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When he receives his law degree from the University of Iowa next May, Shane McChurch will have more than a year’s real court experience as a prosecutor.
In the process, he will have relieved the regular workload for the Washington County Attorney’s office by 10 percent.
The new prosecutorial intern position, a first for Washington County, was approved by the supervisors March 24 after County Attorney John Gish told the board that county “indictable crimes are at the highest number ever.”
With a 30 percent increase in cases, he said his office sought “creative ways” to keep up with the caseloads.
One of which led Gish to find an intern from one of Iowa’s two law schools: University of Iowa and Drake University.
The move is part of a partnership with the Iowa Attorney General’s office that pays half of the intern’s wage. It also requires that the intern have at least three semesters of law school.
McChurch, now a third-year law student, was one of nine applicants from the University of Iowa. He started work full-time May 23.
“He has done about 10 percent of the total work in the office,” said Gish, who on Aug. 7 received approval to continue McChurch part-time after he returns to law school. “It works out the he had a full free day, a Thursday, to work for us,” Gish said.
McChurch has handled misdemeanor cases as a sworn-in attorney for the court, an arrangement permitted as long as there is a supervising attorney in the office, such as Gish.
At the end of this year, Gish said there will be a review for the office that has himself, a full-time assistant attorney and two part-time attorneys. Depending on his schedule, McChurch may continue as an intern until his graduation
McChurch worked this summer full-time as the county’s representative in misdemeanor cases in magistrate’s court.
Gish said, “He has done a remarkable job,” and “greatly lightens our load.”
The need for the intern was made clear since crime is up in two main areas: Assaults and drugs, both in marijuana use and prescription opioids. There also is meth, but more a problem from the “designer” drugs. By contrast, OWI incidents are down.
The drug task force, involving other counties, has worked closely with investigations and has been a factor in more cases and convictions going into court, both noted.
Is there a chance McChurch may stay on as a “real” lawyer?
He did not rule it out, however, he will be looking for an assistant county attorney position “in whatever multi-county area I end up in.”
The decision will be greatly affected by where his girlfriend finds a job. For the long view, he is looking at becoming a federal prosecutor, “but that will take a while.”
A native of Altoona, McChurch has an undergraduate psychology degree from the University of Iowa. He also interned with a federal judge in Des Moines that led to his decision to become a prosecutor.
For the present, though, both he and Gish are satisfied with the arrangement that could continue to May, giving McChurch a full year of practicing law.