STAUNTON — Dagon Wheeler loved television programs about the legal system. Growing up, the Fort Defiance High School senior watched shows like “Law and Order” and developed a passion for law.
The 17-year old has now turned that passion into a mentorship at the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Wheeler started the mentorship at the beginning of this year.
Her parents have always supported her dream to be a lawyer.
“Like when I told (my mom), I was like, ‘Yep I want to be a lawyer,’ said Wheeler. “And she’s like, ‘OK, you’ve got to figure out where you want to go to school.’”
Wheeler originally wanted to be paired with a local attorney when a better opportunity with the Augusta County Circuit Court came her way.
The court has been taking on mentor students from colleges and high schools since September of 2020. Students can fill out an application for fall or spring semesters as well as the summer.
“We all enjoy working with the clerk’s interns each semester and over the summer," Clerk of Court Steve Landes said. "The five sets of students we have had so far have all been a great asset to our office.”
Wheeler goes to court three days a week in the mornings, a schedule she says she has grown to love. She mentioned the great relationships she’s made with her mentors.
“Judge (Anne) Reed, she’s the female judge,” said Wheeler. “I strive to be like her, I love her. I got really close with some of the commonwealth's attorneys.”
Wheeler spends most of her time observing criminal cases. She communicates with prosecutors, defenders, and judges to learn how all sides of the court work. She says, “I get to watch court cases, and then sometimes I get to help with filing subpoena cases and witness orders. Sometimes I get to look at evidence.”
Wheeler mentioned that civil cases don’t excite her in the same way criminal cases do.
“I told myself a lot of times, well I’m gonna be a criminal defense attorney," she said. "Like having fairness, making it equal. They deserve a chance.”
Wheeler says one of the most difficult parts of her new job is keeping everything to herself. She’s exposed to information not available to the public, meaning she can’t always tell her mom what she’s learned. Wheeler says she has even seen people she knows in court.
“It’s like, 'Oh my gosh,'" she said. "I want to tell my mom sometimes, I just can’t.”
Outside of her mentorship, Wheeler has run indoor and outdoor track since the sixth grade. She just recently competed at the state championship on the individual level where she placed 10th overall in the 500-meter run.
Wheeler also keeps a part-time job while handling her extensive school work. Luckily, once she leaves the courtroom she leaves all of her work there, allowing her to be more flexible with her time.
Wheeler plans on attending West Virginia University's College of Law while minoring in psychology.
Ameiya Robinson is a senior at Staunton High School and the Shenandoah Valley Governor's School. She just recently completed a mentorship with The News Leader.
This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Fort Defiance senior gains legal experience with Augusta County Circuit Court