Hon. Pelayo Llamas / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Hon. Pelayo Llamas / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Louis Goodman 00:07
In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, this is Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with members of the ACBA about their lives and legal careers. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the LTL podcast and yes, I’m a member of the Alameda County Bar Association.

Currently an Alameda County Court Commissioner, Pelayo Llamas will take the bench as a Superior Court Judge in January of 2023. He has previously served as a Deputy City Attorney for the city of Oakland. He advised elected officials and litigated on behalf of the city. He’s litigated large multi-party lawsuits, including construction defect and personal injury matters. Commissioner Pelayo Llamas comes from a large and influential Filipino family that has served the public from times of Spanish Colonial Rule in the Philippines.

Perhaps most impressive, he’s an excellent cook and knows how to prepare classic Filipino dishes. Pelayo Llamas, welcome to the Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 01:27
Thank you so much, Louis. And I appreciate your invitation to be a part of this impressive series of profiles that you’re doing. I think it’s really great that you’ve got a real mix of people from across the practice groups as well as I think people across the country participating, so thank you again.

Louis Goodman 01:49
Well, it’s a real privilege to have you here and congratulations on no one filing against you for your race for judge. So, I think that we can confidently say that you will in fact be taking the bench as a Superior Court Judge in January.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 02:05
Well, I will not be presumptuous and say I hope that the I win the election on June seventh, things are looking good, but congratulate me on June 8th, hopefully

Louis Goodman 02:16
Very well. Now you are on vacation right now. So where are you talking to us from right this minute?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 02:23
Seattle, Washington, first trip here. And my son is on spring break from his seventh grade. I have a nephew living up here, so we thought we’d just pop in and give him a little visit. Well, we’re so far experiencing decent weather from what I’m told.

Louis Goodman 02:39
Well, that’s a shock. Where are you sitting right now? And what sort of assignment do you have with the court?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 02:45
I’m sitting in department 603 in the Fremont Courthouse, that is infractions criminal assignment, which is primarily traffic violations. I do get a mix of things like people cited by the Alcoholic Beverage Control for underage possession or using a false ID. I get local municipal code violations such as dog bark complaints or persistent dog barking disturbing the peace, and get dangerous weapons possession in the park district, swimming in the park, curfew violations, things like that. Fishing without a license or exceeding fishing limits.

Louis Goodman 03:24
How long have you been doing that assignment?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 03:28
This is my third year in that assignment. In 2020, I had a civil assignment that was in that it was in the Hayward Courthouse.

Louis Goodman 03:36
Where are you from originally?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 03:38
That’s not a straightforward answer. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. I lived there until I was about seven and a half. Lived in different countries in Asia, moved back to the Bay Area when I was 12 years old. So, and I’ve been in the Bay Area since, but did a good amount of traveling during that one period.

Louis Goodman 03:58
Where’d you go to high school?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 03:59
El Cerrito High. And that is where my family home is and we’d been there since the mid seventies.

Louis Goodman 04:06
And when you graduated from El Cerrito, where’d you go to college?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 04:10
I first went to San Francisco State for a semester, then did another two and a half years at Contra Costa Community College and San PAB. I concurrently did a semester there at UC Berkeley with, I mean, splitting time between Contra Costa and Berkeley, and then eventually finished my degree at UC Berkeley in ’86.

Louis Goodman 04:33
You ultimately went to law school. Did you take time off between college and law school or did you just go straight through?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 04:39
I ended up taking three years off in between.

Louis Goodman 04:43
What did you do during that three-year period?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 04:44
First I was an office manager, a proofreader at a book type setting and design firm, which those types of businesses probably don’t exist anymore. And then after that, I did a year and a little more at a more graphic design oriented desktop publishing firm as an office manager, I also did cold calling, I did all the bookkeeping. Real different stuff than what I’m doing now, in a way.

Louis Goodman 05:14
When did you first decide that you wanted to be a lawyer. When did you first start thinking this would be a good profession for me?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 05:23
It was after college during that three-year working period. I think after probably about a year and a half. I was assessing what I should be doing next, including exploring an MBA. And I really did dive into somewhat personality traits of being analytical, very picky about things and thought maybe that would apply better to a career in law.

Louis Goodman 05:51
Where did you ultimately go to law school?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 05:52
I went to Santa Clara University.

Louis Goodman 05:55
Do you think having taken some time off and worked in an office setting in business world, do you think that that helped you focus when you actually got to law school?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 06:07
Well, definitely. That was a, I think an advantage. That and other circumstances in my life, I had me very focused at that period. There were other older, much older people than I, who some of my classmates in law school. And then we had people who had come straight through from undergraduate, but I felt that the life experience and having worked a significant amount, even when I was in high school in a blue collar setting gave me quite a lot of perspective to bring to what the reasonable person might think, the practicalities of how law is applied and relevant to everyday life.

Louis Goodman 06:45
Your family has had a lot of ties to the law, both in the United States and before that in the Philippines. What did your friends and family say when you told them, “I’m going to go to law school”?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 07:00
I don’t think I got a lot of direct encouragement from that. I mean, my father was a barred lawyer in the Philippines and he suggested I go into computers. Might not have been a bad path for me in a way, but…

Louis Goodman 07:19
I think it would have been a good path for you. And the reason I say that is when we did that Inns of Court program some years ago, whenever I got in trouble on the computer, I would just go, “Pelayo, Pelayo!” And I remember doing it while we were actually doing the performance and you came over and fixed it right away for us. So I really appreciate that.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 07:42
I am very outside, generally speaking, I’m very hands-on. I love to figure out things.

Louis Goodman 07:46
Now, you worked for quite a while in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your path to the City Attorney’s Office from Santa Clara University Law School.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 07:59
Sure. Well, the first job I got out of law school was a good seven years at a firm that at the time was called Larson Burnham, is currently called Burnham Brown, a long time Oakland from doing civil litigation, primarily Sheriff’s defense at which was a really great place to work. Very organized, very advanced, as far as having access to technology for lawyers. One of the old fashioned takeaways or things that they brought forward applying to young associates was that that’s how we had to dictate everything instead of writing it ourselves.

And the thought was, you’re going to develop your verbal communication skills. The other thing they did was gave us a lot of responsibility right away. I mean, as soon as you were admitted to the bar, you were given your own small personal injury cases and there’d be a senior associate or a supervisor to work with, but you did your discovery, you did your depositions, you did your mediation or arbitration. And again, that was really a wonderful way to quickly develop your skills and understand strategy and things like that, instead of getting little bits and pieces.

Ultimately, I was looking for something more personally fulfilling. I wanted to do work that I thought would impact people. And so I started looking at the City Attorney’s Office and I had a couple of colleagues from Burnham Brown who had gone over and they were very happy. So I started going over there.

Louis Goodman 09:36
Well, what sort of work did you do when you went to the City Attorney’s Office?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 09:38
My first assignment there was essentially doing plaintiff’s work on regulations, so related to alcohol nuisance abatement, drug nuisance abatement, prostitution abatement, including asset forfeitures of a program that was passed a few years earlier under Jerry Brown’s administration, when he was the mayor. So I was in court a lot.

Louis Goodman 10:07
You’ve been a commissioner now, you’re going to be a judge. You also spent quite a bit of time practicing law. So you’ve been around the legal world for quite some time. What is it that you like about it? Obviously you’re someone who could pretty much do anything that you wanted.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 10:25
In particular, I mean, there’s a carryover from working at the City Attorney’s Office to now being on the bench, which is being in an arm of government. And the interaction or the intervention of government into the lives and conduct of individuals has been very fascinating to me.

Louis Goodman 10:47
Would you recommend law to a young person who is thinking about a career choice?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 10:50
I would because it gives you a very vast amount of options in working. And I think now more so than in previous generations.

Louis Goodman 11:03
And so what advice would you give to that young person who was thinking about a career in law or someone who had just graduated from Law School?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 11:11
There’s a practicality issue that I think is much larger now than it was when I went to school almost 30 years ago, I guess it was more than 30 years ago, which is the significant cost of going. When I went to law school, people could still go and just say, “Well, I’ll figure it out.” you know, it’s not a huge investment, but maybe going into it a little more cautiously under the current circumstances of the massive costs.

Louis Goodman 11:37
Yeah. Those days are gone where people just sort of considered law school as some kind of extension of their senior year of college. It’s just gotten way too expensive. How did you decide, or perhaps what prompted your decision to seek a job as a court commissioner?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 11:58
Well, as I was working as a, in the City Attorney’s Office, serving the city. I thought of a couple of things: I wanted to continue to serve the public, but maybe in a broader sense, the whole county where I lived. I also had some experience in working as a neutral, as a hearing officer and eventually I started volunteering as a judge pro tem for the Superior Court to see what that role would be like. And overall I was very intrigued by it and I thought I had some good skills to bring to it.

Louis Goodman 12:42
How has that experience being a court commissioner met or different from your expectations about it?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 12:49
I think that a couple of things struck me immediately. If you’re a lawyer thinking about being on the bench, especially if you have your own practice, that you are extremely limited in your time flexibility. It’s sort of like being a showman because there’s a performance time. You’re the show, you gotta be there and there’s zero flexibility. It starts at this time and my calendars run all the time, but in different departments they might have a little more flexibility in putting a day dark or something like that, but I’ve gotta be there.

Louis Goodman 13:29
Let me ask you a little bit about that showman thing, because as I’ve said before on this podcast, I have, you know, sat as a pro tem occasionally. And I find the experience of walking out onto that bench and looking out at, let’s say a crowded traffic courtroom to be a kind of a frightening experience. And I’m wondering what your experience of that has been and how it sort of ties in with the showman aspect of being a judicial officer?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 14:04
I think that it’s something that can be a big shock to people taking the office of a judge for the first time. And if they don’t have experience out on the bench or in front of a big group of people, I was struck even with my time as a pro tem. But I remember as the first few days as commissioner sitting there with, you know, 80 people in the courtroom staring at you and, and you run everything, everything you say, and then you get to rule on things. And, you know, they’re not heavy issues that I dealt with them, but, but you’re designing people’s fates.

Louis Goodman 14:45
What can lawyers do to be better prepared in going to court? And what suggestions do you have for attorneys who are going to appear in front of you?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 14:56
Yes, so when I was still practicing and when I started pro temming, I thought it was a really a big benefit to me as a lawyer, because you are trying to persuade, there’s a human being, there’s the judge, there’s the commissioner or pro tem. Never forget that it’s not a matter of speccing your evidence up, it’s a matter of convincing, which is done by communicating, so you got to pick your themes, be focused. So I think boil that down to is either in your writing before you get to court, as well as when you get up to the podium, is focused on what are the pivotal issues.

That’s probably what the judge is thinking about. That’s what they want to hear about and don’t waste your time thinking and talking about things that are not going to move the needle one way or the other. A thing that I have that distracts me as the judicial officer is personal attacks at any level. I used to throw in a little ribbing, you know, as an advocate towards the other attorney once in a while, but when I’m sitting in the bench, now I have no tolerance for it.

It doesn’t advance, first of all, your argument at all. And it can also discredit you to some degree, you know? So I don’t like personal attacks in lawyering at all. I don’t think they’re helpful. So stay away from them and be concise and to the point.

Louis Goodman 16:30
Do you think the legal system is fair?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 16:32
I think that our system is very process-oriented, but which is good, it protects people through procedure. However, it makes it difficult for unrepresented people to navigate.

Louis Goodman 16:46
Let’s say you came into some real money, a few billion dollars, three, four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 16:55
Outside, inside the legal profession, anything? Do you want this on the legal side?

Louis Goodman 17:02
Well, not necessarily, I mean, I think another way to look at that question is if money really were not an issue in anything that you did, would you do things differently in your life? I mean, would you continue being a judge?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 17:21
Sure. I think I would. I might buy a second house somewhere where I like to go on vacation, but I wouldn’t feel the need to change anything significantly. I would like to continue what I’m doing, especially once I hopefully become a judge because that, I mean, when you have absolute freedom, well, what do you want to accomplish? What do you want to do with your life? Maybe you don’t want to accomplish anything if you want to satisfy yourself, which is what we do in a free society. But for me, I’ve been on this path because I want ultimately to have the efforts of my life improve the situation of others.

So I would definitely stay along this path. I would like to spend that money on giving resources to people who need lawyers and legal access and advice. I would like to see the increase in people’s opportunities to not go to court. There’s things that, you know, either from youth education, youth programs, where young people could be put along a path that would get them out of being in trouble with the law.

Louis Goodman 18:27
I’m going to ask you one other question right now, and then I’m going to turn it over to our other participants. Let’s say there was one message that you could really put out there if you had 60 seconds on the Super Bowl. What message would you want to put out to the world?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 18:47
For people to communicate more, to have open ears and to not feed conflict and hate and misunderstanding. Well, that’s perpetuated through labeling people who don’t agree with us, dehumanizing them rather than looking them at them as other human beings. So, I would say, listen, talk, discuss with others, especially those who you disagree with because we don’t make a better world by dividing, continually dividing ourselves into subgroups and lessening sense of community in the world.

Louis Goodman 19:29
Well, I happened to know that Mark Morodomi has a question for you that I think is very important.

Mark Morodomi 19:41
I want to ask why is that you are an avid motor scooter, or motorcyclist? And also a accomplished mechanic. How has that wisdom helped you in your traffic court cases?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 19:57
Well, there’s actually in a couple of levels. And I think, frankly, more so even outside of the traffic context.

Louis Goodman 20:06
Judge, if I might just a minute and Mark, excuse me here. Before you answer that question, I was hoping maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background in motorcycling and how that fits into the things that you do recreationally?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 20:23
Sure. Well, yes, I ride motorcycles and old Italian scooters. I’m talking about the everything I have is from the sixties or fifties. So I have old equipment because it’s very easy to work on, so to speak, not a lot of electronics involved, but I enjoy again, as I said, working with my hands, and this is one way for me to do that.

Louis Goodman 20:48
Mark asked about how that experience has influenced or helped you on the bench?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 20:54
When you’re working on these old machines and doing it yourself. There’s a lot of problem identification and problem solving involved. So you develop approaches of, you know, if something’s not working is it related to the electronics of machine? Is it related to carburation? Is it related to compression? Is it something else? Do you have to systematically problem solve, analyze and develop solutions? So that’s something I think that has kept me interested in and maintaining this hobby, but it’s also something that is, you can carry over that type of frame of mind into a legal practice because you’re always analyzing things and problem solving where the specific knowledge came in was actually on a, and I remember a case in Small Claims Court where someone was suing a company that had overhauled his engine, but it wasn’t just an engine, it was an airplane engine.

And the guy, plaintiff who was suing, the engine had stalled when he was in flight, after being worked on by somebody else. And I was thinking to myself, boy, they could have easily died, and he’s sitting here calmly explaining to me how his engine cut out and how he landed the plane and so forth. And I tried to just reassure him a few times that I have some background in mechanics, and so I am following what you’re saying, you know, so it was, it was very helpful for me to have that background on that particular case.

Louis Goodman 22:33
Stacey Guillory, do you have a comment or a question for Judge Llamas?

Stacy Guilory 22:41
Sure, thank you so much. I was just wanting to know what you find to be the most surprising thing about becoming a commissioner?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 22:48
Let’s see. Well, I think I mentioned, even though I should have realized it, the big shock was the lack of time flexibility, and that would be for any bench officer. The biggest adjustment is, you know, especially if you’re a litigator, not being an advocate anymore and being able to turn that off. You’re listening to two sides and sometimes we start to favor a side more, they’re more convincing to you.

There’s earlier a temptation to kind of jump on board with that side. And, you know, I have to consciously stop myself and remember that, yes, I’m being very convinced by this one side right now, but I’m going to just wait before I make my mind up and make sure I give the other side a chance to rebut.

Louis Goodman 23:31
We are almost out of time. Is there any thing that you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed?

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 23:40
No, not really. I think this has been a very interesting interview. Thank you, Louis

Louis Goodman 23:46
Commissioner Pelayo Llamas, thank you so much for joining us today at the Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 23:59
I appreciate it so much. Thank you, Louis, and those of you who attended, Mark, Stacey, and Robbie, and the ACBA.

Louis Goodman 24:09
That’s it for today’s edition of Love Thy Lawyer in collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association. Please visit the lovethylawyer.com website, where you can find links to all of our episodes.

Also please visit the Alameda County Bar Association website at acbanet.org , where you can find more information about our support of the legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession and facilitating equal access to justice.

Special thanks to ACBA president Pamela Ross and Criminal Justice Chair, Annie Beles, staff members Cailin Dahlin, Sayeed Randall, Valerie Brown Lescroart and Hadassah Hayashi.

Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.

Hon. Pelayo Llamas 25:13
I’m not sure I’m answering your question. I think I lost track there.

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