Restorative justice: Law student to work at Juvenile Prosecution Division in Minneapolis


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Sarah Mezera’s family has owned and operated a dairy farm in Wisconsin for 150 years—and that background has stood her in good stead for college life.

“Growing up on a farm taught me the value of hard work from a young age,” says Mezera, now a 2L student at the University of Michigan Law School. “I used to hate farm chores—now, I realize those chores taught me how to work hard, to handle responsibilities, and to adapt to new situations.”

Raised in a family that often discussed politics, Mezera reveled in social studies, civics, and government classes in high school, and went on to major in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Her first taste of law came in a mock trial competition during her senior year of high school—and her interest continued to grow through undergrad classes focused primarily on Constitutional law.

Participating in a student-faculty political science research project in Jakarta, Indonesia, she found herself wanting to learn more about the legal underpinnings of the problem, and her research on problems in the Indonesian legal system fueled her desire to attend law school. She chose to become a Wolverine.

“I love the sense of community at Michigan,” she says. “I’ve received so much support and encouragement from both faculty and fellow students. Both the professors and students are top notch, but we work together as a learning community rather than competing against each other.”

A recipient of a 2018 Dean’s Public Service Fellowship, Mezera will spend this summer at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis, working in the Juvenile Prosecution Division on cases spanning from traffic violations to major felonies.

“I’ll have the opportunity to gain in-court experience, draft motions, and learn about the juvenile side of the criminal justice system,” she says.

This semester, Mezera will participate in the Juvenile Justice Clinic, advocating for juvenile clients in court.

“I’m excited about this opportunity because learning about the people on the defense side of the courtroom will help me become a better and fairer prosecutor in the future,” she says.

During her 1L year, Mezera spent spring break volunteering at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit, an experience that sparked her interest in criminal prosecution. And last summer, her work in the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston solidified her desire to become a prosecutor.

“Prosecutors hold so much power in the criminal justice system and impact so many lives,” she says. “They have the privilege to represent both crime victims and the community at large in the legal system. A prosecutor’s duty to seek justice requires her to make decisions that will have a huge impact on the defendant, the victim, and the community. Becoming a prosecutor will challenge me to use my judgment to make these difficult decisions as fairly as possible.

“I want to advocate for victims who don’t have a voice in the criminal justice system and help them navigate a process that is often traumatic for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” she adds.

Eventually, Mezera would like to work on criminal justice reform and policy.

“I think restorative justice and rehabilitation approaches in many cases would benefit the defendant, the victim, and the community much more than using incarceration as the only solution,” she says. “I want to help build a criminal justice system that sees defendants as human beings rather than bodies to fill cells. I hope to use my training and experience as a prosecutor to help create a criminal justice system that works as fairly and justly as possible.”

An associate editor of the Michigan Law Review, Mezera also is a member of the 1L Oral Advocacy Competition Board, a senior judge for a first year Legal Practice class, a First Year Information (FYI) Program leader, and a member of the Organization of Public Interest Students and First Generation Law Students.

She also volunteers as a 1L mentor for several law school student groups.

“I think it’s important to give back to the organizations that supported me through my first year of law school,” she says.

Mezera hails from Prairie du Chien, a small town on the Mississippi River in southwest Wisconsin.

“It’s a really beautiful area, but I always knew I wanted to explore more of the world and live in cities rather than small towns,” she says.

“I absolutely love winter, and there is nothing more peaceful than watching the snow fall while being wrapped up in a warm blanket with hot chocolate or tea to drink,” she says.

A huge fan of musical theater, she enjoys listening to musical soundtracks like “Hamilton,” “Cabaret,” and “Dear Evan Hansen” while she studies.

“I have an ever-expanding list of novels I want to read, and I try to set aside time every week to read a book for fun,” she says. “I also love traveling—my goal is to visit all 50 states and six continents.”

She made good progress on that goal during undergrad, when she studied at the University of Winchester in England, and traveled around much of the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

“I really enjoy learning about history, so I went to as many museums and historical sites as I could, and I also took a Medieval British History class,” she says. “My favorite cities were London, Prague, Munich, and Paris—they are each so unique and absolutely beautiful.”