You study cases and you read about the law in school, but as an intern you experience the actual analysis that trial lawyers go through.”
Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Division, Torts Branch, Aviation and Admiralty Litigation
For Michelle Delemarre, the best thing about her 1990 internship at the Department of Justice (DOJ) was “seeing lawyers do their work. You study cases and you read about the law in school, but as an intern you experience the actual analysis that trial lawyers go through.” Today, as a trial attorney for DOJ and a mentor in the Vermont Law School’s Semester in Practice (SiP) program, Delemarre provides students with the same practical, eye-opening experience that helped focus her own legal career 18 years ago.
Interning at DOJ, “I found torts and litigation very interesting,” Delemarre says. Her office specializes in Aviation and Admiralty litigation and works for a range of clients including the Navy, Maritime Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Aviation Administration, National Park Service, and Department of Commerce. Cases involve the carriage of goods as governed by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, personal injury, search-and-rescue, and damage to public structures and natural resources.
Delemarre cites a recent case from Puerto Rico as particularly challenging: A container ship ran aground, and the operators sued the government because a navigation buoy wasn’t in place. “But the U.S. had warned mariners that the buoy wasn’t there,” Delemarre says, “and case law had established that warning was all the government was required to do legally.” In winning “a long, hard-fought battle against a very vigorous opponent, we achieved a result that will benefit the U.S. for years to come.” The case gave rise to a published opinion, setting a valuable precedent while saving the taxpayers’ money.
Admiralty cases pertain not just to the ocean but to all navigable waterways, including rivers and lakes. “I keep hoping a case will come along involving Lake Champlain, so I can go back to Vermont on business,” Delemarre says with a laugh. “But so far the closest I’ve gotten is Boston.”
Delemarre is married to fellow VLS graduate Ron Vavruska, who also practices law in Washington, D.C. Her father, John Delemarre, directed the VLS physical plant for almost 30 years, retiring in 2007. He had a special interest in making the campus greener through initiatives such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and heating the library with biodiesel.
So far, Delemarre has mentored three VLS interns. “I tell them, ‘You’ll learn skills here that you can put to use wherever you end up working. We don’t focus exclusively on boats and planes—we’re trial lawyers, and what we do is applicable to every trial lawyer.’"