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No nicknames in court: Meet judicial intern (and Packers Pro Bowler) Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been known by that nickname for most of his 24 years -- ever since his grandmother dubbed him as such because he was a happy-go-lucky baby.

Not this summer.

The Brown County (Wisconsin) Courthouse is no place for colloquial monikers, at least not in judge Donald R. Zuidmulder's chambers.

So for 30 days this summer, the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl safety went by his formal name.

"I told him, 'I'm never going to introduce you as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix; that's your football name,'" Zuidmulder said. "'But when this is over, you've got a lot of years to go forward as Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix,' and he fully bought into that."

Meet Ha'Sean Treshon Clinton-Dix, judicial intern.

That was even a change for Zuidmulder, who had a chance encounter with Clinton-Dix's grandfather just days before the 2014 NFL draft that served as the springboard for a friendship between the two families.

As part of his pursuit to complete his degree in criminal justice, Clinton-Dix went back to Alabama -- where he starred for the Crimson Tide before leaving for the NFL after his junior season -- to take classes this spring. Coming off his best NFL season, Clinton-Dix missed part of the offseason workout program to attend classes on the Tuscaloosa campus. He plans to graduate next spring, and his summer internship with Zuidmulder was not only another step along the way but also a chance to experience the inner workings of the judicial system.

It's not just the degree that Clinton-Dix wants; it's a way to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public -- something he spoke about in an interview with ESPN last year. Clinton-Dix, who grew up near Orlando, Florida, said he saw a distrust between people in his neighborhood and the legal system. Ever since then, he's been out to change that perception.

In that regard, Zuidmulder was the perfect mentor. The 75-year-old Brown County Circuit Court judge started what he calls "treatment courts" in and around Green Bay. It's a separate court for those charged with crimes that involve drugs and alcohol.

"I think Ha Ha really enjoyed that," Zuidmulder said. "He spent time in the drug court, the mental health court, the heroin court. So he saw this whole new approach we have in identifying offenders and doing something with regard to repeated offenses -- if repeated offenses are dealing with something not necessarily criminal but addictions, instead of just locking them up and hitting them over the head."

Yes, Zuidmulder will call Clinton-Dix by his nickname. It goes back to that meeting with Clinton-Dix's grandfather, Julius, in Orlando. Zuidmulder and his wife were staying at the Bay Hill resort in the spring of 2014, just days before the NFL draft, when he requested a car to take them to the airport for their trip home. The driver who arrived was Julius Dix, whose white Lincoln Town Car was decked out in Alabama colors and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix memorabilia.

"On the back of his car it says ‘Roll Tide, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix,'" Zuidmulder said. "I said in so many words, ‘Who the hell is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix?' He said, ‘Wait a minute, that's my grandson, and he's going to be the first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions.'"

Zuidmulder, who served on the Packers' board of directors until 2012 and is now a director emeritus, immediately extended an invitation to come to Green Bay for a Lions-Packers game. He didn't think much about it until the day of the draft, when the Packers were the team to pick Clinton-Dix at No. 21 overall.

He immediately called Julius Dix.

"We're in New York for the draft, and he calls and said, ‘Ha Ha has a second home' -- if he needs anything, to give him a call," Clinton-Dix said.

They met a week later.

"We sat and had a nice conversation," Zuidmulder said, "and then this kid thanks me and gives me a big hug and tells me how much this means to him. We've been in his life ever since. His family has been over to my home."

Said Clinton-Dix: "He's kind of like my second grandfather. It's definitely a blessing to have him on my side."

All of that was before Zuidmulder knew about Clinton-Dix's studies.

"So when this internship came up, it was just a natural," the judge said.

Most of his interns, however, are first- and second-year law students -- not active NFL players who are still working on their undergraduate degree. So Zuidmulder created a different type of curriculum for Clinton-Dix for his monthlong internship.

"I had a chance to sit down with the sheriff's department. I got the chance to visit with the prison, county jail. Got a chance to sit with the D.A. for a day, with the public defender for a day. I pretty much got the outlook on everything that's a part of the judicial system," Clinton-Dix said. "I sat in on trials, cases, juvenile cases that are always closed to the public -- but it was definitely interesting to watch and see people who have done harm to the community in a powerful way, be charged with the crimes they were involved in. It was a great learning experience.

"I learned the importance of making the right decisions. Judges have a hard job. It's not just putting someone in jail or slapping someone on the wrist and giving them a punishment, but it's protecting society as a whole."

Clinton-Dix isn't the most outspoken person in the Packers' locker room, but he makes his statements in his own way. Like last week, when he honored two slain Florida police officers by writing their names on his cleats before the Packers' preseason game at Washington.

He also recently launched the "Ha Ha's HERO Foundation." It's an acronym for "hope, education, resources and opportunity," and it's designed to help low-income children in the Green Bay area.

What's next for Clinton-Dix?

As Ha Ha, he has become one of the leaders on the Packers' defense. As Ha'Sean, Zuidmulder said the possibilities are unlimited.

"I've encouraged him to think about going to law school," Zuidmulder said. "I'm sure with his leadership skills, he could be hired by almost any law enforcement agency and over time he would rise in the ranks. I think he would be great at any of those things, but I've encouraged him to think about maybe going to law school, so we'll see."