By: Anna Streetman
Oxford, Miss.–This summer, 67 students from some of the country’s most prestigious schools, such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia, were handpicked for internships with the Bronx Defenders. Daniel McHugh, a third year Ole Miss law student, was also chosen.
The Bronx Defenders is a public defense organization for the people of the Bronx. The organization prides itself on being an innovative, holistic and client-centered defense system. In 1997, eight people who had a vision to change the way low-income people were represented in the criminal justice system started the Bronx Defenders. When the organization first started, it was little more than a small group of lawyers, a social worker, an office manager, a part-time investigator and a receptionist. Today, it has a staff of over 200, represents 35,000 individuals each year and is just as committed to justice as it was 15 years ago.
McHugh was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Charlottesville, Va. He has a B.A. in Studio Art from James Madison University, and has worked as a carpenter for the last 15 years. He is also an Auburn University Rural Studio Outreach Fellow.
McHugh first became aware of the internship during his first year of law school at Ole Miss. He decided to pursue the internship after reading an essay by the Bronx Defenders founder Robin Steinberg in the book How You Can Represent Those People. He says that in the essay he found a reflection of his own experiences, and found that “her writing, with the context of the Holistic Defense model in the back of my mind, struck me as potent blend of common sense, professional and personal experience, and compassion.”
During his time at Auburn University’s Rural Studio, McHugh worked with trustees from a local prison ranch on various community service projects. Working with these people gave him a personal look at their stories and experience dealing with police, courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys. McHugh believes that “there is a shift occurring right now in this country that increasingly places poor members of our society at a distinct disadvantage in a variety of contexts, but particularly in the criminal justice context.” These reasons, along with Steinberg’s book, drove him to want to work with the Bronx Defenders.
For his internship, McHugh works in the Criminal Defense Practice. His responsibilities are diverse but include: representing clients with misdemeanor cases in court, interviewing clients and making bail arguments in arraignments, investigating criminal cases in the Bronx, performing legal research and drafting motions and other legal documents.
Kathleen Mullin is one of the attorneys supervising McHugh during his internship. She is a Public Defender with 22 years of experience. Mullin speaks highly of his work:
“Working with Daniel has by far been one of the best intern experiences that I have had in my career,” she said. “Daniel brings a level of maturity and acumen to the job seldom found in the second-year law student. His commitment to the work is all encompassing and there was no task too small or too complex…Daniel is willing to go to any and all lengths to contribute meaningfully to the work I am doing on each of my cases…After my summer working with Daniel, I have no doubt he will most certainly succeed.”
McHugh’s time at his internship is helping his career in many ways. He is learning a tremendous amount from his supervisors, and is gaining invaluable trial advocacy experience. McHugh believes that that Bronx Defender’s model of Holistic Defense will continue to change the face of public defense across the nation, and that there is a need in the South for Holistic Advocacy. He sees his time at the Bronx as a time for training and research, and for building a broad foundation for future practice.
McHugh says that the incredible support from the University of Mississippi School of Law, specifically Desiree Hensley, Allison Korn, Tucker Carrington, Jason Derrick and Carol Mockbee, helped him more than words can describe.