Annie Beles – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She was born and raised in Oakland, California. She grew up in a family of lawyers. She is a state certified criminal specialist since 2007. She has tried over 50 cases to jury verdict, including serious felonies and homicides. And she rescues pitfalls. Annie Beles. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Annie Beles: Thank you, Louis. Thank you for having me. It’s a real honor to chat with you and I’m looking forward to it.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office located?
Annie Beles: We are in the Ordway building right down near the Lake in Oakland, adjacent to the actual corner of Lake Merritt with a view from the 23rd floor.
Louis Goodman: Sounds good. What kind of practice do you [00:01:00] have there?
Annie Beles: So we have actually, I do almost only active criminal cases. Some appellate, we have two appellate specialists in our office that do post-conviction relief. And then we also have two immigration lawyers because we started because of the dovetail between helping people that are in need or in a little bit of trouble. And so we went into immigration probably right around 2007, 2008.
Louis Goodman: How many attorneys are in the firm altogether.
Annie Beles: At the moment we have six. It’s vacillated between 5 and 10 throughout my career. And we’ve got a good crew going and six wonderful staff members. And so we try to get the job done even during COVID-19.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Annie Beles: I am a proud graduate of Holy Names High School in Oakland. That is an all-girls Catholic school. It was instead of Oakland High at the time. And both my sisters graduated from there as well.
Louis Goodman: What was that [00:02:00] experience like for you?
Annie Beles: Well, I think Holy Names offered each young woman a different benefit.
I mean, I think that one of the benefits was for me, was that it was an absolutely fabulous education. A good group of girls.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to college?
Annie Beles: I went to UC Santa Cruz, primarily because it was close and I could come home. Periodically, even on the Greyhound bus over the hill. I was already working in the office and I remember coming home during summers and sometimes when my dad was in trial during the year to continue to help out in the office.
Louis Goodman: So you’ve been working in the legal field for really, quite some time.
Annie Beles: Yeah. I started when I was 15, I’m 48 now and I did everything. I answered the phones. I did the filing. I did the courier work. And it became greater responsibility as I got older, but I think it was really important to know what the [00:03:00] nuts and bolts of how an office works and what a lawyer needs. And so that I could put that into my practice when I became a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: Do you feel it was kind of a natural progression to go into the practice of law in your dad’s office?
Annie Beles: No, surprisingly not. I mean, I had a wonderful group of, I would call them aunts and uncles when my dad was in the PDs office and he left in 1980 when I was eight.
I didn’t want to be a lawyer when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. And it was kind of funny how I ended up going into law school. When I came home, I was in England, my junior year went to the University of Exeter for junior year abroad and I came home for Christmas and I was sitting there watching football with my dad. And my dad said, “So Annie, what’s the plan here? You know, what are you doing when you graduate?” This is the middle of junior year. I said, “Well dad, I think I might teach, you know what, I’m going to write. And dad in his,[00:04:00] being an attorney many years, turned to me and said, “well, what are you going to write about?”
And I thought, Oh, Blank. What am I going to write about? I’m only 20 years old. Let me try this law school thing. And law school was not wonderful. I didn’t think, but becoming a lawyer was the best thing that I, best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Where did you go to law school?
Annie Beles: I went to USF and I went directly from college, graduated in June from college and started in August at USF.
I’ve lived at home for the first year. Worked. Probably far too much throughout my time in law school. And I really looked at it as a way to get my ticket so I could practice law. The intellectual pursuits were interesting, but I knew in my heart that corporations were only going to be a course I needed for the bar.
Louis Goodman: So going to law school for you was kind of a means to an end because you really were already practicing law.
Annie Beles: Yes, I was already in the groove. I was already preparing cases for my dad [00:05:00] doing filings, doing motion writing, and I really just wanted the ticket. An I mean, I remember my first court appearance, like it was yesterday and that’s what I wanted to do was be in the courtroom and help my clients, help people when they are in sometimes the worst trouble of their lives.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I really remember my first court appearance as well. When you actually started practicing, as an attorney, as opposed to just, you know, being someone who was working in the office, how did that change for you?
Annie Beles: Well, the responsibility changes because I think lawyers, defense lawyers do this for different reasons.
And one of the reasons I found throughout the years is that I really want to take care of people. And so the responsibility of being the actual lawyer is total responsibility. Not saying, okay, I’ll get you this filing, or I’ll do this, this partial [00:06:00] job it’s taking on the client and their families in its entirety.
And that responsibility is an awesome honor and that’s really how it changed from being a staff member to being a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: You are now trying some very serious felony cases on a regular basis. How did you get from being a brand-new lawyer to the point of lawyer who handles really serious cases?
Annie Beles: Well, the office has always had a lot of cases and needless to say my dad thankfully threw me in the deep end of the pool. I had been prepping up the homicide cases. One I remember very clearly was when I was a freshman was a potential death penalty case for my dad. So I knew the organizational skills.
And so my dad gave me big cases. My first felony trial was actually a [00:07:00] life exposure. It was the first Prop 21 minor charged as an adult directly, which is, you know, the law has since changed. Thankfully. But that, you know, you go in the deep end of the pool and you learn to swim. And then I decided, I think it was in 2009.
And to also take on some court appointed cases, because I think that’s important for our community. And I just took the big ones. I’ve had a lot of very serious felonies. I think I’ve only tried five misdemeanors. Although I enjoy trying the misdemeanors just as much as I enjoy trying the felonies, they’re just not four months long.
Louis Goodman: What is it you really like about practicing law?
Annie Beles: I like the mental engagement with the law. You know, for instance, just this morning, I’m looking at warrants that are based upon new technology and trying to figure out how to attack them or [00:08:00] sale them. If I can, I also really like the personal relationships that we have with our clients, with their families. I really want to know who my clients are and I want to be able to help them and their unique position. So that there’s a social aspect as well. I like being in court. I like speaking with other lawyers about their experiences. It’s one of the last human.
Louis Goodman: If someone, a young person were thinking about a career choice, would you recommend becoming a lawyer?
Annie Beles: Oh, that is a very interesting question. I have an 18-year-old niece who has asked me this and I think I would. But I would also caution people that it is not for the faint of heart. Yeah. Criminal defense, especially when you’re dealing with the heavy, violent cases of accusations [00:09:00] you know, heinous crimes.
And you take that on and you see things that you didn’t really saw, you know, you didn’t really think was lawyering. And one of my favorite things about, and I knew this, but I was talking to my niece. My niece said, do you know, do you go out to lunch with other lawyers? And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in trial, out of town, you know, kind of eating a power bar on my knee, in the front seat of my car, with the air conditioning on and the yellow pad on the other knee, trying to get my cross examination going.
It’s a tough job, but I do recommend it because of the satisfaction that you get from helping people. But I also warn people that it is not, you know, it is not the easiest job in the world.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Annie Beles: Well I would change a lot of things I think that we’re moving in the right direction.
I think that, for instance, there’s a Senate bill about dealing with peremptory [00:10:00] challenges. That’s near and dear to my heart. I would very much give discretion to judges. That’s also been changing with some of the gun use enhancements, one hopes that it would change with some of these.
Mandatory sentences regarding sexual offenses. And I would try to really inject, without being too much of a hippy about it, inject the idea of compassion from all perspectives, from the deputy in the courtroom who calls my client a body instead of an inmate or a client, try to humanize this whole situation from both perspectives. From the Prosecution’s perspective and humanizing their victims and, or their victims’ families, but really inject compassion into the whole system so that we are operating with critical thinking skills and in a compassionate manner when we are in crisis.
[00:11:00] Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair and that it dispenses justice?
No, not all. No. I think that there are problems that are in society that I don’t come that manifest within the legal system. I mean, we have systemic racism. We have mass incarceration issues. We have prosecutorial discretion issues. We have the variants of County to County. I mean, you know, a simple DUI here in Alameda County is going to be treated very differently, let alone more serious crimes.
And I don’t think that it is entirely fair. Does it dispense justice? Sometimes. And one time somebody asked me where are the scales of justice, even? Where are they actually, even the way that they’re supposed to be. And [00:12:00] my joke, I guess I should just confess this is that they are flat and even, and straight in the tattoo that I have on my back of the scales of justice. But other than that, they’re tipped very often against the people of lower socioeconomic status, people of color. We really have problems. I know a lot of people are trying, but no, I don’t think that I can say that it’s fair and it dispenses justice over.
That’s why we have defense attorneys standing up against the government.
Louis Goodman: What made you decide to get that tattoo?
Annie Beles: I got it in law school and I thought about it for about two years. Again, I’m telling young people that I think that you should have a waiting period before you get a tattoo. And I realized at that point in law school, that this was what I was going to do. And when I write, I will be probably writing about my experiences, the stories that I’ve heard, but [00:13:00] this justice thing is my calling and has been for the last 21 years.
Louis Goodman: Now you’ve mentioned your dad several times already in this interview and your dad, Bob Belles is a very well-known and well-respected attorney in his own right. And I’m sure he is one of your great mentors. Okay. I’m wondering if there are any other people who have been mentors to you along the way?
Annie Beles: Well, I think of mentoring, there have been so many, I mean, there have been so many, like the first that comes to mind are the aunts and uncles from the public defender’s office.
Just seeing Arlene West, just seeing CC Blackwell as female attorneys was inspiration and that made it okay. Penny Cooper, because our gate is that right. [00:14:00] Okay. To be a woman lawyer. And then the uncles that were around made it okay to talk about law, you know, that parties, et cetera. I also on a more personal level, I think that Kim Kupfer who kind of, she and I worked a couple potential death penalty cases together a couple of years back. And she’s just been an incredible inspiration throughout the years, but my dad and my mom are the initial mentors. I would also say that we get mentoring or I have gotten mentoring, not we, I have gotten mentoring throughout my times in the courts. Bill Linehan, I just went to his Memorial, sadly. And he used to whisper wisdom to me when we would sit in the jury box just about a certain issue. Take more of the time DA’s office taught me more about sentencing. When I watched him do D&S as in department [00:15:00] 11, then I think any book or any other lawyer could have.
So I tried to go on, I tried to glom onto it. I tried to imbibe all of the mentoring and information I could from those that whispered wisdom you hear in the courtroom when somebody is talking about their case. So I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had a lot of people influenced me and lift me up in terms of knowledge and experience.
So I’ve been very, very lucky.
Louis Goodman: And just to let you know, I’ve had people tell me how they’ve looked up to you and consider you a great mentor to them in their careers.
Annie Beles: Well, Louis, that makes me extremely happy. Really, I believe in this community and I think that we are better lawyers when we talk to one another. I am a better lawyer when I talk to someone who’s been a lawyer for six months or someone who’s been a lawyer for 52 years. And that means a lot to me that people would think of me as a mentor. I [00:16:00] take on that role as, as much as I can.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. And I also just want to personally thank you. And I think I speak for a lot of us when people will post to that Alameda Defenders email group with a question, you know, you’re always right there, you have information, you have good information and you’re just very generous with your time and your knowledge when you post there. And I see it all the time.
Annie Beles: Well, thank you. I try to be responsive. And I think that, I think it’s just important. It’s there are people that are sitting in their home offices before COVID and during COVID and, and they’re by themselves, and that we can’t go into the courts during Covid and say, how do I get this on the calendar?
What do I do to file a motion? And [00:17:00] the individuality of being a lawyer, right. Is never going to suffer by sharing experience and knowledge with other people. It’s just not. We’re better. I mean, I think that lawyers, especially defense attorneys, should stick together. And that would, that will raise up our representation of our clients.
So I try to be responsive when I can, and I do my weekly inspiration.
Louis Goodman: I know you do your weekly inspiration, and I was just getting to that. Because as a matter of fact, today, you posted something by someone named Earl Nightingale. Let me just read it. It says we are at our very best, and we are happiest when we are fully engaged in work. We enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life. So wonderful, so worthwhile, and I think that’s true.
[00:18:00] Annie Beles: It did speak to me and I actually don’t know who Mr. Nightingale is. When I do my work, the best I can, then I do feel like I left it all on the field and that I can go back to the locker room knowing I did my best.
And I think inspiration, well, it may be a softer assistance than, you know, how to file a motion. Or do you have a case on this issue? I think we all need to be buoyed up and lifted up when we’re practicing this kind of law.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your family life.
Annie Beles: So I met my wonderful husband when I was 14 playing football on Lake Shore and eating donuts at Colonial Donuts.
And then we dated for a while and then remet when I was 32 and have been together ever since. So almost 16 years now, we got married in 2012 and we have no children, [00:19:00] but we have two rescue pit bulls. Matt and I live in an area where we find dogs, unfortunately that have been fought or hurt or abandoned.
And one of our dogs we got from death row at the shelter that’s Bodie and he had an execution date and we kind of kidnapped him essentially. And we had to do an interview. I do have to tell the story. We had an interview to find out whether or not we would be good parents. And Matt had been a dog owner his whole life almost, but I had not. And the woman took me aside and said, do you understand, you know, the pit bulls are not well liked. And I said, well, yes. and I understand that. Are you ready to be a pit bull owner? I said, yes, I am. And then she said, do you understand that people are going to hate you if you walk down the street with a pit bull? It took everything in my power, not to say people hate me because I represent people accused of [00:20:00] crime on a regular basis. I’m kind of used to that idea. And the other one we found literally on a trail and just couldn’t give her up. And so we kept her and we live in Oakland.
My husband is also from Oakland and both his dad is from Oakland and he was from Piedmont. So we enjoy our time here and travel when we can.
Louis Goodman: Well I suppose most of your travel was taken place in the before times. Any places that you’ve really enjoyed going to?
Annie Beles: Yes. we try to go to Kauai where I have family, and Ireland where actually Matt’s mother, Matt is my husband, my husband’s mother lives there when we got together the second time around.
And so we, those are the two places that we’ve been the most. Oh, we used to travel to the Southwest for, to visit our aunt, my in-laws as well. But Kauai, Ireland and Arizona were the big ones.
Louis Goodman: What sort of recreational pursuits do you have when you’re not actually practicing law?
Annie Beles: Oh, am I supposed to have those.
[00:21:00] Louis Goodman: Well, I don’t know. I mean, some people have a little work/ life balance, maybe you don’t and that probably makes you a better lawyer.
Annie Beles: No, I’m joking. I don’t have, you know, like an absolute hobby, but I have my, I read a lot that has always been my thing is reading. I read nonfiction and fiction.
I walk the dogs. I love to garden. And, you know, I have my funny little things that I try to think are going to be my next hobby. I started knitting and I realized that after a long day’s work. And knitting was not the most relaxing at first. It took a while to learn how to do it, but I knit here and there and I, you know, when I cook. So, but I don’t think that I would be the example of the greatest work life balance.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some other profession that you could think of doing?
Annie Beles: I would like to be a teacher. [00:22:00] A teacher and a writer that was the goal back before the famous football conversation with my dad when I was 20.
So that’s probably what I would do.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars fell into your lap. What, if anything, would you do differently?
Annie Beles: I would take a couple months off. Thank you very much. No, I would take a couple months off and I would somehow try to get the Oakland Public Schools funded appropriately across all districts.
That would be a huge goal for me. I would probably want to buy a home in both Kauai on Kauai and on in Ireland. Yeah. And then I would probably come back and try a couple of cases a year. Not as many as I do now, not at the pace that I do, but I said that the clients before, uh, or potential clients, and I said, you know, if I won the lottery, sorry, I probably would [00:23:00] still try these cases.
Cause I think that’s part of who I am. But I would take time to write, but I don’t think that I would stop practicing law entirely and schools fund the schools.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, I think that you’re happiest when you’re fully engaged in your work.
Annie Beles: I am.
Louis Goodman: What if you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise.
What would that be? What would the one thing, if you could change it be?
Annie Beles: I think I’d go back to, I guess it’s two things, giving humanity, all people critical thinking skills and compassion. The world would be a better place if we use our critical thinking skills and compassion. In every way in every profession and every interaction at the grocery store, everything, if we have critically thought [00:24:00] and we’re compassionate with one another, the world would be a different place.
Is there any one case that you can think about that comes to mind that you think went really well? Where you feel like, wow, this was like really what being a lawyer is about.
Annie Beles: Yeah. I can think of one where I got an acquittal and the man has a very successful career and made sure to send me, you know, a photograph of his wedding, a couple of years later. He sends me a Christmas card every year. That one stands out. Another one where the client walks back into my office, which I’ve had a number of. And that’s I say that because most of my clients with the serious cases are in custody when I’m representing them. Many of them are, I shouldn’t say most and many of them are facing enormous amounts of time in custody.
So to be able to walk into my office after I’ve represented them, [00:25:00] is a real pleasure.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. That is a good feeling. Isn’t it?
Annie Beles: It really is. And to know that they’re successful in that the starfish that I threw back in the sea through my work, hopefully, or whatever I contributed to, it was able to thrive and come back into society.
And that’s been a real pleasure.
Louis Goodman: Annie. I understand you’ve got a poster on the wall, in your office of a starfish. Can you tell us about that?
Annie Beles: Yeah, the story that I read and I don’t know who it’s attributed to. Is in it the poster that I have has the starfish and the story. And the story is that young child, a young girl was walking down a beach and there were thousands and thousands of starfish on that beach, out of the water and ailing and dying.
And she was picking one up at a time and threw it in the water. And an older man came by and said, Oh, young woman, what are you doing? And she said, I’m [00:26:00] saving the starfish. And he said, and she picked one up and she threw it back in the water. And he said, well, I’m okay, but why are you doing that?
And she picked one up and put it in the water. And she said, because it will live and then pick what up, put it in the water. And he said, well, how there’s thousands of them down this beach, how could you help? And she picked one up and she threw it in the water and she said, I helped that one. And I think that’s what I try to do with my clients.
I try to help them that one, the one that’s in front of me, the one that is on calendar this afternoon, the person that’s on the phone at four o’clock. I try to help each person and value them and their families like they were my family. Like I would pick them up and put them back in the ocean.
That’s what that poster is about.
Louis Goodman: Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. [00:27:00] It’s a real privilege to talk to someone who is as respected in the community as you are, who works so hard. And who does so much for the criminal justice community in Alameda County. Thanks for being here. Pleasure talking to you.
Annie Beles: Thank you, Louis. It was a real pleasure to talk with you.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.