The Class of 2015 graduate’s Public Service Fellowship helped him achieve his goal of working in public interest law.
Mike Tartaglia, a Class of 2015 graduate of Boston University School of Law, began working as a fellow at the Sixth Amendment Center (6AC) in Boston, MA in September 2015. Tartaglia, who was among select students in his class to receive a Public Service Fellowship from BU Law, says the fellowship enabled him to achieve his goal of pursuing public interest work, something that he is incredibly passionate about.
As a fellow at 6AC, his primary responsibilities involve observing courts; interviewing attorneys, judges, and court personnel; and analyzing data from public defender offices. The aim is to provide technical assistance and advice to states seeking to improve their delivery of indigent defense services. “The biggest challenge we face is often political, figuring out ways to not only develop the willpower for change, but navigate various interests to achieve lasting reform,” he says. “It feels good to hear from public defenders who have benefited from our assistance, allowing them to provide more effective representation.”
Tartaglia was raised in Philadelphia and has always been interested in how the criminal justice system functions in society and affects people of various backgrounds. He received his bachelor’s degree in Justice from American University in 2007. Thereafter, he worked as a paralegal with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project in Washington, DC from 2008 to 2012.
Working at the ACLU inspired him to pursue a law degree, and Boston University School of Law, with a diverse community and strong faculty base, was Mike’s choice as the best opportunity for achieving his goals. He entered the School as a Public Interest Scholar, a program that provides full tuition scholarships to students who are committed to pursuing careers in public interest law. “My class was comprised of a tremendously talented and diverse group of people from various backgrounds and experiences making the learning environment quite rich,” he says.
While at BU Law, Tartaglia was particularly intrigued by the criminal law class taught by Professor Stan Fisher, whose passion for the subject and colorful examples augmented the coursework. Tartaglia served as senior notes editor on the Boston University Law Review and president of the ACLU Student Chapter. He also worked as a research assistant for Professor Gerald Leonard, gathering and analyzing materials on prisoners’ rights and prison conditions. “Capturing and distilling such a huge amount of information was a difficult project,” he says, “but I really enjoyed the challenge and it taught me a great deal about the importance of thorough research in law.”
To further his criminal law experience, Tartaglia spent a year in the defender program of the Criminal Law Clinic, during which he defended eight clients, two of them juveniles, and worked on a case where he appealed an adverse pretrial ruling. “I enjoyed all my work in the clinic, but I felt most proud of the couple of cases I was able to get dismissed for little-to-no penalty for my clients,” he says.
Prior to his time in the clinic, Tartaglia participated in a pro bono spring break trip to Kansas City to work on a habeas claim for the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic. Tartaglia says, “It was an experience I found both rewarding and enlightening, watching young attorneys fighting vehemently for their client.”
Seeking opportunities to work directly with clients, Tartaglia interned in the housing unit of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), where he shadowed a senior attorney who handled landlord-tenant disputes. “My most rewarding and challenging experience involved helping to prepare victim impact statements for residents of a public housing project whose director had siphoned large sums of money from the budget,” he says. “It was challenging to figure out the most compelling ways to describe the harms caused by the director, but it was also rewarding because I was able to advocate for a lot of people who had been victimized by someone in a position of public trust.”
During his second summer internship with the Public Defender Service in Washington, DC, Tartaglia worked on a case involving an alleged possession of a handgun by the client. “No officers had actually seen our client in possession of the weapon,” he says. “Essentially, a lot of circumstantial evidence was put forth to attempt to place the gun in his hands, including the fact that a police dog found a gun in the bushes shortly after our client was said to have been running away.” Tartaglia notes the difficult task his team had in challenging the reliability of this evidence, but felt it was a great learning experience as they worked to show all the pitfalls of relying solely on the canine detection.
After his work as a paralegal and his education at BU Law, Tartaglia feels he is well prepared to advance. He considers the fellowship a launching pad for his career in public interest law, something quite close to his heart. “I feel very honored to have been awarded the fellowship,” he says. “It allowed me to begin my career by helping people in need and will hopefully be the first step in a long career of advocating for the less fortunate.”
Reported by Indira Priyadarshini (COM’16).