WLSO 2017 Summer Scholars: Michael Stinnett-Kassoff

Surveying the Swamp

This recent election cycle has been a catalyst for controversy which has continuously dominated the news cycle. This chaos has created such colorful characters as Kellyane Conway, Anthony Scaramucci (10 days still counts), and, of course, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It was under this regime that I worked at the United States Department of Justice in Washington, DC this summer. Although I was not sure what kind of culture to expect at the former conservative Congressman’s Justice Department, I was brimming with elation knowing that I would be working with some of the finest and most experienced lawyers in the country.

I worked in the Criminal Division, more specifically in the Electronic Surveillance Unit in the Office of Enforcement Operations. The primary duty of ESU is to authorize or deny all Title III surveillance requests from Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs). I worked with three other legal interns—two women and one other gentleman— constructing our office with an equal composition of women and men. Gender was also fairly evenly split throughout OEO as an office, with both men and women occupying top positions. The men and women who constitute the backbone of the Justice Department are professional, courteous, and amazing to work with.

One of the first projects on which I worked was researching statutes pertaining to kidnapping registries in Washington state. One of the perks of being the only interns in OEO was that we received a varied assortment of tasks from the other units, not just those of ESU origin. Kidnapping registries throughout the U.S. have a common flaw which negatively impacts women and children. The federal statute which illustrates the framework that states must follow combines those people who are convicted of kidnapping a minor with those people who are convicted of sex crimes. This is problematic because families are routinely broken up due to this draconian definition of kidnapping. For example, if grandparents keep their grandchild past the agreed upon time limit, the parents can technically accuse the grandparents of kidnaping. Similarly, a dispute between ex-spouses over a visitation can land one of the parents on a kidnapping registry, even if the parent is only given a slap on the wrist such as a few hours of community service. They are then considered to be on equal footing as sex offenders for registration purposes, an issue many have spoken out against and are working to fix.

This issue is just one of many fascinating projects on which I worked. Working at DOJ is a fruitful endeavor which any law student should consider pursuing. The program ensures that summer law clerks work on substantive issues, explore other practice areas, and meet career attorneys who are eager to bestow advice both specific to DOJ and the practice of law generally. Whichever path my legal career takes, working at DOJ this summer was an experience which I will remember with pride and pleasure.

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