By JENNIFER LANE
Sydney DeZinno, who is studying law in the Paralegal Program at Pima Community College, wants to work in criminal defense.
Growing up in south Florida, local media and neighborhood chatter teased with near-endless information about big criminal cases. Details behind the wrongdoings of notorious criminals such as Casey Anthony and Ted Bundy were easily accessible thanks to the Sunshine Law; a Florida law that provides open access to public records.
Under Florida law, DeZinno could teach herself legal research. She became fascinated with criminal law, and during these years she decided she was going to work in prosecution.
Yet, after her first semester of studying in the Paralegal Program at Pima Community College, she learned that defense is “not about getting people off the hook. It’s more protecting constitutional rights,” DeZinno said.
Now she wants to work on the defense side in Pima County. As part of the checks and balances of the state’s legal system, she wants to ensure people are afforded equal rights. On top of her paralegal classes, she is also co-president of the Paralegal Club at PCC.
“I enjoy being super involved and I am passionate about being a paralegal,” said DeZinno as to why she spends much of her free time as an elected officer for the Paralegal Club.
On March 14, the Paralegal Club will have its first symposium-like event — the Legal Service Assistance Day. Local legal service providers will speak to students about services, opportunities and professional development. The Paralegal Club and the Immigrant and Refugee Student Resource Center (IRSRC) will sponsor the event.
The club’s other co-president, Sarah Jenista, is in her final semester of the paralegal program. Her parents had told her she would make a good lawyer.
“Any conversation I had with my parents over dinner on a completely casual, not-so-serious topic, I always had a rebuttal or something to … debate,” Jenista said.
The challenge of discovering varying angles of a conflict became a passion and one reason she signed up for classes in the paralegal program. As a student in the program, she hooked a job as a legal assistant for the Next Chapter Family Law Center. Working in law and studying law ties up most of Jenista’s days. Yet, she adds the weight of co-president to an already heavy load because she wants to give back to paralegal students.
“I know how hard it was for me to go into the program with minimal knowledge about the field of law and how hard it can be to navigate and understand the concepts that we’re taught in class,” Jenista said. “I grew immensely in every way, and I want to share my knowledge and experience with our fellow paralegal students.
“I believe it’s so important to have relationships with others who are in the same field as you because the nature of the legal field can be draining and stressful, and it’s a relief and great to have a community to fall back on,” she added.
Originally a computer guy, Nathan Angeles is in his second semester in the Paralegal Program and is vice president of the club.
“I have always wanted to give back,” Angeles explained why he signed up for classes in the Paralegal Program and became the club’s VP. Already skilled with computers and certified in information technology, he wants to pursue cyber law, a legal area he feels people are underrepresented.
“I don’t want my background knowledge to dull down,” he said. “I want to use it in the legal profession to better represent people in the cyber field.”
Next semester, Angles is signed up to take a cyber law and ethics class which will guide him on exploring ethics within cyber law.
So, who started the Pima Paralegal Club?
Several years back, Professor Lynnae Thandiwe, J.D, packed her bags when living in Georgia with its year-round running rivers, green trees and humidity. Mountainous legal experience as a practicing attorney and a desire to give back to the community are a big part of what drove her to the arid desert in Tucson.
In August 2019, she began her stint as a professor for the PCC Paralegal Program. Just one month later, she tossed out the idea of starting a paralegal club.
DeeDee Skinner, one of the students in her Paralegal 202 class, caught the idea. She leaned forward and pulled out a club application from her school backpack. She had wanted to start a paralegal club for a while; she just needed a faculty sponsor.
From that day, two innovative minds worked together to begin PCC’s first-ever paralegal club.
“The goal for the club is professional development, networking, and fun,” Thandiwe said.
Besides offering study groups and fun social parties, the club hosts events where speakers talk of their work in a specific area of law. In the March 4 event, Anzorena Fuentes shared highlights of her 20 years of experience as a paralegal. She currently is working in family law for The Next Chapter Family Law Center. Fuentes presented the ins and outs of working as a paralegal and a bit about family law. She then answered numerous questions from curious students who were fascinated by her knowledge.
The paralegal club also organizes field trips to places such as the Pima County Superior Court and the District Court where students get to witness trials, and speak to judges, attorneys and other paralegals. The exposure educates students and can even link them to a future job. Next week, the club is sponsoring a trip to the Pima County Juvenile Court.
While Thandiwe guides, the club is run by PCC student officers. Each semester, new officers are elected to lead the club’s activities.
“Students who serve as officers develop their leadership skills, professional skills, and networking skills,” Thandiwe said. “They also forge connections with the court, and other legal service providers,” Thandiwe explained the benefits of taking on a leadership role in PCC’s paralegal club.