Executive Summary


This past semester I interned in Judge’s Guido’s office at the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas in Carlisle. The Court of Common Pleas is the trial court of Cumberland County. Judges elected for terms of ten years preside at the Courthouse over cases related to adoption, divorce, child support, juvenile delinquency, abuse and many other types of cases. While I interacted in various capacities throughout the day with Judge Guido, I was directly supervised by the Judge’s law clerk, Carl Connellan. My learning objectives were as follows:

1.      To observe and better understand the daily activities within a trial courtroom of a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.

2.      To gain familiarity with different legal careers which interact with the court system.

I sought to fulfill these learning objectives through careful observation of court procedure, interactions with various professionals in the court setting, and asking thoughtful questions of my supervisor and the Judge. As my supervisor Carl phrases it, the main requirement for my internship involves the three L’s: “Look, Listen, and Learn.”


            My biggest project at my internship involved the act of observation. Throughout my internship I observed various court room procedures in several different courtrooms. I observed Judge Guido’s courtroom most often. There, Judge Guido handed down judgments for two main types of courts: Miscellaneous Court and Support Court. Miscellaneous Court involves ad hoc collection of cases, prominently featuring sentencing orders and plea agreements. Support Court was more predictable, involving adults in violation of child support orders; these individuals are brought before the court for not making child support payments.

            Other court settings I’ve observed include Treatment Court, jury and non-jury trials, adoptions, juvenile court and pre-trial hearings. The Treatment Court of Cumberland County is conducted by Judge Masland and involves a “complete continuum of care as recommended on the basis of drug and alcohol and mental health assessments.” Individuals who are charged with offenses “committed as a direct result of substance abuse or addiction” may participate in the program, which requires “regular and frequent” appearances at Treatment Court, held every Thursday.[1] During an appearance at Treatment Court, Judge Masland essentially reviews the participant’s progress and makes recommendations. These proceedings stand apart from other types of court proceedings in that the judge acts as more of a counselor than an arbitrator.  

            In addition to observing different court settings and procedures, my supervisor Carl held me responsible for addressing any questions I had regarding my observations, with himself or with the Judge. After each court session, I reviewed my notes and then marked any cases that I would like the Judge to further explain. Often, I just lacked the background of the case to understand the particular ruling the Judge made. Other times, I had questions about the standards or rules which applied to the cases. Either way the Judge was always happy to answer my inquiries to the best of his knowledge. Furthermore, each day my supervisor had me read through files of cases for the following day; I then asked him any questions which arose from these cases.

            Toward the end of my internship with Judge Guido’s office, Carl assigned me the task of summarizing all of the Judge’s 2010 appellate rulings. For this project, I read through all of the Judge’s opinions from 2010 and reduced them down to small, concise summaries – no more than a few sentences. I then compiled all of these summaries into an index page for the resource book holding all the opinions. This exercise enhanced my familiarity with legal writing and jargon, particular the writing style and format of judicial orders.


            The main piece that I learned from my internship experience involves familiarity with courtroom roles and procedures, as well as the courtroom atmosphere. To type all that I learned from my internship here would be impossible, but I can summarize my learning in two key concepts. First, I learned about the interactions between the Judge, the Public Defender and the District Attorney. Before participating in this internship, I assumed that all courtroom interactions were conflict-based - that the defense was pitted against the prosecution and at the mercy of the Judge. However, through observation and discussions with these key players in courtroom procedure, I learned that this is not the case. Though these parties certainly do not always agree on the proper course to be taken regarding prospects for a defendant, their interactions are frequently collaborative. For example, prior to an individual’s sentencing, the Public Defender and Prosecuting Attorney both contribute to a sentencing report. Both parties then stand in front of the Judge to describe the situation, discuss the facts of the case and receive the sentence. All participants have an interest in the most appropriate sentence for the defendant, taking into account personal history and concern for the community.

            Second, I learned that many – or most – of the orders handed down by judges are rather subjective. The judges have sentencing guidelines to assist in sentencing orders, and they have precedents to assist with judicial opinions. However, these guidelines and precedents may still allow wide variations in interpretation. For example, in many of the opinions I summarized for the 2010 index, I found myself disagreeing with Judge Guido’s opinions. In one case, he ruled that mention of an inadmissible piece of information was not sufficient to grant a mistrial.  As I read this case I felt quite the opposite – that this mention should necessitate a mistrial. Furthermore, when handing down a verdict in a trial, much depends on the believability of witnesses. This again is a matter subject to interpretation: while one judge may be convinced of a certain witness’s sincerity, another may instinctively doubt a witness. I am often more predisposed to believe a witnesses testimony, while Judge Guido doubts it – likely a result of his years of experience.

Future Plans

            This internship experience has reaffirmed my decision to pursue a legal education and career. I enjoyed learning about the different courtroom procedures and found the Judge’s opinions on different matters to be interesting reading material. I also took the opportunity to discuss my future plans with the Judge, several law clerks, and other legal professionals. These interviews have made me more prepared for law school, and more knowledgeable about the challenges that lie ahead as I pursue a legal career.

One challenge that lies ahead involves continuing to work on the competencies I identified in Reflective Paper #1: balancing work and life, and communicating effectively. This internship has definitely helped me improve my communication skills in terms of approaching someone for the first time, as well as networking with various professionals. However, I need to continue working on communicating in larger groups and presenting in public. My internship did not involve either of these tasks, but I should learn to communicate effectively in these settings as well, in order to succeed in my career. Regarding the competency of balancing work and life, I plan on following the directive of my interviewee for Reflective Paper #2, by making sure to find my identity in roles and activities outside of the workplace. However, I will continue to try to schedule my time effectively so as to be able to maximize my time spent at work and my time spent in personal pursuits.

Preparation and Recommendations

            Classes which assisted me in preparation for this internship include: Constitutional Civil Liberties and American Government. These classes contributed to preparation for this internship in that they involved background knowledge of the court system. However, almost every other politics class I’ve taken has involved writing and research-intensive assignments. I was able to use the transferable skills garnered from those classes to enhance my courtroom observations through effective note taking and making analytic inquiries to the Judge and my supervisor. The Politics Department involves rigorous classes, which help students succeed in a variety of work and internship environments, such as this one. I also interned at the Pennsylvania Department of Aging during my sophomore year, and I felt the politics curriculum served me there as well. The only advice I have for my department is to keep doing what it has been doing, which is to continue offering challenging courses with substantial reading, writing and research components.









[1] Treatment Court Brochure


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