By Robert Florida
This summer, more than 30 interns worked in various units of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, such as the appellate division, the adult trial team, and the homicide unit. The interns, a combination of undergraduates and law students, helped prosecutors write legal briefs and motions and had a chance to watch major trials, where they observed seasoned prosecutors try criminal cases. As part of their work, the interns also establish relationships with prosecutors and judges – relationships that can further their legal careers.
And that’s just what happened to Sam Mastrianni. He did two internships at ECPO, one this summer and another over winter, during which he worked with prosecutors who had cases before Superior Court Judge John Gizzo. Mastrianni got to know the judge’s staff, and earlier this summer applied for a clerkship with Judge Gizzo. To his delight, he was offered the position, which he’ll start in the summer of 2024.
“My internships at ECPO were largely responsible for me getting this clerkship,” said Mastrianni, who attends Rutgers Law School-Newark. “I’ll learn so much clerking for a Superior Court judge, and it will also help me achieve my career goal: To work as an assistant prosecutor for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.”
Mastrianni is thankful to the many assistant prosecutors who shared their knowledge with him. He’s especially grateful to Portia Downing, Director of the Adult Trial Section who also supervises the interns, for her “amazing mentorship.”
Sophia Jimenez, an intern who attends Widener University Delaware Law School, is also considering working as a prosecutor, and she says the internship was an immensely rewarding experience.
“I loved it here,” said Jimenez.
On the first day of her internship, she was writing motions and briefs for assistant prosecutors, and observed an emotional trial in which a Newark police officer was accused and convicted of aggravated manslaughter.
Jimenez is the child of Cuban immigrants, and when her parents arrived in America, they lived near Newark. She thus feels a kinship to the city.
“Essex County and particularly Newark is one of the places where I want to give back to the community because of the connection that my family and I have here,” she said. “Prosecution is the perfect mix of giving back to my community while being an advocate for crime victims, which is a form of social justice. The intern experience taught me so much and solidified my passion for prosecution.”
The internship is open to law students like Sam and Sophia, but also to undergraduates like Chuka Anunobi, a junior at Penn State. After he graduates, he, too, intends to attend law school. He enrolled in the internship to explore and learn what it’s like to work as a prosecutor. At ECPO this summer, he helped prosecutors build strong legal arguments. He, like Jimenez, also got to watch major criminal trials, which piqued his interest in criminal law. Perhaps most importantly, as a Black male, he says he recognizes some critiques of the criminal justice system, but thinks the best way to reform the system is to “work within it.”
“As a Black male working in the justice system, I would view cases unbiasedly,” said Anunobi. “And I think that added diversity would help make the criminal justice system fairer for everyone.”
“Any time this office can interact with young people in order to give them a real exposure to the criminal justice system generally, and to this office specifically, than that is a good day for us,” said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II. “We are glad they found their time spent here was worthwhile. Our goal is to enhance and expand this program in the coming years.“