Public Defender Internships Give Law Students Trial Planning Experience

two smiling professional women in business suits standing outside
UC Hastings students Ashley Johnson ’24 (left) and Iris Wagner ’24 (right) are interning at public defender’s offices this summer.

After their first year of law school, two UC Hastings students – Ashley Johnson and Iris Wagner — are preparing strategies for upcoming homicide and fraud trials this summer during their internships with public defenders’ offices.

Johnson, who starts her 2L year this fall, is interning at the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Kansas City, Kansas. While there, she has helped come up with legal strategies for fraud and conspiracy trials, drafted a motion to block evidence, dissected hours of police body camera footage, and met with clients in prison to discuss their cases and explain their rights.

Johnson said she believes this experience will support her goal of becoming a better advocate for future clients, “Each client interaction comes with its own unique circumstances, so the more experiences we have navigating clients’ needs, the better informed we are when advocating for future clients. Overall, this summer has been an amazing learning experience that I am excited to build off of as I continue through my legal education and career.”

A Northern California native, Johnson has no ties to Kansas, but said she chose to intern there because she likes how that office approaches its cases, “They use a very client-centered approach to lawyering while serving clients who are primarily from underrepresented and overpoliced communities. They also focus on challenging unjust laws, prosecutorial misconduct, and abuses of police discretion.”

Wagner, who also grew up in Northern California, is interning this summer at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office. Through her internship, she has helped strategize for an upcoming homicide trial, reviewed hours of surveillance video for an armed robbery case, and written a motion to dismiss criminal charges based on a prosecutor’s failure to disclose evidence.

Wagner, who also just finished her 1L year, said the experience has taught her how much work and emotional energy goes into providing effective representation for every client, “I am learning daily that this job takes collaboration, creativity, empathy, strength, and perseverance. I hope to build upon these skills and take them with me as I continue in my career to support vulnerable populations, one person at a time.”

Wagner is a member of the Hastings Jewish Law Student Association, Hastings Women’s Law Society, and Hastings Prisoner Outreach. She said she believes the work she is doing this summer helps address problems of systemic racial bias in the criminal justice system, “Every single person in this country deserves effective and holistic representation, inside the courtroom and beyond. Public defenders play an essential role in the larger movement to de-carcerate, rehabilitate, and abolish prisons as we know them.”

Johnson and Wanger both received public interest stipends for their internships. The Hastings Public Interest Law Foundation (HPILF) awards dozens of grants each year to students who work at non-profit organizations and government agencies; positions that would otherwise be unpaid. The grants are made possible by money raised by HPILF and funds donated by alumni and allocated by Chancellor and Dean David Faigman.

“Without this funding, many of these incredible experiences at non-profits or in government would be out of reach for some students,” said Amy Kimmel, assistant dean of the UC Hastings Career Development Office. “This can be a real barrier to students who have a passion for this vital work.”

UC Hastings Media contacts:
Liz Moore
Nicholas Iovino