Brad Lindsay, Lynchburg’s deputy public defender, doesn’t like to use the term “hit the ground running.” But there really isn’t any other way to describe how Jacqueline Clardy-Josephs ’23 and Stephanie Messi ’22 began their time in his office this fall as interns.
“Being able to step up and be part of the team so quickly, and as undergraduate students, is incredible,” he said.
They both jumped right in, with Messi initially working with the office’s investigators and Clardy-Josephs shadowing attorneys in court on her very first day.
“I appreciate them kind of dropping me in because that’s what the environment there is day in and day out,” Clardy-Josephs said. “It’s very fast-paced.”
The internship is a new opportunity for local students, designed to show them the inner-workings of a public defender’s office.
“We have a large contingent of employees who are not attorneys but have very important roles, so we wanted to start reaching out more broadly to undergraduates and graduate students to expose them to the office,” Lindsay said. “A lot of times, people don’t know what we do or why we exist.”
The Lynchburg Office of the Public Defender was established in 1991 and is a member office of the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, which oversees 28 public defender offices throughout Virginia, and was established to protect the Constitutional right to counsel for those who cannot afford a lawyer.
Messi, who finished her internship when she graduated in December, and Clardy-Josephs, who will continue on through the end of the academic year, got a firsthand look at what goes into helping those clients both inside and outside of the courtroom.
“All of our core staff of non-lawyers do such critical work for our office and our clients,” Lindsay said. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without it.”
After that first day in court, Clardy-Josephs settled into office work, reviewing body-worn camera footage, contacting clients, and reviewing files.
Being trusted with so many tasks was rewarding.
“It’s an opportunity to feel really confident in what you’re doing and know you’re doing something positive,” she said. “This internship has been an amazing opportunity. I have learned, seen, and done so much, including have two not guilty verdicts under my belt from my body-worn camera documentation. I have coworkers who support me and are confident in my abilities, and I know that no matter what, I will always cherish my time at the Lynchburg Public Defenders Office.”
The internship has also sparked a new interest for Clardy-Josephs, who is majoring in psychology with minors in sociology and history.
After graduation, she wants to study forensic and legal psychology in grad school. She’d eventually like to work as a mitigation specialist, which Lindsay described as something of an in-house social worker.
“They are experts in community resources, whether our client has housing issues, mental health issues, or substance abuse issues,” he said. “They’re the ones who can help facilitate the connection to those services.”
They also help tell clients’ stories.
“So much is focused on, ‘This person is charged with this,’” Lindsay said. “Their focus is on how this person got to where we are now. Telling that story and documenting their lives can be so impactful and helpful to us. A lot of times, it’s uncovering past trauma that’s never been dealt with or issues that haven’t been properly addressed.”
He expects Clardy-Josephs to gain even more valuable experience in the coming months.
“A lot of last semester was getting acclimated, getting to know the legal system, how it functions, and how our office plays a part in that,” he said. “Now, she’ll start to see the broader picture.”
Messi, on the other hand, sees her future firmly inside the courtroom. She graduated from Randolph this winter with a degree in sociology and global studies and plans to apply to law school (applications are due in February) and eventually work in criminal defense.
“She is a person who is incredibly driven and knows what she wants to do,” Lindsay said.
In addition to sitting in on trials, Messi also enjoyed her time in the field.
“I definitely like the investigative part, talking to people and doing interviews,” she said. “Doing this internship, I’ve seen the importance of being prepared and putting your own feelings aside.”
Lindsay said he was impressed with both students’ work ethic and dedication.
“If Randolph’s going to send us students like Stephanie and Jacqueline every time,” he said, “then absolutely keep them coming.”