of illegal drugs and weapons.
On one occasion he got tongue-tied in court — the result of his own confusion about something. It’s the kind of moment one remembers, and learns from, he said.
“They didn’t baby me. I really appreciated that about the bench in Deschutes County; they treated me as if I was an admitted lawyer to the bar,” Kampf said. “They definitely didn’t hide the ball, but they didn’t lower their expectations either.”
Clerks on the defense side aren’t allowed to work arraignments because a certified lawyer is required to discuss a client’s rights with them. This isn’t the case with clerks in the district attorney’s office, who are allowed to work arraignments.
During each arraignment period, the district attorney’s law clerks might see up to 20 defendants making their initial court appearances. The clerks are on the hook to give the judge a brief overview of the facts of each case and the state’s position regarding bail and what amount should be assessed. They don’t get to give input on these positions, but do get the courtroom experience.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said it also helps his office run more efficiently. “It allows my attorneys to focus their analysis and attention on more important cases,” he said.
Kampf grew up in Audubon, New Jersey. After college, he taught for two years with Teach for America in Kansas City, Missouri. He moved back home and targeted the Pacific Northwest for a reset, choosing law over teaching so he could work with people “on the back end rather than the front end.”
He said his experiences this summer have only strengthened his resolve and commitment to becoming a public defender.
“I’ve always gravitated toward criminal defense. I think part of that is just the values I was raised with,” he said. “I don’t think anything in the world is absolutely black and white. If you ignore the circumstances behind something, I think you’re missing the point.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org