Diversity in the DA's Office
DDA Sherry Thompson
1. Why did you choose a career as a prosecutor?
My choice to work in prosecution was not an obvious one. Many prosecutors seem to know from birth that they want to prosecute, whereas I stumbled into the area. It was not long before I realized that representing the People of the State of California satisfied my interest in public service and provided an exciting work environment. Prior to working as a prosecutor, I never thought of prosecuting criminals as a way to represent and serve my community. One of the first things you realize as a prosecutor, is that many of the victims we deal with on a daily basis are also people of color who have been harmed. It has been a genuine gift to help these people in my community on a daily basis, standing up for them in the pursuit of justice.
2. Why would an attorney of color choose a career as a prosecutor?
When I began my career as a prosecutor, it seemed that people of color frowned upon the fact that I was a prosecutor and treated me as a traitor. I felt determined to change the perception that people of color are segregated from this work which is so important to how society functions. Public agencies should represent and reflect the communities they serve, which require a commitment from attorneys of color to make sure that we are included in the system at all levels. In return you will be rewarded with a meaningful career; you will be a trial attorney whose job is dedicated to the pursuit of justice. In addition to the specific reasons a person of color would choose prosecution work, there are many reasons why any attorney would enjoy a prosecution career. First, it is one of the few jobs as attorney which will give you almost daily courtroom experience. By the time your friends who have ventured into civil law have tried their first case, you will be a veteran. Prosecuting attorneys are often given important and serious trials within the first five years of their graduation from law school. It would not be unusual for you to have tried 30 jury trials in that time period. The camaraderie of the office is also a benefit. We are an office that supports and mentors new attorneys. You will work side by side with nationally recognized experts in various aspects of criminal prosecution and learn from them in formal and informal settings. The job is stable and secure, offering excellent health and retirement benefits. Further, as a new attorney, it will provide you with enough time to still enjoy family life and time with friends. Prosecutors have a significantly higher level of job satisfaction than most other attorney groups. This is a tremendous benefit which should not be undervalued as you face a lifetime decision.
3. Why is it significant to communities to have prosecutors who are from minority groups?
Representation is important at every level of the justice system. The process of prosecution should reflect the community both in the system and outside of the system. Even though people of color reflect a small numerical percentage in the general population, they represent a disproportionate number of individuals incarcerated and victimized. The accused and their families as well as the victims and witnesses should feel they will be treated equally under the law. The presence of prosecutors of color directly contributes to the perception of fairness in the system as a whole. Poverty and race are issues that pervade the legal system. Prosecutors of color bring unique perspective to the courtroom and to the case work. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to say that all people of color share the same viewpoint or experiences, but our value to the community is in providing our own unique perspectives on social issues and solutions, thus enhancing the diversity of opinions on issues that affect us all.
4. What advice would you give to minority students who aspire to become prosecutors?
Most offices use grades and class rank to refine the applicant pool. Good grades are very important and frequently used by agencies that receive many applications for only a few positions. Your first introduction to the hiring committee is likely to be through your resume and cover letter. These documents will be screened for word use and grammar. Writing is a key component of your work as an attorney. Make sure that whatever written material you submit reflects your high standards and education level. Another important factor is demonstrable interest in prosecution work. Hiring committees will look at your resume to evaluate your work history and memberships in student organizations as a way to measure your interest in criminal prosecution. Internships are highly recommended and available at in most prosecution agencies. It is best to intern at the office you hope to join. Trial advocacy courses, moot court, trial competitions, and other practical courtroom exercises are also helpful indicators of your interest in trial work. Volunteer work that shows a commitment to victim’s rights or interest in the community will communicate a desire to serve the public.