The Hon. Rodney Thompson L’93 Builds a Tradition of Hiring Orange Law Clerks
The Hon. Rodney Thompson L’93, G’93 graduated in 1993 with a J.D. from the College of Law and a master’s of public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, both of which he earned while on a full tuition scholarship. Now a New Jersey Superior Court Judge, Thompson grew up in Trenton, NJ, and pursued a legal education so he could give back to the community that raised him.
“Most of the people I grew up with—people who look like me—were good, honest, hard-working folks,” says Judge Thompson. “It was often difficult, however, to locate an attorney who was from where you were from and who understood your circumstances. I just really wanted to help my community.”
“I needed a law clerk—a Syracuse law clerk.”
That spirit of service and giving back extends to graduates of Judge Thompson’s alma mater, who have assisted him since his elevation to the Superior Court.
Thompson’s gubernatorial appointment to the Superior Court was confirmed in November 2016. Judicial clerks usually start their clerkships the last week of August, so Thompson was worried.
“I knew I needed a law clerk, and I wanted it to be a Syracuse law graduate,” he says. Thompson called his College of Law contact and friend, Director of Development
Melissa Cassidy, and she immediately thought of Anna Maria Castillo L’16. A perfect match for the position, Castillo started in November 2016 and served until 2018. “She did very well, and she took over at an extraordinarily challenging time,” Thompson recalls. “She had to jump into a very difficult docket, and she did an outstanding, phenomenal job. After Anna, it was a wrap.” Judge Thompson decided he would only look to Syracuse for his clerks moving forward.
Thompson has demonstrated to his colleagues that Syracuse graduates “have a strong work ethic, are critical thinkers, and are effective communicators.”William Gould L’19
Since Castillo, a number of Syracuse graduates have worked for Judge Thompson. Lishayne King L’18 was his second clerk, and Ursula Simmons L’19 served as an extern in his chambers. William Gould L’19 is his third and current clerk, while Isaac Signorelli L’20 started a nine-month externship last September. Omar Mosqueda L’20 is set to become his fourth clerk in August 2020.
“They all liked her.”
Castillo got to know the other family court judges, and her relationships and job performance continue to benefit College of Law students and graduates. “They all liked her and appreciated her work ethic,” Thompson says, “Anna was the perfect clerk. She was tough. She was smart. I could depend on her to work independently, including day-to-day assignments, drafting opinions, and dealing with court staff, attorneys and stakeholders. She also had excellent sports IQ.”
Thompson says he travels to Syracuse every September for the College’s annual Law Alumni Weekend and interviews an average of 10 students during his visit. He can only hire one clerk, but he distributes the information he acquires on other quality candidates to his colleagues. “Students get hired partly based on my recommendations, but partly based on the fact that my judicial colleagues knew Anna,” Thompson says.
To date, three other Syracuse graduates have been hired at the Mercer County Courthouse because of Judge Thompson’s recommendations. Current clerk William Gould says by hiring Syracuse graduates, Thompson has demonstrated to his colleagues that Syracuse graduates “have a strong work ethic, are critical thinkers, and are effective communicators.”
“Nothing is ever too serious.”
Castillo says clerking for Thompson was one of the best experiences she has had. “Walking into his chambers is like walking into your father’s living room. Nothing is ever too serious. He is very relaxed, which made for a good work environment.”
On Castillo’s last day, Thompson called her into his office, Castillo recalls, “It was like a family goodbye, like ‘talk to you later.’” Gould describes Thompson in the same terms, “as a well-liked and down-to-earth person” making Gould feel like part of the team.
Thompson takes the time to mentor his clerks. “I encourage them and take them to various bar association functions so they can make connections. I see it as my responsibility to mentor clerks, to get them out into the legal profession.” Gould says that the opportunity for mentorship is why he took the position with Thompson. “I appreciated the chance to learn from Judge Thompson about what attributes make an attorney effective” he observes.
“Many of my clerks have also participated in one of the College’s legal clinics or externships and therefore bring valuable real-world experiences on day oneHon. Rodney Thompson L’93
“I couldn’t be prouder.”
Castillo is currently an appellate attorney at the US Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC. The high workload and outputs of Thompson’s docket prepared Castillo for her current position. “He provided me with the type of independence I need here,” she says. “I was not micromanaged, and that sort of independence to address a problem on my own really helps me in this job.”
Gould adds, “Judge Thompson has a demanding docket of cases, and each day presents a different challenge that I must work through. However, from day one, he has offered his advice and support.”
Thompson says he feels that Syracuse uniquely prepares graduates for clerkships because of the strong legal writing and research curriculum. “Most of the students I interview participate in some sort of law journal. Many of my clerks have also participated in one of the College’s legal clinics or externships and therefore bring valuable real-world experiences on day one,” Thompson explains.
Thompson, Castillo, and Gould emphasize the need for excellent writing, communication, and interpersonal skills for law clerks, as well as being calm under pressure. “Dean Boise and the current leadership team are moving the College in the right direction, preparing lawyers for the future,” Thompson notes. “I couldn’t be prouder of my Syracuse education.”