So my first job out of law school was a clerkship with a judge who I met about a year before my first semester. I considered her a great mentor — she was my first legal internship, and we stayed in touch throughout my law school tenure. There were rumors about her being absolutely terrible to her staff, but I thought the rumors were rooted in racism and misogyny, because she’s a Black woman. More importantly, in the 3–4 years I knew her, I never experienced anything remotely close to her alleged malevolence. So when she offered me a clerkship, I took it.
Without a doubt, taking that clerkship was the worst decision I’ve ever made. The rumors didn’t do her behavior justice: she really was the seventh ring of hell in Black skin and heels.
I was overworked, overwhelmed, and under-resourced. I was assigned tasks that weren’t designed to teach, but humiliate. One time she paraded me around the courthouse for about an hour, taking me to and through each office and desk that touched a bench warrant, all the while complaining about how I “just didn’t understand the process.” She even went so far as to DEMAND that I use an intern’s legal memo as the template for my own, because “it’s a shame that a young autistic man still in undergrad can write better than a law school graduate.”
She called me stupid and incompetent on and off the record — multiple times. Sometimes we had to use another judge’s courtroom, at which point I would hear from THOSE respective judges how she talked about me when I wasn’t around. My understanding is that she once actually apologized on MY behalf and called me dumb while in talks with attorneys as they approached the bench.
Her Honor even assaulted me in the middle of a jury trial. She wanted me to draft the jury verdict sheets while the witnesses testified. Mind you: not only is that the prosecution’s job, but I had already received the verdict sheets from the State. But since HER way was the “best” way, I had to redraft them. MULTIPLE times. Which meant that I had to keep going to her while she was listening to testimony on the bench. The last time I went up there, she grabbed my wrist TIGHTLY — like a mother snatching up her toddler in a store — and shoved me towards my office.
All the while, the witness is still testifying. In the middle of a jury trial.
This kind of psychological and physical abuse got so bad, I started to lose my mind and my health. By my fourth month as her law clerk, I was hospitalized on 3 separate occasions: once for sinusitis, once for pharyngitis, and once for bronchitis/pneumonia and migraines.
Physical illnesses notwithstanding, my daily routine was to wake up early enough to sob into a migraine, take a shot, (maybe) eat breakfast, get to work, brace myself for her antics, do my best to get my work done, dry heave/vomit my lunch (if I had it), process her unfounded critique(s) about my work, go home, sob into a migraine, take a shot for the migraine, and pray I sleep through the night without having a nightmare.
My family almost had me committed due to my suicidal ideations. To date, I still have to take medication for anxiety and depression.
I even tried reporting her abuse. While the powers that be at the State House were VERY aware about Her Honor (apparently I wasn’t the first of her law clerks to seek reprieve), they essentially said that because (1) judges are elected officials, and (2) they have almost complete autonomy when it comes to what happens in their chambers, my only options were to either quit or get fired.
It’s not that the legal community didn’t know — we ALL knew. There were judges who would reach out to me and make sure I was doing ok, granting me an open-door policy for anytime I needed to decompress. Attorneys would come to my office and give me pointers on how to deal with her on her “moody days.” I had bailiffs and courtroom clerks literally hold me until I stopped shaking, or cover for me as I came to from yet another blackout.
The issue is that there’s an added layer of complication in that she’s actually a VERY good judge and was an EXCELLENT attorney. In taking what they perceive to be the lesser of two evils in the same person, attorneys would rather have a shitty person who knows the law and is fair, than an awesome person who doesn’t and isn’t.
As for me…I was a recent law school graduate who just failed the bar exam, with no financial support but for this check from a witch sponsored by the State. I literally could not afford to leave.
On Monday, January 4, 2016, her Honor came back from her holiday vacation (something that I was NOT granted) and asked me to write a memo about any outstanding assignments of mine that rolled over into the new year. That was my only assignment for the day. Having only one assignment for the day definitely felt unusual, but I figured it was because it was the first workday of the new year. I gave it to her at around 4:30ish.
She informed me that I just wrote my exit memo, and it was my last day. She said that I could either accept her termination, or she could accept my resignation, but I was not to come back the next day. That’s the last time I ever had a conversation with her. That’s the last time I ever SAW her.
Surprisingly, my six months as her law clerk actually made me one of her “more tenured” ones. To put it in perspective, a clerkship is supposed to last between a year and 18 months. I was number 5 or 6 in a 18-month span. I was told that one of the clerks before me actually attempted suicide.
I tried to find work for months; you can’t convince me that I wasn’t blacklisted from the jobs I applied for. Every time — ANY time — a prospect saw her name on my resume, I never heard from them again. This experience is a large reason I moved back to my home city in 2017.
Well I found out that on a beautiful Wednesday, December 11th morning, and upon her sentencing this rapist to life in prison, the defendant threw a metal water pitcher that hit her in the forehead.
And on the last full day of Her Honor’s tenure (she’s retiring. The NERVE…), I extend a much conflicted, but the sincerest of gratitude to Mr. Travis Burroughs — even if it’s for the first time in his miserable life — for doing the Lord’s work.
You may never get out of prison (and rightfully so), but you most certainly helped set me free.