Spotlight on 2011 PILF Grantee, Kathryn Fraser

By far one of the greatest ways USF Public Interest Law Foundation helps to make an impact in our community is by providing grants to USF Law students who choose to pursue unpaid summer legal work. This past summer, 25 remarkable students were selected to each receive grants of $4,000. We are proud to offer these grants through the generous donations we receive throughout the year as well as through several fundraising events sponsored by USF and PILF.

Our largest fundraising opportunity is the Annual PILF Gala and Auction. This year’s Gala and Auction takes place on November 4th. As the Auction draws nearer, we want to take a moment to introduce our most recent 2011 Summer Grantees in the Q&A’s below.

Want To Work For The SF Public Defender This Summer?Kathryn Fraser Did And She Has Some Invaluable Advice For You.

Kathryn Fraser, from Seattle, Washington, attended Western Washington University as an undergraduate. This past summer she worked for the San Francisco Public Defender.


Why did you choose law school, and why USF in particular?

I have wanted to practice law ever since I witnessed a trial when I was 15 years old for a school English project. Since then I have understood the power that the state has over the individual in the criminal justice system. I chose USF because of the Public Interest Law Certificate program that is offered by the school as well as the focus of USF’s clinics and programs on the rights and dignity of individuals who, due to discrimination or economic status, are unable to protect themselves.

What kind of work did you do this summer?

At the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office interns are assigned to work with mentor attorneys. I worked with Mel Santos, an attorney in the felony unit with over 20 years of experience as a public defender. I had the opportunity to participate in every aspect of Mel’s practice this summer. I attended client interviews, prepared investigation requests, drafted various motions for court review and even attended settlement conferences in the judge’s chambers. Mel and I went to trial defending a 65 year old diabetic man faced with a life sentence under the three strikes laws for the alleged possession of 2 oxycodone pills.

What do you find most interesting about the work you are doing or the organization you are working for?

During my internship interview with Kathy Asada she asked whether I had thought about applying for the District Attorney’s Office. I said I had not and she responded that was good, if we thought about the DA, the Public Defender’s Office is not where we belong. This is what I find most inspiring. All the attorneys I have talked to truly believe that every person accused of a crime in our country deserves zealous advocacy on their behalf. The San Francisco Public Defenders work hard every day to accomplish this goal through compassionate, creative and effective representation.

Are you interested in public interest legal work as a career? What sort of law would you like to practice?

When people ask me what kind of a lawyer I want to be I always have to be careful with my answer. Know your audience they say. At first, I respond that I want to be a public defender. If it seems they appreciate this answer, I can expand and say that I would like to eventually work in criminal sentencing reform. But unless I am sure of their politics I usually don’t discuss abolishing three strikes, overhauling privatized prisons and reforming mandatory sentencing. I leave that discussion until we know each other better.

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