Attorneys consult with each other quietly in the darkened courtroom. The jury box is empty, and a court reporter and clerk arrange their files for the afternoon session. It’s lunchtime at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse in Chatsworth, and court is adjourned. In his chambers down a carpeted hall, Judge Randy Rhodes sits in an oxford shirt (no robes), rummaging in the file drawer of his large desk.
“This is my ‘joy drawer,’” Rhodes says. “It’s the only drawer that will go with me when I retire.”
The “joy drawer” in Rhodes’ spacious, sun-lit office is packed with typed, double-spaced essays — the souvenirs of more than a decade of law-school and undergraduate interns. The written accounts of young scholars on the cusp of their dream: a career in law.
Rhodes ’82 (Political Science/Psychology) is a tall, affable and unforgettable presence. He is talkative, warm and authoritative. He is also, like every Superior Court judge, a very busy person. Yet, for years, Rhodes has carved countless hours out of his professional and personal calendars to mentor juniors and seniors from his alma mater, California State University, Northridge, through the university’s Judicial Internship Program.
“We really want to give them the experience of what it’s like to be back here, behind the scenes, in chambers,” says Rhodes, a San Fernando Valley native who has served 20 years as a Superior Court judge.
The judge would prefer to talk about the students, their careers, the law, the bar exam — just about anything other than his awards and honors. But at CSUN, he is beloved — from his recent interns to the heads of the Department of Political Science, which offers the judicial internship.
On Feb. 26, many CSUN administrators and faculty members turned out to cheer and thank him as the San Fernando Valley Bar Association honored Rhodes with its Administration of Justice Award for his longtime work with the internship program and CSUN’s annual “Meet the Judges” panel.
“They get a wide range of experience — as many courts as we can get them into, even juvenile court,” Rhodes says of the CSUN interns. “They see family court, with no jury at all. Then they see my court (all trial cases), where they get to talk to the jurors afterward, to learn about the process.
“It has such an impact on them that they seem to draw on thoughts that never occurred to them before — like about their constitutional rights. It gives them the exposure. It also gives them an introduction to law school. A lot of these kids will call me [after completing the internship] when they’re in law school, and they’ll say, ‘Wow! Did you give me the first semester of law school!’”
Rhodes estimates that about 45 to 50 of his former interns have gone on to become attorneys. He grins and gets a little misty-eyed when he recalls some of them. One of the most recent, a student he describes as having a “mind like a steel trap,” is CSUN junior Ariel Stone.
“My experience in the Judicial Internship Program has been the highlight of my three years at CSUN,” says Stone, a history major who plans to apply to law school next year. “I think I doubted myself a lot, and being in the chambers of Judge Rhodes showed me I can do this.
“I went into the courtroom with a general understanding that I wanted to study law, but very general. I talked with Judge Rhodes about the fact that you have to find what you like — and what you don’t like. [Through the internship], I found that civil law is not for me.
Like other judicial interns in the program, Stone had the opportunity to visit a variety of courts and observe different areas of law this past fall.
“At Van Nuys, I was sitting in the [criminal] court and realized, this is what I want to do. The next day, I went to Judge Rhodes and said, ‘Oh my God, this is what I want!’” Thanks to this experience, she’s considering a career in public-interest law, Stone says.
The Judicial Internship Program, launched by the political science department in the early 1990s in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was the brainchild of L.A. Superior Court Judge Bert Glennon, who remains the head of the program. The semester-long internship is open to undergraduates of all majors, and about 15 students participate each fall and spring. Rhodes is just one of several judges who volunteer their time as mentors.
“These judges are unbelievably generous with their time,” says Becker, who coordinated the internship for several years. “They have very busy lives and jobs, and yet they do this. They don’t get anything for it — they just do it because they care and they like working with the students.”
“We get at least twice the number of applications as there are spots [in the program], and sometimes more,” says current program coordinator Leigh Bradberry, assistant professor of political science. “Judge Rhodes is very, very active with the student that is assigned to him — but also to all of the students in the program.”
Rhodes is a prime example of these judges, and it’s one of the ways he gives back to his alma mater.
“Every semester, Judge Rhodes takes a student, and he’s been participating in it for many years. … He’s incredibly generous with his time and our students,” Becker says.
Adam Gluck ’13 (Political Science) says his internship experience with Rhodes gave him an advantage over fellow law students at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
“The judicial internship exposes students to legal thinking and attorney life before they are tossed into the deep end, which is law school,” Gluck says. “The internship is not about teaching college students legal doctrine, but exposes them to the way law students and lawyers think. Additionally, observance of a courtroom teaches interns what qualities good lawyers have and what qualities they should avoid.”
Gluck first met Rhodes as a CSUN junior, while serving jury duty in his courtroom. Having the judge as a mentor, he says, “has been a dream come true.”
“I constantly refer back to my notes from his lectures to see if he gave me any mnemonic devices to help me memorize any of the concepts I am currently learning. Judge Rhodes has always been there for me, and he continues to help me while I am in law school.”
The judge, Stone says, has two types of advice for his interns:
“He’ll teach you the law. … he loved to drill us on definitions [of legal terms], he was quizzing us on the very first day,” she says. “And the other type of advice he gives is the human side. I took pages of notes on the courts, and in the margins, I wrote so many of what I called ‘Judge Rhodes-isms’: ‘You can only be you. Stop and pause. Choose your words.’ I got to see, he’s not just the robe — he really puts a human face on the law.”
Stone recalls the frantic pace of the fall semester, balancing more than 12 hours in the courthouse each week with her course load and a large research paper for her history major.
“I didn’t feel like I had spare time,” says Stone, who also works as a student “Chief Justice” for the Associated Students Judicial Court on campus. “One day, [Rhodes] took out his guitar and started playing ‘Dixieland Delight’ by Alabama, which, you know, is not my kind of music. But I’ll always remember that day.
“He’s someone who truly enjoys his job, and still has time to truly enjoy his life.”
Inspired to find a good stress release, Stone borrowed a guitar from a friend and started playing the instrument.
“I’ve started a number of kids playing guitar,” Rhodes says with pride, pointing to two of his many vintage guitars, displayed in front of his chamber bookshelves. A lifelong musician, the judge collects guitars and is currently teaching himself the Hawaiian slack-key style. “It’s a great outlet, especially for law school students.”
Rhodes worked his way through two years at Pierce College, a bachelor’s degree from CSUN and then night law school at the University of West Los Angeles, where he witnessed a large attrition rate among students. For many years, he supported himself by working with paramedics in emergency medical services.
“Judge Rhodes’ story has inspired me to work hard every day in law school, so that I can try to work for a firm like Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (where Rhodes worked before he became a judge),” Gluck says.
As a mentor, Rhodes empowers his judicial interns to believe in themselves.
“I have a lot of life experiences, that common sense,” Rhodes says. “I suggest to our interns, that if you keep a positive attitude and keep working — and not let excuses get in the way — you’ll do well.”