A visit to the DC Superior Court

This morning myself and Sarah, the other intern at NCSC International, got to go visit the DC Superior Court. One of NCSC’s judicial fellows is a senior judge in DC, and he was sitting in the judge-in-chambers position this week. Since I’ve never been to court, I was excited to go see how it actually works and to hear some real issues addressed. The judge-in-chambers position is somewhat random, because it’s a position that covers several functions during the day as they crop up.

One of the main duties of the position is to hear cases in which a temporary restraining order is sought, that cannot wait to be heard by the civil division. In this role, the judge holds those seeking the TRO to a standard in which substantial and irreparable harm will follow, should the TRO not be granted. For the case I sat in on, one party was a pro se litigant while the other was represented by an attorney. The judge was very deliberate in keeping the proceedings clear and on track. It really hit home some of the research I’ve been doing regarding the justice gap, the perils of pro se litigation, and how a judge must be careful not to advocate for one party over another but make sure a fair result is reached despite the knowledge imbalance between the pro se litigant and the attorney.

Another role the judge plays is signing off on search and arrest warrants. It was a nice reminder to see the judge read through detailed reports, ask several questions to clarify exact circumstances surrounding the issue at hand, and not simply sign off. I didn’t realize how formal a process it is, in which law enforcement officers seeking warrants must sign an affidavit and also raise their hand and swear to the judge of the truthfulness of the information presented, if the judge chooses to sign the warrant. It was a nice reminder of how seriously these issues are taken by everyone involved.

We also got to speak with several court staff about their positions, and one of the law clerks serving several of the senior judges on how her position differs from other clerkships – very educational. All in all a great day! Nice to take advantage of being in DC and getting exposed to areas that I never have before, even if they’re not directly related to international law.