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Internship nurtures young prosecutors

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Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, left, talks with her father, William Reinberger, and sister, Karen Hooser. About 20 UT law students have been in the Reinberger Honors Program.

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Will Breitigam's career path in law could have taken a decidedly different turn if it wasn't for the Reinberger Foundation Honors Program.

Before being hired in the district attorney's office in Fort Collins, Colo., Mr. Breitigam worked side-by-side with city prosecutors in Toledo Municipal Court on misdemeanor cases.

As an intern, Mr. Breitigam got an opportunity to make decisions on filing charges, talk to witnesses, prepare cases for trial, and get hands-on experience in other aspects in the prosecution of criminal cases in municipal court.

Mr. Breitigam was among nearly 20 University of Toledo law students who participated in 2003 in the Reinberger Foundation Honors Program, which is designed to steer top-notch scholars into becoming prosecutors. A 2004 graduate, he credits the program in helping him land a job in Fort Collins' 8th Judicial District.

"I was leaning in the direction of becoming a prosecutor. I think the experience pretty much was instrumental in getting a job so soon after law school," he said.

The UT college of law yesterday recognized William Reinberger, a retired Cleveland-area engineer and philanthropist whose family contributed money to make the honors program possible, area prosecutors, and students who received the Reinberger grant.

Robin M. Kennedy, associate professor of law, said students who are chosen for the program receive a $2,000 stipend for living expenses while they get hands-on experience in prosecutor's offices in Ohio and throughout the country.

The idea for the program was initiated in 1998 at the urging of Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, who is the daughter of Mr. Reinberger, to encourage UT law students to embark on careers in prosecution.

Mrs. Bates, her husband, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge James Bates, who is a former prosecutor, and Tom Secor, an assistant U.S. attorney who is married to Mr. Reinberger's daughter, graduated from UT's law school.

The Cleveland-based Reinberger Foundation, which donates millions of dollars annually for arts, educational, social service, and medical projects, has contributed nearly $480,000 over the last seven years to fund the law school program, providing assistance for 83 students.

"I think it is a terrific program, and I feel very fortunate to be part of it," Mr. Reinberger said during an interview following the luncheon at UT's Libbey Hall. "I think the program is a tremendous help in recruiting law students to become prosecutors."

Last year, prosecutor offices in Toledo, Maumee, Monroe, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Somerset, Pa., and Charleston, S.C., provided unpaid jobs to law students who were picked for the program.

In return, the students contact and interview witnesses and victims, pound out plea agreements with criminal defense attorneys, and research legal opinions under the supervision of prosecutors.

David Toska, a prosecutor with the city of Toledo who was among those honored at the luncheon, said the program is a win-win situation - students learn on the job and the city obtains prosecutors it could not otherwise afford.

"I have nothing but good things to say about the program," Mr. Toska said. "We need qualified people, and hopefully, we can retain them and persuade them not to go into private practice."

The internships sometimes result in the students landing full-time positions with the offices after they graduate and pass the state tests that allow them to be licensed attorneys.

Christopher Clark, a 2004 UT law graduate who is now a licensed attorney, received a stipend through the program while he interned at Ohio's Franklin County prosecutor's office during the summer of 2003. He was subsequently hired as a full-time prosecutor in the office's Juvenile Court division.

"The internship was instrumental in landing a job. I don't think I would have gotten hired if it wasn't for the Reinberger program," he said.

Mr. Kennedy said about 25 percent of the students who participate in the program go on to obtain positions in prosecutor offices.

Mr. Clark, a native of Zanesville, Ohio, admitted that a career in criminal defense work or corporate law may be more lucrative, but working in the public sector as prosecutor is more fulfilling.

"I knew then that this is what I wanted to do, and the program was one of the reasons that I liked the law school in Toledo," he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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