Blog

Henry Gereis corporate portrait for a lawyer in Bakersfield on April 17, 2021.


Henry Gereis / Louis Goodman Podcast


Louis Goodman

Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He has negotiated 1000s of felony and misdemeanor cases, he began his career volunteering in a public defender’s office. Early on, he recognized the value of alternative dispute resolution. His motto is client centered, caring counsel, he seeks to bring a level of empathy and compassion to every case, he is passionate about helping the marginalized. Henry Gereis, Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Henry Gereis

Thanks for having me.



Louis Goodman

Well, it’s great to have you. I have enjoyed reading some things about you and learning a little bit about your practice. Where are you physically located for your office right now?



Henry Gereis

Bakersfield, California



Louis Goodman

And what sort of practice do you have?



Henry Gereis

It’s entirely criminal defense.



Louis Goodman

And how long have you been doing that at that location?



Henry Gereis

I’ve been in private practice since March of 2020.



Louis Goodman

So you’re kind of just starting out?



Henry Gereis

Yeah. And started out right, when the pandemic was at its peak.



Louis Goodman

Yeah. March of 2020. That was the time that I think everyone will remember very well.



Henry Gereis

Yeah, it was a crazy time.



Louis Goodman

When were you first, like aware that the pandemic was coming down on you personally?



Henry Gereis

I remember having a conversation with my parents. In March, actually, it was the week before my birthday. So actually the end of February, 1st week of March, and my dad was pretty concerned about the whole issue, and I thought it would blow over in a couple of weeks. Sure enough, it didn’t. And you know that that’s really how I found out about it in March, I talk with my parents.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Henry Gereis

I was born in Tarzana, which is Southern California.



Louis Goodman

So you’re not too far from home?



Henry Gereis

Not at all. No.



Louis Goodman

And did you go to high school in Tarzana?



Henry Gereis

Yeah. I went to Granada Hills Charter High School.



Louis Goodman

How was that experience for you?



Henry Gereis

I loved it. It was, you know, high school. High school was a lot of fun.



Louis Goodman

What do you do?



Henry Gereis

I was really focused on school, academics was, you know, really my main focus. I love basketball. Growing up, I was playing for traveling basketball team, but my dad wanted me to focus on academics entirely in high school. So you know, it was really just about academics and hanging out with my friends.





Louis Goodman

Now you have a sort of an interesting, at least to me, kind of an interesting ethnic background. And I’m wondering if you talk a little bit about that and how you think that may have affected the way your parents raised you.



Henry Gereis

So my parents immigrated from Egypt, actually, my mom was born in Egypt, and then lived most of her life in Sudan. My dad, grew up in Egypt and then moved to Amsterdam when he was about 19. And then came back to Egypt at some point, met my mom, and then emigrated to the United States. I was born in Tarzana. And we are Coptic Orthodox Christians, which is a small minority in Egypt. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are direct descendants of the pharaohs. Actually Coptic the word Coptic means Egyptian. And it was once the native language of Egypt prior to the Muslim invasions. And so it’s a very conservative minority group in Egypt. And they, there’s a lot of people that immigrated to California and New Jersey, my parents came here in the 80s. A lot of my upbringing was in the church and revolved around going to church. And it was very structural. And my parents always valued that. And I think that it played a large part in the person I became, and I’m grateful for it, to be honest.



Louis Goodman

So you graduated from high school in Tarzana. And where’d you go to college?



Henry Gereis

I went to UC Riverside.



Louis Goodman

How was your experience once you got to UC Riverside? Did you find it different than being in high school? And in what way?



Henry Gereis

Yeah, it was a UC Riverside was some of the best years of my life and it was very different than anything I had experienced up until that point because I grew up in such as structural environment and actually I didn’t have a driver’s license until I was 18 and could afford a car and so I once I got to college. It was my first time living away from home and having to deal with the responsibilities but also having the freedom to, you know, just explore the world.



Louis Goodman

So what did you study there at UC Riverside? Any specific academic curriculum?



Henry Gereis

Yeah, I majored in history and there was a, it wasn’t a minor, but it was in addition to the major It was long society.







Louis Goodman

After you graduated from UC Riverside, you ultimately went to law school, did you go directly to law school or did you take some time off?



Henry Gereis

I went directly to law school, I graduated in 2012.



Louis Goodman

When did you start thinking about being a lawyer and start thinking, Well, you know, I really would like to go to law school and why?



Henry Gereis

No, it was, I think it was my sophomore year, I had a history teacher who was also the government econ teacher, we had a debate. And it was, it was a group debate. And there were three of us. And at the end of it, he stated that, you know, our team had performed better than any team had seen. And he had been doing this annually, you know, for 10 years. I mean, so that, that really motivated me to think about, you know, what our team did well, and to break that down into skill sets. And think about what skill sets I have, and what career choices you know, are in line with that skill set and law was up there. And so I just went for it.



Louis Goodman

What did your family and friends say when you said hey, you know, I want to be a lawyer, I’m gonna go to law school.



Henry Gereis

Well, it’s funny because as a Coptic Orthodox Christian as a Coptic, you know, first generation, we always joke around with each other at church that, you know, we have three options, doctor, lawyer, engineer, doctor, lawyer, engineer. So although my parents didn’t put pressure on me, to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, they were happy that that was what I was, you know, striving for. And that was a goal that I set out for myself and they backed me.



Louis Goodman

How did you start thinking about getting involved in criminal defense?



Henry Gereis

So in talking about that, with a friend of mine, who I went to junior high with, and who was also an attorney, he was describing what he was doing at the public defender’s office, and it highlighted the aspects of law that I initially set out, you know, to practice and which was the fuel that got me, you know, to end up, you know, to get through the process. And I just asked to be honest, after that phone conversation that week, I applied to every public defender’s office in the county. And I ended up volunteering in Santa Barbara, for three months. So no, I had no idea I was going to practice criminal law.





Louis Goodman

Presumably, you enjoyed your experience at the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office?



Henry Gereis

I really did. And I think that it was a realization for me, of growing up, I didn’t come from a family that had a lot of money. And I always thought that, you know, being a lawyer meant being affluent. And come to find out that, you know, times have changed and I actually, you know, went to law school just after the 2008 recession, and really fell in love with the service aspect of it.



Louis Goodman

So you ended up actually getting a job as a Deputy Public Defender in Kern County?



Henry Gereis

Yeah, actually, the buddy of mine who I spoke with, who I went to junior high with, who suggested that I applied the Public Defender’s Office was employed at the Kern County Public Defender’s Office at the time. And coincidentally, I ended up getting hired there. And we worked together for about a year, which was an awesome time.



Louis Goodman

When did you decide to go out on your own?



Henry Gereis

After about a year and a half at the Public Defender’s Office, I had an opportunity, and then I just jumped on it.



Louis Goodman

What do you really like about practicing law?



Henry Gereis

I think that it’s a unique opportunity to help people in a way that I never thought I could. It’s interesting to me because before meeting a client, or when you initially meet a client, that this person is a complete stranger to you. But, you know, in the criminal setting, they’re coming to you with such an intimate set of circumstances sometimes have lost their liberty, they’re in custody. They are, you know, facing the prospect that oftentimes is looming over them and clouding their hope, you know, and looking to you for answers, for assurance, for hope, for guidance, and for results.



Louis Goodman

As criminal practitioners, we really meet people at some of the worst moments of their lives.







Henry Gereis

Absolutely, and I think that like you mentioned In some of your other podcasts, a lot of the subtleties in law, also venture into psychology and social work. And I think that even the subtle things like kneeling, sometimes I have clients in custody that are sitting in the court benches, and you know, just the psychology for them, that their attorney doesn’t place themselves above them, and is willing to put themselves below them physically, I think sends, I don’t know if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but it’s something that I do, because I tried to communicate to my clients in that way that I am here to serve you.



Louis Goodman

If a young person was just coming out of college, would you recommend the law as a career?



Henry Gereis

Well, sure. I mean, I think it depends on the person. I think that, you know, with technology advancing so quickly and with, you know, the rise of cryptocurrency and things like that, with the rise of E gaming, and all these other markets that didn’t exist when I was going to school. I think it deserves some other considerations. Because it’s not an easy profession. It’s not easy in terms of the consumption of your time, and the stress. And also, you know, the energy that you have to devote in order to be effective. And I think that if you’re not passionate about it, if you’re not the type of person that hidden door setbacks, and keep going, it may not be for you. And that’s perfectly fine.



Louis Goodman

What about the business of practicing law now that you’ve gone and opened your own firm, and you’re working law practice as a business? How is that gone for you? And how’s that matter different from your expectations about it?



Henry Gereis

Well, I’m actually grateful to Pepperdine, and they offered a class college, I think was called Law Practice Management and Business Development. And it may have been the most useful class I took in law school.



Louis Goodman

Tell me a little bit about that. Because I’m really, like, fascinated by the notion that law schools rarely teach that subject. And it’s interesting to say it’s like one of the best classes that you took. So let’s talk about that a little bit.



Henry Gereis

Yeah, absolutely. It was taught by an adjunct professor, who had started his own practice. I think pretty soon after graduating law school, I think he practiced for about five years in the civil world, and then started his own firm. A lot of the things that I picked up in that class were useful, for example, you know, utilizing virtual offices, utilizing technology, clients really don’t care where your office is, especially in a criminal setting. A lot of times you are visiting your clients in the jail. So there were a lot of useful tidbits that I learned and those things were a result of years of experience and making mistakes. So I found it to be extremely useful. They also focused a lot on you know, building a brand and marketing that it’s really about brand identification and being consistent in that which was valuable to me and starting the firm.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Henry Gereis

The best advice I received was actually, during my law school orientation, by a gentleman named Jack White, it was three prong. I never forgot it. He said, Remember, people are always watching, do things for others before you need them done for yourself, and remember the people who got you here? And that’s, I think, the best advice I ever received.



Louis Goodman

What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?



Henry Gereis

My focus and my passion right now, my goals, starting off is to inject empathy into the legal system, especially in the criminal setting.



Louis Goodman

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Henry Gereis

No, unfortunately, I don’t I think that it’s fair at all. I think that there are various agencies or parties I played that have interests and those interests are contrary to the intent of how the system was designed to operate manned and contrary to the Constitution. And so I don’t think that criminal defendants really have really ever start off on an equal footing. Oftentimes, you know, even in terms of sentencing. I think that a lot of times prior convictions that stem from the prosecutor overcharging you know, and a young defendant accepting gang enhancement or something, you know, no, I don’t think it’s fair.



Louis Goodman

Let me shift gears here a little bit. What’s your personal life like? What sort of things do you enjoy doing outside of court, outside of your office, when you need to unwind a little bit from the law?



Henry Gereis

I spend a lot of time with my friends and my family. I love watching basketball and football, playing sports. I enjoy, you know, going out with friends, having a drink, spend a lot of time with my dog. And I’m really close with my family, especially as my parents get older. I don’t take that for granted. So I spend a lot of time with them going out to the beach, and things like that.





Louis Goodman

What sort of sports do you like to participate in?



Henry Gereis

I love basketball.



Louis Goodman

How would you define success?



Henry Gereis

I think that you got to look at being successful as being a successful human being. I think that oftentimes, people sub classify human beings into, you know, what they do for a living, or, you know, where they’re from, or how much money they have, or you know, what they’ve accomplished. But I think that, you know, being a successful human being, means being kind and honest.



Louis Goodman

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Henry Gereis

Sometimes I randomly think about clients. It’s funny, because it kind of ties in with the fact that you come into this person’s life, for a short period of time, and you have such an intimate relationship with them right away. You know, and that doesn’t stop when you leave the court, the court room, courthouse, you know, I think about my clients a lot, and I care it goes I really care, which goes in line with the slogan client centered care and counsel.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came into some real money, a few billion dollars, $3/$4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Henry Gereis

To be honest, I don’t know if I would keep practicing law. But I would use money to draw attention to the areas where I think there needs to be systematic change. And I would spend the resources to draw me the attention to highlight those, especially in counties that are overlooked, or that don’t have the same media attention or influence.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world that you could change in the legal world, or otherwise, what would that be?



Henry Gereis

Empathy. Just injecting some empathy into the legal system.





Louis Goodman

Let’s say you get 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, you got a Super Bowl ad, one minute on the Super Bowl, what message would you like to put out to the world where a lot of people were listening? A lot of people would hear what you had to say, what message would that be?



Henry Gereis

Every day in the morning, when you wake up, you’re the only person that’s waking up in your life. And you may think to yourself, what do I have to do today, but throughout the course of the day, you will do certain things more than likely, you certainly will breathe. If you’re fortunate enough, you will eat and drink water. And you will wake up with the intent to be happy. While you are waking up and you are focused on your life. Those three things can be applied to any person living at that same time, anywhere in the world. And if you remember that, we’re all the same in the sense that we all want to be happy. We all need to breathe, to survive. We all need to eat and drink water. And you remember that, even at the back of your mind during the course of every day, then it’ll be easier to live a life where you love and you’re able to empathize with people.



Louis Goodman

Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed?



Henry Gereis

No.



Louis Goodman

Henry, if someone wants to get ahold of you to find out what’s going on with the legal system in Kern County, or to retain you or to just talk to you about some things, what’s the best way to get in touch?



Henry Gereis

The best way would be to access the website, which would be Esqaspire.com.



Louis Goodman

Esqaspire all one word.com?



Henry Gereis

Yeah, it’s Esqaspire.com.



Louis Goodman

Very well, and we’ll have that in the show notes as well. Henry Gereis. Thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.



Henry Gereis

Louis, thank you for having me on. It has been a pleasure.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks, as always, my guests share their wisdom, Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Henry Gereis

Sorry, can we start that over? Okay. Sorry. Can we start that over? Just start the response over. Okay. Sorry, can you ask me the question



Louis Goodman

I’m worried about. So that’s the magic of editing. You’ll see




Sierra Dugan / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript


Louis Goodman 0:04

Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.



She has worked as a Public Defender in both Marin and Santa Cruz counties. She listens and truly cares about her clients. She is comfortable with people from all walks of life, and has handled all manner of criminal cases from simple misdemeanors to serious felonies. And it seems to me that when we did go to court, I always saw her in court. And now that we’re doing court on video, I always see her on the video conferences, Sierra Dugan. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Sierra Dugan 0:59

Thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to our chat.



Louis Goodman 1:02

Where’s your office right now?



Sierra Dugan 1:04

Right now I’m down in downtown Oakland. I’m right by op ed Off Broadway. I’m on Washington, right there on Washington & Seventh.



Louis Goodman 1:13

Can you describe your practice a little bit?



Sierra Dugan 1:16

So right now I’m primarily doing a State Court, I get an occasional misdemeanor. But I’d say my bread and butter is mostly felony work. For whatever reason people tend to hire me for serious crime. I wouldn’t turn down a DUI, but I don’t get them often. And recently, I started on the Federal panel. So I’m going to start taking those kinds of cases as well.



Louis Goodman 1:38

How long you’ve been doing criminal defense?



Sierra Dugan 1:40

Well, I’ve been doing criminal defense, I mean, that was my intention when I entered into law school. So I’ve been a lawyer since 2012, and only have been doing criminal since that time.



Louis Goodman 1:52

Say about 10 years of experience. Yeah. That’s great. Where are you from originally?



Sierra Dugan 1:57

Originally, I’m from the Bay Area. So I’m from here. I grew up originally down on the Peninsula. I was when I was young I was living in Colma, California don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.





Louis Goodman 2:08

There’s only person living there most people they’re dead, right?



Sierra Dugan 2:12

That’s right. I lived across the street from the Italian cemetery for the formative years of my life. So maybe explain why I like black so much. But I lived there until about fifth grade. And then I moved over to the East Bay. And I lived in San Lorenzo. So pretty local, and then went to Cal for undergrad and so have pretty much stayed in the Bay Area. Yeah.



Louis Goodman 2:36

What high school did you go to?



Sierra Dugan 2:38

I went to a Royal High School, which is in San Lorenzo. Went all four years there. And that’s rich, you know, was five minutes from my house?



Louis Goodman 2:48

What did you do in high school? Did you have any thing that was fun to do besides algebra and practical math?



Sierra Dugan 2:54

Yeah, so I was heavily involved in high school. I was involved in student government. I was the president of my class all years, except for the senior year where in my senior year, I ran a, like a moot court or like a court program, where we would have attorneys, different attorneys, to our students on both sides. Come in and try cases that were referred to us by the office, if you could believe it. It was held in Hayward in the actual courthouse down there and in I created the program.



Louis Goodman 3:30

That’s great. Now, when you graduated from a Royal High School, you said that you went to Cal?



Sierra Dugan 3:37

Yes, Yes Go Bears. I started there. right out of high school, I was a double major in Rhetoric and Native American Studies.



Louis Goodman 3:46

What drew you to those two subjects?



Sierra Dugan 3:50

Well, originally, I started off as a Political Science major, and classes were so big. I started off as Political Science because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. And I knew a bunch of lawyers who were probably signed majors and so I was like, Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to do. After being in school for a little while learned you can pretty much study anything that is interesting and still be a lawyer. So I took a few classes, you know, as you do when you first start and the Native American Studies courses I found fascinating and Rhetoric. I loved it was just, it’s an outstanding program at Cal. Have some like world famous teachers, and I just loved the whole the whole program. It was just fascinating. And we always got to read some really interesting books and really analyze things and pick things apart. I just, I loved it.



Louis Goodman 4:39

Do you have some Native American in your own background?



Sierra Dugan 4:42

Yes, I believe so. We are not card carrying members. But there is some indication that yes, my family has those roots for sure. Yeah.



Louis Goodman 4:51

Now when you got out of college, you ultimately went to law school. Did you go right away or did you take some time off?



Sierra Dugan 4:58

Oh, I took a long time. So after I graduated from al, one of my dear friends from Cal, his, her father was a lawyer, Spencer Strellis. A well known Oakland attorney, I started to work for him. And in that office was him, Bill Cole, Richard Crush, Bill Dubois. And, you know, they’re all practicing criminal law. And so I started in that office, and I was supposed to just be the receptionist for a year and I ended up being there for like six years. I started just doing stuff for Spencer, and then moved on to working exclusively for Bill Dubois.



Louis Goodman 5:40

So that gave you a real background and understanding of what really does go on in the practice of criminal law.



Sierra Dugan 5:48

Completely. I mean, I started to put together cases or assist attorneys putting together discovery when it was voluminous and, you know, figuring stuff out with her assistance, of course, and then, when I was working for Dubois assisted him in a lot of different cases, you know, murder trials and different things and got a lot of exposure to not only the, like, serious cases, but how to run an office and intake of clients calendaring and definitely the practical side, and they’ll do by had an incredibly busy practice. I was his sole employee, other than another attorney, sometimes who worked with him. And so, yes, it was very much knew what I was getting into. And it solidified my intent to be a criminal defense attorney, and I loved it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.



Louis Goodman 6:41

Okay, I have two questions that are related, but they’re not the same. And the first is, when did you really start thinking about becoming a lawyer? And then when did you start thinking about actually going to law school?



Sierra Dugan 6:59

I started thinking about being a lawyer when I was about five years old. I do not come from anyone, I’m the first person in my family to ever go to college. I was the first since that time. So my siblings have gone and other things. But neither of my parents went to college, nobody in my family had an extended degree. But for whatever reason, when I was five years old, I started telling everyone I was going to be a lawyer.



Louis Goodman 7:28

So when did you decide to go to law school?



Sierra Dugan 7:31

Well, at a point, when I was working in that office for Bill Du Bois, I recognized that I could work for Bill forever, but I was starting to really want to go and become aware of myself. And so after working with him for a number of years, I knew it was just time, if I felt ready, I was starting to really want to take those next steps. I was, you know, in my late 20s, at that point, and you know, wanted to start that process. And so that’s when I decided it was time, it just felt right. And that was when I was around 27 years old, I think. So I applied to a number of different schools. But I really liked the focus on social justice at USF and they had at the Crim Clinic, and they had another program that really interested me. You could go to New Orleans to Mississippi to Texas, and help work on death penalty, appeals or cases. And I did that.



Louis Goodman 8:29

You know, I’ve said this before on the podcast, but I really think that it’s true. People who did the best in my law school class, were women in their late 20s, who had had some experience working in a law or law related field between the time they went to college and the time they went to law school. So I assume you did quite well in law school.



Sierra Dugan 8:56

I did well, I made some great friends and really one of the great things about our law school at USF was they had so much focus with criminal law. And so I really tailored my program to include all of the criminal law cases. And then starting my second year, I applied and started working for the Marin Public Defender’s Office. And then also was part of that, you know, practical, real experience. And I got that starting my second year.



Louis Goodman 9:29

And then you actually went to work as a Deputy Public Defender in both Marin and Santa Cruz County at some point, is that correct?



Sierra Dugan 9:36

Yeah, yes. And so after graduating from law school and passing the bar, I worked in Marin County initially, and then was hired as an extra hire and work there for about a year and a half. And I loved working in that office. It’s a fantastic office. It’s got just such a great feeling.



Louis Goodman 9:55

Now at some point, you decided to open your own practice.



Sierra Dugan

Yes.



Louis Goodman

What prompted that?



Sierra Dugan 10:03

So I was working as a Deputy Public Defender in Santa Cruz County, and I was living in Oakland. And my husband and I were looking at housing and different things to figure out where we were going to land. And so what I was doing was to making that commute every day, it was brutal. And what ended up happening was, I was working in Santa Cruz, and I got a call from Bill Dubois. And he had an offer for me to work to do a murder trial with him in Oakland. And at that time, I was getting really tired of the commute, I had had a lot of trial experience up into that point of Public Defender’s Office. And it was from that call, and that push where I decided to open up my own practice and start that process.



Louis Goodman 10:56

What do you really like about practicing law?



Sierra Dugan 10:58

I love being a criminal defense attorney. I like all areas of it, but I like learning new areas of law, I also really like to get to know and help clients. I don’t see my job as just, you know, getting them through this moment, but also trying to get them on a better path, if I can. We come in contact with a lot of people who’ve had a lot of trauma and their pasts, and, you know, have done something that is not indicative of who they are. And so I feel like really helping people through that process has been really, really rewarding. And I also like my colleagues, I like going to court I like, you know, I think I really love being in trial too. So I like that the nervousness you get right before and standing up and saying what you have to say to a jury, I really do. There’s not one area like more than the other, I really just enjoy the whole experience.



Louis Goodman 11:58

If a young person was just graduating from college, let’s say from Cal, would you recommend going into law as a career?



Sierra Dugan 12:06

So I know that there’s this mixed bag. I think I’d have to get to know them. But if it was really something that they wanted to do, I would be all for it. I think you really have to love, especially if they’re looking into being a criminal defense attorney. You have to love what you do you have to really have passion for it. I think, because it’s a hard job.





Louis Goodman 12:29

How is actually practicing met are different from your expectations.



Sierra Dugan 12:33

I think it’s been pretty in line with what I expected. But I think that’s due in large part actually, had working in a criminal law office for the number of years.



Louis Goodman 12:44

Yeah, you had real experience, as opposed to just kind of like watching LA law or something. And I mean, you knew what you were getting into, I guess.



Sierra Dugan 12:53

Oh, for sure. I mean, I knew there was going to be long hours. I knew the different kinds of clients that you would get a knew exactly what to expect. I mean, working in a functioning law office in a busy law office. You know, there’s nothing that surprised is I had dealt with a lot of different situations as you know, the person answering phones and coordinating and all of that. I knew what to expect. And I think that really helped me, you know, keep my wits about me.



Louis Goodman 13:25

With respect to the business of practicing law. Have you found that to be something that’s been hard to adjust to? Or were you really pretty clear on what you were getting into as far as the business as well?



Sierra Dugan 13:39

But when you’re talking about the business, are you speaking about like, you know, having an office and



Louis Goodman 13:45

Yeah, having an office, taking in money, paying out money, signing the front of the checks, paying bills, you know, the kinds of things that are required in order to have any business function? And then on top of that, you’re practicing law.



Sierra Dugan 14:07

Yes, I think the business side is probably a little bit more difficult for me, because I have my public defender routes, you know.



Louis Goodman 14:17

Yeah, I do know, I came out of the District Attorney’s Office and I didn’t have to worry about paying the phone bill or paying the secretary or ordering the stationery or, you know, wondering whether the computer was going to work. I mean, you know, all I did was legal work and I have to assume that being a Public Defender is pretty much the same thing.





Sierra Dugan 14:41

Well, we definitely and that not sort of hard for me when I was first starting out was charging people money. Some of us come in and needed help but didn’t have that much money. It was really difficult for me to turn them away. And I think in my early days, I didn’t turn them away. You know, I would take cases for not as much money as I should have. Because it was hard for me to separate from that public defense mindset where you know these people don’t have as much money. You feel for them, you want them to have the best defense you can give them, then it was hard to say no. But over time I’ve gotten better about that, you know, that was a little bit hard, though, coming from that public defender background, but I’m getting it slowly but surely.



Louis Goodman 15:26

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Sierra Dugan 15:29

I try to be the most reasonable person in the room at all times. But and I think that was something that was told to me very early on and always rings true.



Louis Goodman 15:41

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Sierra Dugan 15:43

No, not all the time. But I think that’s our job is to try to make it as fair as we can. In every instance, where we practice. And I think that what I love about being a lawyer, and especially practicing where we do is I think most of the attorneys that I see every day are as fair as we can possibly be. And so you know, I’m here for that fight. And I think most of the other criminal defense attorneys I know are here for it to.



Louis Goodman 16:09

Do you think the DA is and the Judges are here for being fair?



Sierra Dugan 16:13

I think they think they are sure. I think everybody’s trying to do their best they can honestly. We all have our marching orders, you know, depending on what side you’re on. I do enjoy practicing in Alameda County. I think that everyone is ultimately trying to reach a fair disposition. I do believe that.



Louis Goodman 16:34

Yeah, I think so too. And I think that goes back to that notion of trying to be the most reasonable person in the room. Because if you’re in a kind of collegial environment, where people are trying to get to what’s more or less the right result and sort of hammer out some sort of rough justice, being the person that is looked to, to come up with some ideas is, I think, a real advantage.



Sierra Dugan 17:00

Definitely, definitely. And I think that in Alameda County, people are open to that to creative solutions.



Louis Goodman 17:07

What’s your family life been like, and how is practicing law affected or fit into it?



Sierra Dugan 17:13

So I have two little boys. I have one who is going to be five in December and I have a six year old who is in first grade. So managing all of that, to be honest, has been, I think, as good as it gets. I mean, I had really great support with like, you know, people that I’ve hired to watch my kids, my husband’s been great. My kids are healthy and happy. And so, um, you know, being an attorney has fit in with that. I will say it’s a lot easier to get away now that they’re getting older. When they were babies, it was hard. When you have a newborn, I think and then going into practice, it’s difficult, but you know, you manage it. And I think I’ve managed it quite well, I think. I remember when I first came into Alameda County, when I first started as a private practitioner, I was pregnant. And I think that I had a baby again, short order. I feel like I was the pregnant, the new pregnant attorney when I first started taking cases around here, so but it’s worked out great. I have no complaints.



Louis Goodman 18:22

Have you had any travel experience?



Sierra Dugan 18:25

Yeah, I’ve traveled some, you know, that’s the one thing that I can say that I wish I had done more of, but I’ve been to Europe a number of times, and I did live, you know, different parts of the country I lived in, you know, as I mentioned New Orleans and things. But honestly, I’ve always been a little bit of a workaholic.



Louis Goodman 18:43

What other sorts of things do you like to do recreationally things to kind of get your mind off of the practice of law? Clear your head a little bit?



Sierra Dugan 18:52

Yeah, so I really like to, I like the domestic arts and I say that in all intensive purposes. I love to bake. I love to cook for my family. I love like you know, all the holidays and all the, you know, the cheer and decorating for the home and all of that stuff.



Louis Goodman 19:11

Let me stop you right there. What do you like to bake? What kinds of things do you like to bake?







Sierra Dugan 19:17

Oh, I like all kinds of things. I mean, right now I just bake what my kids like, but if I had my own, you know, my own choices, I probably do more complicated things. But I just love to bake like, you know, cookies, cakes. You know I love to for me, I think I’m part Mexican, too. I think food is love and so you know making dishes for my family and my children and especially, you know, desserts, because what kid and who doesn’t love a dessert, right? And so I love doing that. So anything, you know that is chocolaty right now is big in my house.



Louis Goodman 19:54

Well as a chocoholic, I can certainly appreciate that.



Sierra Dugan 20:00

If anything goes these kids love dessert. I mean, they have it every night. You know, fortunately and unfortunately for me.



Louis Goodman 20:07

Yeah, I like cooking stuff too. And as a matter of fact, if I have a little bit more time, I would like to put together a YouTube channel where I show people how to cook things that are great but easy to make.



Sierra Dugan 20:23

Yeah, I love I mean, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I love a few websites that I love to go to where you have these delicious meals under 30 minutes. That’s where it’s at for working people.



Louis Goodman 20:36

Yeah, really. That’s now there’s I have a name in mind for my YouTube channel. But there’s one we can have we have like, under 30 bucks under 30 minutes.



Sierra Dugan 20:47

Oh, yeah, that’s perfect. That’s where it’s at. I mean, it’s what people want. People want that kind of, you know, ease and fun and delicious food. Because you know, and adding the under 30 bucks is even a bigger style.



Louis Goodman 21:00

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Sierra Dugan 21:03

Having grown up in California and having experienced California over time, I see how we did is to have all these fires and like, it used to not be as hot. I think it’s funny because I never would have considered myself somebody who would be concerned about the environment, it was always sort of something you’d think of as something hippyish. And that wasn’t really my scene. But I think really, the environment is one something that’s really been troubling me. I always have a few life cases kicking around and those are the cases that keep me up and worried are the ones where you know, it’s literally someone’s life in your hands. And I think about those a lot.



Louis Goodman 21:49

Let’s say you and your husband came into some real money, let’s say $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Sierra Dugan 21:58

How could I do too much different? I would certainly not stop being a lawyer. I think I would be more choosy about what I would take and try to have a little more time because I am really busy. But I probably buy a bigger, nicer house. But I don’t know that I would change anything too fundamentally. I really like practicing law. I like being a mother. I like it, you know, the only thing I could think of it’d be some upgrades maybe to the home and new shiny appliances. Again, you know, maybe a sub zero refrigerator, I don’t know. But overall, you know, I think if I really had that kind of money, I would also start giving it away to people who need it.



Louis Goodman 22:41

Let’s say you got 60 seconds on the Superbowl, you know, one minute Superbowl ad really big platform really big microphone, to say whatever message you want to get out there to the world. What sort of message would that be?



Sierra Dugan 22:59

I think I would try to make it about like let’s all be good to one another. It sounds so touchy feely, but I really feel like people need to be reminded about like common decency and helping your fellow man and being a good person and looking at the public and the community at large and really trying to make a positive change, and I think it’d be something along those lines.



Louis Goodman 23:23

Sarah Dugan, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.



Sierra Dugan 23:30

Thanks so much. I really appreciate the chat. It was great.



Louis Goodman 23:34

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music. Brian Matheson for technical support. And Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Sierra Dugan 24:15

I thought about that is such a hard question.




Bruce Kapsack / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript

Louis Goodman

Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He is considered, if not the king of drunk driving defense, at least one of its most admired princes. Few people know more about field sobriety tests. He’s lectured California Highway Patrol officers on the proper way to administer them. He served as a Public Defender at the legendary Bronx Legal Aid Society. He has numerous published articles, including a recent piece in forum, the Journal of the CIA, CJ, he is currently the Public Defender in Truckee, California. Bruce Kapsack, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Bruce Kapsack

Thank you, Louis. I’m really happy to be here.



Louis Goodman

How did you happen to become the Public Defender in Truckee, California?



Bruce Kapsack

Luck is the true answer. After running my own practice for 20 or so years, I decided it was time to go back to public defender work. I found out about an opening in Nevada County of which Truckee is one of the cities. And it turns out that the Public Defender, Terri Klein of Nevada County was actually a law clerk of mine, while she was in law school, and in Contra Costa County when I first moved here from New York.



Louis Goodman

Bruce, where are you from originally?



Bruce Kapsack

New York. I was born in Queens. And then we moved to a place called Rockland County, which is about 25 miles north and across the Hudson from the major part of New York City.



Louis Goodman

Is that where you went to high school?



Bruce Kapsack

I did. I went to a place called Ramapo High.



Louis Goodman

And how was that experience for you?



Bruce Kapsack

It was good. It was definitely an upper middle class school, rigorous education, good sports, very diverse population. And you know, I wouldn’t say I was the most popular kid in the class, but I wasn’t the one getting beaten up all the time.



Louis Goodman

So something to be said for that. After graduated from Ramapo High School. Where’d you go to college?



Bruce Kapsack

I went to a place which was called Plymouth State College at the time. It’s now grown and it’s become Plymouth State University. It’s in New Hampshire. It’s actually dead center of the State of New Hampshire.



Louis Goodman

What did you study at Plymouth State?



Bruce Kapsack

I went there originally, to be a high school social studies teacher. So I did a bunch of education classes and social studies, history, etc. But in the back of my mind, I’ve always known I was going to be an attorney.



Louis Goodman

You ultimately went to law school. Did you go to law school directly out of college?



Bruce Kapsack

I did. I went from Plymouth State College, which to give an idea, full time part time undergrad and grad is about or was about 2800 students. The town of Plymouth has the college on one side and the town on the other. And I can still name the half a dozen businesses in town. After that, for your experience, I decided to go to a big city and went to Washington College of Law, which is part of the American University in Washington DC.



Louis Goodman

Well, that is a big change.



Bruce Kapsack

Yeah, I went from having more people in the apartment building in which I lived then pretty much lived on campus.



Louis Goodman

When did you first decide to go to law school, decided to be a lawyer?



Bruce Kapsack

Well, I guess the easy answer is I decided at some mistake. But the more complete answer is I’ve always known I was going to be an attorney. Whenever we had projects in junior high or high school that involved any kind of law aspect, I always volunteered to be the lawyer and I always volunteered to be the defense attorney. So it’s basically been in my makeup for as far back as I can remember.



Louis Goodman

And you know what prompted you to start thinking about it?



Bruce Kapsack

No, I’m not 100% sure. What I did have my maternal grandmother was a lifelong, she got elected at a very early age to the State House of Representatives in New Hampshire, one of the first women elected, one of the first democrats elected and she served there till she passed away. And through her and my parents, I had always had this concept of justice, especially for those in society that don’t tend to get justice. So that’s part of where it came from.



Louis Goodman

After law school, you have had a couple of interim jobs. But then you went and served as mentioned, as a Public Defender at the Bronx Legal Aid Society. So I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that experience?



Bruce Kapsack

Sure. I’ll back up just a little bit. When I was in law school, I had the fortune of working for a very famous criminal defense attorney by the name of Marvin Miller and the group of attorneys in Northern Virginia and the Alexandria area, were some of the best known criminal defense attorneys around. And they’re the ones who said that, you know, we’re going to help train you and others like me, but in the end, you’re going to have to make sure to train others because if we don’t have staunch criminal defense attorneys, then we lose our Constitution, because that’s where it comes from. When I was getting near the end of graduation time, I was looking at what to do. And they all told me that I could work for any one of them if I wanted to, but that they would fire me the very next day, because if I was too stupid to realize that I should go somewhere else for a little while, then I was probably too stupid to work for them. So I applied to a bunch of different Public Defender Offices got accepted in New York. You get accepted to legal aid, and then they try and match you with where you live geographically. As I said, I was living just north of New York City, and the Bronx is the furthest north of the counties. So that’s where I went in, I guess it was early 1987. The mid 1987, I should say.



Louis Goodman

And that Bronx courthouse is where Bonfire of the Vanities is set for anyone who wants some sort of a primer on what that experience is like.



Bruce Kapsack

It is and I was there. I actually walked down the hallway next to Mr. Hanks at one point because security back then was not the way it is now with celebrities. And I was on my way to one of the courtrooms to do some real work and he was on his way to film a scene.



Louis Goodman

After you left the Bronx Legal Aid Society, where did you go?



Bruce Kapsack

After I left Bronx Legal Aid, I came out west to California. First thing I was doing is I was working in the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office.



Louis Goodman

What prompted your move from New York to California?



Bruce Kapsack

I was in the third year of working at the Bronx Public Defender’s Office, a woman walked off the elevator in our office and I fell in love with her and found out that she was one of the District Attorneys, one of the Prosecutors in the Bronx, good friend with two of my colleague public defenders, and we haven’t been apart pretty much ever since. So she came out here to California and I followed her.



Louis Goodman

Well, love will have a way of doing that to you.



Bruce Kapsack

It does. And it’s been 27 years that we’ve been married and we just celebrated that last week.



Louis Goodman

Congratulations. How long did you stay at Contra Costa Public Defender?



Bruce Kapsack

I stayed at the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office, I want to say probably about eight months or so just shy of a year somewhere between eight months in a year studying for the bar exam, took and passed the bar exam, then was waiting, I was hoping that I would be employed by Contra Costa County. But for some political reasons, it didn’t happen. But along the way, I met a friend of both of ours who unfortunately has passed by the name of Fred Remer. We had a happenstance meeting. He heard that I was waiting for employment. And Fred offered me the extra room in his office, which was right down the hall from you.



Louis Goodman

It was how did that experience worked out with Fred Remer? The legendary Fred Remer.



Bruce Kapsack

Well, first of all, we have to give credit that is the best name for a lawyer a palindrome name Remer. That just you know, puts fear in everybody’s spine. But it worked out really well. Fred was a wild man. He reminded me a lot of Marvin Miller, and John’s Whirling the two guys that trained me up back in Northern Virginia. He had that same spirit of Dan the torpedoes full speed ahead. But what people didn’t realize is he had already shored up the hall so that Butterfields wouldn’t do anything to him. He just pretended that he was going recklessly. And I really liked that. And I was with him for a year. Well, then, the Office of Citizen Complaints in San Francisco, which at the time was the civilian side of Internal Affairs, went through a major shake up. They have been using former prosecutors for the most part to prosecute bad cops and that just didn’t work out. So they decided to go the other way, and look for someone who had been doing defense work, who will to challenge the police officers. They thought that was a more realistic aspect. I applied for and received that position and was the Chief Prosecutor of the Office of Citizen Complaints for about a year.



Louis Goodman

Now eventually you moved into a very specialized DUI practice. How did that happen?



Bruce Kapsack

I left there, and was hired by a Criminal Defense firm, one of the biggest criminal defense firms in Northern California, that had a majority of its practice in DUI. Even the laws always been my love and passion. I’ve also always enjoyed medical aspect, or, you know, the sciences, I guess, is the best way to put it. And while I had very little experience in the DUI arena, when I first joined that firm, I quickly saw that I loved the math of calculating blood alcohol levels. I loved the physiology of field sobriety tests, you know, the whole concept of how do you know a machine is accurate through traceability, all of these concepts screamed out at me. And I just dove right in.



Louis Goodman

DUI is very complicated as far as science is concerned. And it really involves a lot of forensics that one doesn’t see outside of the murder arena in criminal defense.



Bruce Kapsack

Absolutely. And I’ve always been shocked that both Public Defender and DHS officers can be wise to people that are you know, the diploma is still wet. Because as you said, there’s a lot of science.



Louis Goodman

Now, out of that DUI practice you met and started working with another legend, Ed Kuwatch?



Bruce Kapsack

Yes, yeah. Again, it’s interesting. I’m starting to think as you’re talking to me and starting to think maybe it’s me that I attract these people. Ed was another one like Fred and like Marvin and John. He was definitely he was less than a torpedoes he was much more if I’m can say this, screw the government. One of the most fantastic things that he did well, first of all, he had been a great DUI attorney in the Bay Area, when I met him he had left fairly recently, and went into sort of a semi retirement, he didn’t really do a lot of day to day DUI work. Instead, he found pleasure in harassing the government, especially the Department of Motor Vehicles as to why they were doing things the way they were doing. And he filed Freedom of Information Requests after Freedom of Information Request to get all this information, where we found out that, you know, the people being for the DMV, people being trained to make these decisions and how they were being trained, was just a pourraient. And once that information got out, people were like, yeah, you can’t do that. And you know, we’re talking California, except for its big cities. If you can’t drive, you’re in deep trouble. And I know people say that about almost anywhere. But back east, the big city runs from Bangor, Maine to Key West Florida. So you know, out here, if you can’t drive, you can’t make a living. And if the Department of Motor Vehicles is taking people’s licenses away when they shouldn’t, that affects a lot of innocent people.



Louis Goodman

You’ve been practicing for quite some time. What is it you really like about practicing law?



Bruce Kapsack

Okay, yeah, as a matter of fact, right before this, they’re starting to think my first time in a courtroom was about now give or take a couple of weeks in 1986. So that gives me my 35th anniversary. What I like about it truly is my passion. The very first time I walked into a courtroom was the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. So one step below the Supreme Court, and I didn’t even graduate law school yet. I walked in there. I saw attorneys with decades of practice, and they were jumping around and sweating and everything else. And I just looked at my teacher, my professor, and I just said, Can we ask permission to go first because I want to do this. I love that aspect. I really enjoy the intellectual part I really enjoy when I’m up against a District Attorney or a Judge or all three, where debate intelligently, calmly, passionately. What does a specific law mean? Does this actually cover this topic? Or is there a loophole or should there be an exception? I really enjoy that mental aspect. At the same time, you know, a lot of people have asked me, Bruce, you did DUI work for all that time, you know, you put all these drugs back on the road, etc, etc. And they say, you know, how do you do that? And I think well, the truth is, I probably get more thank you cards than most sober living environments, or halfway houses or rehab, because a lot of the people that I represented, would have ended up down that, but we had them off, and they realized it. And so that makes you feel really good, you know, makes you feel really good. When you have somebody who made a mistake, you help them through the mistake, as best you can. And they turn around and they say, you know what, thank you for doing it, you did turn my life around. A lot of times, you know, I’ll get messages later on, I saved a marriage simply by representing somebody on a DUI case. So that makes you feel really good when you do that.



Louis Goodman

If someone were coming out of college and looking for a career, would you recommend the law as a career?



Bruce Kapsack

You know, I knew you were gonna ask you that question, I go back and forth.



Louis Goodman

How is practicing law either met or different from your expectations about it?



Bruce Kapsack

Well, the first difference I would point out, is that when you get out of law school, they haven’t told you actually how to practice law. They’ve taught you the law, so to speak. But the practice of that they haven’t, and even harder, and this is a cautionary tale for anybody who’s listening to this in law school, just starting out. If you’re going to go out on your own, and you know, the old hang your shingle outside the barn door kind of thing. You better start taking some night business classes. Because it’s not easy to run a practice. I know you’ve done it a little bit longer than I did. It’s tough work. It’s long work. You know, you’re in court nine to five and you think, okay, that’s it. But then no, it’s time to go home and get new clients pay the secretary pay the rent. So that part really was a shock to me, coming out of law school.



Louis Goodman

How did that go for you the business of practicing law? What did you think of that?



Bruce Kapsack

Well I was lucky. I had a business partner by the name of Hudson Bear, who was definitely people always said, between the two of us, we were really good combination. Because my head was in the sky and his feet on the ground, I would come up with these grandiose ideas. And he would always have, you know, a little bit of money stashed away. So his attitude was, we can try this for 30 days and see what happens. Over 20 years, I’m proud to say that, more often than not, the 30 days worked out and it became part of our practice. But there were a couple of times where we fell flat. So you learn.



Louis Goodman

Is there anything that you know now that you really wish you’d known before you ever got into the law?



Bruce Kapsack

I think the most important thing is to learn how to shake a lot of it off. There’s a lot that comes at you that in the beginning, you take too, personally, and you have to learn to shake it off. And I wish I’d known that when I started. Because there were a couple times I took things a little too, personally. And it was tough to get back up, you know and start again.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Bruce Kapsack

Well, the best advice I ever received as far as the legal running a practice of business end of it was from Marvin, my first mentor, and he gave me three words of advice. And it was prepare, prepare, prepare.



Louis Goodman

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Bruce Kapsack

The legal system is fair in its unfairness is that and that’s not my someone actually said that about the universe that the universe is universally unfair. So that makes it fair? What I mean by that is, the justice system tries to be fair, but there’s too many levers or moving parts. And the most significant one, in my mind, is economics.



Louis Goodman

You have published numerous articles, and you most recently have published the first of two parts, something called Reframing the Narrative Defense Techniques for Criminal Trials. And that’s in the CIA CJ Publication. I’m wondering if you could explain a little bit about what you mean by reframing the narrative.



Bruce Kapsack

Sure, firstly, let’s talk a little bit about framing is it’s been around forever. Karl Rove made a whole lot of money off of it and a whole lot of successful politics off of it. But basically, the concept is, whoever creates the framework for their audience, then their audience is already there’s already captivated. One of the easiest examples, for those of us of a certain age is if I say to people, how many of you are in favor of choice? Very few people are going to say they’re not. But if I say how many of you will favor in favor of abortion, even people who believe in choice will start to hem and haw, because that’s not what they’re in favor of. And that is framing in a nutshell, when it comes to the criminal justice system. The first and worst aspect of framing is what you just said in the question before but in a different context. When the judge says, can everybody here be fair? Or can you be fair to both sides? That’s wrong. Fair to both sides means even balanced starting out the same, but in a criminal trial it is blatantly, intentionally unconstitutionally unfair. For example, I tell you fair, I say so who do you want to hear from? You say, Well, I want to be fair, I want to hear from both sides, no. criminal case, you only hear from one side? When you say to somebody, how would you have conducted a fair race? They would say, well, you both thought at the start, and you both go to the finish line. Nope. In a criminal trial, the defendant has already won the race. Because the defendant is presumed not guilty. They are the presumptive winner of the race. Well, that’s not fair. And when a judge says fair, the other thing is, who wins in a fair fight, whoever scores another pointer to me just look at boxing, you know, they fight for 13 rounds. And it comes down to one point by one judge, and they get the win. That’s not criminal. It’s got to be all the judges with all the points on their scorecard going to the prosecution in every round. So as soon as a Judge, and it’s not the Judges fault, because they were trained this way, as soon as the judges start saying, We want a fair trial, they’ve immediately framed it in people’s minds, that both sides start out evenly, that one side can win by one point, and that they need to hear from both people. Now, I’ve been lucky and successful in convincing judges that instead of asking if they can be fair, ask if they can be appropriate. And I’ve used this a few times, and it’s gaining some traction. Like a lot of things in the law, it moves slowly. So that’s part of the concept of refining the narrative.



Louis Goodman

I’m going to shift gears here a little bit, Bruce, tell me a little bit about what your family life has been like and how practicing law has affected that.





Bruce Kapsack

There’s been good and bad, but you could probably say that about every career. I do have three kids. Two of them are disappointments, because they’re both considering going to law school. But I do say that somewhat tongue in cheek, one interesting aspect is my children will tell you, having grown up listening to me, if you’re growing up in this household, and you’ve listened to it your entire life, there comes a point where you can actually, they can actually do my lines. And you know, it did become funny at times where I’d be on the phone, and they could tell the next line out of my mouth, they would know what I’d be saying to somebody. At the same time. Having seen people whose lives did get severely messed up, either through injury because of alcohol, or to themselves or the family because alcohol. I never had to lecture my children on alcohol. They pretty much got it. And what’s interesting is so a lot of their friends.



Louis Goodman

What sort of recreational pursuits do you have? And how does that help you clear your head after a day of practicing law?



Bruce Kapsack

Well, absolutely, you’ll find me hit Mt. Rose. Anytime I can to go skiing. Yep. And I do bicycle. When we don’t have so much smoke in the air that it’s unhealthy. I’d love to bicycle because that gets me in shape for skiing.



Louis Goodman

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Bruce Kapsack

I still just two nights ago, whenever I get a tough case, they lean on me. You know, I said about shrugging things off. The truth of matter is if you’re I think any profession, if you’re in almost any profession, and you’re passionate about it, and you’ve got a problem, and it doesn’t, not you at night or hit you in the shower or something like that, and it’s probably time to give it up because you don’t care anymore.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you and your wife came into some real money, few billion dollars, you know, $3/$4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Bruce Kapsack

Well, my wife would immediately move back to New York. She’s made that very clear. Whether I’d go back or not. I don’t know. No, I’m kidding. I would. Besides that, I still keep my place here in Truckee for the skiing and for the summers, but besides that, I would definitely find a way to be even more teaching, especially at all levels. And so I would if I had the money, I would find a way to go. And the pitch is I routinely volunteer wherever I find myself, I go immediately to the high school social studies teachers, and I say, I’m willing to come in here, this is what I’m willing to talk about. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. And they say yes, because it’s something new and different. And they like it. And they never been turned down by Social Studies Department. When I say, you want to give me a day or two over the semester, I’ll come in and do this. They’re like, hell yeah. And that’s my pitch to everybody out there, do it.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world that you could change in the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?



Bruce Kapsack

Get rid of the death penalty.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you got 60 seconds on the Superbowl, you had a Superbowl ad? You could say whatever you want in 60 seconds, huge audience? What would you want to tell the world?



Bruce Kapsack

Look at the person next to you. They have all the same needs and desires that you do. The two of you just have a different thought of how to get there. Instead of each of you fighting on who’s right, and who’s wrong to get there. Why don’t you just both grab hands and walk and get there?



Louis Goodman

Bruce, you and I have known each other for quite some time. And you’ve always struck me as someone who follows your passions. Can you comment on that?



Bruce Kapsack

Yeah, like I’ve told my children, the, whatever it is you want to do. If you’re passionate about it, do it. And once you lose that passion, find something else. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you will be successful, you’ll be successful in your heart successful in your head, and you probably be successful in your wallet.



Louis Goodman

Bruce Kapsack, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Bruce Kapsack

Louis, it’s been great talking to you. I wish you well on this. And if you ever want to chat, give me a call.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend. And subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support, and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Bruce Kapsack

Because we’re on the other side of the mountain has to be able to function on their own and be able to do everything from drunk in public to murder and I fit the bill and off we went.




Arash Homampour / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
Click Here to Download Episode

Louis Goodman

Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.



He specializes in underdog litigation. He is the David taking on the Goliath of industry, government and insurance. He is considered one of the most effective trial lawyers in the state, a super lawyer with multiple seven and eight figure verdicts and settlements. He’s been featured on CNN, The Law Flip podcast, and Settlement Nation, among others. He has successfully argued in front of the California Supreme Court. He has numerous professional awards and honors. Arash Homampour, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Arash Homampour

Thank you for having me. Sounds like a pretty cool dude, you were just introduced, I hope I can live up to that.



Louis Goodman

Don’t worry about it. Don’t try and tell my audience that you’re not the superstar that you are.



Arash Homampour

We’re all superstars. I think the goal is just to get out of your own way and let your superstardom shine?



Louis Goodman

Well,hopefully you can share with us a few of the secrets of doing that. Before we get into that, where exactly is your practice?



Arash Homampour

You know, it’s a virtual practice in the sense that we have a physical office with some staff in Sherman Oaks, California, but it’s kind of irrelevant to where we practice, we practice all up and down the California coast, primarily in Southern California.



Louis Goodman

And how would you describe your practice?



Arash Homampour

We are an exclusively trial based practice, meaning we take a very limited number of cases all mid seven figure to eight figure value. Every single case we take with the intention of taking it to trial, unless the defendant offers enough money that it’s unreasonable to settle or not settle. We have 10 attorneys, but at one time, we’ll only have about 30 active cases, which is a very small caseload for that number of attorneys.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Arash Homampour

Well, originally I was born in Chicago to Persian or Iranian immigrant parents. Came to LA when I was 10, when we vacationed here and saw how beautiful it was, with all the palm trees and the smell of jasmine and the hills, told my dad, why are we living in Chicago where I have to shovel ice and deal with the dreaded winters of Chicago. And the rest is history.



Louis Goodman

So where did you go to high school in Los Angeles area.



Arash Homampour

I went to high school in West LA at a school called University High School, which is like Beverly Hills light. So every one, every single one of my friends was rich, went skiing, bought fancy clothes, had a car at 16. None of which I had, all of which was a definite motivator for me to be successful in life because we were the outlier. Iranian family we didn’t have a lot of money, which was okay. I don’t mind it at all in the sense that it definitely lit a fire and let me appreciate working hard for what you get in life.



Louis Goodman

You need a public school? Correct? It is a public school when you graduated from Uni. Is it okay if I call it Uni?



Arash Homampour

That’s what we called it.



Louis Goodman

That’s what I thought. When you graduated from Uni High School, where did you go to college?



Arash Homampour

I went to USC. Interestingly enough that school was not the great school it is today. I mean, it was a good school. But it wasn’t like a top 10 school back then. You would go to USC when you couldn’t get into UCLA because all the kids who took AP courses were going to UCLA with you.



Louis Goodman

How was your experience in college?



Arash Homampour

I would take screenwriting acting, music mixing, I took all these interesting courses each semester, that kind of lent the flavor to like enjoy the college experience rather than dread it in terms of all the prerequisites.



Louis Goodman

At some point after college, you went to law school, did you go directly to law school after college or did you take some time off?



Arash Homampour

I tell people that I needed to incubate some more in the academic world before I was ready to hit the real world. Although I was working part time to full time from age 16 – 17. So the entire time I was in college, entire time I was in law school at work. But I went straight from college to law school because I really just wanted to get going on my career.



Louis Goodman

When did you first decide you wanted to be a lawyer?



Arash Homampour

Probably when I went to law school. It was back in the day when LA Law was on TV. And so it was either you go get an MBA and go to the world of finance or you go to law school and become a lawyer and I thought being a lawyer looked cooler and more engaging and more fun. So that’s the path I took. And literally because it looked better on LA Law.



Louis Goodman

When you got out of law school, what did you first do is legal job?



Arash Homampour

Well, you know, I went to a, it’s a great school Southwestern, but it’s not like you’re going to get a killer job if you don’t graduate within the top, whatever, 15 or 20. So I didn’t have any job offers. The only one that would hire me was my uncle, a medical doctor who did a lot of transactional work and was involved in a lot of litigation, and thought he could use his nephew to clean up and handle a lot of his messes efficiently. And that’s what I did. I kind of learned as I went along all in law school. I clerked for a lawyer doing legal stuff, but not like officially licensed lawyer. So I knew what I was doing. By the time I graduated law school, I knew how to do pleadings, discovery, and you how to take a deposition. So by the time I graduated and passed the bar, I was an actual value to my uncle and his medical practice and his investments and other various things he did.



Louis Goodman

What prompted you to leave that situation and go out to start your own firm?



Arash Homampour

Well, I started my own firm at the same time that I was working for my uncle. And my intention was always to have my own, I just needed the money like everybody else does to pay the rent and overhead, etc. So I worked for my uncle. And then he allowed me to do some time, he was cool, he allowed me to do some of my own cases. And from the get go, it was always a concept of start small, medium, then go to big, then go to super big, but keep going in terms of the case size, it was always my attention to gravitate towards larger cases. But obviously, when you’re first starting out, no one’s giving you big cases, because you have to prove yourself. So I had to be patient and prove myself case by case, which is what I did.





Louis Goodman

Was there something that attracted you to Tort Law?



Arash Homampour

Yeah, it’s just literally, it’s my personality, high risk averse, I don’t like small rewards. I like big rewards. Like literally I tell people, if I go to Vegas, the only thing I want to do is roulette. Like, you know, $100 on one number, because that makes it worth it. A one to one or one to 5.1 odd is not enticing for me. So it’s kind of how I live my life is I want big gains, big risks, big rewards. And Tort Law is definitely somewhere, if you have that kind of mentality, and you’re fearless, and you love what you’re doing, and you want to make a difference, it’s the perfect occupation perfect profession.



Louis Goodman

How is actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations?



Arash Homampour

Oh, it’s way more fun, way more engaging. You know, when you start out, it’s kind of dreary and cumbersome to learn all the basics you have to, and not knowing what you’re doing, you know, if you’re a type a person, and you need to understand things inside and out before you feel comfortable, it’s hard, it’s going to take you time. But then once you get the swing of things, and you learn things, and you are open, and you kind of are efficient in the way you learn, you can pick up different and more complicated topics. So it gets easier as it goes along. I would say for sure. But you’re never stop learning. You’re never there. You know, you’re always a student.



Louis Goodman

I know you’ve had some real success in terms of verdicts, that sort of thing. But before we get to that, what about just the day to day nuts and bolts business of practicing law, how’s that gone for you and has that either met or different from any expectations about that you might have had?



Arash Homampour

Well, I definitely had surpassed any expectations I have in terms of being a businessman, because I’m not a good businessman. And so I’m like every good professional, I know what my limitations are, I learned what my limitations are, and I learned how to delegate and the key to a successful business in any arena is to surround yourself with competent, loyal, loving good people. So I delegated all of the business side to my cousin, and he runs the firm. And it’s a great combo where he gets to use his unique talents to help the firm exists and grow. And I get to use my unique talents to be the trial lawyer that I am. But you know, it business is hard. And half of being a trial lawyer or a lawyer is you are a therapist, you’re photocopier person, you’re a repair person, you’re consultant, you’re HR, you’re business man, you’re all that stuff. So you got to wear many, many hats to be a successful trial lawyer. And the goal is as you grow your business to bring in and keep talented individuals to take over those roles so that you can focus on what you do your best what you do best. I tell people, you know, you could dry clean your shirts, yourself. You could clean, iron, starch and do whatever. But at one point that $3 a shirt doesn’t make sense for the $3 of your time and you have to delegate so that’s how life is you want to delegate as many things as you possibly can. So that frees you up to do what you’re best at.



Louis Goodman

Speaking of what you’re best at, you’ve had successful litigation. And I’m wondering if you could tell us about one of those, one that came to mind for me is just before I came into my studio here to record this, the air conditioning has been going crazy in my building. So I brought my space heater in to warm it up a little bit. And it made me think of you. Can you give me any reason why that might have been?



Arash Homampour

Well, yeah, I had the space heater case against the gigantic defendant Sunbeam multibillion dollar parent entity. The case was tried in Orange County Federal Court, which is one of the most conservative jurisdictions with limited voir, dear and trials are done completely different than in state court with not a lot of leeway and wiggle room. Like, literally, you’re doing everything from the podium. Whereas in a state court, you’re allowed to walk around in the courtroom. And in that case, the defendant offered like $5,000 to settle a huge wrongful death, serious product liability case that we ultimately got 60 million approximate 16 million, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal after multiple challenges. I think, even to the Supreme Court. So that space heater case is just one of many types of cases where if you look at it originally, you’re like, how can you win this case, the defense seems super strong. Basically, it involved the family wanting to save money on the heating expense. And so they used space heaters. And they use a particular space heater, which was a radiant heater where even though it was marketed with an internal safety device that would shut it off in case it overheated or started a fire. That logic or design of radiant heaters is that if anyone understands them, especially this manufacturer who didn’t, you can’t put a safety device in kerneli, that would measure radiating heat three feet away, because it doesn’t measure it and the radiated heat three feet away is greater than what would trigger the safety feature of this heater. So in essence, they’re selling a space heater with the safety feature that they should know doesn’t work. But the consumer doesn’t know. And so essentially, this individual buys this heater, a family puts it near clothing, the clothing catches on fire, the internal device designed to turn it off to prevent a fire doesn’t work. The customer consumer user doesn’t know a wife dies, three kids are left without a mom, husband is left without his best friend without his wife. All because this defendant sold the space heater with the safety device that should never have been sold with that device. Now to get to the way I explained it to you took two- three years $700,000 and it costs 50 depositions, you know millions of pages of terabytes of data. But that’s what I do. I take complicated things make it simple for everyone to understand and explain why this defendant has to be responsible for what they sold, which was a defective product. Jury agreed and awarded appropriate damages.



Louis Goodman

How come the case was in Federal rather than State Court?



Arash Homampour

Some cases go to Federal Court if there’s not diversity, meaning if there’s not a California defendant, then the defendant can remove it to federal court. The funny thing is these defendants remove cases to federal court because they think they have an advantage because federal courts are unforgiving, super fast, super technical. But what these defendants don’t understand is that’s my realm. I mean, I live for technical rules. I live for you know, less is more. I Live For Speed. I live for formal rules. I thrive in that environment. So you know, when they were moving thinking how we got an advantage, they have no idea they don’t they have a disadvantage. Most people are afraid to federal court because you sometimes either get limited one year or no voir, dear, because it’s a unanimous jury verdict requirement. Because it’s more formal, I don’t care what jurisdiction is it’s in. If it’s a righteous case, I’m going to win it if it’s winnable.



Louis Goodman

Is there anything that you know now that you really wish you knew before you started practicing law?



Arash Homampour

Yeah, be nice. You know, when you start out as a young attorney, kind of got a chip on your shoulder, especially when you’re doing personal injury, and people think you’re like, literally, you’d be handling these high end cases. And these defense attorneys who call themselves trial attorneys have either never tried a case or don’t know what they’re doing. They look down on you, and they treat you with disrespect, which is ultimately a good thing because they don’t see you coming. But it does produce in an unevolved version of yourself hostility, anger. And I wish I knew earlier that those ways of reacting are counterproductive and not necessarily.



Louis Goodman

I’d like you to talk a little bit more about that because I know you’ve given this some thought about the importance of treating other attorneys well, treating judges well, treating the people around you well, and how that really is a tactic that works.



Arash Homampour

Well look, my rule is, always be nice. I’m always nice to get more with sugar than you do with poison. Never do personal attacks, but I definitely believe if someone’s lying or pulling a fast one, you need to call it out.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Arash Homampour

Stop talking and listen. You know, we tend to, attorneys love to hear themselves talk. And I’m one of those that I interrupt people and finish their sentences for whatever reason. So one of the best things I saw whatever told me is like, shut up and just listen.



Louis Goodman

Do you think the system’s fair?



Arash Homampour

Of course it’s fair. Yeah. I mean, it’s beyond fair. There’s so many opportunities for either side to get justice. Now. I mean, if we’re going to talk fairness, right, in reality, it’s not as fair for plaintiffs because these defendants and their insurance companies and their law firms, they can drag things out. They can withstand sanctions, they can play games, they do play games, because for them, you know, a $5,000 sanction order for deliberately not producing records they should have produced there’s nothing worse for the plaintiff. You know, that could be case ending. So there is an inherent unfairness, in the sense of the disparity between the power of the plaintiff versus the power of the defendant. But that’s where trial attorneys come in. Plaintiff trial attorneys trying to level the playing field and really hold anyone accountable. Doesn’t matter how big you are, having law firms you have, we’re going to take you down if justice requires you to.



Louis Goodman

If a young person was just coming out of college and thinking about a career would you recommend law as a career?



Arash Homampour

Absolutely. Every single successful businessman, businesswoman most of them, not every single most of them, you look at have a trial, Kevin, a JD, or law background. It’s a wonderful way to look at life, analyze things, issue spot, argue, know when not to argue, etc. So I think at a minimum, it’s a good base for any career. But I think if you are passionate about making a difference, and helping people and making big changes, being a lawyer is the best occupation there is.



Louis Goodman

So let’s say a young attorney, were to come to you and say, give me your advice, a rash, what would you say to that individual?



Arash Homampour

I get this question all the time. Be the best human you can be. Stop focusing on being the best trial lawyer or lawyer you can be. Be the best human inside outside the courtroom, there should be no distinction between who you become self aware. Be kind, be genuine, be physically fit, be mentally fit, don’t be selfish, give back to others, come from your heart. Be the best human you can be and then you will shine anywhere you go.



Louis Goodman

Well, what sort of things do you do in your personal life in order to achieve those goals?



Arash Homampour

Exercise, yoga, I read a lot of self, you know, self help books. So my advice is just be the best person. Read up as much as you can learn what it is to be human. Learn how humans work it, understand that you’re never there. It’s always a work in progress. There is no Nirvana, always understand that no matter what your circumstance, there’s always joy and gratitude to be found no matter what. That’s my advice.



Louis Goodman

I think you said there’s 10 attorneys that work in your firm now.



Arash Homanpour

Yeah, we’re hiring some more as we speak.



Louis Goodman

So what do you look for in attorneys that you hire?



Arash Homampour

Have to be able to work independently have a brain care about what they do love what they do, have a good work, work life balance. I don’t want my attorneys overworking themselves. If they’re working on the weekend, I really just say, Hey, take the weekend off, if you can, usually they’re only working on weekends if they absolutely have to. But just you know, good work product. Kind, polite manners, smart, go getters, passionate, doesn’t matter what college they went to, doesn’t matter what law school they went to, doesn’t matter what grades they have, I could care less. It’s really just their output and results that count and the way they do it.



Louis Goodman

You’re someone who has said that you can achieve pretty much anything that you want to do by putting your mind to it.



Arash Homampour

It’s a truth. That’s the truth in America, of course, you can do anything.



Louis Goodman

Can you be a little specific about some things that you could say, Okay, here’s something that seems impossible, but I achieved it by putting my mind to it.



Arash Homampour

Well, I want to be a DJ, I did it. I want to make music. I did it. I want to start a record label. I did it. I want to be the best trial attorney in the world. I did it. I want to be the best dad in the world. I did it. I want to be the best husband in the room. I did it. Whatever it is you want to be, whatever it is you want to do, whatever title, whatever character you want to construct. The only one standing in your ways you literally so dream it, do it, be it. Aim high. That’s my motto. Tell people, you know, Elon Musk’s idea of aiming for the stars is putting people on the moon and this guy’s gonna do it. We’re gonna have space travel, right? There’s no doubt. And there’s no difference. He’s a human. He’s made of flesh and bone, just like everybody else. The only distinction is he’s, you know, he believes in it. You enrolls other people in doing it, and he’s done it, but you can do whatever you want to.



Louis Goodman

Have you had any interesting travel experience?



Arash Homampour

Oh, I mean, one of the amazing things about being a trial lawyer and having a successful plaintiff practice is that you can make a really good living and travel all over the world. I grew up very, very poor. Our idea of travel when I was young was driving up to Lake Tahoe and watching my dad negotiate a $20 motel room, down to $15. Literally, that was my travel experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not the same as taking your kids to Italy and Spain and France. And, you know, El Salvador and Guatemala and Mexico. You know, one of the perks of having a successful law practice is that you get to do things you would never otherwise get to do. And you know, my life is about experiences, not about things. And the more experiences I can have, the more I can grow as a human. The world is a beautiful place, and there’s nothing better than sharing it with your kids. From age 5 to 20, whatever it’s one of the best things you could do is travel with your children.



Louis Goodman

Any place in particular that you thought was really great.



Arash Homampour

You know, we’ve gone everywhere from like fancy Lake Como to Paris, to one of our most favorite trips was we went on a houseboat in Lake Powell, or Lake Mead, one of those two, and it was one of the most beautiful places. If you’ve ever been, it looks like the lake on a moon. I mean, it’s literally one of the most breathtaking places. And it was one of the funnest, most simple trips, bunch of families rented a houseboat together and went waterskiing and jetskiing and sort of wake surfing on the lake with our kids. And it was really just normal, simple, beautiful. You know, the grand jury of California and, and the world we live in sharing it with your friends and family and nothing better.



Louis Goodman

We touched on this, but what about some recreational pursuits? What sort of things do you like to do outside of practicing law?



Arash Homampour

Well, I’ve been going to clubs since I was 13. I just love music, and I love house music and techno music. So one of my big endeavors these days is DJing. And I just DJ in Vegas at this big club by fortuity, happenstance, serendipity, but I love DJing. I love seeing DJs. I love going to clubs. I love hanging out with my friends. I love living life.



Louis Goodman

If you couldn’t be a lawyer, do you think that you’d want to be a rock star?



Arash Homampour

100%. I mean, I tried to be a little rock star, I just didn’t have the talent. So I always joke that I’ve tried, I’ve turned rock star as a lawyer. But I’m not giving up on that one of my goals is to play Coachella as a DJ, and it’s going to happen within the next few years for sure.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came into some real money. Now I know you’ve made some good money in your practice. But what if you came into real money? A few billion dollars? What if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Arash Homampour

Nothing differently, I would just donate more than I donate. Now, if I came into a billion dollars, I would make the most effective donations to get those kids in the universe who are not having access to their full potential have access. There are so many children in this universe, in this world, let’s stick with Earth First, there are so many kids on this earth, who because of their environment, or their economics, or their parents or whatever, will never live up to their potential but have the potential to be the next Elon Musk, or Obama or Oprah or whatever. So if I, you know, the more money I get, I’m more about transforming the lives of those kids out there who can make a difference, who don’t have the chance, who don’t know they have a chance. That’s what I would do.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say somebody gave you 60 seconds on the Superbowl, and you could say whatever you wanted to the world on the Super Bowl, big audience, what would you say to the world?



Arash Homampour

I would literally say, Be nice. Let’s stop this polarized existence where we all hate each other. Let’s find common ground. Let’s go out and inspire kids who don’t even know that they’re going to be future leaders to be future leaders. Let’s focus on the you know, making the earth a better place. Let’s focus on making it better for everybody. Let’s focus on sharing the wealth.



Louis Goodman

You know, most of the people that I talked to for this podcast are people who I know fairly well. I don’t know you at all. But you know, it’s everything that I’ve read and seen and heard about you is pretty impressive. So I, you know, I really am honored to talk to you.



Arash Homampour

I’m honored to talk to you. Thank you for giving me your audience. I appreciate it.



Louis Goodman

Thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you.



Arash Homampour

Thank you so much for having me, really. I enjoyed this immensely. Very efficient and thorough. Thanks.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes. transcripts, photographs and information. Thanks as always, to my guests to share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Arash Homampour

I don’t have to show how smart I am but you know, just shut up and listen to effective one for trial attorneys because it’s very difficult for a lot.





Tara Flanagan / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman

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. For the last eight years, she has sat as a Judge in the Alameda County Superior Court. She has presided over Criminal, Family, Civil and Juvenile cases. Before taking the bench she specialized in Family Law and family violence matters. She has been a frequent speaker on domestic violence and LGBTQ issues. She is an outstanding athlete, and has competed at the college level in rugby and basketball. She also competes in outrigger canoeing and distance cycling. Very impressive to me is she completed the 1200 kilometer Paris Brest Paris ride in under 90 hours. And that’s 1200 kilometers. Judge Tara Flanagan, welcome to the Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.



Tara Flanagan

Thank you, Mr. Goodman. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.



Louis Goodman

I’m very happy to have you. We have known each other for a while. I think the first time that I really remember seeing you was in a Chinese restaurant when Stuart Hing introduced me to you and said you were running for Judge. And it’s just been going uphill ever since.



Tara Flanagan

That would have been 2012.



Louis Goodman

Yes. Where are you working right now?



Tara Flanagan

I presently sit in the Juvenile Dependency Court at the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, California. And Juvenile Dependency is so when Child Welfare gets involved in removing children from families due to allegations of abuse and neglect.



Louis Goodman

How long have you been on the bench?



Tara Flanagan

I took the bench on January 7, 2013. So over eight years, I’m at eight and a half years at this point.



Louis Goodman

And where are you from originally?







Tara Flanagan

I was born in San Francisco and I was raised primarily in the Bay Area. I graduated high school in Concord, California. So I am very proud of my native Northern California roots.



Louis Goodman

How was your high school experience?



Tara Flanagan

I enjoyed my public school education quite a bit. I enjoyed high school, although it was fraught with the usual teenage dramas and growing up and all that I guess, but I was involved in sports. And so that gave me a good foundation of being involved and having teachers and coaches look after me and keep me in line. And I was involved in student government. And so I recall very fondly my high school days and I’m still connected to my high school and I go to an Athletics Hall of Fame dinner every year.



Louis Goodman

When you graduated from high school where did you go to college?



Tara Flanagan

I went to college initially at Chico State University, part of the Cal State Northridge system. And I went there for two years and found it to be just an incredible college town and great academics. Really small enough where people kept it on you and you had a lot of communication and connection with your professors. But being an athlete, I didn’t find the university athletics was a good fit for me. And so I transferred to Cal State Northridge. I graduated from Cal State Northridge after playing my last two years of college basketball there.



Louis Goodman

What did you think of being a college athlete?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I loved it. And I took great pride and honor and wearing the University jersey and representing my University on the athletics court. I think it sort of prepared me a lot for my future professional work as a lawyer and certainly as a judge.



Louis Goodman

Yeah, I’m think that going to school as a varsity athlete, and being a scholarship athlete really is kind of a different experience than a lot of people have in college. I’m not saying that it’s not a good experience, but it’s a different experience.



Tara Flanagan

It is because, you know, I have to say I’ve always had some mild interest in joining a sorority, but those kind of extracurriculars you just don’t have time for it was very demanding. And you don’t get cut any slack, right? You’ve got to be in your classes, and you’ve got to be at your tests. And if you’re traveling, you have to make arrangements to take tests while you’re traveling. So it takes a lot of juggling.



Louis Goodman

When did you decide to go to law school and when did you start really thinking about being a lawyer?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I started think about going to law school actually when I was in seventh grade, and I don’t want to sound like I got a bit ahead of myself, but I did I really didn’t think of being a lawyer. I thought of being a judge. And I knew that you had to be a lawyer first.



Louis Goodman

Where did you decide to go to law school?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I went to law school in Los Angeles at Southwestern University. And I had graduated from Cal State Northridge and I wanted to go to law school, but I had other things in my life that took priority at that time. And I went to paralegal school at UCLA, and I got a paralegal certificate while working and playing rugby. That was really my focus at that time. I was playing rugby for the United States, I played on the US National team. And I think I had the bandwidth to understand you’re only young and healthy for a certain amount of time. So you can study later, you can go to law school later, but work on your athletic career. So when I got my paralegal certificate, I started working in a law firm, I realized I had love for the law, and I had an aptitude for it. And I decided I would go to law school at the end of my international rugby career, and I went to law school at Southwestern for four years.



Louis Goodman

How much time did you take off between college and law school?



Tara Flanagan

That’s a good question, Mr. Goodman. I think it was roughly about six or seven years. During that time, was the first Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991. And Cardiff, Wales, I played in that for the United States, which we won. Yay. And then the second World Cup was held in 1994, in Edinburgh, Scotland, which we came in second, we don’t talk about that one very much. And then after that was when I went to law school.



Louis Goodman

I do think that having taken that time off and worked in the legal profession, helps you focus on law school and helps you focus on being perhaps a better law student.



Tara Flanagan

To some degree, I think so. I think that anybody who has gotten a graduate degree, whether in law or otherwise will, and certainly educators will talk about the difference between traditional day students who come right out of undergrad versus people who have the mature educated students who have obligations or work experience, it’s different. So yes, I think it did. It helped me focus more when you go to law school.



Louis Goodman

You open your own practice, is that correct?



Tara Flanagan

No, actually, when I first got out of law school, I had a very good job offer and I took it at a clerk that I affirmed that I clerked at one summer. And that was in Orange County, California. So I was living in the Santa Monica area. But I took this job at this very prestigious law firm. And as a first year associate, you weren’t really getting a lot of court experience. So I got frustrated with that. And in particular, there was one appellate issue that went up that I did all the research and the writing and the briefing on and whatnot. And I remember the frustration of having to fight and I mean, fight to get my name on that brief. So that when it became a published opinion, that I would get the appropriate credit. So that led me to decide I should get some courtroom experience. I applied to the District Attorney’s Office in LA County, and I was hired as a Deputy DA.



Louis Goodman

So how long were you in the District Attorney’s in Los Angeles?



Tara Flanagan

I was there about two years. I was in trial on my first day after DA graduation. And while the jury was out, I was picking a jury for a new trial. And I’ve really found it very interesting work. And I had won an award in the LA District Attorney’s Office as an outstanding Domestic Violence Prosecutor in my first year.



Louis Goodman

When did you start thinking about being a judge? And what prompted that decision?



Tara Flanagan

So that whole scene, of course, began when I was in seventh grade. And I was thinking about it, and always in the back of my mind. And when I was in law school, I really paid attention to the courses that I could elect to choose. And I thought, what is one need to know to be a judge? What do you really need to know of course, I think you need to be a good lawyer and have a reputation for being a good lawyer and for excellence, and fairness, and being professional and whatnot. So I always tried to practice law in that realm. But in law school, I thought, what do you need to know to be a judge? You need to know Civil, Criminal and Family Law that seemed to me the trifecta of what you really need to know. And so when I fashioned my legal career as an attorney, I worked in complex civil litigation big firm, I was a prosecutor and I got my criminal law experience to some extent, and then I was a Legal Aid Family Law attorney. So I thought that I tried to build my CV to prepare me for taking the bench. I was working on my application to become a Judge and through the Geni application process in 2012, when I was at a legal event one night, and I was approached by some people, important people in our county, and at first when I saw them sort of coming towards me at this event, I sort of backed up, I thought, oh no, what have I done? I’m in trouble. Because I’m one of seven kids raised by a single mom. So when authority comes at me, I initially bristle so they wanted to talk to me. And what they wanted to talk to me about was to ask me to run for an open seat, Judge Carl Morris had not re upped his seat and there was therefore an open seat. And these people approached me and said, We want you to run. I said, Why? Why are you asking me and they said, and this I really value, they said, you know, Carl Morris is an African American man, and he’s held this seat for close to 30 years, I think, is what they said, it’s a seat of diversity. And we feel it should remain a diversity, and you’re an out lesbian. Everyone knows you want to become a Judge, we think you’ll get there. But it’s important, we think, to the community that the seat remain diverse. And they felt that the candidates that had already entered the race didn’t reflect the diversity that the county needed. So they asked me and I was very honored to be approached and asked in this way, once I realized I wasn’t in trouble. And I said, Okay, when’s the filing deadline, and they said tomorrow. What they didn’t know was I was having shoulder surgery the next morning at 11:30 for an old rugby injury. So I had to be at the hospital at 10:30 in the morning. So I had from the time I had that conversation, until the next morning around, to make up my mind whether I should accept this challenge and enter the race. And I went down at eight in the morning and pulled my papers, paid my filing fee and entered the race.



Louis Goodman

What did you think about running for office? How was that experience?



Tara Flanagan

To be candid, I enjoyed it quite a bit, because a lot of people will say, and as you look across our country, in different states, there are states that don’t have elections for Judges or their states, or once you’re elected, it’s only retention votes. I liked it because I got to listen to people and meet people in the community. And I feel very strongly that the justice system isn’t here for me or any of us to have a job. It’s not here for us, it’s here for the public redress of grievances. So if I asked the people in this county to support me and what I felt I had to offer as a judicial officer, and they supported me, I think that’s exactly how the system is meant to work.



Louis Goodman

How did you feel about, you know, having to raise money and go out and be someplace all the time, always being at some kind of lunch, dinner or breakfast and really selling yourself?



Tara Flanagan

Raising money is a hard thing. And in any aspect for anybody who’s ever done fundraising for like the AIDS ride or a marathon or a charity, but certainly for yourself and to run for office. It’s really a challenge. And in a judicial race in particular, I think it’s challenging because it’s not going to be a quid pro quo. Like if you’re running for Assembly or Congress spot or any other elected office. I think there’s some amount of giving that seems to be tied to some expectation, right? No Judge is going to do you any favors because you supported them. You can’t. It’s unethical. And so I think there’s some reticence in contributions because of that reality.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Tara Flanagan

Surround yourself with mentors, and the mentors don’t have to look like you. In fact, all different kinds of people can help guide you on your professional career or support you and your academics, whatever. And don’t be afraid to ask and don’t expect that the person has to be your own demographic. In fact, the best perspectives you will often get are from people who aren’t replicas of you. I think that is really good advice. And it has served me well.



Louis Goodman

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Tara Flanagan

No.



Louis Goodman

Why?



Tara Flanagan

No, I think it strives to be fair. And the principles that we seek to effectuate justice are ideal, but they’re somewhat mythical, because we are in a country with systemic racism and systemic bias that affects so many people socio economic bias. And I have real concerns about that. And it’s something that I, as a Judge, have to be mindful of every single day. And also anytime you have a system that is run by human beings, who, by nature are flawed and imperfect, that bleeds over into the system.



Louis Goodman

You’re still very involved with sports and recreational pursuits. And I assume what like me, you find those things to be head clearing and a way of separating some of the stress from your life. I’m wondering if you could tell us what specific things you participate in these days?



Tara Flanagan

Sure. So I presently ride my bike a lot and long distance. I used to just ride my bike in what’s called century rides or metric century 60 mile rides, 100 mile rides, and then I always would finish a ride. And I think, you know, I still feel okay, I wonder how much further I could go. And what do I have left in the tank. And that’s always an assessment that I’ve always done in my whole sports career. So I started riding longer and longer. And I got into the sport called randonneuring, which is a French origin and it’s long distance bicycling, while you’re racing, not the other people, but you’re racing the clock. So certain distances have certain time limits that you have to complete them by. So a 200 kilometer, which is roughly 127 miles must be completed in 13.5 hours, you’re given a course, the clock starts off you go, the clock is always running, if your bike breaks down, you fix it, you get a flat tire, you fix it, the clock is always running, you need to eat, if something happens, you get injured, you figure it out, and you make your way along the course. So there’s 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K. And then, of course, 1200K.



Louis Goodman

And let’s just talk about that 1200k, Paris Brest Paris, because that’s just super impressive for anybody.



Tara Flanagan

The Paris Brest Paris bike ride is the oldest bike race in the world. It’s been in existence, since I want to say sometime in the 1880s. And the name reflects the race start on the outskirts of Paris, you race to the Atlantic seaport post, it’s a town called Brasstobrest. And then you return to Paris. And as I indicated, the clock is always ticking, the clock starts, you have 90 hours to finish. And so that’s 1200 kilometers, roughly 770 miles. And so you ride and you have to go to certain checkpoints, you have this little thing like a passport and they stamp it at certain checkpoints, you have to show that you were there. And you’re riding all day and all night through the countryside, and sometimes through cities. And yeah, it’s very hard. And over the last 100 plus years that the race has been in effect, there’s only about 500 women that have ever finished it. It’s hard. And it’s not just that you’re riding your bike for 90 hours straight. But you know, you have to manage yourself, you get tired, are you going to be able to take a nap for an hour or maybe longer? Are you ahead of the clock, you can nap. Are you behind? So you can’t, you got to eat. You’ve got to, you know, something breaks on your bike. So I did that the first time in August of 2019. It was very, a very hard race. But I finished in 89 hours and three minutes. And so I tell my friends, I said I could have stopped for another espresso. I had 57 minutes extra, I should have stopped should have stopped and eat again.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came into some real money $3 or $4 billion. Yeah, what if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Tara Flanagan

Oh, I pay off my mortgage on a house. And I would set up some trusts and charitable entities typically a shelters and transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence and in particular LGBTQ plus survivors of domestic violence. I use a lot of money. I think like that for the greater good. I don’t think my life would change that much. You know, everyone says that, I guess but I’d still be putting on my robe at 8:30 every morning, I’d still be here. And hopefully serving the people of the county.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand. That was one thing in the world you could change, what would you do?







Tara Flanagan

I’d eliminate racism and bias. Wipe that out of everybody’s mind were taught as children. So this is America, this is equal. Everybody has the same opportunities. We can all be President, we can all do this. And that’s not true. I would magic wand away racism and this nation’s shameful history of slavery and oppression.



Louis Goodman

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Tara Flanagan

I think about LGBTQ justice and the backlash in our country against transgender persons right now. That seems to be epidemis. Since a couple of weeks ago, I think about abortion rights and access to health care and autonomy for women in this country and in certain states. So that’s why I need to exhaust myself so that I can sleep. So these things are, I think present on all of our minds. We care all of us deeply about justice and fairness and all these issues that you’re asking me about.



Louis Goodman

Well, I’m gonna stop asking you about anything. I’m going to turn this over now to the people who were with us on the call. Let me start Jason Leong, do you have a question or a comment for Judge Flanagan?



Jason Leong

Sure. Thank you, Louis. And thank you Judge. Judge, it sounds like you’ve had quite a number of achievements and accomplishments. I’m wondering, what do you think was the most challenging experience of your life or your career?



Tara Flanagan

That’s a really good question, Jason. First of all, I have been extraordinarily lucky and fortunate I am, I’ve had some hardships. But like all of us, I’ve always had people there to help me like are angels for practically. But I’d say one thing that was challenging was being one of seven kids raised by a single mom, and not having another parent in the picture. And we really struggled my family financially, for example. And when I was a child, having only one parent wasn’t that common. And so I remember having to navigate that at school, I don’t know if any of you are old enough to remember sort of like, Father/Daughter Day, or Parent Day or whatever. And that, you know, made me feel on the outside. And that was hard when you’re a little kid. You don’t really understand that, and how if I wanted certain things, as a child, we all want toys or clothes or whatever, you know, to learn that my mother did the best she could, but she wasn’t going to be able to provide that. So I’d have to find a way. So things I think were my biggest challenges. And I don’t begrudge them though, because I think they contribute to who I am. As a Judge, I have that understanding of disparities. And so I guess that would be my answer, Jason.





Louis Goodman

Lisa Simmons do have a question or a comment for Judge Flanagan.



Lisa Simmons

Sure. Thanks, Louis. Thank you, Judge. First of all, you are an amazing human being just physically, it seems mental fortitude and everything. And it’s astounding. I think that when I’m listening to you, I can’t help but think how much sports really played a huge part in your life, and how much that kept you on track for a lot. As you progress through life, you have a very special position with a Juvenile Dependency Court. And I know you see a lot of bias, probably a lot of socio economic bias with the children there. And I know from personal experiences, as well as seeing a lot of that around us that is not accessible to a lot of the children out there because of socio economic status, sports cost money, they require parents that will transport and things like that. I was just wondering, with all of you with your position, and the contacts you must have in the athletic field and the dependency and justice. Have you ever been involved in any programs that help kind of bridge this gap? Or the youth that is disadvantaged? Or are you considering anything like that?



Tara Flanagan

Yeah, that’s a good question. I agree with what you said about sports having a major impact in my life. It’s formed everything I do, and how I see the world in large part. And as a Judge, you know, as an athlete, I say nobody ever outworked me, nobody ever in the world. And that was a goal of mine, I would never the fastest person, never the biggest or the strongest, but I found a way to get it done. And so that’s how I come to the bench. That’s how I was as a lawyer, and so on, so forth. And so I see that a lot of youth that need support and need that kind of structure are floundering in our Juvenile Dependency System. But one project that I’m really involved in developing right now. It’s the Major Taylor Project. So Major Taylor was a cyclist in the 1800s, late 1800s. Louis nodding, you know, who I’m talking about? Yeah, he was a first World Champion for the United States Cycling. And little known to many, and most people in our society. He’s an African American man, he was elevated praised idolized in, everywhere, everywhere around the world, except the United States. And it’s we don’t really know his history. So the idea of the Major Taylor Project is to provide bicycles and coaching to school kids, and create little teams and create Major Taylor events so that kids in particular kids who might also identify, but not exclusively, but might also identify as African American can realize the greatness of this historical person, Major Taylor, and that how cycling opened a lot of doors for him and taught him some real life lessons and to create a project like that so that we could have that in our counties.





Louis Goodman

Taylor Moudy



Taylor Moudy

Thank you, Louis. And thank you Judge for being here. It’s an amazing story you have to share and I appreciate hearing some very fine details of it. When I first signed up to register for this event, there was mentioned in the bio, that sort of introduction on your background. Because that you’d have served or do serve on the Alameda County Superior Courts, Jury and Criminal Committee, and I was curious of your experiences on that. What’s the mission of that committee? What issues are involved? But perhaps inputs do you provide and I’m sort of issues are resolved or ongoing. In that especially like to committee?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I’m no longer on the Criminal Committee because I’m in a Juvenile Dependency assignment. The Jury Committee, I’m still involved with, and I’ve been involved in that from the get go. And what we do is explore our jury summons process, our access to justice, or access to jury service, and work to ensure that we have community members answering the call to jury service, and look at our systems and our assignments where people are drawn from where they are assigned to report for service, so that we have a fair jury sampling.



Louis Goodman

Erica Demmings, I see that you raised your hand.



Erica Demmings

This has actually been very fascinating. Again, I think you’ve got an incredible story. I think that we are grateful that you’re on the bench. I had a question as a follow up for something that you talked about before, I think when you’re asked about waving a magic wand, of course, we’re all aware of the issues of inequity and racism, and things that have happened or are present in our society. My question is what let’s see measures if that’s the right word does the Judiciary or Alameda County and in particular take to either train Judges in the issue of on unconscious bias, combat it, just whatever that means? You know, whatever is done, it’s wondering, is there anything there?



Tara Flanagan

Right, well, as Judicial Officers we are required statutorily, to receive a certain amount of training in every three year period. We have to report on it and document it, if you were to fail your obligations, there would be consequences, and so on and so forth. Not unlike when we were all lawyers, and you are all lawyers, to have your MCLE and whatnot and maintain ongoing education. So that’s a foundational response. I think this county in particular recognizes the importance of judicial education on implicit bias and explicit bias. And last year, when I was the rising President, I was in charge of setting up all the trainings, and I quickly pivoted after Mr. Floyd was murdered and organized a panel on basically we call it the world is on fire and what does it mean to be part of a biased and racist system? And what’s our role in it? It’s something I take very seriously.



Louis Goodman

Thank you, Judge. Mary Rupp.



Mary Rupp

I remember when you were practicing as a solo for a few years before you ran for judge focusing on family law issues, and then you received your first judicial assignment in a busy Family Law courtroom. How does that family law experience influence or impact your current position?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I was put in family law. So I really had to be mindful of my own ethical duties and say, Okay, if someone says on this case, can I be fair? Or would there be an appearance of unfairness, for example, if someone I shared an office space with was representing a party came in front of me, these are the kinds of concerns I had. But one issue that I want to point out to everybody, when I became a Judge and was assigned in family law, there was no marriage equality in this country. I myself had wanted to get married, and God forbid, I didn’t. At that time, I couldn’t even have a marriage. Yeah, I was entrusted by the State of California and by this county to decide cases regarding marriage, division of property, custody of kids support spousal and otherwise, the whole Gestalt of the detritus of marriage, but I myself was legally banned from participating in that institution. That was ironic to say the least. You know, wow, I couldn’t participate. So when marriage equality happened by that time, I was in criminal law, but I think that was a hard thing, in a way and being in family law. I think that they think about becoming a judge and why I was interested, when I I did run, there came a point in my career where I was less interested in winning, ie what my client wanted. I was more interested or an or posing vehemently. But what was the right answer? What was the right answer under the law? What was the Justin fair answer? So that middle ground my perspective, and I’m extremely competitive person, but my perspective in law started to change more towards what is fair and what is right. I hope I answered your question.



Mary Rupp

Yes, you did. And thanks very much. Hope to see you soon.



Louis Goodman

Judge Tara Flanagan, thank you so much for joining us today at Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Tara Flanagan

Thanks for having me. It’s great to see everybody and keep up the good work at the ACBA and of course Love Thy Lawyers. We talked about it all the time as Judges.



Louis Goodman

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 pay ACBA.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 staff and members, Caitlin Dahlin, Saeed Randall, Hadassah Hayashi, Vincent Tong, and Jason Leong. Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Tara Flanagan

Then I said does everybody remember their senior year of high school? You ruled the school




Ryan Kraft / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript

Louis Goodman

Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.



He is currently a partner in a downtown Oakland civil litigation firm. He has litigated multiple civil cases through jury trial. He has had experience handling misdemeanor and felony criminal cases. He has a background in journalism, and has served with several organizations promoting civil rights. And he has volunteered to assist families of incarcerated individuals. Ryan Kraft, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Ryan Kraft

Thanks for having me.



Louis Goodman

I’m very happy to talk to you on the podcast. We met in an interesting way in that I had a criminal case where there were substantial restitution claims being made by the victim in the case involving in automobile accident, and you represented the same client in the civil litigation as part of an insurance settlement. And I was, frankly, very impressed by the way you and your colleagues handled that case. And we ended up with a very good disposition all around. So I’m happy to talk to you a little less formally.



Ryan Kraft

So that was quite the interesting case, and difficult as well. But I do agree that the end resolution was good for our mutual client. That’s what matters most.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Ryan Kraft

I was born in California, Southern California. But I grew up all my formative years in Chicago, not downtown suburbs, western suburbs, and I lived there until I was 16. And then I moved to Arizona.



Louis Goodman

What sort of practice do you have? We touched on it for a moment, but why don’t you tell us what kind of practice you have in your view?



Ryan Kraft

We are a civil litigation, insurance defense primarily. And so whatever people could be insured for with our insurance carrier clients, we might be representing them or defending them in litigation.



Louis Goodman

How big a firm is it?



Ryan Kraft

There are four partners and five associates.



Louis Goodman

And you’re one of the partners, is that correct?



Ryan Kraft

Yeah, that’s right. I’m one of the partners.



Louis Goodman

How long have you been with that firm?



Ryan Kraft

I started the firm in June of 2018.



Louis Goodman

Okay, so you said that you grew up mainly in the Chicago area, but then you move to Arizona, where’d you go high school?



Ryan Kraft

A school called Hinsdale South in Hinsdale, Illinois. And then I went to a second high school called Mountain Rage in Phoenix.



Louis Goodman

Well, those were sort of must have been different experiences coming from Chicago and then ending up in Arizona. Certainly the weather’s different.



Ryan Kraft

It was a shock. Very different cultures and climates. Yeah. I mean, it was difficult to leave high school as a sophomore, and leave all the friends I grew up with and move to new place and have to meet new people at that time. But then additionally, to just completely change climates. You know, that was strange, too. I played football during, you know, my years growing up and in high school. And, you know, football in Chicago is very different than football in Arizona, being Arizona is horribly hot. But over time, I really began to love Arizona. And the reason for that is simply that I love the sun. And because of that I want to stay on the West Coast after I graduated from law school and ended up here.



Louis Goodman

Well, after graduating from high school, where’d you go to college?



Ryan Kraft

University of Arizona.



Louis Goodman

How was that experience?



Ryan Kraft

I loved it. Most people don’t think college was a great time. The University of Arizona was a warm, pretty place to go to school. Again, sunny ride a bike around. I met a lot of good friends at the University of Arizona and I very much enjoyed my undergrad education. I was a Creative Writing Major and a Journalism Major. And I really liked both of those things. So undergrad really hit on all cylinders for me. I had a great time.



Louis Goodman

At some point you decided to go to law school. When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer, deciding you know, I really want to go to law school and want to be a lawyer?



Ryan Kraft

I was in middle undergrad. I was a Journalism Major at the time. And you know how to think about what would come after graduation, seem to be an option. And so I took the LSAT and kind of set that up, though I hadn’t fully decided, I did not fully decide to go to law school until I was a senior and in undergrad had already been accepted to schools, and I was still deciding whether to actually do it or not. So I decided to pursue it as an option to have a backup plan at the very least. And I ended up pulling the trigger shortly before I graduated.



Louis Goodman

I think one thing that people don’t realize is how written word driven the law really is. People think of lawyers and they think of, you know, courtroom drama, that sort of thing. And, you know, I mean, obviously, that’s part of it. But certainly law school is a matter of being able to communicate well in writing. And I would imagine that the Journalism background, you had really assisted you as far as that’s concerned.



Ryan Kraft

I don’t know about that. Really, for formal writing, different from writing journalism is kind of short punctual telling a story. And it’s organized in a way to where, you know, you expect people to stop reading after the first few paragraphs you say trade jam information to those Moore’s law is much more argument based and much more focused on practicalities and is extremely biased. I mean, if you’re presenting something to a Judge, obviously, it’s gonna be aimed at convincing them of your position, even if there are weaknesses. And so I think they, they are fundamentally different, at least in my opinion.



Louis Goodman

What did your friends and family say or think when you decided to be a lawyer and you told them that?







Ryan Kraft

Well I think my dad actually recommended it at one point. Not in any forceful way, but just kind of floated the idea like, hey Ryan, have you ever thought about law school? I was, you know, when I was early on and in my undergrad career, when it came time to decide to go I don’t think they questioned it at all. Probably made a lot of sense to them. I’ve always been a relatively headstrong, argumentative. So I think they got it, then it’s a higher degree of education. I thought, they thought it was appropriate.



Louis Goodman

When you got out of law school, what was your first legal job?



Ryan Kraft

I worked on my own.



Louis Goodman

How did you get from Tucson, Arizona, to Alameda County?



Ryan Kraft

Well, I guess it takes me back to, I have to go back in time to explain this process. I was in Cochise County working at interning at the Cochise County Attorney’s Office my one year and I decided to go visit New York City for the first time. I went to New York City and I visited a friend there. And I thought New York City was just the coolest place I’ve ever been. And that point, I decided I was going to live in a big city, I want to live in a place with good public transit, a place where I didn’t have to drive much. And I started to think of where that was going to be and certainly wasn’t gonna be Chicago and I landed on San Francisco. Thought San Francisco would be a good place to go. Now I was unable to lock down any sort of job while in law school over here in the Bay Area. And so I took the bar exam and packed on my car and just moved here, and then waited for my bar results to come in. And they came in and still don’t have a job. And I needed to start making money somehow. And then there was the Panel Defense Program and so I joined that. And then I happen to you know, meet attorneys here in there who I could help and associate with and different matters and who else helped me along, but primarily, I did misdemeanor criminal defense for about two and a half years.



Louis Goodman

How did you go from there to the firm that you’re up?



Ryan Kraft

Well, then I was notified of a position at a different to civil litigation firm and made a decision to close up shop and go work for a firm and I ended up being able to work with some excellent attorneys, notably David Hunter, who spent just hours upon hours teaching me and molding me into an attorney and you get great experience working in house insurance defense. It’s a great way to catch up to speed so to speak. And then it was time to move on from there and I came over my present firm.



Louis Goodman

What do you really like about practicing law? Obviously, you’re someone who has the wherewithal needed do lots of things. But you’ve decided to practice law and it sounds like you’re thriving at it.



Ryan Kraft

There are a lot of things I like about the law. But I think my favorite is when I have a case and the case involves another attorney who I’m on the same wavelength, whether that be a co defendant, an attorney, or a co counsel, or the plaintiff’s attorney. And the case is a problem. Every case is a problem. It’s got to be solved in some way, you know, they’re all different. They’re all unique problems, but they’re all problems like little puzzles, right?



Louis Goodman

People don’t in general come to lawyers, but their life is just going great people, or companies, or insurance companies, or plaintiffs or whatever. I mean, no matter what it is, when someone goes and seeks the advice of an attorney, it’s because there’s a problem.



Ryan Kraft

There’s a problem. And some attorneys make those problems worse, compound them with poor decisions, or greed or poor advice, or lack of competence, or lack of diligence, or inability to see that their client is not telling the truth. But other attorneys are the opposite. So I like when the other attorneys are on the same wavelength as me. And we, in a way, even though it’s an adversarial system, are kind of coordinating efforts to solve this problem together in a way that satisfies everyone. And it gives me a lot of hope and confidence that those things will continue to happen in my career, because, frankly, what we do is very difficult and stressful. So you need stuff like that, you need positive things.



Louis Goodman

Would you recommend the law to a young person seeking a career choice?



Ryan Kraft

Depends who they are. This stuff is difficult, hard. Being attorney is hard, and in so many different ways. Time management, communication, skill, reading comprehension, being able to, you know, kind of just be headstrong and present an argument, being able to recognize when you’re wrong and step back. You’re the person who has been chosen to guide this other person or people through this process. And so you got to be a leader, you got to be someone who is ready to do that at all times. You know, it’s kind of a roundabout way to just say, Man, you got to have a lot of, you got to have a lot of talents. And I think maybe the Paramount one is leadership skills on top of intelligence and integrity and all sorts of other things.



Louis Goodman

How is actually practicing either met or different from your expectations about it?





Ryan Kraft

That’s an interesting question. I suppose I had no expectations. When I first decided to become an intern and then law school, I don’t think really prepped me for what it was really going to be like the law school fine and asked me to come down on it teach us necessary skills, but not the social dynamics of the law. I have been surprised by the fall ability of us attorneys, I suppose we’re all just people, you know, just like anybody else and we make mistakes.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?



Ryan Kraft

I was in Cochises County, Bisbee, Arizona, working for the Cochises County Civil Attorney’s Office and the Civil Deputy Attorney there had won an appeal. And it came into my office and I said, Hey, come on, let’s go to the copper Queen and celebrate and we got a beer and he said, Hey, Ryan, I’ll make sure during your career to always take time to enjoy your successes. And I do that as much as I possibly can. Five succeed something or accomplish something and I’m satisfied with it. I take moment, I take any evening to relax, sit back, reflect and be pleased that I was able to do something very difficult. And then move on to the next but least take that moment and take a breath and recognize that what we do is hard and it’s cool when you succeed.



Louis Goodman

So what’s your family life like in the house and how has practicing law affected that?



Ryan Kraft

That’s just me and my wife and our cat. I would say that practicing law has affected it. In the sense that some days, a bad day of work a stressful day at work, and I probably come home, and I’m not the most enjoyable person to be around. But I can’t say that affected it much more beyond that.



Louis Goodman

Do you share those celebratory moments with your wife?



Ryan Kraft

At times, yeah, certainly.



Louis Goodman

What other things do you like to do besides practice law? You know, I mean, what do you do to clear your head?



Ryan Kraft

I got a couple hobbies. So I wouldn’t say like, they’re serious. I like playing chess and I like writing. I still write creatively, poetry, stuff like that. But for the most part, I ride my bike round. I really like riding my bike around in the sunshine, I just kind of float around the City of Oakland, maybe San Francisco and soak up the sun, and ride around at low speed and kind of just do what I want to do. You know, last five years or so the bike infrastructure has been greatly improved in Oakland.



Louis Goodman

Yeah, that’s for sure, isn’t it?



Ryan Kraft

Yeah. I mean, it’s constantly improving bike lanes everywhere. You could take bike lanes all the way up into Berkeley without ever breaking. Yeah, like biking over to the Treasure Island, or your reporting Island. I take Bart in San Francisco and they got a good bike infrastructure to now just you know, his bike around. Hey, there’s no these aren’t like 15 mile bike rides. You know, I’m not in spandex, you know, pounded out a ride all the way to Santa Rosa or something. These are like lazy rides for the most part. I like just floating around listening to music.



Louis Goodman

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Ryan Kraft

Work? You know, I mean, it’s the job is very stressful. It’s very stressful. Man, when I make mistake, even if it’s not terrible, you know? It can keep me up at night. Sometimes a bad interaction with the other side. You know, just where am my brain? It’s not so much nerves about the upcoming that keeps me up at night. Rather, thoughts of what has transpired but yeah, mistakes, especially mistakes. I’m pretty hard on myself about that. And it’s tough. It’s tough to make mistake.



Louis Goodman

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that as attorneys, we take on responsibility for other people’s lives and we take on responsibilities for other people’s problems. You know, it’s not like we’re a surgeon and if we make a mistake, they’re gonna die. But if we make mistakes, it can really have an adverse effect on people’s lives.



Ryan Kraft

Definitely. And even if it doesn’t have an adverse effect on somebody’s life and usually it doesn’t we make mistakes all the time but yet the case resolution is no different than would have been otherwise it’s still a blow to the ego you know, it’s a blow to my own morale or expectations for myself. How did I let that happen? You know, how did I do that? How did I miss that? Yeah, it creates a self doubt I suppose and that’s what keeps me up. Eventually I’d get over it you know on to the next mistake you know, that sort of thing. You learn fromyou’re your mistakes.







Louis Goodman

Let’s say you and your wife came into some real money, a few billion dollars, $3/$4 billion. What if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Ryan Kraft

Well, I probably wouldn’t work anymore. I’d go hang out on a beach. Travel a lot. I would, I think, if I came into a billion dollars I would probably pursue my passions of you know writing, even if it’s just for myself. Spend my time doing that and hanging out with my wife, family and doing fun enjoyable things and sending the son more not work you know, eight to 10 hour days and travel. Yeah, definitely travel more. I am what I do with the billion dollars, I don’t know presumably donate it to lots of it. But hold on enough to where I no longer needed to worry about work or my family’s well being. Imagine that to happen. I probably get out of my apartment, get bigger place, maybe buy a place.



Louis Goodman

Have you had any interesting travel experiences?



Ryan Kraft

I’ve been places Yeah. I mean, I really , my favorite place is Berlin. I love Berlin. That’s my favorite city.



Louis Goodman

Why?



Ryan Kraft

Well, I really like electronic music. And that’s like the epicenter of the world for electronic music. Also, I liked the culture over there. And I had a really good time renting bikes and biking around. And there’s something about Berlin that just matched with my personality. It felt like I could live here, you know, this is kind of who I am. I also was fortunate, I mean, that that was a good trip, because we met a couple friends there and had some good times just, you know, kind of going out in Berlin, but a lot of cool restaurants, a lot of cool bars, a lot of great museums. I mean, it’s got it all. Vietnam was an interesting place. We’re also gone. Have in Spain traveled around the United States, playing and watching New Zealand. Yeah, Berlin, Berlin is my favorite.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say, someone gave you 60 seconds on the Superbowl, said you could put out any message that you wanted to an enormous number of people. What kind of message would you want to put out there?



Ryan Kraft

Believe in yourself? You are in control of what you do. And everyone should know that.





Louis Goodman

Let me ask you this one. Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world that you could change. What would that be?



Ryan Kraft

Well, we got all sorts of big scale problems, right. But I think if I had a magic wand, I go for it. I do some small scale, leave the big stuff for someone else. I would like to get rid of all the litter around here in Oakland. I would like people to stop leaving their trash. And I noticed that it has been normalized, and it’s just everywhere. And it’s not the same other places around the world. And I don’t think there’s a good excuse for us to just be leaving trash on the ground and making our otherwise pretty city kind of unsightly. So if I had a magic wand, I would waive it and everyone would then stop leaving trash on the ground and thinking that’s okay.



Louis Goodman

Ryan Kraft, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. And it’s really been an interesting perspective.



Ryan Kraft

Thanks, Louis. I appreciate your time.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend. And subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Ryan Kraft

Yeah, I don’t know about thriving but yeah, I’m doing it. I’m making a living out of it. That’s for sure.





Donald Cameron Clark / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript


Louis Goodman

Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer, nobody’s perfect. He began his professional career in a firm that was started by Abraham Lincoln’s son. He believes in the power of storytelling. He established a constitutional right of clergy to solemn eyes, same sex marriages in the state of North Carolina. He has just published a book, Summary Judgment, the documents his successful effort to overturn an Alabama death sentence and gain the release of a clearly guilty inmate. Donald Cameron Clark, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Donald Cameron Clark

Thanks, Louis. I’m pleased to be invited to be on your program.



Louis Goodman

It’s an honor to have you. You are a very accomplished attorney. You’ve written a very compelling book. And again, I’ll just mention it’s called Summary Judgment. And it’s not about procedural matters specifically, but it is about your work in gaining the overturning of a death penalty case in the state of Alabama. And it involves Jeff Sessions among other people. And we’re going to get to that in a few minutes. But first, tell me where is your office right now?



Donald Cameron Clark

I’m in the suburbs of Chicago. Louis.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Donald Cameron Clark

I was born in Virginia, but largely raise and except for undergraduate and law school. That pretty much resided in the suburbs of Chicago most of my life.



Louis Goodman

Is that where you went to high school?



Donald Cameron Clark

Yes, I did. I went to Nuture East High School. That’s in Winnetka, Illinois,



Louis Goodman

After you graduated, and you left. We’re not going to go to college. Where did you go?



Donald Cameron Clark

I went to Williams College. That’s a small liberal arts school in the upper northwest corner of Massachusetts, right on the Massachusetts Vermont border in Williamstown, Massachusetts.





Louis Goodman

It was an all boys school at that time, wasn’t it?



Donald Cameron Clark

It had just started turning co Ed. In fact, my class was the second class to include women. But Williams did it gradually, rather than just immediately go to kind of a 5050 demographic, they started the in slowly increasing the number of women in the class and I think my class was about 2/3 to 1/3.



Louis Goodman

Did you enjoy your experience at Williams?



Donald Cameron Clark

Very much. So I had a great education. And it’s also where I met my wife.



Louis Goodman

Well, so despite the, I don’t know, what should I say poor percentages, you did well for yourself.



Donald Cameron Clark

I met a wonderful woman. In fact, she was going to Wellesley College. And that’s where she graduated from, an all women’s school. But she elected to take her junior year as a transfer student to Williams. And so we met during that junior year of college when she was on campus.



Louis Goodman

After you graduated from Williams, you ultimately went to law school. Did you take some time off or did you go directly to law school?



Donald Cameron Clark

I went directly to law school. I went to Rutgers Law School. My wife was seeking a Master’s Degree in Library Science. And she got that during the same time, also at Rutgers.



Louis Goodman

And you would Rutgers Camden, is that correct?



Donald Cameron Clark

Correct.



Louis Goodman

How was your experience in law school at Rutgers?









Donald Cameron Clark

I enjoyed it a great deal. The professors were very good. And over the years, they developed the wonderful clinic program and it gave me a great foundation. And I’m very much grateful to the legal training that I got there.



Louis Goodman

After you graduated from law school, you headed back to the Chicago area and as I mentioned in the intro, you went to work for a very old established firm there that in fact one of the founding partners was Abraham Lincoln son.



Donald Cameron Clark

I started my legal career at the Law Firm of ICM Lincoln Veal. Edward Isom was the son of a rock, Vermont Supreme Court Justice. The Lincoln was Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of President Abraham Lincoln.



Louis Goodman

How long did you work there?



Donald Cameron Clark

I worked there from 1979, when I had graduated from law school, until the unfortunate demise of the law firm in 1988.



Louis Goodman

When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer and saying, Hey, you know, I really want to go to law school?



Donald Cameron Clark

I wanted to be a lawyer and a trial lawyer in particular since the seventh grade. I do recall that even as a young person, I enjoyed making arguments and persuading people to see things the way I did. And I was very firm in my aspiration to eventually become a trial lawyer.



Louis Goodman

So what sort of work did you do at the firm in Chicago?



Donald Cameron Clark

I was largely representing the legal interests of significant corporations in Chicago.



Louis Goodman

And was that litigation work? Or was it primarily transactional?



Donald Cameron Clark

Yes, I was doing litigation from the very beginning. That’s what I wanted to do. And I was fortunate enough to be able to do that my entire career.



Louis Goodman

At some point, you found the case involving Tommy Hamilton, involving the murder of Lester Wood, which is the subject of your book Summary Judgment. And I’m wondering how you found that case?



Donald Cameron Clark

American Bar Association created the death penalty representation project. And they sent out a letter to all their members of the litigation section of the ABA saying basically, we understand some of our members are in favor of the death penalty, some are opposed to it. But the one thing that as lawyers we ought to all embrace is that if a legal remedy is available to you, you are having meaningful way to pursue it. I was accepted into the program and then told that my client was Tommy Hamilton, who was on death row in Alabama, having been convicted of a murder committed during the course of a robbery.



Louis Goodman

Now, what’s interesting is that the county where this took place is primarily a black county, but Tommy Hamilton is white.



Donald Cameron Clark

Tommy Hamilton was white, his victim, Lehman Wood was white, pretty much all the principles involved were white.



Louis Goodman

Tell us a little bit about the relationship between Tommy Hamilton and Lehman Wood. Tell us a little bit about who each of them were.



Donald Cameron Clark

Sure. Tommy was a young man who was had just turned 20 at the time, the time being July 11, of 1984. And he’d been involved in some petty criminal enterprises, none of them involving violence of any kind. But he eventually got convicted of a third degree burglary charge. And so in serving his sentence, he was put into a basically a work release program. He was the nominated a trustee in Alabama. And the end as a result of that he would work for government officials, they’d be assigned tasks to perform during the daytime. He was assigned the task of working to Lehman would who is a county official, he was in charge of Emergency Management Operations for the county. And so Tommy had done his work release program and when he was paroled from that, he then continued to do odd jobs for Wood. So Wood was basically Tommy’s boss for the short period of time that they knew each other before July of 1984, which is the date when Tommy shot and killed Lehman Wood.



Louis Goodman

Mr. Wood was really very prominent citizen in the county. He had been, I don’t know if I say a war hero, but he had certainly served very honorably in the Bomber Command during World War Two and had flown combat missions. So, you know, Mr. Wood was really a very prominent official.



Donald Cameron Clark

He was, he was given a Purple Heart for his service because he was shut down during the course of his service to World War Two. He was a prominent businessman before he assumed his role with county government who served on the local school board, and so was well known and well liked by that community.



Louis Goodman

So what happened? Tommy killed Mr. Wood. I mean, it’s undisputed that he did.



Donald Cameron Clark

It’s undisputed that he did. In fact, at his trial, Tommy took the stand and testified, and testified that he killed Wood but he did so in self defense.



Louis Goodman

And was there any evidence to back that up?



Donald Cameron Clark

Well, in my opinion, no, absolutely none. But that was his story. And that’s the story that he and his trial lawyers took to the jury. And what we discovered the truth to be is that Tommy had an older sister 27 year old , Janice. And Janice had a romantic relationship with Wood. And Wood had shortly before the time of the killing broken that relationship off. Janice was seeking some revenge, and basically concocted the plan to have her brother Tommy kill and rob Lehman Wood.



Louis Goodman

Obviously Tommy Hamilton was convicted.



Donald Cameron Clark

He was. Tommy was the first one to be tried. The people that were actually present for the actual robbery murder were Tommy and his sister, Janice and Debbie. Tommy had just one week before the killing, married 15 year old wife, Debbie. And the three of them along with Janice’s nine year old son were all present for the robbery/murder.



Louis Goodman

And we know that Tommy was sentenced to death. What happened to the other co defendants.



Donald Cameron Clark

Tommy was tried first, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Debbie, who was 16 at the time she was going to go to trial was obviously scared out of her mind that she might face a similar fate. She had court appointed defense counsel. And they ended up entering into a plea agreement where she pled guilty to murder as opposed to capital murder, and agreed to the maximum sentence for murder, which is life in prison with possibility of parole. Janice was the only one of the three to retain a private attorney to represent her. She went to trial and was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.



Louis Goodman

Now in working on the case, who else worked with you on the case?



Donald Cameron Clark

I had a very close attorney friend at the law firm Luca Grand who agreed to serve on the representation with me. He was also with me at the Law Firms in Chicago. But we told the ABA that we felt we desperately needed to have local counsel assist us for logistical reasons, if nothing else, and they explained to us that they had tried to get an Alabama attorney to be lead counsel for Tommy Hamilton. But given the stigma that attaches to representing someone that’s been convicted and sentenced to death, especially in Alabama, it was extremely difficult, and that’s why they turned to lawyers in Chicago to see if they would volunteer. Nevertheless, I insisted we needed someone local to help and they eventually told me that they had found a lawyer willing to do that they introduced me to Lynn McKenzie. Then they more fully introduced me to her as Sister Lynn McKenzie, a Benedictine nun, who was also a practicing attorney. And so she became part of our legal defense team as well.



Louis Goodman

Who was the opposition for the government?



Donald Cameron Clark

So in these post conviction proceedings, the states are represented by their attorney general’s office. And in fact, especially in a state like Alabama, which is one of the leading death penalty states in the country, they have an entire section of the attorney general’s office that’s dedicated to representing the state in these post conviction proceedings to attempt to ensure that these death sentences are affirmed and carried out.



Louis Goodman

Where did Jeff Sessions fit into this?



Donald Cameron Clark

At the time that we reached the final stages of our case, Jeff Sessions got elected as the Attorney General of Alabama. That’s where he served before he eventually became a Federal Court Judge, before he became a Senator from Alabama and certainly before he ended up serving as Attorney General of the United States in the Trump Administration. So we had Jeff Sessions overseeing the Attorney General’s Office, in the final stages of our representation in the Tommy Hamilton case.



Louis Goodman

How did you find practicing criminal law in Alabama compared with being a business litigator in Chicago? You went to the clerk’s office just to get some documentation and your experience in dealing with the County Clerk’s Office and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about that?



Donald Cameron Clark

Well, I marked myself in as a 30 some odd year old lawyer into the small County Clerk’s Office to get the file. And I have to confess I was more than abrupt and direct in my requests ordering on demands for the County Clerk. And that’s just not the way you conduct business in the south. And Sister Lynn and I, God bless her, she pulled me aside and just literally said, Donald, you can’t do that. You’ve got that howdy with people. And she’s schooled me on the subtle art of Southern persuasion and Southern social habits. And I was appropriately cast eyes and realize that I would get a lot further with honey than with a stick in rural Alabama.



Louis Goodman

Well bless your heart.



Donald Cameron Clark

So what we had discovered is that this cellmate of Tommy had actually perjured himself in testifying against Tommy, and that it was purchased perjury. that is what law enforcement knowingly put this individual on is a witness against Tommy, and got him to give false testimony that Tommy had confessed. Not only confessed to the elements of the crime, but had basically bragged about it, said he was glad he had done it said he would do it again without hesitation. And this is the evidence that got presented during the guilt phase of Tommy’s trial. We also discovered that Tommy was handicapped in his legal defense because his lead trial attorney was a suffering alcoholic at the time, and the co-counsel defending him that had been appointed was only two years out of law school. And neither of these two gentlemen had done much of anything with respect to Tommy’s representation during the sentencing phase. They hadn’t sought any mental health experts. They hadn’t talked to just a raft of witnesses, they could talk about Tommy’s upbringing. And Tommy was an individual that has an IQ of 72. He is a borderline intellect. He’s got a number of mental health issues that jeopardizes impulse control, his ability to moderate his emotions and his actions, and the attorneys just failed to present a full picture so that both the jury and the sentencing judge could be completely and well informed before making a decision as to whether Tommy should be executed, as opposed to incarcerated for this crime.



Louis Goodman

There were several judges that you dealt with along the way. I’m wondering if you could explain a little bit about the dynamic of dealing with those judges?



Donald Cameron Clark

Sure, I’m more than in high regard for the judges that we were lucky enough to have preside over the different aspects of this case. In the trial proceedings the first Judge that we presented our case to was Ned Michael Subtle, he was excellent, intelligent, thoughtful. He gave us every opportunity to present our case. I wouldn’t want to play poker with Judge Subtle, he never betrayed his thoughts or his emotions, but he gave us more than a fair opportunity to present our arguments. The Judge Subtle agreed with us that perjury had been presented. And he agreed with us that Tommy’s sentencing hearing his lawyer had fallen short of a constitutional standard required, but he only granted us a new sentencing hearing. He affirmed Tommy’s capital convicted, and so we ended up appealing Judge Subtle ruling and arguing that the perjury since it was admitted during the guilt phase, and not just the sentencing phase that painted the entire conviction. And so we ended up in the Appellate Court where we met another very distinguished jurist. Of course, it was a panel of Judges, but the Judge that ended up writing the Appellate Court Opinion, that vindicated all of our claims and ordered the Tommy’s conviction and sentence be vacated, was a woman named Sue Bell Cobb. And Sue Bell Cobb went on to become the first female Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. So we were very blessed with the caliber of Judges that we drew for this case.



Louis Goodman

One of the things that’s interesting is that while this case was pending, and while you were fighting so hard for Tommy with the highest levels of the Judicial System in the state of Alabama, Tommy managed to escape from jail.



Donald Cameron Clark

Yes, we presented our case. It took us five days an entire week, Monday through Friday to present all the evidence that we wanted to present to Judge Subtle. And after we concluded that Friday, I was looking forward to a weekend of recuperation and relaxation before we went back to court the following Monday when the State and the Attorney General’s Office would present their evidence in rebuttal. And at 6am that Saturday morning, I got a phone call from my partner, telling me that Tommy Hamilton had just escaped from jail that morning, during the walk from the cell to breakfast, and had been on the loose on the streets of Florence, Alabama, which is where we tried this case.



Louis Goodman

How did that go over with the Judges?



Donald Cameron Clark

Not well. First of all, Tommy was just lucky that local law enforcement didn’t carry out his execution, then in there on the streets of Florence, Alabama. They probably would have been hailed as heroes for gunning down and escaped murder, convicted to die in any event. But they took him into custody without killing him.



Louis Goodman

Tommy always had the goal of not just getting off of death row, not being executed, but he wanted to get out of jail. He wanted to go out and walk on the street.



Donald Cameron Clark

He did from the very beginning, Tommy told us that the only thing that he feared more than the electric chair was serving the rest of his life in prison. And so his directive to us was that if we could not get him a distinct possibility of parole, and the chance to once again be free, that he would just as soon be electrocuted.



Louis Goodman

You managed to do that for him.



Donald Cameron Clark

We did.



Louis Goodman

How did you do that? How did that come about?



Donald Cameron Clark

Well, the Criminal Court of Appeals agreed with us that this purchased perjury having been presented during the guilt phase on his trial had painted the conviction itself, the jury that recommended that Tommy be executed had done so by a vote of pinned to which is the minimum necessary to sustain a death sentence recommendation in Alabama. So we had argued that on the minimum recommendation time he had received the maximum penalty. And we argued that if just one juror could be persuaded based on the evidence that Tommy’s trial attorney should have presented with respect to his mental health and his intellectual abilities, Tommy wouldn’t have been sentenced to death. And the courts were receptive to that argument as well. So we got the conviction overturned, we got the sentence overturned. We ended up negotiating a plea agreement where Tommy, who at that time had already served seven years in prison, would agree to serve a minimum of seven more before he would become eligible for parole. And what actually happened is he ended up serving 20 years. And at the 20 year mark, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted him parole, so he gets out.



Louis Goodman

What does he do with that opportunity?



Donald Cameron Clark

Long term, he squandered it and he was out for a while move back to his boyhood home, worked for his brother, and pretty much was doing the kinds of things you could hope for and expect. But eventually he gets violates the terms of his parole by being caught with drugs. And in being hauled back to the Lawrence County Jail to face the consequences and a possible revocation of parole. In inebriated state he makes a threat to allegedly makes a threat to kill his parole officer. And so he is now back incarcerated facing a criminal trial for that threat, and the possible revocation of his parole which would in turn send him back to jail for life. But what has ultimately happened, he’s awaiting trial on those charges and waiting and ultimate determination as to what his parole status will be. That’s pending as we speak.



Louis Goodman

One of the things that you’ve said, written perhaps, is that your job was to be Tommy’s lawyer, not to be his friend, wondering if you could talk about that a little bit.







Donald Cameron Clark

Sure. It was a little bit of a difference of opinion in approach between me and Sister Lynn. In that regard, she very much wanted to console Tommy and be an emotional and psychological resource for him. And I understand that coming from Lynn and her concerns in that regard. But I viewed my role as very much being a representing his legal interests as best I could, and solely his legal interests.



Louis Goodman

How did your firm deal with you spending so much time, not just on the case, but out of state completely?



Donald Cameron Clark

The ICM Lincoln Veal Law Firm was very supportive. And I’m grateful to them to this day, they very much embrace the notion that lawyers have a responsibility being given the privilege to be an officer of the court to give back and to do pro bono work to do volunteer work for free, especially for those that would not get representation otherwise. So they were very supportive.



Louis Goodman

Would you recommend the legal profession to a young person thinking about a career choice?



Donald Cameron Clark

I would, I think legal training and legal positions offer great opportunity to do justice work.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Donald Cameron Clark

To do your best to tell the truth? And to some extent, trust your instincts?



Louis Goodman

That you’ve observed the legal system from a number of different points of view, do you think the legal system is fair?



Donald Cameron Clark

I do think it’s fair. On the whole, there are shortcomings it is a human endeavor and their human foibles and frailties that plague it, but there certainly has been way too much discrimination, especially racial discrimination in aspects of law enforcement and the judicial system. But it does provide the opportunity for famous fairness to prevail, I believe in most circumstances it does. But there certainly is reason and need for improvement. And it’s an ongoing endeavor in that regard.



Louis Goodman

Besides practicing law, are there any recreational pursuits that you enjoy, things that you use to clear your head, keep your mind and body in one piece?



Donald Cameron Clark

I’m a great ice hockey fan, the Chicago Blackhawks are my team. These days, I mentioned that I was kind of in semi retirement from practicing law, and I’ve actually moved into the entertainment field. And so now I’m producing live theater entertainment. I’ve produced a feature film, and about to produce the new planes to cargo.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came in some real money, $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Donald Cameron Clark

Hmm. I don’t know what I would do differently in terms of my life. But I can think of a lot of charitable causes and missions and ministries that I would love to give a lot of that money to.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing you could change. What would that be?



Donald Cameron Clark

I’d want to gain the level of interpersonal discourse that’s going on right now.



Louis Goodman

Don, is there anything that you want to talk about that we have not discussed?



Donald Cameron Clark

I encourage your folks, if they’re interested in the story to purchase the book. I think they’ll find it an interesting story. I encourage people that are thinking about the laws of possible career to view this. It is just one example of the ways that they can make a meaningful difference, that they can contribute to justice making. And the wish everybody to take the time to reflect on how they can embrace those they might have disagreements with you in a way other than I’m all always correct, and they’re always wrong.



Louis Goodman

Donald Cameron Clark, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Donald Cameron Clark

Thank you, Louis. I’ve enjoyed it. And I really appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation with you.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast and If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support, and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Donald Cameron Clark

The way I viewed things is I was defending not so much the man and what he had done, as I was defending the law, under which he should have been tried, but wasn’t.




Joe McPeak / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript


Louis Goodman 0:04

Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer we will talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences of been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He has extensive experience as both a civil and criminal litigator. He served as a Public Defender handling numerous felony and misdemeanor matters. He has been part of civil litigation teams supporting mass tort and class action cases. He has coached High School debate teams. He currently is a senior associate litigating criminal matters throughout the Bay Area. Joe McPeak. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Joe McPeak 0:57

I love how you doing. Thanks for having me.



Louis Goodman 0:59

Pleasure to have you. Where’s your office right now?



Joe McPeak 1:03

Well, our main office, will often call our HQ is in downtown Hayward, right in the heart of downtown here. We’re actually on a block of Main Street between A Street and B. It’s a great location, central, which helps us because not only are we very active in Alameda, we’re active all throughout the bay. So having that central location is really helpful. And it also helps that I personally happen to live just about five or 10 minutes away in Castro Valley, which makes my work life balance pretty. It’s excellent, actually, for my purposes, and but we also have offices in Walnut Creek, Manteca, San Jose, and in Oakland as well.



Louis Goodman 1:40

How many people are in your firm?



Joe McPeak 1:44

Well, I’ll be attorneys. There’s myself, like I said earlier on the senior associate. I’m mostly focused on our felonies. And you know many of our misdemeanors we also have Daniel, of course, Dan Swanee. He’s our lead attorney and the principal of the firm. And we also have Simone shameless, who’s our newest associate, who joined us a couple months ago, she used to most recently she worked for a civil firm. But before that, she worked in the Santa Clara gas’ office. And I like to say that we stole her because she used to work for the other side. Now she works for us. And every single one of us tries her best to be an asset to our clients.



Louis Goodman 2:19

So where are you from originally?



Joe McPeak 2:21

I’m originally from Philadelphia. I was born there. That’s where I went to high school, college and law school. For undergrad I went to St. Joe’s University, where I got my Bachelor’s in History, and then took a year off. So I could maybe just think for sure what I wanted to go to law school, maybe get a better alphabet score, that kind of thing. I made a commitment. I ended up going to Drexel for Law School, and Chancel now because they were very new law school at the time. But for some of their affiliated University, they’re affiliated with a very respectable and it turned out great. And so that’s why I went to law school. And that’s also why I started practicing law as well, immediately after graduation.



Louis Goodman 2:59

Well, let’s start with high school. How was that experience for you?



Joe McPeak 3:03

I went to high school with Sol Sol College High School, which is a yes, fairly outside of Philadelphia. It was Catholic Prep School. That’s where I started. That’s where I started joining the debate team over there. And that’s probably you know, sort of grandma’s resume or like no bridge to eventually becoming a lawyer. I had a lot of fun doing that. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, I went back there to coach and you know, I’m still in touch with some of my students who I coached to the SEC.



Louis Goodman 3:31

So you debated for the school, and then later on when you were practicing attorney, you came back and coach that same debate team?



Joe McPeak 3:38

Correct. Yeah, I went back. I went back to the south, who wants to coach their debate team while I was working as a Public Defender in Philadelphia.



Louis Goodman 3:47

When you got out of high school, you went to St. Joseph’s University? How was that experience? Anything interesting in terms of extracurriculars there?



Joe McPeak 3:55

Well, I did not continue to be in while I was at St. Joe’s College. Forensics was not something that attracted me at that time, but I was pretty involved in other college radio station there and had a lot of fun putting together shows with a friend of mine who I’m now in touch with again, because he has to move out to California as well. I’ll be in Southern California. So you know, I had, I was able to put a radio show together with a friend of mine, who was also named Joe actually. And we made that work into our show theme because we’re able to come up with a great name. We call it the Joe and Joe Heavy Metal Show. And so we had a lot of fun with that.



Louis Goodman 4:32

Maybe I should start a



Joe McPeak 4:33

podcast we have thought about the idea before he is already actively podcasting himself as a as a freelance music critic and music writer and I’m quite jealous of some of the press credentials that he gets to some of the shows and be able to go to



Louis Goodman 4:47

Well, since you brought it up, what sort of music do you like?



Joe McPeak 4:51

I mean, most of what I listen to is Heavy Metal. I mean, I’ve seen Iron Maiden five times, including most recently at the Oracle. I don’t know if it’s still called the Oracle anymore, but we have an idea of what I’m talking about. I have tickets to see Exodus Testament and Death Angel around Thanksgiving. So yeah, that’s pretty much mostly what I’m into. And you know, it’s kind of cool living now in the day where so much of that scene, at least from American standpoint was developing, of course Metallica is from the Bay Area, you know, sweaters from this from LA, but still, you know, very intimately connected with California.



Louis Goodman 5:25

When you graduated from college, did you go directly to law school or do you take a little time off?



Joe McPeak 5:30

No, I took a little time off. I was able to take a step back to breathe. I took a full time job at the Federal Courthouse in the Clerk’s Office, they’re in Philadelphia. And like, think about like, do I really want to go to law schools is what I want to do. I wasn’t sure what type of law I wanted to practice at that time. But I was pretty confident that I did want to go to law school and become a lawyer.



Louis Goodman 5:50

When did you first start thinking about becoming a lawyer? Go back to the debate in high school?



Joe McPeak 5:57

Yeah, I think that definitely, when you’re a debater, it’s this kind of that thing that’s get into your head, like, oh, like lawyers, that’s the thing. That’s got to be part of your conversation. Because once I started going to law school, I started to really love the subject matter, especially once I started taking Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. I was like, that’s what I want to do. This is what I want to do. This is what I like to talk about, this is what I want to do. I want all my internships to be in this field. And hopefully my job will be in this field too.



Louis Goodman 6:22

And that was the Drexel University.



Joe McPeak 6:25

Correct.



Louis Goodman 6:27

When you got out of Drexel, where did you go to work Initially?



Joe McPeak 6:33

I started volunteering for one of the Judges in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which is you can say if the equivalent in the Superior Court here in California. But that only lasted for about a week, because fortunately, the Public Defender’s Office gave me a call, they liked my application, and they decided to give me an interview. And from there, I was able to build off of what I just done on my three year. I got to do what’s called a Criminal Litigation Field Clinic. And basically, you know, work at the Public Defender’s Office, for course credit, and even handle cases in court as long as our supervisor was there. And I had a lot of fun with that. I was able to basically check off all my boxes. I did a full misdemeanor trial, got them not guilty. I was able to do a Motion To Suppress, got it granted, and also, you know, negotiated a case down for one of my clients. So it was a wonderful experience all around and it was a perfect springboard to eventually working in the Public Defender’s Office in Philly.



Louis Goodman 7:28

How long were you in the Philadelphia Public Defender’s Office?



Joe McPeak 7:32

Just under four years, and that’s where I ended up getting most of my jury trial experience at that point.



Louis Goodman 7:39

So what led you to come to Alameda County and the practicing out of a law firm in Hayward?



Joe McPeak 7:48

Well, my wife, Lisa, she is very smart, very great, and was fortunate enough to get herself a very promising job opportunity as an electrical engineer at a major company here in the Bay Area. So when she said, Hey, like, we can do this, when we move to California, you know, I was like, well, you know, if it’s like if I got like a clerkship at the Third Circuit or something she wouldn’t have gotten in my way. So I said, you know what, you got the opportunity for Tesla, you know, we should we can’t avoid that. So let’s go. And now I’m out here.



Louis Goodman 8:22

So what do you think of practicing in California and living in California versus being on the East Coast?



Joe McPeak 8:30

Well, the weather’s certainly better. I’ll say that. Fires aside. A lot of people throughout the rest country, they don’t realize that like those Mid Atlantic states, whether it be New York, Philly, or Baltimore, like, people always see the reports of like a really bad snow during the winter, and they just assume it’s colder all the time. And it’s like, man, you have no idea how bad those summers are. I definitely noticed that in general, things feel a lot slower and more deliberate when it comes. When it comes to cases that I have, which I don’t mind, you know, it’s nice to have some time to breathe every once in a while.



Louis Goodman 9:03

What do you really like about practicing law?



Joe McPeak 9:05

I think what I like is, to me, criminal cases are like the most important and most perfect expression of why we have courts, and why we have a justice system.



Louis Goodman 9:19

If someone were just coming out of college, would you recommend to a young person to go into law as a career?



Joe McPeak 9:28

I would as long as they feel like they have a passion for the subject matter. And I think that’s really the crucial thing. I mentioned earlier, I have worked in the civil field for a brief period of time. You know, I was very lucky to have the opportunity in that field. But you know, the reality is that I realized after a time that it just was not the type of thing that really motivated me, it was not the type of work that I really loved. And then when I came back to work for Red Metric when Daniel gave me that opportunity. I started noticing as I’m doing things like writing letters to clients, even or typing up subpoenas. I thought wow, this is like the most mundane part of my job and yet, I actually really love it. And I think that is, that was really the sign that yes, I found from a guy to stick with. Don’t listen to the haters who are gonna say Oh, like there’s way too many like, you know, lawyers out there were like, Oh, I wish I never came to this profession like, you know your son becoming a lawyer like, why didn’t you warn him. Haha, and it’s like, dude, like Shut the hell up. Like, it’s, if they want to do it, you know, it’s the masterpass of their happiness, and you should be. And for me, I decided that criminal law was, you know, something that I really liked to get up in the morning and work on. And you know, don’t listen to the haters. If that’s what you want to do, just go for it. Find yourself gigs in that field via unpaid internships, you might have to start there. Or maybe you can find a job as adjacent to that, and then work your way into actually practicing while there, just keep following it. Because if you like that subject matter, you will notice the rewards coming in



Louis Goodman 10:57

How is actually practicing law met are different from your expectations about it?



Joe McPeak 11:06

I guess that before I went to law school, I think I always expected to be in court, almost non stop. And now we’re on classical defense. I am in fact in court non stop. So I just got accepted, challenged, I suppose that I definitely expected there to be a lot more contested evidentiary hearings on the regular like almost all the time, before I started practicing law. And then when I started practicing Philly that was matched, he was fairly close to reality. Now, in California, it seems like they’re a little bit separated. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make things work for your client just got to do it in a different way. So I would say that that is probably the thing that’s most different in terms of expectations versus reality of practicing law.



Louis Goodman 11:48

What about the business of practicing law? How’s that gone for you? How do you fit into the business of Red Metric? And how is that either met or different from your expectations about being a lawyer and being a business person? Because very frankly, if you’re in the private practice of law, you’re in business.



Joe McPeak 12:10

Yeah. So that was definitely something that requires that a lot of adjustment on my part, because being a public defender for a while, it’s like you don’t have to worry about that. And either my civil views I had no input on, you know, client intake or getting clients to sign up or anything like that. Daniel has done a really good job at noticing what all our strengths and weaknesses are and finding a way to, you know, make sure that the clients or potential clients want to interact or want to seek us out. And you also and we also benefit from our wonderful support staff as well. And we like to think that our clients and potential clients see that and they get the benefit of the whole team supporting them as well.



Louis Goodman 12:50

Is there anything that you know now, you really wish you knew before you started practicing law?



Joe McPeak 12:57

I wish somebody told me how complicated California sentencing was before I moved out here.



Louis Goodman 13:01

What do you think’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?



Joe McPeak 13:04

I guess the best advice I have is from my mom and my dad, that you should follow your path that lines up with your interests, because otherwise you’re just going to be unhappy.



Louis Goodman 13:13

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Joe McPeak 13:15

The answer is no. I think we’ll often set up to at least potentially operate in a very unfair way. I think, for example, you know, getting back to California sentencing, there’s a lot of ways where I think somebody could receive less a disproportionate sentence, even if they are guilty of the crime involved. And you know, sometimes other wrong laws are passed that result in disproportionate results.



Louis Goodman 13:37

I’m going to shift gears a little bit Joe, what’s your family life like? And how is practicing law affected that?



Joe McPeak 13:44

Well, unfortunately, again, you know, my wife is understanding that, you know, I’m in a job that’s very demanding, but you know, it’s part of something I’m genuinely a student doing, because that’s kind of the path that she’s followed as well as in a different field. But I mean, again, living down the street from our main offices is definitely a huge bonus, plenty of free time to balance with my work. And when I am working, I like what I do. So family less well, we do frequently for certainly before the pandemic we visited Philadelphia quite frequently she will you know, visit family and catch up they’re pretty good at that they’re pretty good at our firm for you know, allowing us to take vacation time as long as it doesn’t conflict with the major core commitments. And so that’s definitely a big plus.



Louis Goodman 14:24

Do you have any recreational pursuits, things that you like to do to kind of clear your head when you’re not practicing?



Joe McPeak 14:31

All definitely there’s listed as a single music. I like putting on a good album in my car or you know, sometimes when I’m just like relaxing at home or you know, I like to buy typically don’t like to coach for the legal fiction, not because I think it’s inaccurate, but because I just, I don’t want to consume more law unnecessarily when I like drunk during my free time because that’s my work times for so I like to read a lot of fantasy novels. I read the first few books in the dune series recently. I enjoyed that’ll probably pick that up again, later. I’m really excited for the movie that’s coming out. And I also just read the Shadow and Bone trilogy, as well. And of course, I’m like, you know, Game of Thrones fan. So are we still on the fan of the books. So that’s definitely something I like to do. And I’m looking forward to attending some of my first concerts in several, several, months coming coming down the road. So that would probably be what makes up most of my free time.



Louis Goodman 15:26

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Joe McPeak 15:33

If I have a really complicated case, and I feel like I’m not doing enough to, like, you know, really put the best foot forward, that’s something that like really gets at me. And, you know, because I take great pride in my work, I want to I like knowing that I’m doing everything I can, for our client. I take the role of zealous advocacy very seriously. We all do. Everybody should. And, you know, when somebody comes to us to hire us through representative, I always feel for them. And so if I have a particularly complicated case, where like, there’s some relevant issue that’s unresolved, you know, I think that’s something that definitely you find that adds to my stress and, you know, keeps me up at night.



Louis Goodman 16:13

Let’s say you and your wife came into some real money, a few billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Joe McPeak 16:24

Well probably buy a couple of properties overseas, let’s say, you know, we talked about everyone. So I was like, you know, a pipe dream. You know, we’ve talked about like, maybe, maybe getting a property in Spain, or maybe in England or Japan, these are all complete pipe dreams. But you know, they’re places we’ve gone to before. So like, hey, would it be cool if we had a place back there? And it’s like, Yeah, that’d be fun. You know, so I’d like to do that definitely travel a lot more. I have not my wife has been to all seven continents. I’m missing one. I have not yet been to Australia. So I need to check that off my list. So amplication? Of course, yes. That means I have been to Antarctica.



Louis Goodman 17:04

Oh, well, tell me a little bit about your travel experience, and specifically Antarctica.



Joe McPeak 17:10

Well, that was actually around our trip to nautical where at least my wife got doctor, I got the message from Tesla. So it’s been a long, like life goal of an associate, or at least is to plan a trip to Antarctica. So I was like, Yeah, let’s do it. So we flew to Argentina, and then got on a boat, it was like a research vessel repurposed for our trip. And that was about a week ish long trip up and down the Antarctic Peninsula. With several landfalls, it was still great. It’s like another planet down there.



Louis Goodman 17:39

Let’s say you had a magic wand, you could wave it and change one thing in the world legal or otherwise, what would that be?



Joe McPeak 17:48

I think that is, and this is very nonspecific, but if there was some way to waive that one, and just resolve all the time management problems that plague on the practice of law, I think it will probably before that, because I feel like that really, you know, add to so much of the stress and have to go see other cases to go to, but you’re in one place. And that department has so many other cases on his calendar that it has to go through. And it’s like, it’s inevitable that practitioners feel like they’re spread too thin. And that can really add to stress and poor quality of life. And of course, under some circumstances, just a poor representation. So if I have, if my magic wand could somehow cure that, I would probably ask it to do that.



Louis Goodman 18:31

Yeah, that aspect of the practice really is stressful. I think every single one of us goes through that when we have to be in two or three courts at the same time. You know, there’s just nothing you can do about it. And as understanding as the courts are, there’s that self pressure that I found never goes away.



Joe McPeak 18:53

Yeah it’s tough, right? I mean, like, they’re, you know, like I was saying, or like, sometimes it seems like, you know, even when everybody in the system is doing the right thing. You know, the reality of it is sometimes law does not, that does not account for, like other structural things going on. But you know, when you’re good at what you do, and you know, your subject matter, you just battled back against it.



Louis Goodman 19:14

Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we haven’t covered?



Joe McPeak 19:17

You know, all I can say is like, you know, it was really scary, you know, moving like moving across the country to try my hand and they’re told in a totally new jurisdiction and new locality. But you know, I’m glad that I landed with the right people here who have been perpetually supportive about of me and my goals to excel in this in this field. And I think, and I just think it’s great. It’s, I think ever since I joined this firm, things have just consistently gotten progressively better, you know, our office space, our staff is expanded, gotten better trained. You know, we added Simone as another associate. It’s just consistently gotten better and it’s going, we’re already doing great and we’re going to, and we’re going to get better and better and better as we grow because I gotta tell you, these are some of the hardest working. It’s not the hardest working people in the legal field, but I would hope to run into, and I would stand shoulder to shoulder with any of them on any given case that we have out here.



Louis Goodman 20:19

Joe McPeak, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Joe McPeak 20:25

Likewise, thanks, I was glad I was able to take time.



Louis Goodman 20:29

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend. And subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music. Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Joe McPeak 21:09

I’m in Philadelphia, my heart and soul is there. I love but one thing that I noticed was a huge improvement moving out here was just so much better music scene like I’ve been going to shows what before the pandemic at least, so much more often as a bay area resident than I was back in Philadelphia.





Andrew Dosa / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript

Louis Goodman

Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences of been, I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He has over 36 years of experience litigating both criminal and civil cases. He has had extensive experience trying cases in front of judges and juries. He taught at the university level, and he is active in his church. He has served as chair of the Alameda County Advisory Board on alcohol problems. Andrew Dosa, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Andrew Dosa

Hey, good afternoon. Thanks for having me.



Louis Goodman

It’s a pleasure to have you. We’ve known each other for a while and one of the things I always admire about you is you’re someone who is unafraid to take a case, right up to jury trial through jury trial and really litigate these things.



Andrew Dosa

Well, I do think that’s the point of representing the client, if you need to go all the way you have to go all the way.



Louis Goodman

Where’s your office located now, Andrew?



Andrew Dosa

My office is in Alameda.



Louis Goodman

How long have you been there?



Andrew Dosa

I’ve been in the office, I’ve been in Alameda since about 1988.



Louis Goodman

And what sort of practice do you have?



Andrew Dosa

The main focus of my practice has been criminal defense. I also do a fair amount of civil litigation. I started out doing a lot of civil litigation in a couple different firms. And that just carried with me into the days when I began my own practice. The third area of practice is in estate planning. So I’ll do drafting of trusts and wills. And when I began to include that, in my practice more, I was with a greater emphasis, I realized there were a lot of probate attorneys that just were deathly afraid of courts. And somewhere along the way, I just ended up getting a trust contest or a will contest here or there. And so the litigation side is carried over into that and just generally say that’s estate planning, but it also would include the litigation side of probate cases.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Andrew Dosa

I was born in Maryland and lived there for a short time, dad was in the military. We then traveled over to Europe. So I’ve lived in Germany in two different stretches for a total of seven and a half years. But as far as where I’m from, I consider myself a kid from California. We officially became residents in 1962/63, but settled in Salinas in 1970, and have been here since then.



Louis Goodman

Where’d you go to high school?



Andrew Dosa

I went to high school Palma High, was a Catholic Parochial School in Salinas.



Louis Goodman

How was that? What was that like for you?



Andrew Dosa

I liked it. I my parents and I had a different perspective. They thought I was worried about the drugs at Salinas High and I thought that they wanted me to go there. Because it was a better college prep school. And somewhere in the mix, I don’t even know what the answer is, but I found it to be really a good experience. It was good academically and for the most part, my classmates were really pretty decent. So I look back generally favorably toward High School. It’s not my favorite time, it was just a step along the way, but a good an important step.



Louis Goodman

We’re doing the college after that?



Andrew Dosa

I took two steps. Before I ended up at Berkeley, I went to the junior college, then went to Sacramento State for a semester while I was waiting to hear and then Cal accepted me. So I finished up there and then went to law school at University of San Francisco.



Louis Goodman

What did you think about going to Cal as opposed to going to the community colleges or the state college?







Andrew Dosa

Well, I think that community college was really great part of it was just, you know, figuring that we couldn’t afford for me to go away to school and pay for everything. So the idea of staying local didn’t really seem to be too much of a downer. I just generally found that I tried to make the most of it, enjoyed what I could. And I just took a lot of classes. I worked as a security guard on campus, I took all the Political Science and Philosophy classes that they offered, played on the tennis team and just kind of did a little bit of growing for one year. It was a perfect step. And then I was on my way to a bigger school.



Louis Goodman

When did you start thinking about going to law school and saying, hey, I’d like to be a lawyer?



Andrew Dosa

It was my sophomore year in high school. Well, I was prepping to take the preliminary LSAT class test, the PSAT test. And one of the components of it, at that time, was these are all the careers that are out there. There’s the jobs you can do, what do you think you’d be good at? And my father and I sat down we kind of looked at what I might fit with and basically said, you got this skill and that skill for you. You’re like analytical, you like communicating, you like English, you like to persuade and encourage people. So maybe blahs a good idea. And when I sort of thought about it, it just connected with me. And so coming out of that conversation with my dad, people go, What are you thinking of doing? Like, I would say, I’m going to law school, I’m going to be a lawyer. And I was amazed at how many people were sort of taken aback that I thought that I really knew what I wanted to do. And I really have never considered anything else.



Louis Goodman

So when you graduated from Cal, did you go directly to law school?



Andrew Dosa

I did. I know from hearing a couple other podcasts that you took a break and a variety of others, I thought it would be a good idea. I wish I had done that to going back to see Germany where we live and taken off six months or a year, but at the time, just with my youthful energy, I just felt it was so important for me to take on my responsibilities. As you know, as I grew up into an adult and took my place in the world, and I just felt I didn’t have the time to take a break. I think in retrospect, it would have been a great idea. But I actually don’t really regret it. It was a frantic run for 19 years of school in a row when I finally got done with it. You know, that’s what I thought at the time.



Louis Goodman

Well, let me be clear, I don’t really have an editorial position on it. I’m just always curious about, you know, what path people took to get where they are. So what law school did you go to?



Andrew Dosa

The University of San Francisco.



Louis Goodman

And how did you enjoy that experience? You’d gone to a Catholic High School and now you’re at a Catholic Law School?



Andrew Dosa

Yeah, yeah. I you know, the only indicator that there was a true Catholic influence, other than just the, you know, St. Ignatius Church across the way. I love to learn, I wish you know, on one level, I think if I’d ever not been an attorney I’d have been a professor. So I found I enjoyed law school, even though it was pretty challenging.



Louis Goodman

Yeah, that was my experience with law school, too. I really enjoyed law school. I found it academically quite difficult for the first time of anything since my junior year of high school. But I really enjoyed it. And I think that you were at a place where it took me a little while to get there, which was to really have a focus on what I wanted to do and why I was there. I mean, by the time I got to law school, I was really clear about why I wanted to be there. But it sounds like you really had that figured out when you got there.



Andrew Dosa

Yeah, and I think I going back and looking at how I am, I think that my father did me a huge favor.



Louis Goodman

What was your path to the work that you’re now doing after graduating from law school? Did you go to work for somebody else first or did you immediately open your practice?



Andrew Dosa

I worked for a couple firms. I started out waiting for the bar results. And so just doing a clerk position in a local law firm downtown Oakland. Worked for a couple of firms. And then I kind of looked around, I thought, you know, it makes more sense for me to be on my own. And I kind of slid into that. And I think probably like a few people you’ve interviewed but not most probably, I kind of went into it without really a clue about what I really needed to do to make myself effective in running the practice. And I think maybe now I’m just beginning to learn how to do it. I hired a business consultant, who focuses on attorneys in their practices, only last year, and that’s what really saved me through COVID. But now 36 years later I’m finally thinking I am enjoying learning a practice and making it much more effective for me.



Louis Goodman

Well, since you brought it up, let’s talk a little bit about the business of practicing law. You know, so many of us go to law school, when we become professionals, and we get a certain proficiency in law and litigation and transactional work, whatever it might be. But the running of a business is something that is not taught in law school. I think it should be but it’s not. And I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your process and your experience in the business side of practice.



Andrew Dosa

Sure. Well, I think what drove me at the beginning and it what drove me even to today, but primarily last year was, oh my gosh, I’ve got to pay some bills. And suddenly I started focusing on what I had to do to get a little bit of money to pay the bills that were coming up next week. And so becoming a little more conscious of the work I do not just for the client, but the business aspect of it made me be a lot more conscientious. And you know, I went to law school filled with that idealistic sense of I’m doing something because of the great concepts and the principles of that. And you know, I’m serving and this is the way I’m serving the universe and serving God and serving, you know, clients, typically 25 years or 30 before I really said, I’d have to stop being haphazard about how I operate my business. But you’re right, no one teaches you how to do this. No one gives you the practicalities of running a business. I don’t know, doesn’t running a business seem pedestrian if you’ve got the great concepts like the constitution that you’re upholding? And how do you see the thing that I think that was fun for me was I realized, I could shift my perspective and think and running my practice was a wonderful, extraordinary thing, just like practicing law is a wonderful, extraordinary thing. There’s no real difference between the two of you do them honorably than they’re good things. So I try to think of the honorable side as well as just, I don’t want to be waiting around for money to show up when I need to pay my rent, right? That’s just no fun. Not fun.



Louis Goodman

What do you really like about practicing law?



Andrew Dosa

I really enjoy serving clients. And so if I do estate planning, and I think about it that way, I’m helping clients understand how they can manage their money when they’re not here anymore. in a criminal case, you’re not always giving them advice about how they should conduct themselves, you’re trying to extricate themselves from the dangers of their prior conduct before they came to you for help. So then from the criminal side, I really see it as a service industry. In a sense, it’s a service business. Clients come to me, they want to be, they want me to tell them, we got this, we’re a team, I’m listening to you, you are the one who was there at the time the incident happened, I wasn’t you telling me what happened. And now let’s figure out how we can make your defense come alive and be effective.



Louis Goodman

I think that an awful lot of criminal practice, maybe all practices involve a certain level of psychology and social work. And that’s another thing that they don’t really talk about that much in law school, but the human side of dealing with someone who’s in a very bad place in their life is really a skill that attorneys have to develop.







Andrew Dosa

Yeah, I agree. And clients are receptive to us, aren’t they? Because they need us really, really clearly to their own mind. It’s interesting when I have clients that will listen to me more than they’ll listen to their parents, because they know that I’m the attorneys who knows what to do with the system and their parents have some good ideas, but can’t really serve them the same way.



Louis Goodman

Would you recommend going into law to a young person who’s thinking about a career?



Andrew Dosa

Absolutely, it depends on what they’re like. I would probably want to know a little bit more about them. I think of some friends I have in the neighborhood who are really accomplished in their worlds, but they just couldn’t handle the stress of conflict. So I wonder if they’re able to handle conflict? Or do they like to solve problems? So that might be someone who does transactions work, you know, a state planner is a valuable person, but they’re just not trial lawyers, no harm to them, but it’s just that they’re not situated for that. So it’s really about what they like, what their gifts are. And I think there is, I believe this, I think that there is maybe no other occupation that in my mind is as honorable as that of practicing law. I mean, it is extraordinary. The opportunity we have, and the honor that’s involved in how we conduct ourselves and making sure our clients are served well. It’s just a wonderful occupation. So for the right person, I would not hesitate encouraging them.



Louis Goodman

How is actually practicing met or differed from your expectations of it?



Andrew Dosa

I think maybe I expected it wouldn’t be quite as crazy. Or I thought maybe I could avoid it. And I could just do the practice more that serving clients and doing the lawyer side. But running the business, I think was a little, it was a little bit harder than I thought.



Louis Goodman

Is there anything that you know now that you really wish you’d known when you started practicing?



Andrew Dosa

I think if there had been a practical reality check law class in law school, about what it’s like to function either as an associate in a firm or running your own practice, I think that would have been really helpful. And I think it would have been great if you’d had somebody say, take this thing seriously, if you get out to be a solo and you’re struggling every month, it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. But you don’t want to be the reason why you’re struggling because you’re not paying attention to how to run a business. That would have been really great advice for me. I think, if I’d taken it seriously, too, that would have been really helpful.



Louis Goodman

What do you think is the best advice that you’ve actually received?



Andrew Dosa

Don’t do the job 90%, finish everything. You’re supposed to go and expect anyone else to finish, which is different from you know, you can’t you know, to do 80% of a brief is probably enough, because who’s got the extra 10 hours to check all the footnotes? If you do the job well enough that you don’t have any regrets and you don’t have anyone else, then there are no holes in your work. And so I guess that’s the idea. You do the job so that you don’t regret that you failed to follow through and pay attention to what was wrong.



Louis Goodman

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Andrew Dosa

I don’t think it is fair at all. I think that in the civil realm, it’s a little bit better then in the criminal realm. I think that the power that the prosecution has is so overwhelming. I just don’t think that defendants, even with good lawyers are anywhere near in an equal footing as prosecutors. I think when a jury sits there, and a prosecutor says, I’m the attorney for the people of the State of California, even if they don’t say it, because that’s what the caption says. That’s what the judge will say. I think that the prosecution has a huge advantage starting right there. And then they also have police officers who write reports, with the intent to write them in such a way that it helps get a conviction. That’s not we just want to find out what the facts are. Man, please tell us that it’s the system has already begun to tilt once someone gets into the clutches of a police officer. And then the final step, which is maybe the crown of our system as the jury system and having a jury. And the frightening thing for me is that I think jurors are inclined to go along with what they’re supposed to do, which is convict. I think the message they get is that, so jurors, yet to get 12 jurors, and to get them all to think independently of each other is nearly impossible. In my mind.



Louis Goodman

You serve, as I mentioned in the intro on the Alameda County Advisory Board on Alcohol Problems.



Andrew Dosa

I had a few years ago, not now.



Louis Goodman

Well, I guess I mean, it just kind of leads up to this question. It has been my experience, and I’m wondering if it’s yours, that a great deal of what drives the problems in the criminal justice system is alcohol?





Andrew Dosa

I think that’s absolutely correct. There’s almost always drugs or alcohol involved. There is a mental health component. And there’s an overlap between all three it’s like a Venn diagram of a, b, and c and the shared area between a, b and c is pretty huge. So those are the problems. But you’re right, there’s a huge outer something outside of a person alcohol that influences how they function, that tilts them sideways. People do not make good decisions when they’re sober, and people make worse decisions when they’re not sober.



Louis Goodman

Now, I know that you’ve been active in your church too, has how does that fit in with your practice?



Andrew Dosa

I’m driven by a sense that God has a purpose for my life. And I think that that is me practicing law and serving people. I tend to be really thoughtful about what I think my responsibilities are. But the idea for me when I think about, you know, developing skills or going to classes and seminars so that I’m more effective as an attorney, the idea is that I want to be as effective as I can be in and hone my skills so that I will be as effective as possible, serving my clients. So I look at it that way. If the inter woven in that question is what do friends at church, who would presumably be more conservative thinking be doing criminal defense? I have gotten plenty of raised eyebrows over the years. And that’s just an occupational hazard.



Louis Goodman

Well, certainly an awful lot of very religious people and very church active people, including some very famous nuns, have been extremely involved in the criminal justice process.



Andrew Dosa

It is interesting that we would presume that conservative people would always be on the side of police. But it I’ll just say that when you and I chatted about three or four weeks ago about being on this podcast, I made a comment. And so maybe it’s a little controversial, but I’ll mention it again, I said, I generally think that conservative justices on the Supreme Court are better on criminal justice issues, because they seem to say, what is the constitutional principle here? And how do we support the constitutional protections that are in place? And you and I had a little bit of riff going back and forth on that.



Louis Goodman

Have you had any interest in travel experience?



Andrew Dosa

So I would say almost all of our vacations when I was a kid were really, really wonderful experiences. And since then, I think I’ve probably had more fun traveling down to a couple different spots in Mexico. A couple were like mission groups, a mission trip my son’s youth group and we built a small church out in the countryside and we helped build an amphitheater at a huge orphanage in Tijuana. Those I think those are the experiences in Mexico were more for me personally to do some serving and carrying bricks and mixing cement rather than talking like I do as a you know, as a normal person doing work. But those were great experiences. And I mentioned earlier I wish I had traveled after I’d gone through with college but I may get a trip or two in the future.



Louis Goodman

About recreational pursuits, anything you do to clear your head after being in court all day?



Andrew Dosa

Yeah, I have. I do a lot of things actually. I homebrew beer. I like to cook, I like to read and I like to teach. I helped the CS Lewis Society of California and we have a book club. And so I’m pretty active with that. I also play golf when I have a chance to. Then the fun thing on Sunday nights is I have a cribbage grudge match with three of the guys in the neighborhood, and we just go to town for a couple hours and playing cribbage and cards and yakking and teasing each other. So I try and get away, you know, on a daily basis, because you just need a breather.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came into some real money, $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do different in your life?



Andrew Dosa

Well, I wonder if that would mess me up a bit. It’s not that I would suddenly go out and buy 10 cars or vacation home that I’d never visit or anything silly like that. I just wonder if having so much money that I would never have to worry about whether I was running my business? Well, would make me a little bit sloppy. You know, if you had a billion dollars, well, I just would say this, if I had a billion dollars, I try and give away as much of it as possible. Because I don’t need a billion dollars. I don’t need a whole lot more than I have. I try to be content with what I have. But it’d be nice to have enough that I’d never worry about the bills. I think what I do is that hire a couple people that put a structure in my practice that I can’t quite do by myself. And then I think I would just focus on the cases that I really want to take in. That’s maybe the difference. It gives me the freedom to say yes to cases that I might not take, I’d probably do a couple more pro bono cases to actually that’s maybe, that’s how it would be the best blessing for me personally, then I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I had run out of time to get bills out on other cases while I was in trial.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say I had a magic wand. There was one thing in the world that you could change. What would that be?



Andrew Dosa

I wish that I had the ability to inspire people to jump out of their chairs and run out the door thinking that they wanted to seize every opportunity that life gave them. But I say that, because I appreciate that every time I’ve looked at the best challenges that were in front of me, the ones that really stretch me the most, were the ones that made my time facing them so valuable. And so rewarding it when things were too easy. It wasn’t as fun. When I took on challenges, it was really worthwhile. And I’d want to be able to figure out how to say that to any person I was talking with that they would want to basically say I’ll take on every challenge, I’m going to take all my responsibilities and commit myself to do them. That’s what I’d love to do. I mean helping people with hunger and stuff, those sorts of things are obvious. But I just there’s a part of me that just likes the idea of inspiring people. I’d love to figure out how I could get people really motivated to take on their lives and go for it.



Louis Goodman

Andrew Dosa, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you here. It’s a pleasure running into you in the parking lot of the courthouse. And I’ve always enjoyed talking to you.



Andrew Dosa

Hey, thanks so much. I appreciate you giving me the invitation and enjoyed our time.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests and share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Ryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman



Andrew Dosa

It just, I was learning so much, I was learning what I wanted to learn. I was learning what I felt was really important for me. And so I think in part because I knew there was a good purpose to it. I just generally figured I wasn’t gonna complain much.




Melissa Adams / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript


Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m an attorney. Nobody’s perfect. She is a zealous advocate for her clients. Her entire practice is devoted to criminal defense and criminal justice litigation. She has lived, studied and worked on both coasts of the United States, and abroad in Malta. She is an outstanding athlete having played division one sports. And I can attest from personal experience, she is an outstanding cyclist. Melissa Adams, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Melissa Adams

Good morning, Louis. Thank you for having me.



Louis Goodman

I’m happy to have you. I see you in court all the time and I see you on the occasional bike event. And so it’s fun to be able to interview you. Where’s your office located right now?



Melissa Adams

My office is in Livermore, Downtown Livermore.



Louis Goodman

And what kind of practice do you have?



Melissa Adams 1:18

We have a small practice. Now there’s myself and Joseph Cox, who is my esteemed business partner and Tim Rien, who I know that a lot of people know. And he’s been around for a long, long time. And I sort of described him right now as being 99% retired, and we do all criminal defense.



Louis Goodman 1:34

How long have you been doing that?



Melissa Adams 1:36

I’ve been practicing since 2005. So that’s 16 ish years?



Louis Goodman 1:41

Where are you from originally, Melissa?



Melissa Adams 1:43

I’m originally from New York, about an hour north of New York City, which makes it sound a little bit fancy, but it’s very, very suburban.



Louis Goodman

What’s the name of the town?



Melissa Adams

The name of the town I grew up in is called Lake Peekskill. And it’s kind of at the top of a mountain. So interesting, because it’s really a summer town. That’s what it was designed for originally, but we lived there year round.



Louis Goodman 2:03

Is that where you went to high school?



Melissa Adams 2:04

I went to high school in a neighboring town because the town that I grew up in was actually so small that it didn’t have its own high school. So I went to a high school called Walter Pennis High School, which was about a 40 minute drive.



Louis Goodman 2:18

What was that experience like for you, in high school?



Melissa Adams 2:20

It was interesting. It was a, I would say a challenging time in my life, you know, just sort of finding myself and you know, just the ups and downs of being a teenager and trying to figure out where you fit in the world.



Louis Goodman 2:33

Did you figure out anything about where you do fit in?



Melissa Adams 2:37

Not in my teens. I didn’t until my 20s, I would say maybe even a little bit later. Yeah, high school was really interesting. For me, I was kind of a punk rock and an athlete, which are two, sort of an interesting intersection. Very different crowds. So I actually ran with two very different crowds, but I somehow managed to run with both of them. So yeah, I wasn’t very focused on school. I was very focused on going to concerts and playing sports.



Louis Goodman 3:02

What bands did you like?



Melissa Adams 3:03

Oh, my favorite bands, then an hour this pretty much the same rancid, old punk rock band, ironically, from here, generally, from the Bay Area. They were my favorite then they were my favorite. Now I’m actually going to see them for, I don’t know that many number times, here in October.



Louis Goodman

And what sports did you play?



Melissa Adams

In high school I played basketball, field hockey and softball, but my focus was always softball.



Louis Goodman 3:29

So you really were a three sport person.



Melissa Adams 3:32

I was. I didn’t play basketball in the latter years of my high school career, because while playing field hockey, which is a fall sport on the East Coast, I broke my thumb pretty badly and had to have surgery and long recovery. And so that took me out for a basketball season. And after that, I didn’t, I didn’t play again.



Louis Goodman 3:52

And yet you went on to play Division One Softball in college.



Melissa Adams 3:57

I did, I kind of viewed, I think growing up is like my meal ticket. You know, thankfully, I was talented enough, you know, to go play in college. And yeah, I was able to recover from the thumb surgery and went and played in college knew it. I’ll admit, it was not what I expected. I often would joke and say, my summer softball travel team would have kicked my college teams really seemed just wasn’t that good.



Louis Goodman 4:24

Where did you go to college?



Melissa Adams 4:26

I went to St. Bonaventure University, which is in upstate New York. If you’ve ever played softball, which you know, maybe you haven’t upstate New York is not the place that you want to play softball because we would have games routinely snowed out and there’s nothing good about that.



Louis Goodman 4:41

Well, what I don’t know about playing softball, I could probably make up by knowing something about upstate New York since I went to the University of Rochester.



Melissa Adams 4:51

Oh, yes, yes, the snow belt and the cold. Yeah, it’s I hate the cold and I have no idea why I chose to go to school there.



Louis Goodman 5:00

Join the club. Did you have some connection with the State University of New York Geneseo?







Melissa Adams 5:05

I did. Yeah. So I went to St. Bonaventure for two years and that’s where I played softball. And I just I was burned out and so, I actually left there and I transferred to SUNY Geneseo. And that’s ultimately where I graduated from.



Louis Goodman

Did you play ball there too?



Melissa Adams

I didn’t no, I retired. I felt I was really past my prime.



Louis Goodman 5:30

So you graduated then from Geneseo?





Melissa Adams 5:36

I did. Not far from Rochester. It was the weather was absolutely no better. The academics were much better. And it’s really kind of a funny little story here. So when I announced to my parents that I was going to transfer they were not happy at all. And the funniest part is that my father was said, Look, I’m you know, I also want to change my major from Phys Ed. So my head dreams of being a gym teacher to English, and he was so angry with me. And he had written me this note that I still have that said, You know, I really hope you know what you’re doing. You know, here’s your FAFSA, which of course is you know, your student aid form that he filled out for me and you know, you better get it right. Love that.



Louis Goodman 6:16

Well, there’s a vote of confidence. Now, after you graduated from Geneseo, you ultimately went to law school. Did you go right away or did you take some time off?



Melissa Adams 6:26

I did, I went right away. I figured that if I took any time off, I probably wouldn’t go back. So I just kind of kept the train rolling forward. And I went to New England School of Law in Boston, because I still hadn’t figured out how much I hated the cold. And I couldn’t have imagined there would be anywhere colder than Geneseo. But then I landed.



Louis Goodman 6:47

And you had done a little bit of study abroad in Malta at some point.



Melissa Adams 6:52

I did. Yeah. So I did that between my first and second year of law school. Yeah, yeah. It was a study abroad during Law School, which was interesting, which was great. I loved it.



Louis Goodman 7:02

So you went to law school in Boston? And how was that for you?



Melissa Adams 7:09

The first year, I think probably similar to most people’s first year experience, you know, it says if you speak English, and they drop you in a German speaking school, you have no idea what’s happening or what you’re supposed to be doing. And you know, there’s no quizzes to make sure you’re on track or anything like that. You just have your final exam and hope it clicks for you. Thankfully, it did. It did click for me somewhere before those final exams. And I was actually on a full scholarship, full academic scholarship. And so I had a GPA that I had to maintain every semester in order to keep that scholarship. And so just a little bit of extra pressure in a situation that’s already full of pressure. I had a couple of friends who said that they were going to go study abroad and suggested that I tag along. And so I took a look at the brochures and watch some little presentation. So what the beach looked like and immediately signed up.



Louis Goodman 8:00

So did you study law while you were in Malta?



Melissa Adams 8:03

Some? Yeah, I mean, I took I think I took two classes, Comparative Constitutional Law, and some other Comparative Class, but we only had a class I think, four days a week, and then three days a week to travel. And it was fantastic. I mean, the classes were interesting. And it was just enough class, wasn’t like an overwhelming amount of schoolwork that we needed to do. I do recall very clearly that I got an A in both classes. And I also think I got an A in extra travel, because I did go to Italy, to Spain, and I went to Sicily, and it was great.



Louis Goodman 8:42

Cool. So what is it that got you starting to think about being a lawyer?



Melissa Adams 8:47

Oh, that’s a good question. So my upbringing, I think was different than a lot of other people’s upbringing, who end up doing this job, or does end up being a lawyer in general. I did not come from a family of attorneys or judges or anything like that. I didn’t even know any attorneys growing up. You know, I came from a pretty lower class family. When I graduated college, I was 21 and just wasn’t prepared to work full time yet. So I knew that I was either going to go to school and get a master’s degree in literature, or I figured I could go to law school and stay in school a little bit longer. So I figured, well, you know, do I want to be in school for another one year or three years now? Let’s pick three. So I applied for a few different schools. I got offered that full scholarship to New England School of Law, and that made my decision for me.



Louis Goodman 9:35

That’s great. Yeah. What did your friends, family, your parents say when you told them that you wanted to go to law school be a lawyer?





Melissa Adams 9:43

Oh, they thought I was out of my mind. Yeah, it was very unexpected news to them. They had not known that that was something that I was even thinking about. In fact, I’m not even sure that I told my parents until I had received the acceptance letter. Yeah, they were pretty happy. On leaving a gym teacher, and they were they weren’t thrilled about my sudden career change, which I know is just absolutely laughable, but it just wasn’t, it was so far outside of a job that anyone in my family would have or would think of having it just you know, we were very blue collar people. And so it was just very foreign.



Louis Goodman 10:22

When you graduated from New England, what was your first legal job?



Melissa Adams 10:26

So I well, so I actually studied abroad, not abroad, but I studied, and did my final year of law school at California Western, which is down in San Diego, so almost like a study abroad, but not abroad, just across the country. So my first job was a family friend, or sort of a friend of a family friend who had a small civil firm in San Diego. And so I practice I worked for him for about four months doing contracts and some other random civil things that I absolutely hated.



Louis Goodman 10:59

Well, coming over to San Diego from Boston, that must have been a big change.



Melissa Adams 11:05

Yeah, it was quite a culture shock. But in the best of ways. I absolutely loved San Diego. I still miss it every day that I spend in the day, I wish I was still in San Diego. It was absolute paradise.



Louis Goodman 11:17

What made San Diego paradise for you?



Melissa Adams 11:19

The weather, of course. I mean, I think everyone is drawn there because of the weather. I just think the pace of life was a little bit slower. And so it was just sort of a break from the hustle and bustle. And I really just loved like sort of the vibe.



Louis Goodman

How did you happen to come to the Bay Area and start practicing criminal law in Alameda County?



Melissa Adams

So when I was trying to get out of San Diego, I applied for jobs all over the place. So from you know, Federal Defense Attorney in Kansas, to you know, Guam, on all the way up here to the Bay Area. So I just applied for a job up here. Tim Rien contacted me and had me come up for an interview and hired me very short time later.



Louis Goodman 12:00

And that apparently has gone pretty well for you.



Melissa Adams 12:03

It’s gone pretty well. Yeah, it has, it’s been fantastic.



Louis Goodman 12:07

What do you really like about practicing law?



Melissa Adams 12:08

You know, I like being able to change the trajectory. I think of someone’s life, really just being able to be there with them through a process, being able to hold their hand when they need me to being able to have compassion, being in a situation where I can tell them, you know, this is what our plan is, this is what we’re going to do.



Louis Goodman 12:28

Would you recommend the law as a career to a young person just coming out of college?



Melissa Adams 12:34

Oh, gosh, that’s a tough question. My gut reaction to that is no. And really, it’s not to do with the actual dealing with people or helping people, that’s obviously the best part of the job that we do. I would say it’s the work life balance, which I think many times is non existent, especially when you’re younger, in your practice. I’ve just sort of been on this tangent lately about this hustle culture that I think that we’re in the midst of right now. And how toxic it is.



Louis Goodman 13:04

How is actually practicing law been different from your expectations about it?



Melissa Adams 13:08

I was told, I think initially when I started practicing law, and especially criminal defense, not to get too close to clients, you know, obviously have boundaries and things like that. And so, you know, my expectation was that I was going to sort of be this, this advocate, but that I wasn’t going to care about people in a really deep and meaningful way. That’s sort of what happened to them after they intersected with my path. And that has been, first of all, that was terrible advice in anytime that I have an intern in my office, I tell them the exact opposite. And I say, you know, you are doing your client a disservice if you don’t let yourself get close to them and care about them. Because you will advocate in a different way. If you allow yourself to care about them and their family and their children, you just, I mean, I just think that’s human nature. And so I did not expect the practice to be so emotionally draining. I think that’s really the main thing, I needed to work a lot. And you know that it would be difficult in that sense. But I did not expect to have this massive network of people now that I care about that. I check in on clients, you know, from five or 10 years ago, shoot them a quick email and see how they’re doing. So I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect the emotional attachment to people



Louis Goodman 14:25

How about the business of practicing law. You know, we are business people, in addition to being lawyers, and I’m wondering how that has gone for you and your partner.



Melissa Adams 14:36

Yeah, so I actually took over the business in 2016, which we obviously didn’t advertise, but and yeah, the first year or two, I think was extraordinarily difficult, just a lot of loss sleep and stress and worry. I did not take any business classes in college, I had no idea how to run a business. And so that was a really, it was a really tough time to sort of learn on the fly. I also felt very much responsible for my staff and maintaining them, in maintaining salaries and things like that. So I felt a lot of pressure. But now that I’m much more used to it, I feel like it integrates fairly easily into my day and my week.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Melissa Adams

Oh, well, that’s a tough one. Gosh, you know, that is a really, really hard question. I don’t know, I think maybe just to continue to persevere, you know, when things are hard. Obviously, you just have to keep going. And you just have to persevere, you just have to keep going.



Louis Goodman 15:35

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Melissa Adams 15:38

No, not at all. I was actually thinking about that earlier today. And, you know, it’s just obviously, the government has a lot of resources, that we don’t always have. Clients that have finances, you know, considered better experts or experts in general that clients without finances can’t have. I think there’s sort of a misunderstanding with private defense counsel as well, where people think that, Oh, well, if your client was able to retain you, well, then they obviously have money. But you and I both know that sometimes people scrape together every dime, they have just hire us. And then we’re out there begging for funding, you know, from the government, from the county, from the judge to secure the experts that we need. And that is a difficult process. And you know, sometimes we get turned down for experts that we know that we really need and that puts us in a really difficult situation. So I think that just people with resources, unfortunately, oftentimes can fare better in the system than people without them.



Louis Goodman 16:40

I’m gonna shift gears here a little bit. What’s your family life like and how is practicing law affected that?



Melissa Adams 16:42

My family life is still very new right now. I actually got married in September of 2020. I bought a house just very recently, also just moved into it in March and it’s in Manteca. So I have a commute and a half, which is fine. I mean, I don’t really mind being in the car. Thankfully, lots of podcasts and things like that in punk rock, obviously. So yeah, but you know, the commute certainly is tough. My wife, thankfully, is a very understanding and tolerant human being. Yeah. To be if you live with me, because I can be a bit of a challenge driven kids. I have a stepdaughter. Yeah, I have a stepdaughter, who is 25 lives in Texas. And I actually have a granddaughter who’s two who is just a joy. And I’m also very close to two nieces and nephews that I have, who are just have been the light of my life since they were born. And I see them pretty often and talk to them very regularly.



Louis Goodman 17:37

Now, you mentioned some of your recreational pursuits. I’m wondering if you could kind of fill us in a little bit on that. I mean, I know. I’ve seen you, as I mentioned at some bike events. Wondering if you could talk about what kind of recreational pursuits you have and if that helps you clear your head from practicing law.



Melissa Adams 17:58

Absolutely, yeah, it definitely, I’ll start with the second part first. It definitely helps me clear my head. I need stress relief regularly. And certainly training for triathlons gives me that which is fantastic. I actually got hooked up with a Triathlon Club, which is called Tri Valley Triathlon Club, TVTC for short, a couple years ago. And so I’ve been training regularly with the club for a couple years. It’s so fantastic, because it’s this really wonderful team environment, a lot of support, new friends and people that have the same interests.



Louis Goodman 18:34

Have you ever had a job or an interest that you would pursue if you couldn’t be a lawyer? Or if you were not a lawyer, what else would you do?



Melissa Adams 18:45

Oh, gosh, I thought about teaching. I would love to teach either in law school or undergrad. And I think that’s, you know, something that could be in the future for me.



Louis Goodman 18:54

Let’s say you and your wife came into some real money, say, $3 or $4 billion? What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Melissa Adams 19:02

Gosh, I would certainly pay off mortgages. I think for, you know, all of our immediate family members, that would be one thing I’d really want to do. Thankfully, they all live in places that are not as expensive as the Bay Area. So that would be one thing. Make sure that my granddaughter and my nieces and nephews are set for college. I am personally still paying back my student loans. So from undergrad no less. And so I would really like for them not to have that experience. I don’t find it very character building like some people say that it is. I just think it’s annoying and difficult. So I would do that. And my wife would tell you that she would want me to go work for the Innocence Project. She is just absolutely enthralled with the Innocence Project and everything that they do. And she very much wants me to go volunteer some time with them. So I suppose I’d probably have to do that. Which is okay.



Louis Goodman 19:51

Let’s say you had a magic wand and that was one thing you could change in the world in the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?



Melissa Adams 19:58

I think just the inequalities of the world and very much like financial inequalities, you know, sort of the differences between the haves and the have nots is startling in and I see people all the time, not just clients of ours. But yeah, we just drive to court in Oakland in the number of people who are unhoused. I think that those are all things that I would love to address, either with, you know, $3 or $4 billion lotto winnings, or a magic wand or some combination thereof, because those are the things that I think really make me sad on an everyday basis.



Louis Goodman 20:36

Melissa, anything else you want to talk about that we haven’t covered?



Melissa Adams 20:39

By just you know, I just want to say that I am a very blessed individual. I’m not very religious at all. But I wake up every day, knowing that I’m very blessed person. I mean, a very good employment situation. Like I said, I own this business with Mr. Cox with Joe, and he is the most fantastic business partner and person, he is an absolute joy to run a business with. And I just feel so incredibly lucky to have found Tim, and to then have found Joe, and to be running this business with Joe, and changing the world. I mean, we really are aware that we are changing the world every day in what we do.



Louis Goodman 21:18

Melissa Adams, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.



Melissa Adams

Thank you so much for having me. Have a great afternoon.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And Joel Katz from music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.







Melissa Adams 22:10

And I remember her very clearly saying, you know, you could work at a bank and I laughed and I said like I could work in a bank without a degree. So you know, what the hell did I spend the last four years getting this college degree for.