Spending Summer Surfing In Court System To Learn About Criminal Justice, Interns Skip Beach Trips, Sometimes Working For Free.

Posted: June 04, 1996

Maggie Bornholdt, 23, was not enticed by a rugged backpacking expedition through Europe. Equally unappealing was a pristine internship on Capitol Hill - as was the idea of lazy days at the seashore.

No, it was spending this summer in the cavernous morgue at the Delaware County Medical Examiner's Office that lured this inquiring mind.

``I'm interested in the criminal mind,'' said Bornholdt, who wore a blue doctor's smock as she waited last week to witness her next autopsy. ``I want to find out why people do the things they do.''

Bornholdt, a senior at West Chester University, is one of dozens of college interns in the county who are spending the summer immersed in the intricate maze called the criminal justice system.

They are pumping up their resumes, filling their black books with contacts, and whetting their young appetites for careers in law.

Whether they are researching for judges or attending preliminary hearings for the District Attorney's Office, they all seem to share a common obsession: crime. The act. The weapon. The motive.

Credit-card fraud, coke deal gone sour, steamy murder. They've seen it all. They talk nonchalantly about Y-cuts in autopsies, Joe in the evidence room, D.A.s and A.D.A.s, C.I.D., and a.k.a.'s. And if you haven't figured out they're in the know, they'll tell you.

``It's a behind-the-scenes kind of thing,'' said Mara Gallagher, 23, during a break from researching in the library. The Widener Law School student will be spending the summer clerking for President Judge A. Leo Sereni.

For their chance to see the murky stuff up close, some are paid, others get college credit, and some simply do it for free.

Slackers they are not.

``I'm the only one of my friends who has a job,'' said a dapper-looking Robert O'Connor, 30, a recent graduate of Widener Law School. ``I'm networking while they are at the beach.''

O'Connor toils daily in the chambers of Judge Patricia H. Jenkins. Because Jenkins is handling the John E. du Pont murder case - known in inner circles as Delaware County's O.J. case - he says he's getting big-time experience.

``It is a highly publicized case,'' said O'Connor, who totes a large leather briefcase. ``There are reporters all over the place.''

Tanya Hunter, 23, an intern in the District Attorney's Office, calls it the ``real world.'' No, that's not MTV. It's a live courtroom. She says that's where criminals are punished, emotions run high, and the suspense is almost too much to take. ``People's lives are at stake,'' she said.

Interns say the big benefit to the summer job is getting the inside scoop.

O'Connor calls it ``opening your eyes'' or ``seeing the other half.'' And that, he boasts, is a valuable perk for anyone who plans to work in or around Media.

Lawyer Wendy Roberts, who interned for Judge Joseph F. Battle in 1992 and now practices in the county, said she learned ``where to go, who to talk to first. What judges are professional, [which ones] are not so formal.''

So, what's the scoop? Judge R. Barclay Surrick is a Phillies fan. Judge Jenkins loves her Labrador retriever. Judge Joseph F. Battle loves anything Irish.

President Judge Sereni says he receives 100 applications a year for one position of summer law clerk. Obviously, he looks for qualified candidates with a hefty dose of ambition. But temperament also is a crucial factor. In other words, curmudgeons beware.

And for judges and other county officials, there are the countervailing benefits of previewing future leaders and having contact with the younger set.

Said Battle: ``I take them around. I take them to the courtroom. I introduce them to people. I tell them about protocol.''

For his former intern Roberts, who has presented about 15 cases before Battle since interning with him, those tours provided valuable insights.

``I always wear my shocking-green suit when I have a case with him,'' she said, ``now that I know the Irishman he is.''

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