[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we’ll talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. While traveling in Europe, he realized that social goals were important to his career and life. After gaining a variety of legal experiences, he decided to litigate criminal, civil and family law cases. He provides zealous representation to individuals of all economic classes. Gaurav Bali, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Gaurav Bali: Well thank you for having me, Louis.
Louis Goodman: It’s a pleasure to have you. We’ve worked some cases together and I’ve always enjoyed [00:01:00] that.
Tell me, where is your office located right now?
Gaurav Bali: I’m in Jack London Square at 4 23rd street.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been there?
Gaurav Bali: We’ve been there for about two years.
Louis Goodman: And what kind of practice do you have?
Gaurav Bali: My focus really is quite broad, so I shouldn’t call it a focus, but the areas that we take cases, civil specifically, personal injury is a smaller part of the practice.
Family law and criminal law are the larger parts of the practice.
Louis Goodman: Now, when you say we are you associated with other attorneys?
Gaurav Bali: Well, I have at least one of counsel that I use and he is very helpful in cases where I just don’t have the bandwidth to litigate.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Gaurav Bali: So I was born in Hayward, California, and my family is from India.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Gaurav Bali: I went to high school in Fremont, Mission San Jose High School.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that’s a very good high school. [00:02:00] I’m told.
Gaurav Bali: It was very enjoyable and highly competitive.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Very competitive. How did you do there? I guess you did. Okay.
Gaurav Bali: I fared okay. I’ll say that.
And eventually led to me deciding to go to junior college and then going to Cal.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to junior college?
Gaurav Bali: I went to Ohlone and because Ohlone didn’t have all of the classes I needed for what I anticipated my major would be. I also attended West Valley College and Chabot College. At one point I was taking 21 units in a semester, going to three junior colleges and two days a week.
Louis Goodman: Wow. When did you transfer to Cal?
Gaurav Bali: After two years at Ohlone, essentially with a perfect GPA. I went there and my intended major was computer science, and I quickly transitioned into economics.
Louis Goodman: Growing up in a first-generation family of Indian immigrants, [00:03:00] how did that impact your life in Fremont and going to high school and going to junior college?
Gaurav Bali: What’s interesting is that my grandmother and my mom are very progressive for not having the exposure of the American culture until of course my mom moved here to California and that to me felt as if this is a place I always belonged. So I didn’t really see much of what some people believe are, you know, the stereotypical Indian family in terms of being vegetarian or being forced into thinking a certain way about a particular subject, that they were very open to me having sort of that freedom of thought.
That allowed me to develop into sort of who I am.
Louis Goodman: It sounds like they were pretty interested in you performing well academically.
Gaurav Bali: That was something that my grandfather, when he was [00:04:00] alive, took under his belt. My grandmother and grandfather moved to California from India at my young age of about five or six years old. My mom had lost my dad four months before I was born, and so she was a single mom and she tried in India for a while and eventually decided that the two of us didn’t really appreciate what it had to offer. And I don’t think she much appreciated it either being a widow and moved here and subsequently my grandmother and grandfather arrived and my grandfather took it upon himself to focus on my sister and my education and that became the central focus of my life with him. Until he passed away the summer of my fifth grade, my fourth grade.
Louis Goodman: Have you been back to India at all on your own?
Gaurav Bali: Yes, we were on my own and my sister and I would normally travel there together in the summertime. So my mom’s sister would come here and if she didn’t come [00:05:00] here a given summer, then we would travel there.
So at the very least up until about 16 years old, I was going there every other year.
Louis Goodman: How was that for you?
Gaurav Bali: I enjoyed it tremendously. I enjoyed vacationing there, but not living there because I always felt my home was in California.
Louis Goodman: Where in India did you spend some time?
Gaurav Bali: So we visited Delhi. That is where my mom’s sister and a lot of my grandmother’s family is.
We’ve also visited Mumbai back then it was called Bombay. And my grandmother comes from a large family, 13 brothers and sisters, and my dad had nine siblings. So on both sides, we’re now spread across the world. But my grandmother’s side of the family, my mom’s side really is in India. And my grandfather’s side is also there, but not as darn as many people.
Louis Goodman: When you got to college in Berkeley, how did that feel different from being in high school and in community college?
Gaurav Bali: In [00:06:00] Southern Alameda County, there was a lot less handholding, and when I say that, I mean that, you know, you decide if you attend class, you decide if you attend the teacher’s assistant lectures and support groups that they had in the other forums. It was a lot of making sure that we were there, making sure we attended.
And there was a lot of, much more attention given to individual students. So that was lost. And naturally I didn’t focus more on attending the lectures. If I read the materials in advance, which I quickly learned was not a good idea.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about going to law school?
It’s interesting. I didn’t. When I graduated Cal, my mom said, so what are you going to do next? And I told her, I said, mom, just give me a year. I’ll figure out how to make a million bucks. And when that didn’t happen, I think it was a culmination of my life experience, my own personal struggles in high school, [00:07:00] not having a father and sort of traveling, not just in Europe, but really didn’t get to see the struggle and the plight of individuals there. But then it was really iced when I went to Europe and I saw even within the social class, I was in that there were certain places I wasn’t accepted number. This is post 911. So how some people viewed me when I traveled was a little bit different.
And I got a feeling of that from various places. And I think my life experience generally pushed me there and I didn’t really know what I was going to do until of course I graduated.
Louis Goodman: So when you got out of Cal, you decided, well, I’ll take a year off and go travel in Europe.
Gaurav Bali: Exactly.
Louis Goodman: How was that?
Gaurav Bali: It was wild. You know, I saved enough money where at that time things that, you know, the prices were much different in what we’re paying now. And it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had with my friends. Just absolutely letting [00:08:00] go and letting free and, you know, taking trains from one part of the country to another.
And having no one to answer to, but each other.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I took a year off, was actually during law school and traveled through Europe and I found that to be the most educational experience that I’d ever had in my life.
Gaurav Bali: Absolutely agree with you. It is something that, we decided what we wanted to see based on what our interests were.
And it was just overall one of the biggest eye-opening experiences to young adult life, even more so than college.
Louis Goodman:. So you get back from Europe and you decide, well, okay, I’m wanting to go to law school now.
Gaurav Bali: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
Louis Goodman: So what did you do about that?
Gaurav Bali: For the Ellis that talked to my mom about my plans and she said, I knew that you, what you’re going to do, son.
I said, well, how did you know and why didn’t you tell me after I graduated college. She says, I don’t direct you. I simply encourage you throughout your life. And one of the things that I recall when you were [00:09:00] growing up is that you always had a way of arguing negotiating with me in a way that your sister didn’t and you always wound up getting your way somehow.
And that’s why I knew that this would be a perfect fit for you.
Louis Goodman: Hmm. That’s interesting. So where did you decide to go to law school?
Gaurav Bali: I went to Lincoln Law School in San Jose. It’s a part-time program that allowed me to work full time during the day, which was my primary focus. And as a result, it was a four-year program instead of a three-year program.
And that’s exactly what I did. I worked full-time during the day and went to law school at night.
Louis Goodman: What did you do for work?
Gaurav Bali: So I started working as an assistant to an LDA. An LDA and their Business and Profession Code is a Legal Document Assistant who can provide essentially paperwork filled out for litigants pro se litigants in family court, or do any other type of paperwork such as transfer of a deed from married couple to one person or [00:10:00] whatever legal document was needed, she could essentially produce for a particular person. I did adoptions there. I did countless number of divorces, child custody cases. When I say I did that, I mean, I prepared the paperwork for them. I talked to clients about what to expect and just give them basic information as to how family court works. I think the most unique thing I did was an adoption of children from a couple who decided to give the neighbor, give up their child to the neighbor who had always wanted children, but they had many of their own, and it was a surprise child.
And that was probably the most unique case I worked on there.
Louis Goodman: You think that working in a job that was related to the legal profession helped you in terms of your legal?
Gaurav Bali: I think it helped me more post law school, but not in terms of my legal studies.
Louis Goodman: If someone was a young individual graduating from college, would you recommend the law as a career?
Gaurav Bali: I would recommend anyone who has an [00:11:00] interest in law or making change, attend law school for one year and decide if they’re cut out for it. I think it’s an amazing profession. I think it opens a lot of doors in ways that even if you don’t end up practicing law, that you wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to pursue. So yes, I think that it is an invaluable experience.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing either met or different from your expectations about it?
Gaurav Bali: You know, when you’re in law school, you read cases and you kind of envision how those cases start the practice of law. At least the areas that I practice are, you know, heavily geared towards litigation. It’s not transactional in any way.
And. I think that law school simply prepares you for the difficulties that cases may present and to carefully prepare for and be ready to are you on your feet.
Louis Goodman: How about the [00:12:00] business of practicing law? You and I, and a lot of the people that we know we were lawyers, but we run a business of running a law firm.
And I’m wondering how that’s gone for you and what you think about that.
Gaurav Bali: It’s interesting there, when I graduated and got my bar card, soon after I decided to sort of shack up with a colleague who had an office in Oakland and in that office for a numerous independent attorneys who you know, Lou from, your sort of, practice in this in Alameda County.
Louis Goodman: You mean from, from being around for a very long time, but I know a lot of people, right.
Gaurav Bali: You know, everyone. Oh. Which is why you’re so successful at being a great podcaster. So I decided to bootstrap and sort of didn’t work for anyone. When I got my bar card and I naturally fell into the [00:13:00] business of criminal defense and family law and I never advertised and to this day I don’t advertise. So when you asked me about the business of law and how that’s working so far, not having advertising, being a referral only attorney has served me well. I could certainly be doing better business wise, but also I think that the capacity that I’m at is a very natural fit for me, given the other aspects of my life and the demands on my time.
So I am in no way disappointed, not formally advertising to get in more clientele, because I believe that I have a good amount of business naturally coming in through the doors. And I sort of liked that sort of grassroots feel to what I do, suffice it to say that maybe one day I will pivot slightly and do some advertising in a way that makes sense for me.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you had started out practicing.
[00:14:00] Gaurav Bali: Probably, I would have wished someone told me about the high level of stress involved in the day-to-day practice.
Louis Goodman: What do you think is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Gaurav Bali: It’s a two-part answer.
One is your credibility is everything in a court of law. So when you appear in front of a judge, it is very important to be credible in every aspect of the case that you’re working on. And when you’re asked the question to be direct. Second, best advice I was given, not in any particular order was to be prepared.
Louis Goodman: What aspect of practicing law do you think is your strongest litigation?
Gaurav Bali: I think in hindsight, I am a trial attorney at home.
Louis Goodman: Looking back, is there one thing that you would change if you could?
Gaurav Bali: That’s a difficult question to answer, because I believe that all of my life experiences led me to where I’m at.
If there was one thing I would change it may be having gone to a full-time school. To experience that aspect of, you [00:15:00] know, meeting people more locally who are also practicing now in counties throughout the Bay area. Because I was concerned about the financial aspect of, and the cost of law school and my desire to keep costs down, if I didn’t get into the best law school that I thought was fit for me, I think that’s the only thing I would probably reconsider.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair? Do you think it dispenses justice?
Gaurav Bali: Compared to the rest of the world. I think our system is great. It’s certainly not perfect. There are many aspects of the system that could use work, but the reason I do this is because I believe in what I’m doing and that the other avenues available, I don’t think would satisfy what the needs of this country are. At least the state of California.
Louis Goodman: What’s your own family life been like? And how has practicing law affected that?
Gaurav Bali: I have been married for five years, soon to be six. And the, it wasn’t much [00:16:00] different during that period when we didn’t have a child, but since having our son about two and a half years ago, the demands for my time have become much more significant and there’s a much more delicate balance in.
Trying to juggle responsibilities between two full-time sort of workers and a young child that requires a lot of attention and wants to be with both parents all the time. So the only struggle has been being a little bit more backed up overall because of satisfying the needs of it looks up to you.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things do you enjoy doing as a family?
Gaurav Bali: So one of our most memorable trips was going to Hawaii in 2018. Another enjoyable time was going to the Oakland Zoo. When it, since it’s opened up recently, we went, the other things that we really enjoy are, that at least our son enjoys our animals. So anytime we can pay a visit to an animal, the neighborhood we live in, in the Hills and in Montclair, [00:17:00] so many people have chickens. They have, there’s a family here that has goats. So we oftentimes try to visit the goats and the chickens and going for walks and going to the park. I think those are our primary focuses. Of course, we also have a very large family in the Bay Area. So we make time for them, almost every weekend or every other weekend at the very least.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things do you do to kind of keep your sanity as a practicing attorney?
Gaurav Bali: I try to have fun when I’m not at work. So I try not to carry the stress of the job on my shoulders, which is not easy to do because people outside of the ones that you care about, the people that actually hire, you want to talk to you at all times throughout the day. So I think trying to create strict boundaries about when to feel those calls and deal with clients is one [00:18:00] of the things that I’ve been managing better recently, but certainly trying to leave work at work is the other aspect of this job that is also challenging to manage.
Louis Goodman: Have you been doing anything specific about drawing those boundaries with clients?
Gaurav Bali: I try to not look at my phone for a few hours between 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM. I try to just not even look at it. So if there’s an emergency, my family will know how to reach me in other ways, but I just try to not look at my phone.
Louis Goodman: How’s that gone for you?
Gaurav Bali: It sounds better than it has. So I do have to pick up the phone once in a while.
And in that process, of course, responding to other messages, and instead of having them build up is one of the things that’s an interesting balance, but I think I’ve been doing pretty good.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s something that all of us struggle with because we want to be there for our clients.
Our clients have paid us to be there for [00:19:00] them. And I think that we feel a sense of real responsibility. On the other hand, you know, we are entitled to some time for ourselves and we need to draw some lines. And I think that that’s well, let me just speak for myself. It’s a, process and it’s not easy for me to always find that balance. And I’ve been trying to find that balance for a very long time.
Gaurav Bali: And that’s been the hardest part. I want to make myself available to all my clients. So I have every single client of mine has my cell phone number. Yeah. It’s the same number that my family has. And I feel like, because I have had experience working with lawyers when I wasn’t a lawyer, I know the value of that to a client.
And I never want to take that away. Even if that means putting more pressure on me on a day to day basis.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You know, I tell my clients, look, here’s my cell phone number. Here’s my office number. If you think it’s an [00:20:00] emergency. call my cell phone. You get to decide if it’s an emergency, but if it’s not an emergency, Hey, call the office.We’re really good about returning phone calls.
Gaurav Bali: I think that would work great if I didn’t have a spouse with a child that they want to see or a problem wit. Let me put it this way, if I didn’t have family law, where people think everything’s an emergency.
I think I’d be better off.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Family was tough. It really is.
If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some other job that you think that you might like to do?
Gaurav Bali: I would probably do something in the area of math. I have been very good at math for as long as I can remember. And it’s much more formulaic.
It also is not stressful, at least not for me. And I think that because I enjoy math. I would probably do something that my father had done, which was something in the accounting arena. He was a certified public accountant. So [00:21:00] I think that would be much less stressful too. So if it wasn’t something involving math, anything that didn’t involve high stress is something that interests me.
Louis Goodman: You have some kind of a super power or some kind of a superpower that you’d like to have?
Gaurav Bali: Oh gosh, I’m definitely not a narcissist, but what I’d like to have is the ability to heal. Yeah. I think that is something that in many aspects of my life I’ve seen would be the most powerful thing that I could help people.
Louis Goodman: What kind of things keep you up at night?
Gaurav Bali: My family, in terms of their health and their wellbeing. I think that as we age, we realize the number of days left with those who are aging, shrinks considerably. And that is probably the most concerning thing to me. When I go to bed, as I’m thinking of them.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, few billion dollars, $3 or $4 billion.
What, if anything, would you do differently in your own life?
Gaurav Bali: [00:22:00] I would find a way for my family, my in-laws family, and all of us to find a plot of land or homes back to back to back where we could all just be closer to each other. I think that’s the first thing that I do. And I think the second thing that I do is somehow help and give back to the local community because the struggles are too many for the people that sort of are that we see every day.
If you had a magic wand, you could wave it over the legal world, he world in general is one thing you could change? What would you do with that magic wand?
Gaurav Bali: I’d probably eliminate hunger. I think when you see the world we live in such a bubble, oftentimes that we don’t know this, the true struggles that are out there, but the one thing that people should never have to worry about is food on their plate and water in their glass. And so we have in, in my life, in the Bay area, it’s been a life of [00:23:00] privilege. There’s always been running water and there’s always been food on the table. And that is really, I think what needs to be the common denominator for every human is having the ability to eat and drink.
And then. I think that would open their minds to focusing on other things and improving their life and others.
Louis Goodman: Okay. Anything else that you wanted to say?
Gaurav Bali: Only thing that I’d say is, you know, carpet DM, right? Seize the day. We often take that for granted. We get stuck in the world of work and the mundane activities day to day after work such as making dinner for the family, feeding our child or children. You know, I think the human connection can be lost at times. I think the most important thing for people to remember is live life to the fullest. we never know when our time’s up and before we can regret how we’ve lived, we should live how we wish to.
So we can look back and say that we did everything we wanted.
Louis Goodman: Gaurav [00:24:00] Bali. thank you so much for talking to me this afternoon on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
Gaurav Bali: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
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 [email protected], where you can find them all of the 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, Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Gaurav Bali: You know, we oftentimes played pool down on Shattuck. There was a pool hall there.
Elihu Harris / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
Louis Goodman: Among his many honors and positions of service to the community, he is the former mayor of Oakland, California. He served for many years in the California State Assembly. He was Chancellor of Peralta Community College. He serves on the Executive Committee of the California Atate NAACP, and what impresses me every time I see it is his name on the California State office building in downtown Oakland, Elihu Harris, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Elihu Harris: [00:01:00] Thank you very much. I’m excited to be with you.
Louis Goodman: Thanks so much for being here. It’s really an honor. What kind of work are you doing these days. I know that you’ve had many projects in the past. I know that you’re sort of semi-retired and absolutely deserve to be, but I know you have things going too.
What sort of things are you doing right now?
Elihu Harris: Well, I’m practicing law. I’m working on homeless housing issues. And otherwise I’m doing, you know, a number of entrepreneurial issues with clients, but certainly in the area of development. I think it’s really exciting and kind of coming out of this pandemic, I think people are looking for sort of the new normal, when it comes to development, a lot of retail malls and we see many of them and near closure.
We’re certainly looking at the reality that new businesses are emerging. And so I’m just kind of working with a number of different individuals and groups relative to those new enterprises. And they’re kind of trying to stay relevant. I’m also continuing to do public service. You mentioned the NAACP, I’m also on the Uniform Law Commission.
And certainly that’s been something I’ve been [00:02:00] on since I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And, you know, Uniform Law is obviously a very important given the complexities of laws in this country. So I’m very much enjoying my participation in that effort.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Elihu Harris: I was born in Los Angeles, but I was raised in Berkeley, California, and stuff like school there.
And then obviously local schools, Cal State East Bay, UC Berkeley, for a Master’s Degree and law school at the University of California Davis.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s start in high school. You went, did you go to Berkeley high?
Elihu Harris: I went to Berkeley high.
Louis Goodman: And how was that for you?
Elihu Harris: It was like going to college, cause it was about 3,500, 4,000 students.
It was a school that had a, I believe a very deep, deeper, pretty good curriculum. It’s one of the top high schools in the country at the time that I was there. And I think it certainly prepared me for college. It was rigorous like CA the course courses was challenging. And when I got to college, wasn’t much different.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to college initially?
Elihu Harris: I went to Cal State East Bay. I really thought I was going to go to Howard [00:03:00] University, but when it came time to send the money in for housing, my father said he wasn’t going to waste the money, sending me back to Washington to party. So I ended up getting out of Cal State about two and a half years.
Louis Goodman: So you partied in Hayward?
Elihu Harris: No, there was no partying in Hayward. Hayward was not the place for party. In fact, I commuted most of the time that I was there. I was in student government. And so I had to be on the campus a lot more than many students, and I was taking any classes cause I just grabbed to graduate as quick as I could.
So it was an industry experience that was really involved. But again, it was a fairly rapid undergraduate career.
Louis Goodman: Was that when you first got into politics or had you been in politics even at Berkeley High?
Elihu Harris: Yeah, sure. I was Student Body President, Class President of more important. When I got to Cal State, I continued to be involved in student government.
And so it was always kind of an involvement issue with me. I was President of my Undergraduate Fraternity, a lot of different things that kind of, because I wanted to be connected and I think politics where the student government or public [00:04:00] service. Uh, it helps you to be connected.
Louis Goodman: When you graduated from Cal State, what did you do next? When do you see Berkeley?
I wanted to get a master’s degree. I wasn’t quite ready for law school. And I graduated from college pretty early. I was still only about 19 years old, so I decided that I would go to Berkeley for a year. I got a Master’s in Public Policy from what is now the Goldman School. And that was my preparation for law school.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated with your Master’s from Cal, did you go directly to law school, directly at UC Davis?
Elihu Harris: Did not pass go, do not collect $200.
Louis Goodman: What was Davis like for you?
Elihu Harris: Well, let me tell you, first of all, I want to tell you how I got to Davis, please. There was a time when it was really, uh, an affirmative action that was pretty aggressive.
And I applied to a number of law schools that I was admitted to all of them, which I do not. Uh, expecting to be honest with you. And it was whether the University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, Harvard, and I pursued and applied to [00:05:00] all those schools, because I didn’t know if I was going to get in any of them.
And then when it came down to it, I just really didn’t want to go back East. I didn’t want to be in the snow and the cold. And then the choices between. UCLA Berkeley and UC Davis. And ultimately you see Davis was a new law school. It Barrett who’d been a professor at Constitutional Law at Bolt was the Dean.
They only had three previous classes, but when I went there and I said, this is an opportunity to kind of break new ground and be a pioneer. If you will. You know, in law school environment, the faculty was relatively young, all those things were appealing.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer?
Elihu Harris: Well, I, it like many young people, all of the options, you know, a lot of what you think about in terms of careers, what you get on television. I think I’ll be a doctor because you are watching Doctors on TV or I’m going to be a lawyer, I saw Perry Mason. I didn’t really know any lawyers, so I didn’t really even know what lawyers actually did.
I only knew one lawyer by the time I was in my first year of law school. [00:06:00] And that was Lionel Wilson. The only lawyer I knew. And when they asked me the first year of law school for eight. Bar questionnaire, paying two lawyers who can vouch for you. I didn’t know, two lawyers, so it was very, very confusing.
And quite frankly, I said, maybe this is not the career for me. If I got to know two lawyers and I don’t know to, but at any rate, yes, I, I. Went to law school at Davis. And the idea of being a lawyer was something that I sort of grew into a part of my political interests. And I think they have two options.
One get a PhD, which kind of prepared you to research, which was not something I wanted to focus on or a lot of grief that I thought would prepare me for a lot of different things and give me more options when it came to my long-term career objectives. So law school became a practical choice for me as much as anything else.
When you graduated from Davis, what was your first legal job working for the legislature?
Elihu Harris: I’d also worked as an intern. When I was in graduate school at Berkeley, I ironically worked with Pete Wilson. [00:07:00]
Louis Goodman: When did you decide to go into politics in the sense of actually running for elective office?
Elihu Harris: Well, I wanted to run almost from the time I got out of law school.
I was looking for an opportunity for elected office and the assembly certainly was a good training ground in terms of giving me exposure to public policy. I see. Well, All I got to do is now transfer those skills to puppet office, but it wasn’t that simple. You use a lot more money and a lot more organization, a lot more volunteers.
So at any rate, after I worked for John Miller for two years, I took a position in Washington, DC as the Chief of Staff to remember Congress. And I did that for another year and a half.
Louis Goodman: What did you think of Washington DC?
Elihu Harris: It was an interesting experience. I really was thinking about not going, because I thought I had an established career and base in East Bay.
And I talked to my mentor who was the husband of the Congresswoman. And he told me that I didn’t understand the opportunity that I was missing. [00:08:00] And he told me, he said, Chief, you don’t understand my wife’s going to give you the opportunity to leave the minor leagues and go into the major league. And more importantly, she’s going to give you a chance to pitch in the world series.
I was on, I was on the next plane.
Louis Goodman: Was he right?
Elihu Harris: Yeah. It was always incredible. I mean, she was, a member of the Appropriations Committee, so, and she has to work on, on that. And she was also a very smart woman. She’d been the first black woman in the California Assembly. One of the first black woman in Congress, first black woman to have a prison woman in Congress to have a baby while she was in Congress.
And what was really important was she was demanding. So I got to learn that as a, as another aspect of my building a career in public policy.
Louis Goodman: You came back from Washington, DC what did you do? Oh, you’re not done yet. Okay.
Elihu Harris: I decided I was going to come back to California because I wanted to kind of reestablish my base. And I was back about three weeks [00:09:00] before I got an opportunity to go back to Washington as Executive Director of the National Bar Association. So I ended up going back to Washington and I was there another three years.
Louis Goodman: Wow. And then after that you came back to the East Bay?
Elihu Harris: I got a call from my former boss in the Legislature telling me he’d just been appointed to the Court of Appeals and that if I came back, I would be his candidate to succeed him in the Legislature, Senator returning to Bay.
Louis Goodman: And did you run for that seat?
Elihu Harris: I ran and I won and I won by 572 votes.
Louis Goodman: Wow. That’s a slim margin.
Elihu Harris: I didn’t get to my victory party. Everybody was gone.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. But the important thing is you had a victory party.
Elihu Harris: Absolutely. And I always think about the trajectory of my life. Had I not gone to Washington or had I not won at that assembly seat?
Louis Goodman: Tell us a little bit about your career in the California State Assembly.
[00:10:00] Elihu Harris: Well, I guess when I got elected and one of the first things in the Tribune had, I’d raised $140,000. Remember this is 1978. So the Tribune had an above the fold headline. Why would somebody spend $140,000 to get elected to a job that only paid $28,800?
And when I looked at the headline, it was shocking. And I thought to myself, that’s a really good question. Why would somebody spend that kind of money to get a job, to pay 28 grand? And what’s the answer because I couldn’t raise 140,000. The other part of the headline was when they could buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for the same money.
Now the answer, cause I couldn’t raise $140,000 to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Right. Right. I could raise $140,000 to run for office.
Louis Goodman: What are you really like? What did you really like about being an elected official?
Elihu Harris: Being able to help set policy, being able to allocate [00:11:00] resources, which the reason that anybody I would hope would want to be involved in public service to be a servant leader, to be able to make change, to be able to work with others in shaping the shape of value systems and priorities and address inequities, all those things were now really important to me, but things that I was able to pursue as a legislature. And because I believe in the first city, it was good that there were people who represented not only different political interests, ethnicities, economic communities, but also people who actually came with different priorities. And so the advocacy aspect of that was also consistent with being a lawyer. I was a public advocate as an elected official, and I thought that was one of the real rewards I hadn’t been prepared.
Louis Goodman: How long did you serve in the assembly altogether?
Elihu Harris: I was in the legislature for 12 years.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you didn’t like about it? Like, for example, the fact that your life gets [00:12:00] increased scrutiny, the fact that some people see you as the enemy, even if it’s really only a matter of a policy disagreement
Elihu Harris: I think that’s a trade-off, but you actually, I found the legislator very collegial, as you know, they’re 120 legislators, 80 in the Assembly, 40 in the Senate.
And you have to get along with people. I remember one of the things when I first got there, they gave me a package of gun control bills and they all died. I’d be just every one of them just got shut down. And I remember talking to an Assemblyman from Richmond named Jack Knocks. Who’d been there a long time.
And I said, Jack, I don’t like this place. I thought I was coming to work with people who really were committed to making life better, addressing problems. These people have no courage. They aren’t willing to take a chance. They are only concerned about getting elected. He laughed at me and he said something that I’d never forgot is the Elihu, I understand these people disappoint you, but remember you didn’t elect them. You only dance with the people who come to the dance. And that became a very important moment for me, recognizing the [00:13:00] fact that I have to work with the people that are sent there from the various districts in the state.
My job is not to elect them or to argue with them but is to work with them, to find common ground and to build alliances wherever possible.
Louis Goodman: If a young person were coming out of College today, would you recommend a career in law and policy?
Elihu Harris: Yes, but I think you have to be prepared in some ways. I think you have to be financially prepared.
One of the things I think is a real downside, but the legislators in California now, because they have no retirement. So you’re not building anything in terms of your family for the time when you’re no longer in public service.
Louis Goodman: How did actually serving as a public official differ from your expectations about it?
Well, first of all, again, I had a chance to see it as a staff member, right. The District in the Legislature and also in Washington. So there wasn’t a lot of surprises, but it was much more collegial. It was like, it’s almost like being in a club because you know, everybody. And there’s a [00:14:00] sense of who people are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their value systems are, uh, what their common ground.
You may be able to build with an individual or group of individuals. The fact that I understood the process of legislation and getting things done.
Louis Goodman: Was being a mayor different than being a legislator and collegial.
Elihu Harris: And the other thing, one of the Legislators again told me there’s a lot of anecdotal things that happen when you’re in politics.
And one of the former Legislators told me something. When I told him I was going to run for mayor. And he said, you’re making a big mistake. I said, what do you mean I’m making a big mistake. He said happiness is a core efficient of the distance you are from your constituents, the farther away you are the happier you’ll be when you’re Washington, you’re happy than when you’re in Sacramento, when you’re in your district in your city and you’re not going to be when you become mayor. I mean, there’s a [00:15:00] level of accountability that. Transcripts anything you experienced in Washington or Congress when you come back from Washington or Sacramento, you’re like the Cochran Euro.
You’re bringing back treasure from the war. Right. And when I was in Sacramento, I can believe everything on the governor, but I became mayor. People blamed everything on me.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about accomplishment that you made when you were mayor of Oakland?
Elihu Harris: Well, there were a lot of things that I did and quite frankly, the list would solve this, but I said I was going to do when I ran one was community policing, but I became mayor.
There were 175 homicides in the city of Oakland. The year that I left, it was down to about 63 dealing with illegal dumpsites or any of the other kinds of things that are play. Urban environments were able to deal with graffiti. We were able to deal with cleaning up parks and creeks and all those kinds of things with a lot of citizen involvement.
I know that we made Oakland better than when we found it. And that was not just my effort. It was the city council as my staff. It was [00:16:00] city staff working together to deal with problems.
Louis Goodman: What about fundraising? You know, you brought up the subject of fundraising. I know that you’ve done a lot of fundraising over the years. You’ve been very good at fundraising over the years. Tell me a little bit about that process.
Elihu Harris: Well, I ran for mayor, a woman who one of my better friends put together a fundraising plan. It’s called raising a million dollars. And I didn’t know I could raise a million dollars. I had to raise money in Sacramento. I had to raise money in Oakland. There’s many in San Francisco. I raise money in Los Angeles. I raise money in Watts because you can’t raise that kind of money just in Oakland. So I was able to use, you know, my network, my contacts that I had established during the 12 years that I was in the legislature as well as the time that I served in Washington, as well as my family and my fraternity and friends to put all those pieces together.
And that’s how you raise money. You got to go to people who believe in you. [00:17:00] You got to go to people who know you, but you got to go to people who trust you. And I was able to do that and raise the money and get elected.
Louis Goodman: Did you learn anything from the experience of raising money?
Elihu Harris: It’s hard and there are people often who have expectations that it’s not just an investment, a good public policy, but an investment in getting what they want.
And you gotta be real clear with people both at the time that they give an after they’ve given that this is not a put pro quo arrangement. I don’t want to act like money doesn’t matter. Cause it does. But if money is the motivating force for your public policy, then you betrayed the people who elected you.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way that the political system works?
Elihu Harris: I would do away with sort of limits. I think you get people with expertise, real ability and you lose them and you have more of a transparency that is false. So I really believe that the term limits has been a disaster in [00:18:00] California.
Louis Goodman: You think that the way the political system works is fair?
Elihu Harris: It works as well as the people pay attention. I think ignorance is the worst enemy of democracy. We see it at the national level where you have an ignorant electorate. When you can tell people, for example, nationally, that Alexa was unfair that I lost because of massive fraud.
And there’s no facts that people believe it. That’s because they aren’t doing their own homework. I think is very dangerous in this country because we have such an ignorant electorate.
Louis Goodman: I’m going to shift gears here a little bit and ask you about your family life and how practicing law and being an elected official has affected your family life.
Elihu Harris: Well, I’ll tell you this, people look at what you do and your family is connected to what you do. My family is much more private than I am. They don’t like being in the newspaper. They don’t like being in, in introduced at public events. [00:19:00] So they don’t have the same sense of temperament or willingness to be exposed.
And I think one of the things that anyone going to public service needs to be aware of is that there is a cost and that cost is often born by your family. And not just by you.
Louis Goodman: Have you had any travel experience that you’ve enjoyed?
Elihu Harris: I’ve been basically everywhere except Australia. And I say that because one of the things that you get in terms of not just your public service, but your exposure.
So I’ve been to the Middle East, Israel. I’ve been to Italy and all over Europe, England, France, Germany, so many places I haven’t been because in addition to being the mayor, I was also the Chairman of the World Trade Center. And as a result, one of the things that we did was had a Bay Area Trader last principally.
Including the mirrors of San Francisco and San Jose. So going to places where we had trade partners, where the Port of Oakland was doing trade was part of our responsibilities going through our sister [00:20:00] cities in Africa and Jamaica and France and China. I was part of that responsibility to Japan. So I’ve had a chance to travel extensively.
Louis Goodman: You know, you and I are both people who have had a lot of formal education. And I’ve had a fair amount of travel experience as well. And it’s always struck me that travel experience was really my greatest educational opportunity. I don’t know whether you found that.
Absolutely. First of all, you learn that despite political differences and economic differences, basically people are the same. People want things for themselves and their family. They want a decent environment. They want to have a good job and a career. They want to be relevant and people want to have a quality of life.
It’s just basically part of the human existence, be a lawyer politician.
Louis Goodman: Is there some other job that you think that you might like to have?
Elihu Harris: Yeah, but it involved being rich. [00:21:00] And I’m going to tell you why, because I would want to be a philanthropist. Because I really want to help people. You know, when I see things where somebody is suffering a lack of housing, the homeless, that’s why I work on homeless issues.
When I see people suffering because they have food insecurities, I think we want, can’t get a quality education. I want to solve that problem.
Louis Goodman: So let’s say you came into some real money in your own personal life. Let’s say you came into three or $4 billion. What, if anything different would you do?
Elihu Harris: Well, I gave you some examples. One thing I would do in the City of Oakland, for example, I would put a police universal preschool. I would make sure that every child is earliest possible and introduction to literacy and learning. I certainly would put money into dealing with food insecurities. I would try to look at other ways that we could do policing effectively.
So we’ve reduced the number of robberies and homicides and other violent crimes in the city. I was certainly working toward [00:22:00] a more preventive health care.
Louis Goodman: So if you had a magic wand. What was one thing you could change in the world, the political world, the legal world, or just the world to general. What one thing would that be, if you could change it.
Elihu Harris: That people really put into practice the golden rule. Treat people like they want to be treated. I mean, we would reduce so much of the problem. So much of the pain in our world, in our community and our neighborhood. If people would treat each other as human beings, treat each other with some level of kindness and consideration. With some sense of reciprocity and expectation that we in fact are going to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Whether it’s our faith or our resources, or just the way we speak to one another.
I think all of those things are things that I would love to change.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about or that you think that we should cover.
Elihu Harris: Well yeah, I think that lawyers need to continue to be change [00:23:00] agents. They need to remember why they became lawyers and it was just to make money, then that’s fine.
But I don’t think that’s what I believe to be the true essence of being a lawyer. It is about doing justice. You don’t have the kind of thing from the Bible of do justice, love mercy. I think lawyers aren’t exemplify that when you talk about your program, Love Thy Lawyer. People don’t have a reason to love their lawyer because their lawyers are professional.
They consider it and they really are there to do a service. I think if we could do that, as lawyers could love that lawyer, wouldn’t just be a model. It would be a reality.
Louis Goodman: Elihu Harris, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It has been a real honor privilege and an interesting experience talking to you.
Thank you very much. It’s an opportunity I’ve listened to other podcasts. They’re enjoyable. I hope this is going to be the difference or the exception in the room. It’s a good program. She presented to your audience, so, okay.
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.
Elihu Haris: So it wasn’t just public works, doing things. It was also the reality that we could get citizens to take some pride and some involvement in their own community.
Jimmie Wilson / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we’ll talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
He grew up in the Bayview Hunters Point section of San Francisco.
He played Division One College Football at San Jose State University. He worked as a union plumber and pipe fitter. He ultimately graduated with honors from UC Berkeley. He served as a juror on five criminal cases before becoming a lawyer, he sits on the local executive board of the NAACP. He currently serves as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney [00:01:00] and is running to be the next elected District Attorney of Alameda County.
Jimmy Wilson. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Jimmie Wilson: Thank you, Louis. Happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: I’ve always enjoyed talking to you. I recall many times sitting down and pretrial cases in department, 501 in Hayward, and it was always fun talking to you.
Jimmie Wilson: You also.
Louis Goodman: And it was always good getting a little plumbing advice from you.
Jimmie Wilson: Yeah. You know, I give advice out to a lot of people. I think once a plumber, always a plumber. I mean, my wife, even once we do plumbing around the house, which I tell her I’m getting too old and my skills are starting to diminish and I couldn’t do it anymore. She’s not invited though. I usually have to do it anyway.
Louis Goodman: Where are you working right now?
Jimmie WIlson: I’m working out of Dublin. The South County.
Louis Goodman: And what’s your assignment right this minute?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, my assignment is [00:02:00] I’ve just transitioned from doing gang crimes to now I’m back doing preliminary hearings.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been in the District Attorney’s office?
Jimmie Wilson: Around 16 years.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Where are you from originally?
Jimmie Wilson: I grew up in San Francisco. As you mentioned in the introduction. I lived there. I mean, I lived in the Sunnydale area from the ages of about one to about six years old, the Sunnydale projects. And then I moved to Bayview Hunters Point and I lived there until I was like 18 years old and went off to college.
Louis Goodman: Balboa High School. What was that experience like for you?
Jimmie Wilson: You know, when you’re in it, you don’t realize the level of education you’re receiving. I mean, even if I go back to when I was in, where we used to call it junior high school and elementary school, to say that school was challenging would be an [00:03:00] understatement.
I realized when I got to college that growing up in an underprivileged inner city school doesn’t really prepare you for the real world scholastically. So I knew when I got out of Balboa that I had to kind of reinvent myself and kind of re establish myself educationally. So it was a challenge. It really was, it was a challenge going to college.
It was a challenge, you know, trying to support yourself as a challenge, trying to. Buying yourself in the world is sometimes I tell people that, especially when I’m talking to young people, that I look at myself now, and I wonder like, who was that kid back there in the in the sixties and seventies who had holes in his shoes and his pants and was, you know, fighting and struggling just to survive.
Louis Goodman: Did you graduate from high school and then go directly to college? Or did you do [00:04:00] anything in between.
Jimmie Wilson: Well, I was a football player. So when I graduated from Balboa, I went to College of Marin for a year and a half and played football at College of Marin. I was most valuable player on my team. And then from College of Marin, I went to San Jose State and I was at San Jose State for two years.
And I injured my back and realize that my football career had come to an end and I needed to go out in the real world and get a job. And I think that’s what led me into plumbing.
Louis Goodman: Just out of curiosity, what position did you play?
Jimmie Wilson: I was a wide receiver, tight end.
Louis Goodman: So you graduated from San Jose State and you then immediately went into the plumbing world.
No, I didn’t graduate from San Jose State. I took a leave of absence and actually it’s a long story, but I thought I was going to work. For six [00:05:00] months and I ended up coming in a plumber at that point and I was a plumber for 16 years.
Louis Goodman: And you were in the union?
Jimmie Wilson: I was a Local 38 Union Plumber.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about becoming a lawyer?
Jimmie Wilson: I served on five juries, everything from drug possession to my final case, I sat on was a murder trial, a co-defendant murder trial. And I mean, I had never seen a lawyer other than on TV. I’d never been in a courtroom. I knew nothing about the criminal justice system.
And as I was sitting there on my fifth trial and I was watching these three experienced lawyers, the two defense attorneys and the prosecutor. I came to the realization that it was something that I could do. And it’s something that I could work towards. That’s what I really wanted to do. And that’s it, it took just being a juror, took away the mystique of the law.
I was like, wow, I [00:06:00]I think I could do that.
Louis Goodman:. So what did you need to do in order to go to law school?
Jimmie Wilson: So I was already going to school at night. I was working on getting my contractor’s license. I was going to open my own company. And I started to think, Oh, maybe that’s not what I want to do. I started thinking about the law and I applied to UC Berkeley.
And I ended up getting a full scholarship and graduating with honors and I was a legal studies major.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family think or say when you told them that you wanted to be a lawyer and you were headed in that direction?
Jimmie Wilson: Most people were supportive. Most of my friends, is the tragic part about growing up in the Bayview, is that a lot of your friends end up in jail or homeless.
Are sometimes you don’t know but they pass away. And the hard part of life, when you go back and you talk to your friends, is that it’s hard to talk to them about the things [00:07:00] that you’re going to do when the prospect of their lives are, you know, not as great. You want to like, you know, keep your same friends, but you also want them to know that you know, that there’s something else out there.
Cool. Did you apply to and go to
Jimmie Wilson: I applied to UC Hastings and got in, and I thought it would be great to go to school downtown San Francisco around the Civic Center area. So that’s where I decided to go.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Jimmie WIlson: It was here. I was a law clerk. It was after my second year. I was a law clerk is when I tried my first case. It was that first, you know how it is Louis? You try that first case and you do that first closing argument. And I knew I was hooked. It was amazing.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to be attracted to the Alameda County DA’s Office?
Jimmie Wilson: I applied to three places.
I applied to the. [00:08:00] Public defender’s office in San Francisco. I applied to the Alameda County DA’s Office and I applied to a firm that did Construction Law. I went on the visit to the construction law firm and a visit to the DA’s office. And when I went to the DA’s office, I knew that’s where I needed to be.
What do you really like about practicing law? You’ve been doing it for a while and obviously you have all kinds of potential career moves that you could make, but you’ve stayed in the DA’s Office.
Jimmie Wilson: I think it’s the people. And when I say the people, I don’t just mean prosecutors in my office. I also mean the Defense Bar. As you know, we have an incredible Defense Bar. I think is the Public Defender’s Office.
I think that there are some good people in our business, and I love interacting with them. I love talking to them. I love the fact that although [00:09:00] our work is serious that we don’t take it out on each other, that we treat each other with respect. I don’t think I’d want to do anything else.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend the law to a young person thinking about a career choice?
Jimmie Wilson: Oh, yeah. I mean, as you know, Louis it’s hard work, it’s late nights. It’s weekends. Sometimes, especially if you’re in trial, it takes a lot of stamina. It takes a lot of intelligence, a lot of perseverance. But I think it’s worth it.
I think whether you’re on the defense side or on the prosecution side, or if you do civil work, are you doing some other kind of work? You’re always working to help other people. You’re always doing something to benefit others and it’s never about you. It’s always about the case. And I love that part of it.
I love the fact that it’s funny because I never thought I could do this. Public speaking. I never thought that I would feel comfortable in front of a jury. And I [00:10:00] realized early on that I was comfortable because I wasn’t talking about myself. I was talking about whatever case I was doing.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing met or differed from your expectations?
Jimmie Wilson: I mean, I don’t think I really came into this business with any expectations of what it was going to do. Like I knew it wasn’t Perry Mason. I knew it was difficult. All the things I talked about, I knew it was hard work. I mean, that’s the times away from your family as you know, Louis it’s like, those are the hard parts, you know, those are the difficult times.
So I knew it was going to be hard work. I think that what I tell young people, especially when I’m like going to like a junior college or a high school to talk to people and I say, if you really want to be a lawyer, you gotta really want it. Do things with no one else is watching. You got to put in the work when you’re by yourself.
That’s the most difficult part of this job. And I knew that it’s no different than, [00:11:00] when you’re studying anything. You just have to put in the work.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, there is sort of a lonely aspect to it. A student like aspect to it always. Don’t you think?
Jimmie Wilson: Yeah, I think so.
Louis Goodman: You currently are running for District Attorney.
When did you start thinking about that as a career move and have you always wanted to be an elected official as opposed to someone working for the government?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, I can honestly tell you, I really seriously start thinking about it in 2019. As soon as I realized this was something I wanted to do, I went to my boss, Nancy O’Malley because I believe that when you’re going, when you’re even thinking about doing something or contemplating doing something, you have to be honest with someone and tell them what you’re thinking and tell him why you’re doing it. And that’s what I did. I went to her and I told her, this is something that I want to do. And I think the reason why I want to do it is it has a lot to do with [00:12:00] my background that has a lot to do with the way I see the criminal justice system.
I grew up poor. I grew up in a neighborhood where most of my neighbors were poor and as you know, lose the most. And we see a lot in our jobs, the defendants who are indigent, you know, who have problems like drug problems or other kinds of problems or mental illness. And those were kind of the people I grew up with.
And I’ve always thought that, and I’ve looked around the country and I looked at all of these DA’s and I didn’t see one person that had my background in my experience, who actually had seen the law. From Pittsburgh foundation, that’s seen the floor has seen people at their worst. And I thought that I could bring a unique perspective to the law.
Louis Goodman: I think in some ways, you’re really talking about a national consciousness around prosecution. That [00:13:00] there’s been a move to get people with more progressive thinking into elected District Attorneys positions. Do you see yourself as part of that movement?
Jimmie Wilson: No. I’m a different kind of progressive. I don’t like what I’m seeing when I look around the country. I see some progressive prosecutors who are ignoring serious violent crime. And I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think you can ignore any type of crime at all. I think you have to hold people accountable, but holding people accountable that doesn’t mean you’re sending people to prison.
Louis Goodman: How is your campaign going and what do you think of campaigning and raising money and going out there and putting yourself out there?
Jimmie Wilson: It’s hard. It’s really difficult because it doesn’t come natural to me. I mean, you know, Louis asking people for money is like, it’s hard.
Louis Goodman: Do you have a 30 second elevator speech?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, okay. A couple of our [00:14:00] friends said I should and I always tell them, I don’t want to sound like a politician.
That’s the difference between myself and my opponent and anyone else that is running for this job. If anyone talks to me, they’re going to get the truth. They’re going to get honesty. I think as you know, Louis, the one thing that if you talk to people who know me, they will tell you I’m a nice guy who they usually trust.
And I try to keep that trust. And one way of keeping their trust is always being yourself.
Louis Goodman: You mentioned an opponent. Who do you anticipate your opponent is going to be?
Jimmie Wilson: I’m not sure. Now I know Pamela Price has announced that she’s running. I don’t know what Nancy is doing and I don’t know if there will be any other candidates.
I suspect that there will be at least one more.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal systems fair?
Jimmie Wilson: No. Not at all. I think [00:15:00] the one thing I noticed when I got here is money trumps everything and sometimes your skin color can be a detriment and that’s never going to be fair. I think our communities aren’t fair society.
It isn’t fair, but, you have to find a way to counteract that. You have to find a way to address that. One way of addressing that is through leadership. I’m in the process now of working through the NAACP, talking to police officers and talk about community policing and talking about how we can create strategies to reduce the adverse interactions between police and people in the community.
Louis Goodman: One thing that I always sort of wanted to do when I was in the District Attorney’s Office was having an exchange program with a Public Defender’s Office in another County. I thought it would be a really interesting thing to work as a [00:16:00] Defense Atorney being in the DA’s office.
And I would assume that people who are in the Public Defender’s Office doing defense work would find it interesting to be a Prosecutor for a while. And I’m wondering if that’s something that if elected, you might be open to.
Jimmie Wilson: I actually, I like that idea, actually. I never thought about it. I would totally be open to that.
As I told you, I applied to the PDs office and to the DA’s office. I realized I mean, being a prosecutor is really important, but I also think learning the defense side would be even more valuable.
Louis Goodman: How have issues facing prosecutors changed in the time that you’ve been practicing?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, I would say that there is a negative kind of a negative slant to being a prosecutor that wasn’t there when I started. [00:17:00] When I started, I remember Tom Orloff telling me that we always wear the white hat and no case is more important than justice itself. And I’ve always followed that. And I don’t know when, and I always thought that was the public perception of prosecutors that they always wore the white hat that they always did the right thing. Somehow. I don’t know how that has changed. And I’m sure it’s because one or two prosecutors out there in the world did something that they shouldn’t do, but I’ve never lost that joy and that feeling that I had from the very start of being a prosecutor, I’ve always felt like it’s the best job in the world.
Louis Goodman: What’s your sense of what the cost of running for District Attorney in Alameda County is?
Jimmie Wilson: I know it’s somewhere in the mid, you know, maybe $300,000/400,000, [00:18:00] somewhere in that area, depending on who runs and depending on what kind of money is brought in, it should never be that high. It should never do that, but I have a feeling that’s where it’s going to be.
Louis Goodman: You think there’s any chance of getting some funding from George Soros or some other national organization that’s interested in changing the way prosecution is handled on a local basis?
Jimmie Wilson: I don’t know. I mean, he was involved and I think he back Ms. Price in the election against Nancy in 2018. I don’t know if he’s going to get involved in this race. I have no idea.
Louis Goodman: Well, money is important in the sense that there’s really no way to get your message out without it. And I’m wondering how fundraising has been going for you.
Jimmie Wilson: It’s the beginning. It’s the started, but it’s going well. It’s, you know, let’s see what it’s like in June.
Louis Goodman: Has announcing that you’re running for District Attorney, [00:19:00] possibly against your boss, in any way changed your perception of how you are viewed in the office?
Jimmie Wilson: Oh, wow. I think there’s some positives and there’s some negatives. I don’t think I’ve changed at all, but maybe the perception of other people may have changed. I always wanted the reasons why, and the biggest reason why I’m doing this is that I love this office and I love the people in this office and I want this office to thrive and survive, and I want every single person in his office to reach their full potential.
Louis Goodman: I’m going to shift gears here a little bit. What’s your family life been like? And how has being a prosecutor affected that? And then how has running for office affected your family life?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, it’s, I think it goes in phases. When my kids were really young, it was difficult because, and my entire time in the [00:20:00] office, 16 years, I think almost 14 of it, I’ve been in a trial assignment. And, and as you know, Louis, it is, it can be draining on your family, especially when you’ve tried as many cases as I tried. So that part was really, it was difficult at first and especially hard on my wife because she had to pick up a lot of the slack, I think now because our kids are a lot older, it’s more manageable.
Louis Goodman: What other sort of things do you like to do, any travel recreational pursuits?
Jimmie Wilson: Yes. I love to travel. Just before the pandemic, I just been to Costa Rica. Good to Spain. I mean, I’m a kid from the Bayview. I didn’t get my passport until I was like 40 and I’ll try to make up for lost time. I love to read. I love old movies.
That is like my passion.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Jimmie Wilson: My, you know, what’s going on in our County. [00:21:00] You know what the high homicide rate that I’m seeing, the number of shootings that I’m seeing, the fact that most of these young people are people of color or killing each other.
Louis Goodman: If you came in to some real money, few billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Jimmie Wilson: I mean, I think that the, my journey, how I got here, I would never change that. I think I would keep that the way it is, but being able to help other people, being able to change the lives of people who don’t have the same benefits that I have. Like, I feel lucky.
To make my way out of my own situation as a child. And I think the only reason why I was able to make it was because my parents were there for me. You know, we didn’t have a lot of money, but they [00:22:00] kept me straight and I would love to, if I had money, help other people find their way to make this society better, to educate more kids too.
You know, changed the lives of more people. I feel lucky. And I know I’m lucky.
Louis Goodman: Say you had a magic wand, what one thing in the world that you could change in the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Jimmie Wilson: I think it would be the relationship between the police and the black community.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven’t covered?
Jimmie Wilson: Not that I can think of Louis. I just wanted to say that I appreciate you reaching out to me to do this.
Louis Goodman: Jimmie Wilson, thank you so much for talking to me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast
Jimmie Wilson: It’s been an honor and a privilege to have this
discussion, Louis, I, any time anywhere, you know that I enjoy this hour.
[00:23:00] 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 our 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.
You know, uh, Louis it’s the concepts of the law. It’s like thinking about what the law is all about when the legalese, that is like a mystery to most people, when they hear it.
Chris Eggers / Louis Goodman – Podcast
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: My name is Louis Goodman, host of the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. Today, we’re going to talk to someone who is not a lawyer. He is a licensed California Private Investigator and the owner of the IV firm. He is a former Oakland police officer. He has also worked in other departments as well, including San Francisco police.
Least department. He has investigated hundreds of serious felony offenses, including fatal accidents, narcotics enforcement, commercial, and residential burglaries, and a host of other criminal matters. He is involved in extensive community service through rotary international and to his great credit, he works with attorneys, Chris Eggers.
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Chris Eggers: Louis. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it very much.
[00:01:00] Louis Goodman: I appreciate your being here. It’s nice to talk to someone who’s not a lawyer once in a while, but someone who has had extensive experience in the legal system from a slightly different angle. Tell me a little bit about the investigative agency that you.
Chris Eggers: Sure. So it is called The Ivy from IV stands for the Roman numeral four. The fourth amendment is my favorite amendment. It is just super important when investigating crime, right. Or criminal activity. So that’s how I chose the name.
Louis Goodman: Where are you located?
Chris Eggers: So I physically live in Truckee, but I am focused on my business is focused in Northern California. Mainly.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Chris Eggers: I was born and raised in Livermore, California. I went to Granada High School. I briefly held the mile record at Granada High School. I was a competitive runner throughout high school and college.
Louis Goodman: What was your best mile time?
Chris Eggers: My best mile time equates to about 4:07. I ran that at, when I ran for Chico state. I’m an all [00:02:00] American in cross country. I finished 11th in the national championships one year and I’m a junior All-American in the steeplechase, which is a fun thing.
Louis Goodman: You mentioned Chico state. Is that where you went to college after high school?
Chris Eggers: It is. That’s where I went to college.
It was a great place to go. Bidwell park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country. So we very rarely had to run on pavement, which, you know, at 60, 70, 80 miles a week with long runs on Sundays, ranging from, you know, 10 to 15 miles is a big deal.
Louis Goodman: Actually been in Chico twice in my life.
And once I was there for a marathon.
Chris Eggers: Oh, really?
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I wasn’t running it. I was helping a friend who was, who was running it. It was kind of like being his caddy.
Chris Eggers: Well, one of my goals in life is to never run a marathon at Chico State.
Louis Goodman: You were obviously involved with Track and Field. What sort of academic ventures did you take up there?
I majored in Communication Studies and that was a lot of public speaking, [00:03:00] which never bothered me. I don’t mind crowds. I don’t mind speaking to strangers. I think that’s part of the reason why inherently I was fairly successful in law enforcement is the ability to develop relationships with folks, create relationships and find some sort of commonality out of fit air policing or law enforcement was more of a salesmen point of view, you know, I had to sell you into an idea of doing what I wanted you to do, right.
And to me, that was the path of least resistance, rather than going hands on or grabbing people or being, you know, this authoritative figure.
Louis Goodman: How did you first decide that you were interested in police work? When did you get involved in that?
Chris Eggers: So I became a cop when I was. 26. I was in the Academy when I was, you know, I actually had just turned 26 and I have a family friend who works in the government and he actually put it in my brain.
He’s like, you know, you’d be a great cop. You should go apply. So I had job [00:04:00] offers from Oakland and San Francisco, but Oakland and called me first. So I went there and thank God. Cause that was the best time that I had working in law enforcement was in Oakland.
And I think what really helped shape my career.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family think when you said, Hey, I want to go be a police officer?
Chris Eggers: I think, my parents were worried. Oakland’s a beautiful city. I have such a soft spot for Oakland, the City of Oakland, specifically East Oakland in my heart.
It’s a beautiful place. There are phenomenal people there. And. It can be really violent, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad. Right? Like, and it’s just a beautiful, I met so many wonderful people in Oakland, but it’s really violent. It can be very violent and dangerous. And so my parents were worried.
They got more worried when I accepted assignments that were, you know, riskier, if you will. I worked undercover for a period of time and, you know, they were happy for me though, because I was happy. So I’m thankful for that, [00:05:00] but they, I think they were a little bit worried. To be honest with you.
Louis Goodman: What sort of undercover?
Chris Eggers: I started working in prostitution and the goal there was to provide resources, because these are human trafficking victims at the end of the day. And so our goal was to provide them with resources, to get them off the street and also away from their pimps. So that’s where I started, but then I really begged for the opportunity to, to buy narcotics undercover.
And I was allowed to do that and I found a lot of success doing it. I don’t know why. You know, you get checked a lot, right? Like there’s a sense of paranoia if you’re selling drugs, and rightfully so, you don’t want to get caught, but it was a very unique experience. One that I really just sort of dove head first into, and I had a lot of success.
Louis Goodman: Did you have much experience working with attorneys as a police officer, people in the DA’s office? For example?
Chris Eggers: Yeah, somewhat, but [00:06:00] not in a super intimate way. A lot of preliminary hearings, some jury trials. I was actually very surprised.
So I have experience with DA’s offices in three different counties and they’re all three very, very different. I’m sure you can attest to that or have some experience there as well, but I was really shocked at how different they all were.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific about that?
Chris Eggers: Yeah, absolutely. San Mateo County was very well organized.
There was a lot of discussion prior to the case, prior to taking the stand, there was a lot of conversation about, the report and the witnesses and what you did and your role and any potential issues that come up. Oakland was a little bit of that, but not a lot. And then San Francisco was zero. Nope, no prep work on the front end in my experience. And I found that really interesting. Everybody works differently in the County is just, the cultures are different. I don’t know if have you experienced.
Louis Goodman: Well, my only experience as a Deputy District Attorney was in Alameda [00:07:00] County, personally.
I always tried to pretrial my witnesses, prep my witnesses. Talk to my witnesses, whether they were police officers or civilians, but especially in a 1538.5 or in our preliminary hearing where there was going to be a 1538.5 as part of it, I would spend a fair amount of time with my police witnesses because I felt it was the way to properly prepare the case.
Chris Eggers: Right. Absolutely.
Chris Eggers: And you can, you know, do a lot of troubleshooting if it’s done that way. But I always find it interesting that, you know, that was San Mateo Counties take and Oakland a little bit less, than San Francisco, even less.
Louis Goodman: Hmm that’s interesting.
I was not really aware of that and I don’t know how much that has to do with the individual Deputy DA or the culture of the office, but from my own experience, in terms of any kind of trial preparation, just as an attorney, whether it’s as a DA or Defense Attorney, I want to talk to my witnesses and I want to be [00:08:00] clear about what it is they’re going to say.
And to be very clear that they understand that the only thing they need to do is tell the truth.
As attorneys, how could we as attorneys improve our working relationships with investigators. And I think you’ve just touched on that a little bit in terms of witness preparation, but there’s a lot that leads up to actually going on a witness stand.
And how could attorneys work better with investigators?
Chris Eggers: And do you mean like private investigators on a case or an investigating officer?
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s talk about both. Let’s talk first about the relationship with an investigating officer, it would be unusual for you to really talk to a defense attorney very much as an investigator.
Chris Eggers: No, not much at all.
Louis Goodman: How about and talking to the District Attorney we have. People who were in the district attorney’s office, who listened to this podcast.
Chris Eggers: Sure. And I think, you know, we kinda touched on it, but you know, just having setting some time aside to [00:09:00] have a conversation with the investigating officer about the case and, any kind of intricacies that may come up in a prelim or, a motion to suppress or trial of course.
And you nailed it, you know, you want to have that conversation with them to understand, not only about the case, but also a little bit maybe about them, if they have trouble testifying. And I know a lot of cops that, the scariest point in their career is going to be when they take the stand.
I personally don’t have that. I love talking in public. The more people in front of me, the better. In this zoom era it’s a little bit different because I can’t gauge my audience. I don’t have, you don’t have that human touch that I personally really rely on in dealing with folks, but, there are a lot of cops out there that are just definitely afraid of getting on the stand in terms of working as a private investigator with attorneys. It’s a totally different ball game and one that I’m really enjoying again.
There’s I think that. There’s some issues with, I don’t want to say [00:10:00] issues, but like, you know, so I was a police officer where, you know, basically I’m in charge. I go to a scene and I’m in charge. I run the show, right. Or I should run the show or I should know how it’s going to be, how things needed to get done on scene.
Now, you know, it’s not your bar card on the line, not mine. Right. And so my role is not necessarily the leader, but I view my role now is to be a good team player. Sometimes that’s taking initiative and sometimes that’s taking direction. And so I think for attorneys, you know, one thing that I ask attorneys that I work with is, Hey, you know, just a little bit of direction on, you know, how you see this going. How does this benefit you? What would you like to see out of this? This is the attorney’s case and I’m a tool for their benefit. And so it’s a much different role that I’m playing now than when I was at this house.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend law enforcement and investigations to a young person who was thinking about [00:11:00] one of those careers as a career choice?
Chris Eggers: It’s a great question. And one that I just really difficult to answer if I’m being completely honest with you.
Louis Goodman: Gamble with the truth.
Chris Eggers: Yeah. I respect anybody that just does their job well, and that wants to be in the position that they’re in.
You know, I think that to be successful in anything, you have to have a need or desire to want to be there. And so if somebody does have a need or want or desire to be a police officer or investigator, you know, go for it. I’m happy to talk to anybody out there that might be listening to pick my brain, because I do have a lot of experience there.
Louis Goodman: You steered yourself out of law enforcement, into private investigations. I’m wondering what prompted that career move.
Chris Eggers: Yeah, so not just private investigations. That’s half of my business, the other half of my business is consulting in the cannabis space with respect to security. And that experience comes from [00:12:00] working undercover.
I spent a lot of time around admitted burglars and robbers and learned very intimately what the mindset was when they target a person, place for business. That’s the takeaway that I got out of working undercover. Hey, I realized very early on in that timeframe that I was getting a very good inside view that very few cops get to have.
Louis Goodman: What about the business of investigations? It’s kind of a new business for you, but how’s it gone for you so far?
Chris Eggers: It’s been fun. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m learning a lot and I’m open to learning more. You know, I didn’t come into this with the intention that I am the end all be all.
And I know it all right. I. And really laser focused on developing meaningful relationships in the industry and providing value where I can, with my unique perspective and my unique background.
Louis Goodman: How has being on the private side either met or differed from your [00:13:00] expectations?
Chris Eggers: It’s exceeded my expectations because I was very ready to leave law enforcement.
And so I developed a plan and really looked at what I wanted to do and what, where my skill sets could be applied and I am an expert in burglary and robbery prevention. I’m really looking forward to using that in the cannabis space to help folks operate safely and within compliance of all local regulations, state regulations, et cetera.
Louis Goodman: What do you think is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Chris Eggers: Wow. Louis phenomenal question. The best advice I ever received. Trust your gut. I’ve heard that said different ways. But anytime that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, I followed my instincts. And I’m happy to say that, you know, I’m glad that I did.
Louis Goodman: From your perspective in the criminal justice system, do you think it’s fair?
Chris Eggers: No, I don’t think it’s fair. I think that our system is not fair, but our system should be applied equally to everybody. No matter what.
[00:14:00] Louis Goodman: Let’s change gears here a little bit. What about your family life, personal life, recreational life.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Chris Eggers: Well, we have an almost five month old. That’s our first and thank you. It’s amazing. You know, 2020 was wild for everybody. That’s without a question, but, personally in my life, although I turned in my badge, you know, about a month ago, I had been off the streets since August.
I’m very blessed that my wife is my wife and I’m just really happy. So, you know, up here in the mountains, you know, we certainly, I split my time between the Bay Area and here, but that was in our plans. You know, my wife’s from Tahoe City originally and they have some businesses in town. So moving up here was always in our plans.
I just sped up a little bit with, with 2020. We love hiking. We love skiing. You know, we love the outdoors. I’m a big wine guy. We love going wine tasting. You know, those are some of the [00:15:00] activities that we’d like to do outside of work.
Louis Goodman: What kind of things keep you up at night?
Chris Eggers: You know, there’s no game plan for what I’m doing.
There’s, I have a support system of folks and friends around me that are very supportive and willing to help me in this spectrum. But again, you know, I don’t really have the path in law enforcement is to work 30 years and retire, collect your pension and, you know, go do whatever it is that you do after that.
It’s a scary thing to start a new venture. There’s no blueprint that I can follow to say that this is for sure 100% going to be successful. And so, you know, that’s a very, frightening thing at times. But again, I rely on my skill set and using it to provide value to people and be a good team player.
And I am confident that, you know, I made the right choice.
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?
Chris Eggers: I would do well, you know, personally for me, I [00:16:00] mean, it’s funny, you asked that question because I saw a video of on ESPN. Shaquille O’Neal sees a guy in a jewelry store, putting a engagement ring on layaway and he slaps his card down. He pays for it, right. Somebody filmed him doing it. And if you watch Shaquille O’Neal’s interview about it, they ask him about it. And he’s like, you know, I don’t do it for the notoriety. I just did it because it was the right thing to do. I was helping this guy out and I do that a lot. I met a lot of amazing people in Oakland that lived in violent neighborhoods and they were, they’re amazing people.
I would love to be in a position to give back and provide resources to folks that otherwise might not have the opportunity that other people do. I’m a huge fan of Marshawn Lynch and what he’s done for the community in Oakland. I’m a massive, huge fan of Damien Alert, basketball player for the Portland Trailblazers and what he’s done for East Oakland and his neighborhood and Brookfield. There is a tremendous amount of talent[00:17:00] in East Oakland that I came across. And that’s what I think about most. When I think about my career in law enforcement is the people that I’ve met. And some of these just amazing folks that I was able to come into contact with. And so I think if I had that kind of money, I would dedicate my time to figuring out how to use that money on a very grassroots level to provide resources and value to folks that otherwise might not have it.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand, that has one thing that you could do. What would that be?
Chris Eggers: I have a great answer for that. That’s a tough one and I don’t want to just give you an answer. You know, I’m very aware that I can only control what I can control, but I’m laser focused about doing just that and controlling what I can control and letting go of what I can not control.
You know, I hope that answer doesn’t disappoint, but. That’s a tough question.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a very important lesson to [00:18:00] learn. I think it’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my life is that I can control what I can control, but I can’t control what’s on the other side of that line.
Chris Eggers: Yeah, absolutely. Right. I mean, you know, we are, I don’t want to say we, I’ll tell you about me. You know, I have anxiety sometimes about, I call it anxiety. I don’t know what it is, but, you know, I’m worried about this, or I’m worried about that. And I constantly went, when that happens, I remind myself, Hey, I can control only what I can control and you know, that’s my actions.
That’s what I do, how I treat people. I can’t control, you know, the feedback that I get. I can’t control what people think about me or any number of other things. Right. I can only control what’s within my power and I try really hard to let the rest go and just stay laser focused on, you know, what I’m doing and not in a selfish way.
That’s, certainly not what I mean by that, but, you know, there’s a lot out there that’s totally [00:19:00] out of my control and I try my hardest to let, let that go.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven’t covered? That’s maybe perhaps on the outline I sent you or it’s not on the outline there, just anything else that you wanted to say or talk about?
Chris Eggers: This experience was a lot different than what I thought it would be.
Like. Your questions are very profound. They’re very deep. They provide the opportunity for some very deep discussion and, you know, the ability to very quickly have your listeners learn about your guests.
Louis Goodman: Chris Eggers, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a fascinating experience talking to you.
Chris Eggers: Louis, thanks for having me. Really meant a lot to be here. Big fan of your podcast, and I was happy to be a guest on it. Thank you very much.
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 [00:20:00] 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.
Chris Eggers: Uh, I guess I have a question for you. And I would like to know. Is that okay.
Louis Goodman: Sure. Yeah. I’m going to edit, this thing. It’ll probably take it out anyway. So, you know, but go ahead.
Chris Eggers: Good. Well, I want the outtakes Louis, you know, cause you’re very good at this. You’re very good at getting people to open up and I’ve been following you for quite some time.
Louis Goodman: One of the first people who you checked in with me. Yeah.
Chris Eggers: Isn’t [00:21:00] that fun. And look at me.
Louis Goodman: I told you not to leave the police department.
Hon. Mike Gaffey / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk with real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
Now hearing criminal jury trials and preliminary hearings, he has served as Chief Supervising Judge of criminal courts in Alameda County. Prior to his judicial career, he served as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County and as the Supervising Deputy for Administration in the Santa Clara County District attorney’s office as a Prosecutor, he handled hundreds of serious gang cases and developed a special gang unit and perhaps most impressively. He [00:01:00] taught history in high school.
Mike Gaffey. Welcome. Thank you very much.
Mike Gaffey: Good afternoon.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s really an honor to have you, what assignment do you have right now?
Mike Gaffey: Department 701 of the East County Hall of Justice and we’re essentially a trial department. There isn’t a trial in, then we fill in taking preliminary hearings every day or settling cases, taking pleas, doing whatever motions.
Louis Goodman: How long has it been a judge?
Mike Gaffey: I took the bench in February, 2005. So just a little bit over 15 years now.
Louis Goodman: And when were you admitted to practice law?
Mike Gaffey: I took the bar in July of 84. I think we were the first group to take the three-day bar. And so when the results came out in November of 84, that’s around Thanksgiving, that’s when I was sworn in.
I think that’s when I first met you. Very well, could be.
Mike Gaffey: Yeah. I remember you were in the DA’s office in those days and that’s where I ended up.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Mike Gaffey: Well, I was born in San Francisco and then my dad worked for American President [00:02:00] Lines at a steamship company. So he was transferred different places, but I was born in the —.
We stayed here for a few years before going to Southern California on a new assignment for my dad. I went to high school at St. Francis in locking me out of California, which is right outside of Pasadena. Before we did that. He got transferred to Hong Kong. So we spent a few years in Asia for four years, from 64 to 68, and then came back and went to high school and college in LA.
Louis Goodman: What did you think about living in Asia?
Mike Gaffey: Same time, 64 to 68 in Hong Kong. Of course, Hong Kong was a British crown colony. In those days, the Chinese, the Mao was in power in China and they basically controlled Hong Kong. If they didn’t agree to exceed to the cha the British, they could have walked in there any day of the week and take it over, but it was a cash machine for them, but they control the water supply.
They control the food supply without their acquiescence and agreement. The Hong Kong would not have existed. During that time there was a cultural revolution went on in [00:03:00] the mainland and Hong Kong felt the effects because there was a big percentage of the people in Hong Kong were communist sympathizers.
And so you’d see big demonstrations of the guys with their mouth hats on and the holding the little red books. And, you know, there’d be waves of people out there. And I can remember my parents taking me out to watch some of these demonstrations because they were demonstrating at the kept the American symbol and town was the Hilton Hotel.
And that was kind of a visible from a distance. And we could go and sit on the Hill and watch. All these demonstrations and very organized and very, very kind of polite. They didn’t break any windows. They didn’t do anything in terms of damage, but it was just the show, of course, that we’re here, you know, we’re, they controlled a bunch of unions, the communists that, so it was an interesting time to be there.
And you’re kind of like a witness to history in a way. Wasn’t the cultural revolution itself, but it was one of the ripples of the cultural revolution.
Louis Goodman:. So then you came back to Southern California and you went to high [00:04:00] school.
Mike Gaffey: Sure. Yeah. St. Francis was a Franciscan High School, but there are a branch of the Franciscans.
So I’m four years there and then went to UCLA for two years. So, you know, my class, there was about a hundred guys at, that was an all boys school. And then to go to UCLA where your freshmen classes are like 300 people. I was completely overwhelmed. I was a little bit of a fish out of water in such a huge change.
After a couple of years, I’ve managed to get a transfer to Loyola Marymount, down in the ultimate LA close to the LAX Airport.
Louis Goodman: Did you find the Loyola experience was sort of thing it did in the sense?
Mike Gaffey: I think I liked the UCLA was quarters. Loyola was on semesters, quarters go by really quickly.
And I liked that. I liked that you could take more classes. I liked that the education that I got it UCLA freshman year. I had a great history professor among many great history professors, but I had a really neat kind of a tutorial with [00:05:00] about 10 students. And this guy who was, had written the textbook, but he was, he just had his reading in English, the Greek Iliad and the Odyssey and Herat Asus, and all these original sources, which, you know, you don’t do that everywhere.
It was kind of like a great books type of experience there. And then, so I was into a lot of ancient Greece and ancient Wellman, and then Byzantine history. And then you should at Loyola, I seem to focus more on American History. So I was kind of a History major throughout, but really loved history and continue to love history today.
When you graduated from college, did you go directly to law school?
Mike Gaffey: No, I, when I got out of college, I decided to go teach and through one of my previous teachers, when I was in high school was teaching at a High School and Junior College it’s run by the collegians called the Don Bosco Tech, like Rosemead, California down by the Pomona Freeway in East of East LA.
[00:06:00] So that is a kind of a school that you go to classes in your academics, and then you take a Technical Degree. So after five years, you can, instead of a four year high school, after five years, you get a degree in, could be electronics or metallurgy or automotive or HVAC, you know, they, they give you a skill .
Louis Goodman:: And you were teaching history?
I did teach History and American Government and World History.
Louis Goodman: How long did you do that?
Mike Gaffey: I stayed at BASCA Tech for two years. And then I hadn’t, you know, my mom had been a teacher and she was really in favor of having another teacher in the family. So I did that. I had thought about going to law school, but in my mind it was better to pay off my student debts first and then go to law school and to pick up more debt going to law school.
So I taught for two years and then I thought, well, but teach one more year. So I worked as a Substitute Teacher in a couple of school districts in that area. And the day-to-day sub and then worked like as a guy behind the bar at [00:07:00] a little cafe at night. So it’d be up till two in the morning or whatever, and then get up at six in the morning when you get the call and say, Hey, go to this Junior High or this High School or whatever.
So those were fun times when you’re in your twenties to do such things.
Louis Goodman: So keeping an order in a courtroom is child’s play compared to those jobs.
Mike Gaffey: Being a day-to-day sub is a challenge.
Louis Goodman: So you decided to go to law school. And what prompted that decision?
Mike Gaffey: I think when I had my debts paid off, then I decided I’d apply.
And that’s why I applied to a couple of places. There was a guy in our parish who was a graduate of Notre Dame. He’d been in the, I don’t know, the air force or something. Then he became a DA in LA County. And then he was a Commissioner to Lake County. He went on to become a Superior Court Judge and then became a Federal District Judge in LA.
When I knew him, he was a Commissioner and I said, Hey, I got into like Loyola and Santa Clara, USF and Hastings. What do you think of how to do? And he said, well, I could, you know, you can, you can go there. [00:08:00] It’s more of a national school. The others are more regional schools. And so, you know, you could pretty much have a good experience at Hastings.
And he knew that I had family in the Bay Area. My grandparents were all up there and cousins and aunts and uncles, and everybody was still in the Bay Area. We were the only ones that left. So. It worked out that way. I went to Hastings.
Louis Goodman: And what was your experience at Hastings? Like did you enjoy that?
Mike Gaffey: Did enjoy it, you know, you kinda think, Oh, I got into law school. I must be pretty smart. And then, you know, by the end of the first week of law school, I realized there are a lot of people that are really smart and most of them are smarter than you. So you know, it was, I wouldn’t say your come up, but it was a kind of a shock to go.
Wow. These people are really smart.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, that was my take on it too. When I got to Hastings. I mean, you know, I’d always been like one of the smartest kids in the class and then all of a sudden Hastings and like, you know, I’m just keeping up.
Mike Gaffey: No, but it’s nice to know that there are people way smart out there who can be the best doctors and the best dentist [00:09:00] and all that kind of stuff.
That lawyers too, you know, there’s room for everybody to succeed. It’s just, you just have to realize you have a certain place and that’s where you bond.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that having taken some time off and been in the working world, teaching, having some real world experience focused, you in terms of your experience in law school?
Mike Gaffey: It did make me realize you can’t sweat all the minutiae. You kind of have to focus on what’s the having had a job, you know, where I thought teaching was hard because the first year or two you’re teaching material that maybe you haven’t had classes in, you know, I was teaching the focus that I had on history.
Didn’t I was good in American History and I was good in the Ancient part of the history curriculum of World History, but some of the more modern things I had to kind of get up to speed on. And so I thought, you know, you have to kind of learn how to gauge your time and where you’re going to focus your energy.
So I thought I’d learned a little bit in that regard and that helped me with law school.
[00:10:00] Louis Goodman: You’ve been doing this for a long time, having been a Prosecutor and being a Judge. What is it that you like about being in the legal field?
Mike Gaffey: Well, I actually liked going to court every day. Some people do some people don’t, but yeah.
From what I started as a DA I just, I knew coming out of law school, you don’t know everything. But I I’d like to learn. I’d like to listen. I’d like to go to court and see things that either I’m doing it or somebody doing it, that I can watch them and figure out how it goes. I probably drove my supervisors crazy.
Cause I was always asking tons of questions and you know, some of them would give you the answers and some of them would say, Hey, go look it up and don’t fuck with me.
Louis Goodman: Well, you know, really one of the things that in my own life most proud of is that, and I don’t know whether I had any part of this with you, but when you first came to the DA’s office, it was you, Kevin Murphy and Pat Baron were kind of assigned to me as law clerks. I’ve [00:11:00] always been very proud of the fact that you and Kevin both got to be Superior Court Judges in Alameda County. And Pat had a very successful career in Government and Sacramento, whatever small part in those careers that I had. It’s just really been a matter of pride to me that I was there at the beginning.
Well, thank you though, you know, I learned from everybody that I ask everybody questions. I remember watching you and trial when we were in Hayward, the courthouse down there. I remember, you know, when you’re, if I was a law clerk, that was probably after I was a law clerk, but yeah, no, it was, it was fantastic.
Louis Goodman: So I take it that you would recommend to someone who is interested in a career in law.
Mike Gaffey: I would, I would very much so. Yeah. You know, Especially, I think once maybe you do get the same amount of inquiries when you’re a lawyer. But I think when you’re a Judge, people kind of seek you out, go, Hey, I got a cousin or a niece or a kid that wants to is thinking about this, you know, would you talk to them?
Louis Goodman: What advice would you give?
Mike Gaffey: Yeah, well, I think a lot of them. You know, they think that they, there’s only one way, one kind of law or something. And there’s so many different areas of law. There’s Civil, there’s Probate, there’s Criminal, there’s Family. And within those, then there’s, those are just the disciplines that the court has to offer.
But then there’s other things in terms of you could go work for a Corporation and just work on contracts, you could do land use, you could do, you know, all kinds of regulatory law. It’s really, if you can, if you have an interest in any one thing, there’s probably some legal line that relates to that interest.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. No, I agree. What about, what would you say to an attorney who was thinking about a judicial career?
Mike Gaffey: What would I say about to an attorney thinking about a judicial career? That is, again, that’s hard to say. I think the job is somewhat different now than when I first came in.
Obviously we’re all being impacted with COVID and that, so we’re kind of in a stilted [00:13:00] situation where we’re not able to do everything we want to do, but it seems like we get a little bit more pulled into the administrative state as time goes on just in the 15 years that I’ve been doing this, it seemed like there was a lot more flexibility in Judges and their ability to handle things certain ways.
And just as time goes on and we get a little bit more of this layer of I, other than to call it the administrative state. I don’t know what else to say, but that ties your hands or limits your ability to be flexible.
Louis Goodman: So how does like being on the bench differ from your expectation of it? If it does.
Mike Gaffey: Well, I think one issue is I find it a little bit more isolating than I appreciate it.
I think as a practicing lawyer in DA’s office, whether it was Alameda County or Santa Clara County, you know, you can walk down the hall and talk to five or 10 different people [00:14:00] in the matter of a half an hour, you know, bounce ideas off them and things like that. All the judges are a little bit more attuned to their assignment and their case loads. And it’s not quite as easy to do those kinds of things. So I think you’re a little bit more isolated and I would just warn people about that. If you’re really social, it can be a little bit of a
Louis Goodman: I’ve had just touches with the experience of judging and that I sat as a Pro Tem Traffic Commissioner, you know, quite a bit really, but I’ve sat in every seat in that courtroom.
I’ve spent a lot of time as a Prosecutor and plenty of times as a Defense Attorney and getting on the bench and looking at the courtroom from that perspective, is just to me incredibly different. And I’m wondering if that’s your experience and if you’d comment on that?
Mike Gaffey: It is really different. I think having your judicial demeanor is one of the hardest things to learn.
It took me, I don’t, well, some might say [00:15:00] I haven’t learned it yet, but walking in when that courtroom is full before you, before our days of COVID and every seat in that audience is full and you’ve got to be, it really teaches you to be prepared. You got to have everything read. You can’t just shoot from the hip in a court like that.
You really have to work at being up on your game and you have to learn the time when you’re going to call certain stations. I know this case was going to be at this case. It’s going to ring me out. Okay. I’m going to call that as the last one before the break. So I got a 15 minute break before I have to make another decision.
All those kinds of things. You only learn by doing it. And if you’ve been a calendar deputy in a department, As a DA or the Public Defender or, you know, even if you’ve just, maybe just you’re in private practice and you come in and you watch all these things, you get a feel for how those things are and you kind of want to gauge the Judges to how to do things.
And then the judge is kind of gauging the council.l [00:16:00] Having a judicial temperament is a hard thing to be comfortable with in the beginning.
Louis Goodman: I really thought, I think having every eye in the courtroom on you is something that for me anyway, you know, walking into a, just a crowded traffic court, I found really scary the first few times I’ve done it.
And I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten used to it.
Mike Gaffey: Yeah. I think for me, 513 was a great experience for me. I don’t know that I, we don’t do anything perfectly, but I think for me, it always was you kind of have to compartmentalize each case. Some attorney may do something that’s gonna get you a little bit riled up, but you have to let the next attorney and his client know or her client now that their case is a different case.
And whatever happened with that last case. Isn’t really affecting your judgment in this case. It’s hard to do that, but my perspective is a good, [00:17:00] the majority of the time, hopefully much higher than just 50%. I was able to do that and still would be able to do that. I think you get a little bit more comfortable with it as time goes on.
And I think that’s always my concern. Is it just each kind of each case the client and the attorney know, the facts of their case, what the issues are in that case. And you’re going to make whatever the decision is. You may make it in their favor. You may not, but you’re not doing it without due consideration.
Having read all their papers and reviewed the file, knowing what the issues are and that was back in the days when we had paper files. So we were sitting there with a whole stack of files on your bench. And pull it out, whatever it was that you needed to look at. So that’s different now that we get these computers.
Louis Goodman: Well, since you brought it up, what do you think about the computerized files as a working tool? As opposed to the paper files?
Mike Gaffey: I kind of had to learn it immediately because it was in a calendar that had to, I had to know these things. So I learned it. It’s not, [00:18:00] I think the younger Attorneys or the younger Judges, the newer Judges probably come from environments where it’s more understandable that all these computer systems I was, didn’t grow up with computers.
I mean, you know, when I applied to law school, you typed up a letter and you set it up and that was it. You didn’t do anything online. You didn’t have email. So word processing, when I got to law school was a big deal. It’s not as easy as having a paper file in front of you, but sometimes the clerk’s office would lose the file or not be able to find it.
It’s in another department somewhere. Then you’d have no information, you just continue the case. So I think it works to the advantage of being productive in that you have everything there.
Louis Goodman: I remember when the Odyssey first came in a few years ago and I looked at and like was a little confused by it, but I very quickly realized, and I said to many of my colleagues who were upset by it, I said, you know, six months from now, we’re not going to know how we lived without this thing.
I think that’s true, but I agree with [00:19:00] you in terms of, it’s often easier to look at a piece of paper, but from kind of an overall working the system. There’s really nothing like these computers.
Mike Gaffey: That’s true. I think we’re not going to go back to the buggies and buggy whips. We’re going to proceed and take advantage of this.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Mike Gaffey: Well, I don’t think I would be doing this if I didn’t think it was fair. So yes, I do think it’s fair. There’s always injustice everywhere. I mean, throughout history there’s been a justice, I guess is what I mean? No, nothing is perfect. But the sense that you have a right to a trial and you have a right to have 12 people from the community, hear the evidence and make a decision.
I think that’s better than some countries. So I think from the perspective of you have these rights and you can, we have certain processes that are in place not to say that they’re always right. We know that, but we have to be conscious and trying to [00:20:00] make them as right, as often as.
Louis Goodman: Let me shift gears here a little bit.
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have that kind of keep your sanity?
Mike Gaffey: I’d say generally, I like to walk. I used to be a bike rider a lot, or just to jog, but as you get a little bit older, it’s easier to walk. And so I walked a fair bit, try to get in, you know, 10,000 steps a day, but that’s not always possible depending on what you’re doing in court.
Louis Goodman: What kind of things keep you up at night?
Mike Gaffey: What kind of things keep me up at night? Well, when the kids are in college and they’re, you know, going out of state or whatever they’re doing, going to private colleges, usually it’s how are we going to pay all these bills? But other than that, I’d say, as I get older, the thing that I think about is my mortality, you know, or the thought, I mean, again, going back to the Greeks, you know, they’d sit around and look it up the stars and they’d think about, well, how did all this happen?
And what’s going on here? [00:21:00] And so, having many years of Catholic education and reading the Bible and all that kind of stuff, you’re like, okay, I believe that this is the beginning of the rest of eternity and how what’s the shape I’m in. If my maker were to call me today, your mortality, where are you going to be?
What’s the rest of eternity going to be for you. And, so I think about that. And I think about that for people that I know that are either sick or passed away, you know, family members. So it’s kind of a keeping me up at night. A lot of times you just spend some time thinking about those things and then say some prayers for the people that need it the most.
And hopefully you can go back to sleep.
Louis Goodman: Say you came into some real money, you know, $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Mike Gaffey: I probably would, one of the things I like doing right now, I’ve got a little bit more freedom to do right now is work maybe before COVID I was working with the Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco, go there, and they had some food outlets for a lot [00:22:00] of the homeless in San Francisco, in different areas.
And I’ve worked there with them. She knows the charity, or, you know, Mother Teresa is a group of nuns. Right. But then since COVID, I’ve kind of gotten into a different charity, which is up in the Napa Valley, where there, you got a lot of farm workers who are out of jobs. And you’ve got a lot of people that work in the restaurants up there that the restaurants are all shut down.
So a lot of those people are getting crushed by the COVID closed down. So there’s a charity up there where we do two distribution every other Friday or every other Saturday. So I go up there and do that. And so if I had a pile of dough, some most of it would probably make sure your family’s taken care of a little bit, but then we try to do things along those lines to help.
There’s a lot of things that can be done. And I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to do them, most of them, but. I think some charities like that that are helping local communities would be a good way to go. I would like at some point maybe to get a camper and drive around the country, but you know, that probably has to wait until I retire.
So of course I had all that. No, then that wouldn’t be the issue. Right. So maybe I could [00:23:00] do that too. Well,
Louis Goodman: I mean, I guess that’s part of it is, I mean, would you retire, would you buy a camper? Would you buy a private jet? I mean, you could, I mean, if money just were not in question.
Mike Gaffey: I don’t want to separate myself from the rest of humanity.
I don’t want a jet. I don’t want to, you know, I can get on a point like anybody else. Now, if the government says you need to do certain things, maybe I wouldn’t want it yet, but at this point I’m okay. I don’t need that. Yeah, getting a camper, going to live a two-way campground every hundred miles or so, or every 500 miles.
That would be fine with me. I wouldn’t need to get on a plane.
Louis Goodman: I don’t need a private jet, but I think I would always fly first class because I’m six, three and sitting in a coach seat is always well that’s.
Mike Gaffey: That would be a good call.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say, you had a magic wand. You could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise, what would that one thing?
[00:24:00] Mike Gaffey: Well, right now, if I could change one thing, it would be, you know, just to get this COVID thing addressed and done and over with. So we can kind of go back to that some sense of normalcy in our returned to our lives.
Louis Goodman: One message that you would really like to put out to the world. Do you have some notion of what that might be.
I think it would be somebody made the world. It’s not here by accident. It’s not just a bunch of protons and the trends and all that stuff banging around. And if we get our heads away from our cell phones and we look up at the stars at night and start thinking those questions, why are we here?
What are we doing? What is the meaning of life? That would be the message I’d want to get out. I mean, people that believe that we’re here for, because God made the universe. He made the universe, made it for us. He wants us to be good to the universe. Be good in the universe and be with him forever.
So that’s where I’m coming from. I guess that’s, you know, there’s redemption is always there. We’re never perfect. He [00:25:00] doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He expects us to try. I think that was one of Mother Theresa’s thing. She says you don’t have to be, you don’t have to do, what is you set out to do?
You just have to set up and try to do it, you know? So I think that’s the message that everybody needs to hear.
Louis Goodman: Judge Gaffey, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Mike Gaffey: Thank you for the invitation Lou, it’s always good to talk to you and I appreciate you taking the time to interview.
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 stuff and Tracey [00:26:00] Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Mike Gaffey: I don’t know that I’ve answered your question, but I’ve talked for a few minutes.
Darryl Stallworth – Cal
Louis Goodman: Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. We’ll talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He is a veteran of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
He has tried over 60 cases to jury verdict, including numerous felony murders and a special circumstances death case. He has taught and lectured internationally on effective case resolution in Brazil, Malaysia, India, and Turkey. He is a member and former president of the Charles Houston Bar Association.
He was recognized by the Alameda County Bar Association as Distinguished Lawyer [00:01:00] of the Year. And he’s a published author, Darryl Stallworth. Welcome.
Darryl Stallworth: Thank you, Louis. My pleasure to be here.
Louis Goodman: Darryl. Where’s your office right now?
Darryl Stallworth: On the corner of 24th and Broadway.
Louis Goodman: Are you able to get down there now or do you have to work mainly from home.
Darryl Stallworth: It’s a little of both. Ten years ago, I was looking for a smaller place to set up my own practice and I found these lofts right on this corner next to this bakery, I built a loft into an office space and it’s been great because I spent a lot of time here. I haven’t had any problem getting in and out because of COVID-19 has been pretty stable. Great.
Louis Goodman: That’s good. And what kind of practice do you have?
Darryl Stallworth: 90% criminal defense, a little bit of civil. Barely 10%. That’s what it is.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been practicing law?
Darryl Stallworth: It’ll be almost 30 years.
Louis Goodman: Wow.
Darryl Stallworth: I’m in my 14th year as a criminal defense attorney. [00:02:00]
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Darryl Stallworth: I grew up in Compton, California. I tell my kids that I’m straight outta Compton, but my daughter doesn’t think that I have the competence swag and I’ve lost my accent, but that’s where I was born and raised Compton, California.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school? Did you go to high school in Compton?
Darryl Stallworth: I went to high school in Watts that far from Compton and they small all boys, private Catholic School called Bergum Day, which is Latin for the word of God.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience?
Darryl Stallworth: It was amazing. My older brothers had gone there and I had done K through eight at St. Albert Elementary School, my family and my parents are from the South and they moved to California. They converted from Baptist to Catholic and we were always in the Catholic church. Going into Bergum Day from out of state operas was a good transition for me and my brothers.
Louis Goodman: What was it like growing up in [00:03:00] Compton as a really bright kid and academically interested. You know, you hear things, and I’m just wondering what that experience was like for you?
Darryl Stallworth: I was fortunate to be in Compton in the sixties and the seventies where a lot of people like my parents and migrated from the South and started building their own businesses. My father owned and managed his own auto repair business. My mom worked for ——–, my uncles owned their own TV repair shops. And there were a lot of entrepreneurs in the sixties and seventies and they bought homes and we were doing and having the best life that you can imagine.
Unfortunately, in the eighties, when I was finishing up high school, a crack epidemic took place in what rival gangs that were fighting for territory and tried to make their money and their hustle. They also acquired all of these assault weapons. So the content started to get the reputation that a lot [00:04:00] of people see regarding gang warfare drive by shootings at all the things that they were depicted for.
But truth be told, 85% of the people that were income that were there because it was a good place to transition out of the South. Good families, great sports. I played baseball, basketball, football, top one or charity league. Pretty good time up until we ran into the crack epidemic and the drive by shootings.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of Bergum Day, you went to a college, did you go directly to college or do anything in between?
Darryl Stallworth: I did. I left in 1983 and I headed to the University of California out of Compton. And I tell this story and it’s true. I grew up in a community in a city that was primarily, African-American, probably 10% Hispanic. The most I saw of white people was when I went to Knott’s Berry [00:05:00] Farm or Disneyland. It just be that there was a whole large population of people out there that didn’t look like me was under the naive presumption that, you know, we had more African Americans out there and then decided to go to UC Berkeley versus some of the other schools that were interested in me, and it was eye opening because I walked on a campus with 30,000 students and they were very few that looked like me.
And I realized that this isn’t Compton anymore. And I had to understand and appreciate all of the different cultures, all of the different races, all of the different languages. So with an eye opening experience for me, but one that was really important for me to have.
Darryl Stallworth: The initial transition from Compton to Berkeley was a little scary, but once I got settled in and started to develop my friendships and my relationships, [00:06:00] I also tried out for the Cal Football team.
And after two years of being a walk on and I was awarded a scholarship. That was able to beat out some of the scholarship players in my position. That was the first actual negotiation that I ever entered into. At 19 years old, I went to the head coach and told him that, look, I’m not on scholarship, but I’m playing better than the people that are on scholarship. I matched the now first team safety and I believe I should get a scholarship. And Joe Capp at the time famous Cal Alum and NFL and Canadian football star. I said, give me a week. Let me think about it. He came back a week later and said, you know what, Darryl, you’re right, you are deserving of the scholarship.
And that’s what happened. I lined up getting a scholarship started for three years, captain of the team, which made the experience at college all the better. I was that only a student there, but I was able to play.
Louis Goodman: Okay. On a purchase of football team at the time, did you ever think of [00:07:00] going to the NFL?
I thought about it all the time, jumped up and was hoping I would go, but two things kept me from going to the NFL. I had no speed, not very big. So I tried and I thought about doing a free agent thing. I had an actual agent who sort of shot me around for that. I was six foot, 190, and I needed to be faster to play that position.
The jump that you go. To from high school to college is a pretty big chunk is faster, bigger, but the jump from college to NFL is like warp speed. If you aren’t fast enough to keep up with the speed and the size of the people in the NFL, then you’re not going to last very long. So I decided to change my and use my time and my resources to get into the work field and think about what I wanted to do regarding graduate school.
Louis Goodman: What did you study when you were at Cal?
Darryl Stallworth: Political science, Major. my poly side major. I [00:08:00] call it the auto their death, therefore, but major because that’s what I wrote in most of my essays though.
No communist politics are defending what they used to be. They’re still having problems with dealing with Eastern Europe and all of the different things to take place. I develop a pretty good niche of being able to write, analyze, and use logic to get my point across, but what I’ve learned as many people who are veteran science majors is when you finish college, you know, typically you have to have something more than just a degree in political science to make a living.
When I finished at Cal, I decided I needed to get into graduate school in order to elevate and get into a place where I could do more, find me a career.
Louis Goodman: Is that when you started thinking about going to law school?
Darryl Stallworth: Yeah, I actually was, and I had applied to become a Highway Patrol Officer. I was thinking about going into the [00:09:00] Oakland Police Department.
My older brother finished by older Vermont with the business degree, but he was excited about being a Police Officer. It’s like he signed up for LAPD and had talked to me about doing that. And I had gone through the background check. It was getting ready to make my way to one of those academies. But while I was doing that, I was working for a law firm car hauling party cook.
You can go and Burgess really good people. A lot of the columns in that law firm and they say, Hey, have you thought about law school? Did you think about whether or not you want it to do that? And it’d been in the back of my mind. I had internship at the LA DA’s office. The summer before my senior year of high school, I watched the Hillside strangler trial.
I really excited about trial work, but I didn’t know a lot of people who were lawyers, nobody in my family had gone to law school. So it wasn’t something that was very tangible for me, but sometimes so to have to graduate and working in that law firm, I said, you know, let me give it a [00:10:00] shot. Let me apply.
Let me see if I can get in, let me see if I can afford it. So I started to develop an interest in going to law school and before I knew it, I had signed up to start at UC Davis.
Louis Goodman: Did you take any time off between the time he graduated from Cal and the time he went to Davis?
Darryl Stallworth: I should have, but I didn’t, I finished Cal in the fall of 1987.
I started working in the January of 1990. 88. I worked for a year before I started law school in 1989. So when I say take time off, I wish I had taken a year off and spent it in Europe or some foreign country to sort of learning more about the world, but I worked right through it right.
Went right into law school in the fall of 89.
Louis Goodman: So when you got to law school, I assume that you were like really pretty clear that you wanted to be a lawyer, that this was the profession you wanted to go into.
Darryl Stallworth: I did, but my thoughts were that I was going to [00:11:00] go to law school and get a job as some big law firm and make a lot of money and go back to LA and tribal a up and down the one that like those lawyers on LA Law.
I did that, you know, rich, famous lawyer, it wasn’t until I got to law school, when I realized that the areas of law that you need to practice in order to do those things, aren’t very interesting to me, I became really interested in evidence, criminal procedure, criminal law. And when I got a taste of Luke court and being on the mock trial team, I just fell in love with trial work.
My whole idea of why I was going to law school changed after being there for about a year.
Louis Goodman: You’ve been practicing law for quite a while now, as we’ve already established. And what is it that you really enjoy about practicing law? Because you know, you’re a bright guy. He could do whatever you wanted really.
Darryl Stallworth: I enjoy learning something new [00:12:00] almost on a daily basis. I enjoy being able to help people to serve whether it was when I was a prosecutor, helping witnesses get ready for trial, helping victims and surviving victims of crimes, understand what we were about to do and why we were doing it. And then for the last 14 years, as a defense attorney, helping people get through one of the most difficult times in their lives. Being able to provide some calm in the face of the storm, being open to help put out some of the fires that are going on in people’s lives. I believe that I have been fortunate to have the ability to stay calm in the midst of all of these challenges and all of these tragedies, and then being open to help people who are going through it and unfamiliar with the Criminal Justice system gives me a sense of peace and purpose.
That is [00:13:00] hard to describe. It’s been more than I ever imagined. It exceeded all my expectations. It’s been a good career.
Louis Goodman: Well, you know, that makes me think of two things. One is that one of the things that I’ve always admired about you is that you are a picture of calm, amidst the storm. You know, I mean, when I see you in court, you know, you’re calm. You seem to have everything under control. Certainly you project that image and it’s something that I’ve always admired about you.
Darryl Stallworth: It’s a blessing that my DNA is sort of made that way. I practice making sure that what I do is purposeful and intentional. I do a lot of yoga. I do a lot of running, try to make sure I get enough sleep.
I believe in order to be in that place of calmness and peace, you have to make sure that you nurture your [00:14:00] mind, your body and your soul. And if you can do that, then that can help your clients that can help witnesses, that could help the environment, that can help people just tend to find a way to get closer to those common things that we have versus all of the stuff that we have. And there’s enough of that going on. I’d rather try to find the peaceful path.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I agree with you so much on that. In my own life and in my own practice, I really work on health and taking care of myself, you know, exercise and diet as best I can. I’m not fanatic, but I do think those things are really, really important in terms of centering oneself when we go into the arena of practicing law for all of them.
Darryl Stallworth: Yeah. I have to recognize that in [00:15:00] you as well, there was, I’ve known you for years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you angry or they got that for seeing you upset. Always predicted yourself as someone that understands what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
You’ve always been purposeful and intentional and that’s something I’m sure you’ve worked on it your whole life to develop got some of the natural talent for it, but it takes a really patient person to sometimes be okay with just listening. I tell people often that sometimes the smartest person in the room is the one that’s not saying anything. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: Exercising our right to remain silent is often a very good strategy in lots of circumstances. Isn’t it? Very true. The other thing that you just brought up that, it’s always interested me. And, you know, since both of us have been on both the prosecution and the defense side of the criminal world is this notion of helping people through the system and how that [00:16:00] is just such an important role for both the prosecutor and defense attorney, even though you’re on opposite sides of the case. You’re not on opposite sides of the people.
Darryl Stallworth: That’s very true. It is a place that a lot of people struggle with because inherently we have an ego that says, um, right, which means you must be wrong. And until we can step out of our ego and realize that I have a particular position and thought you have a particular position in thought it’s different than mine, but we can find a place where there’s some common ground.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend the law to a young person who was thinking about a career choice?
Darryl Stallworth: I would. But it would have to be someone that wants to challenge themselves in being able to be open to all possibilities.
That’s what the law does. We all remember from the [00:17:00] first day of law school, where you’re reading the case and you read the statute, but what’s, the most important is the facts. And how are they applied to the statute? They applied to the case and understanding the facts means you’ve got to understand the people that are involved in the case.
Louis Goodman: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Darryl Stallworth: Be purposeful, understand and appreciate the ride spectrum of people in their lives. Be passionate about it. Be diligent, you know, and be willing to put the work in time and that this isn’t the type of work or profession that you can just get away by showing up.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think that’s true. Something to think about. What about the business of practicing law? You know, we’re lawyers, we’re trained in evidence and we’re trained in going to court and cross-examination and all those sorts of things, but ultimately for those of us in private practice, we’re running a business.
How’s that gone for you?
Darryl Stallworth: That’s been [00:18:00] very informative and educational as well. It’s one of those things that you don’t work for yourself. You never know what it’s like to put together a payroll, what it’s like to have overhead, what it’s like to know what your profit and your loss, being able to hire people and being able to have a staff, all those things before to me, because all I did was really show up as a prosecutor for 15 years. And my paycheck came to me no matter what I did. I did an awful lot of work. So learning and understanding what it’s like to have a business privately.
Louis Goodman: What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?
Darryl Stallworth: It comes from a lot of different places. A lot of books read stuff that I’ve learned from my family, for my friends.
It all boils down to me is you can only control what you can control and you can let yourself get consumed by [00:19:00] worrying about what other people are doing, what other people are thinking.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think that’s really important. I sort of always think in my own life about what I call the line. You know, like there’s what I can do on my side of the line is what I can do on my side of the line.
But I can’t do anything on your side of the line.
Darryl Stallworth: Yeah. It’s important to understand that it’ll at least allow you to have a healthier mind and a healthcare spirit. I see so many people battling.
Louis Goodman: What aspect of practicing law do you think is your strong suit?
Darryl Stallworth: To calm this by clients and their families always tell me because they call me a lot.
I just want to hear your voice. I just want to hear you tell me that it’s going to be okay. Or hear you say my favorite closing remark in a conversation or in an email or text messages. Hang in there. No, we’ve got to get through this. Just hang in there.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Darryl Stallworth: Fair is [00:20:00] subject to interpretation.
I believe that in any particular case, there’s some fairness has taken place, but I’ve seen this and things that have taken place, things that are happening that aren’t fair.
Louis Goodman: Now I know that you’ve written a book and I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the book that you wrote and what prompted you to do that and what it’s about
Darryl Stallworth: Sure, years ago in 1992, when I started practicing as the prosecutor in Berkeley, I would read cases and files. Some of which were coming out of the campus. And I thought, wow, a lot of people who are being investigated and charged with these crimes. I don’t know if they would have been in this position if they had a little information or knowledge, one about whether or not this was really a crime and two, if they understood and appreciated what some of these consequences were.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. The book that you have published is called A Guide To Understanding The Criminal Justice System, Sex Crimes. [00:21:00] And if someone wanted it, they could find it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Where else?
Darryl Stallworth: If you went to my website, you can click a box and it’ll take you right to Amazon. And our website is www.your-defense.com,
and they can find the book there.
Louis Goodman:. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes. Shifting gears here a little bit. What’s your family life like and how has practicing law affected being part of your family?
Darryl Stallworth: It takes a lot of work and time to have been a prosecutor.
I’ve been in trial and the same with being a defense attorney and running your own practice. I like to believe that I’ve been pretty good at keeping a pretty decent balance. I coach my son’s baseball and basketball and [00:22:00] football teams and have attended and helped my daughter with all of her extracurricular activities.
Louis Goodman: You’ve done quite a bit of traveling. And some of that has been law related. What’s that about?
Darryl Stallworth: Yeah. I was fortunate years ago to be a part of a group of lawyers and judges who went to different countries to help them understand the power of bargaining.
Louis Goodman: Was there any place that you particularly enjoyed that you really liked being there?
Darryl Stallworth: I love Brazil. I thought it was such an incredible mixture of cultures and races.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, a few billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Darryl Stallworth: Would been more time working with our young people? When I say young people, I mean, Three/ four year olds, from preschool, kindergarten, all the way [00:23:00] through.
I believe if we’re going to have a healthier country, we have to create healthier kids, healthier in the schools, healthier and their nutrition healthier in their peer groups, healthier in their social groups, healthier in their community.
Louis Goodman: So you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise?
Darryl Stallworth: I would change the way we see people.
I would change our caste system. I would change our hearts. Our beliefs that a person is less than another person because of their biological features. And I would, if I had a magic wand is wipe away all of that nonsense and this horrible history, half of how we have seen people and how we treated people and have everybody just look at each other as humans and be judged and evaluated on your [00:24:00] character.
And your integrity and your purpose rather than any physical feature in the racial feature, in a cultural feature, any particular preference, just to see us who we are.
Louis Goodman: Darryl Stallworth, thank you so much for joining me this afternoon on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a privilege to talk to you.
Darryl Stallworth: Thank 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. 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 in 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.
[00:25:00] Darryl Stallworth: It’s not always what you see is what you perceive. And if you understand just that fundamental thing, that perception and background plays a big role with.
Hon. Greg Syren / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] 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. He served as an Alameda County Public defender for over 25 years.
And before that served in both the Napa County and Solano County Public Defender’s office. He’s tried over 50 felony cases to jury verdicts, plus numerous misdemeanor cases to jury verdict and handled thousands of criminal cases as a public defender. Now for the last eight and a half years after having been appointed to the bench by Governor Jerry Brown, [00:01:00] he is a Judge of the Alameda County Superior Court.
Judge Syren, Welcome to the Alameda County Bar Associations Barristers Club, and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
Greg Syren: Good afternoon, Louis, how are you?
Louis Goodman: Well, thanks so much for being here. We’re going to have to stop meeting like this since we were on a zoom call last week. Just about this time when you were explaining your assignment doing the diversion program.
So I’m wondering since you are doing that right now, can you tell us just a little bit about that assignment and how you happened to get it?
Greg Syren: Sure. I’m doing Collaborative Courts in general. I have been handling, January of this year been handling the Drug Court, both the North and South County Drug Courts, the Behavioral Health Court, I’ve been doing the Conservatorship Calendar, the John George calendars.
And sometime in mid January, the court began receiving emails [00:02:00] from the Public Defender’s Office, indicating that there was this statute that had gone into effect in January of this year regarding Misdemeanor Diversion. And they were wondering where they could begin setting their cases for the Misdemeanor Diversion Statute.
And so Judge Smiley and I had a conversation. Then we checked in with Judge Desautel, and I volunteered to set up the Misdemeanor Diversion Court. And so that’s one of several assignments that I’m currently doing, but we started that in earnest, probably in February of this year. And now every Wednesday morning, I handle 30 plus cases for intake on Misdemeanor Diversion in the afternoons.
I actually talk to the defendants, explain the terms of their diversion, the terms of misdemeanor diversion in general, and set progress reports and whatnot.
Louis Goodman: What tasks you do for the court right now?
Greg Syren: The drug court, as I [00:03:00] indicated, got Behavioral Health Court today, which is a Thursday. And I do the John George Conservatorships the LPs and Murphy Conservatorship calendars on Tuesday and Friday. And I’ve been doing a little misdemeanor settlement on Tuesday afternoons as well. So that’s kind of my week.
Louis Goodman: And you recently served a fairly long stint in the Family Court. Is that correct?
Greg Syren: That’s correct. Three. And I was there just short of three and a half years, but the last year, the pandemic year, I was the Supervising Judge at Family Law. I learned a lot, It was really challenging. I developed a deep respect for the Family Law Bar and for the notion of self-represented litigation and what folks who don’t have lawyers have to try and [00:04:00] navigate their way through in a Family Law setting. So, I’m actually very proud of myself for having done that assignment. I sort of volunteered to go do Family Law, which is sort of unusual for bench off.
Louis Goodman: What do you think is the biggest difference between the Family Law assignment and the criminal stuff?
Greg Syren: The Criminal assignment is much more civil and the Family Law assignment is, I won’t call it criminal, but it’s kind of, what’s the right word, it’s emotional. There’s a lot more hyper bubble, hyper ability in Family Law. People are really going through a difficult chapter in their lives and they get very emotional about their cases because you’re talking about their children, their employment, their homes, their property.
All that sort of thing. So that the biggest [00:05:00] difference is the tension level in Family Court on a daily basis is so much higher than it is in criminal. The criminal practice, it’s really remarkable.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Greg Syren: Originally, I was born in Chicago, South Side, Chicago. That’s where my parents are from and we moved to California very young. I was like literally 6 or 10 weeks old or something when we moved out to California. Lived in California for my young years, moved to the Philippines for a little while, my father worked for the Navy. So I was in the Philippines from like 66 to 70. I lived in Virginia for a little while and then back to California.
So mostly I’m a California born and raised guy, but with a little, little stints at various places.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Greg Syren: The South Bay in Sunnyvale, Fremont High School Sunnyvale.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience for you?
Greg Syren: You know, high school was great for me. I had a really good time in high school. I was [00:06:00] involved in a lot of things academically.
It was relatively easy for me. And I enjoyed it. A lot of friends in high school, played tennis, was in the band, did speech and debate, you know, that kind of stuff.
Louis Goodman: Sure. When you graduated from Fremont High School, where’d you go to college?
Greg Syren: I went to Berkeley, UC Berkeley, and that was also a really good experience for me.
I lived in the co-ops at Cal, so it was a very, you know, I like to characterize my, I was sort of the last gasp, of the hippies, I went to Berkeley in 1977 and lived in the co-ops, which was kind of a Bohemian sort of slightly drug induced experience for most people living in the co-ops. And, but it was really good.
One for me and Cal was, you know, Cal was challenging for me. It was not easy like high school was for me, [00:07:00] but I learned a lot while I was there and I really enjoyed the experience. It was definitely a more diverse experience for me. I mean, Sunnyvale’s a fairly homogeneous community. Berkeley was not in 1977.
So I got to experience a lot of diversity, which I thought was a really, really a good thing for me personally, in terms of my personal growth.
Louis Goodman: It’s interesting that you describe yourself as the last of the hippies, because I remember when I very first saw you in court, when you were a Public Defender, I thought, where did they get this guy with the crew cut and the military bearing to be an Alameda County Public Defender?
Greg Syren: Yeah. Well, yeah, at some point I cut my hair, but back in those Cal days, it was past my shoulder and, you know, I had to get tar. I carried around the guitar all the time. I mean, I really was sort of the last gasp of the hippies.
It’s fairly funny.
[00:08:00] Louis Goodman: When you graduated from Cal, did you go directly to Law School? Did you take some time off and work or travel?
Greg Syren: Well, I took a little time off. My father lived in Los Angeles at the time. I had a girlfriend whose parents lived in LA, so I spent some time down in LA. I was trying to get a job, frankly.
It was not a good economic time. So the beginning of the like 1981, and I had gotten a degree in Conservation of Natural Resources from Cal and I wanted to work like for some kind of Environmentally kind of organization or a governmental organization that dealt with environmental issues. And I couldn’t get a job.
I couldn’t find a job. So really it was at the suggestion of an ex-girlfriend’s father that I consider applying to Law School. Really. Wasn’t sort of a part of my goal or what I aspired to do, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Louis Goodman: What did [00:09:00] he say to you that got you thinking?
Greg Syren: He was a general practitioner down in the San Fernando Valley.
And he had a good life. He’d built a nice life for himself and he suggested to me, maybe you ought to consider going to law school, even if you want to do environmental kind of stuff. A lot of is going to help you with that, but also provide you with other opportunities.
Louis Goodman: And where’d you go to law school?
Greg Syren: I went to McGeorge School of Law. It’s a University of Pacific Law School in Sacramento.
Louis Goodman: And how was that?
Greg Syren: McGeorge was at that time, that school had a very high California Bar Pass rate. And that was sort of its claim to fame. That if you went to Lake George, you ended up passing the Bar, but what they didn’t tell you was that they frequently flunked out about a third of the class along the way.
Louis Goodman: Well, obviously you did get through and you passed the Bar.
Greg Syren: I did.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job? [00:10:00]
Greg Syren: My first legal job was working for, it was the Napa County Public Defender’s Office, but it was contracted through a firm in Napa.
Louis Goodman: You then spent some time there and you went to Solano County Public Defender, but really your career prior to going on the bench was as an Alameda County Assistant Public Defender.
It was tell us a little bit about that experience.
Greg Syren: At that time, and I think it’s even true today, Alameda County had a rep for being arguably the best Public Defender’s Office in the state. And so, yeah, even though I had started working in Napa County and working at Solano County and I was actually quite happy there. The then Public Defender, a guy by the name and with Jim Jenner who I’m sure Louis, you know, but Jim Jenner was getting ready to close out his list.
And he called me up and he said, well, are you interested in coming to work in [00:11:00] Alameda County? And I said, well, I’m quite happy here in Solano County. I don’t know. So I went interviewed with him and at that time, the pay was dramatically better in Alameda County than it was in Solano County.
And my then wife said, no, you’re taking the job in Alameda County. So I came down Alameda County and I had two years in at that time. And so I came with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. Like I know what’s going on and I know how to do this. And then I actually learned how to be a real Public Defender when I got here.
And so, you know, that’s a process. It takes years to become a really solid, meaningful criminal defense lawyer. And I had a lot of great, you know, sort of guides and mentors along the way who helped me to understand what being a competent exceptional Criminal [00:12:00] Defense Lawyer looks like.
Louis Goodman: Obviously you did this for quite a long time. What did you really like about it?
Greg Syren: The clients.I think more than anything, I like the clients. I like getting to know the clients. I like getting to know their stories, how they had managed to find themselves in the position that they’ve found themselves in. What difficulties and struggles they’d had. And that was an, that was probably the most enjoyable thing about being a Public Defender for me.
But also the colleagues. My colleagues were definitely a motivating factor for staying in the job as a Public Defender. They were people of, you know, similar life philosophy. Kind of the same ilk politics, largely the same and people who I really like spending time with. And so in addition to working with Public Defenders, I also socialize with Public Defenders quite a bit.
And you were recommended to the law by a Lawyer. [00:13:00] And I’m wondering if you, as someone who is a Lawyer and a Judge would recommend a legal career to a young person coming out of college and thinking about it.
Greg Syren: That’s a loaded question, Louis. I think that it’s a much more complicated answer than it was in 1982 or whatever, when I was applying to Law School. I think the profession, the legal profession is a great profession. I think it’s a great way to make a living, but you can’t just sort of wander into law school anymore. And that’s kind of what I did. I sort of wandered into law school thinking, well, you know, Irving suggested I go to law school, so it sounds like a good idea to me. So I’m going to go to law school. Because it’s too expensive. First of all, just sort of wander into law school and wonder if it’s going to work for you and you and [00:14:00] I have both known enough lawyers to know that there are a lot of lawyers who aren’t all that happy in the profession.
And so I think that people who are considering going to law school and I think it is a great profession. But they need to do some groundwork to make sure that that’s in fact what they want to do. And so that means really finding out what lawyers do from day to day in a given area, that the person might be interested in going into law, in finding out what that profession really looks like day to day, week to week, year to year.
And whether that’s something you really, really want to do. And so taking that little break between college and law school. I think it’s a great idea. I think doing some leg work or volunteer work or working for an organization that has lawyers so that you can see what it looks like is a great idea too, so that when you [00:15:00] do actually go to law school, you know, in fact that’s the profession that you want to pursue.
I don’t know.
Louis Goodman: An attorney who has an interest in being a judge. What’s your comment to that individual?
Greg Syren: Well, my comment to that individual is if you’ve been around judges enough to know kind of what the life of a judge looks like, and that looks like something you’re interested in doing then talk to people, you know, you got to network to become a Judge.
Of course, you know, about half of the Judges in Alameda County who do Criminal Law. But there are another, you know, 35 to 40 Judges who don’t do Criminal Law, do other forms of law, which really have little or nothing to do with Criminal Law. And if you want to become a Judge, you ought to see whether or not you’re going to be able to put up with some of those other practices, because once you become a Judge, you don’t just get to do what you want to do.
You get to [00:16:00] do what the Presiding Judge tells you you’re going to do.
Louis Goodman: Well, I think that it leads into some other questions or perhaps just a comment that I would have, which is that I think a lot of people, especially civilian people don’t really understand that being a Judge is being involved in a certain hierarchy, just like being in the DA’s Office or being in the Public Defender’s Office or being in a Law Firm that there are certain seniority’s and certain elected positions within the Judicial Branch. And that, as you say, you don’t just get to say, Oh, this is what I do, and this is what I want to do. That there are assignments that need to be filled and some assignments are considered somewhat more choice than others.
And there’s a certain politics that goes with that.
Greg Syren: Yeah, no, I think all of that’s true and I just think it’s important when you’re thinking about [00:17:00] use you, you start out you’re questioning asking me well, what, what do you think about people who are aspiring to be a judge? Yeah, that’s definitely something to think about because just like in every organization, there is a hierarchy to the organization, their issues of seniority and their issues of competence, quite frankly.
And sometimes you don’t get to choose what you end up doing.
Louis Goodman: This podcast is presented and supported by the Alameda County Bar Association. ACBA provides a wide range of Certified Continuing Legal Educational Programs, Networking Opportunities, and Social Events. If you’re a member of ACBA, thank you. If you are not yet a member, we hope you will consider joining this organization.
That is by, for and in support of practicing attorneys. And now back to our interview, do you [00:18:00] think the legal system is fair?
Greg Syren: That’s such a big question, Louis, do I think it’s fair? I think my colleagues do the best they can to be as fair as they can do. I think the Criminal Justice System, if you’re at, you’re used to, you asked about the legal system in general, there are so many aspects of the legal system that I don’t really know or understand at this point.
I understand the need and the cry for Criminal Justice Reform. I understand where that’s coming from because I live, I lived through the harsh aspects of criminal justice in this community in the late eighties and nineties.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that if it were within your power to change in the way the legal system works, that you would change?
I don’t have any magic wand for that. I think a lot of the things that are happening in criminal law now are happening appropriately and [00:19:00] some of those things are beginning to conflict with each other. So there’s such a need by many state legislators, excuse me, to do criminal justice reform that there’s not great communication and integration about that criminal justice reform.
So now we’re running into conflict.
Louis Goodman: Regarding that.
Greg Syren: Oh yeah. And I think a lot of the people who are passing criminal justice reform, and I think with the best of intentions really just haven’t had much experience in the criminal justice system. So they don’t really know what they’re legislating about.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I sort of agree with that.
Greg Syren: I guess maybe the answer to your question then would be, I wish legislators would spend a little more time talking to defense lawyers and district attorneys and judges. Before they begin promoting certain forms of criminal justice reform.
Louis Goodman: I’m going to shift gears a little here a little bit.
[00:20:00] I’m wondering what your family life has been like and how practicing law and being a judge has affected that?
Greg Syren: I am married. I have three kids there. All grown at this point, I’m in my second marriage. So I would say the job at some point had some adverse effect on my first marriage, but by and large, I mean, it was difficult when I was a lawyer navigating family and sometimes the demands on a trial lawyer that can be real can be a very difficult combination sometimes to deal with. But as things stand now, I am thankful. I’ve got two beautiful sons. One of whom is 33 and one is 30. My 30 year old just passed the bar. So he’s a practicing lawyer and I’ve got an 18 year old daughter who’s in college and a beautiful [00:21:00] wife who retired a couple of years ago.
And so now she’s largely at home making sure 18 year old daughter gets through college.
Louis Goodman: All right. What about recreational pursuits? What do you do when you’re not on the bench that you enjoy?
Greg Syren: I have a lot of interests. All right. Which is, you know, sort of in combination with the question you asked about how did you navigate your family life with your practice of law or being a judge?
One of the things that did my former boss, Jay Gaskill. Who I’m sure you remember was the Public Defender of Alameda County. He was a big proponent of lawyers having some other interest outside of simply the practice of law. And so along the way, I’m an avid tennis player. I have been since I was in high school and continue to play regularly on the weekends.
I’m a musician. I like to play. [00:22:00] I’m a guitar player. I play saxophone, played in the big band. For 20 years a saxophone I’ve been teaching myself to pay the cello during the pandemic. Cause I happen to love cello. I think the cello is the most beautiful instrument of all. I’m a huge cook. I’m a big cook. I love to cook and I’m a gardener.
So I’ve got a huge garden in my backyard, six raised beds that grow vegetables every year and roses and flowers and stuff. So I’ve got a lot of recreational interests outside of the practice of law.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Greg Syren: Worry about my kids even now, sadly, you know, but even when kids go out on their own and they’re independent, you still worry about them all the time.
So that in part keeps me up, but also keeps me up is politics. And you know, that the disparity in income that [00:23:00] exists in our country, that’s a huge thing for me to this world of haves and have nots that we seem to have developed throughout this country is real troublesome. To me.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, a few billion dollars.
What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Greg Syren: I’d stop working. I would start a foundation. I developed a foundation to support those interests that I was most interested in. I’d make sure my kids were taken care of. Yeah, I think that’s what I do. I might, you know, I mentioned previously, I got a degree in conservation of natural resources from Cal for a reason.
And that was the environment was a huge, huge thing to me then, as it is now. And so that. Quiet you asked me what keeps me up at night. The climate change thing keeps me up at night as well. And so if I had billions of dollars, I would probably [00:24:00] focus a lot on that.
Louis Goodman: Is there one message that you’d really like to put out to the world?
Greg Syren: I hope that people, as they grow into their adulthood, into their profession, into their life, that they figure out what makes them truly happy.
Louis Goodman: Judge Greg Syren. Thank you so much for joining us today for the Barristers Club of Alameda County and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Greg Syren: Louis.
Thank you very much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
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 [email protected] Where you can find more information [00:25:00] 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, Calin Daihlin, 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.
Greg Syren: No, I mean, I saw, that question previously and the answer is no, not really, but anyway, I don’t know if that answers your question.
Stacy E. Remer / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. We’ll talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She comes from a legendary family of Alameda County attorneys.
The focus of her own practice is on criminal defense and family law. She represents individuals in all types of criminal offenses, including DUI, domestic violence, drug charges, weapons, charges, and white-collar crime. In her family practice, she handles all manner of domestic difficulties, including child custody, visitation, and spousal support.
She also acts as a mediator in an effort to bring [00:01:00] about mutually acceptable results in adverse circumstances. Stacy Remer welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Stacy Remer: Thank you so much.
Louis Goodman: It’s a pleasure to have you, and I’ve known you for a very long time, and of course I knew your father very well, Fred Remer and I knew your grandmother very well, Betty Browner.
So just tell me a little bit about how you started thinking about law.
Stacy E. Remer: Well, I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an attorney, a lawyer. I think I learned a lot about the practical side of what being a lawyer was like, because I had a lot of them around me. So I understood how it worked in real life, how the career was very demanding and very fulfilling at the same time.
So as a young child, I knew that I wanted to advocate. I [00:02:00] I wasn’t sure how or what that would look like, but I’d probably knew around the age of 10, that that’s what I was going to be doing with my life.
Louis Goodman: Did some of that come from the fact that you were around your father and your grandmother growing up and just being around those really outstanding attorneys?
Stacy E. Remer: You know, it’s funny. I used to joke with both my grandmother, Betty Browner, and my father, Fred Remer about the fact that they actually showed me a lot about what I didn’t want to be as a lawyer. We used to laugh about that.
Louis Goodman: Now you have a couple of office locations right now. Where are they?
Stacy E. Remer: I have an office in Los Gatos, Santa Clara County, as well as an office in Hayward, Alameda County.
Louis Goodman: And what type of practice do you have?
Stacy E. Remer: I practice family law, all aspects of family law, and I practice criminal defense.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally Stacy?
Stacy E. Remer: I am a born and raised in Oakland, California.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school?
Stacy Remer: That’s where I went to high school.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go?
Stacy Remer: I went to Bishop [00:03:00] O’Dowd.
And then I went to Skyline. My mom had passed away when I was, you know, right in the middle of my teenage years. And so the proposal from my family was you’re going to go to Catholic School for a few years so we can make sure that you’re going to be okay. And then you can go back and join your friends in public school.
So I did just that. I went back to public school for my senior year. I attended Skyline High School and graduated from there in 1991.
Louis Goodman: How did that whole experience workout?
Stacy E. Remer: You know, it was probably the best time of my life. I was involved, you know, I excelled in sports. I played soccer year-round. I played for club and then I played for also for my schools and I walked on to varsity, you know, as a sophomore. So that was very exciting. I was a goalkeeper and coupled with student government, I was very involved in student government and I got really good grades and I really just really [00:04:00] bloomed in high school.
I had a really good time. I had a lot of diverse friends and social circles and I just really was probably one of the best times that I look back at my life, you know, the most fulfilling, the most fun and probably, the most enlightening and the sense that I became actively involved in politics and political stuff.
I would say like rallies and protests and it was just a lot of fun. It’s really exciting.
Louis Goodman: Now, when you graduated from Skyline, you went to college, where’d you go?
Stacy E. Remer: I went to Cal State, East Bay, and then I transferred from there to San Jose State and completed my four year there in San Jose State.
Louis Goodman: When you graduated, did you immediately go to law school or did you take some time off?
Stacy E. Remer: No, so I went to Cal State East Bay, and then I took some time off. I was married and I had two children and then I went [00:05:00] back to San Jose State and graduated. And then I went directly from San Jose State within just a few months to Law School.
Louis Goodman: When you went back to college to finish college, were you pretty clear that you were going back to college so that you could get to law school?
Stacy E. Remer: Oh, yeah, there was never a doubt.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that having taken that time off, taking that break to get married, to have children to live some life, do you think that that gave you a better sense of focus about what you were doing when you went back to college and ultimately to law school?
Stacy E. Remer: I would say yes, definitely.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from San Jose State, where did you end up going to law school?
Stacy E. Remer: So I ended up attending law school at Lincoln Law School of San Jose. At the time I had a 10 month old and a four year old. So for me, I needed something that could accommodate that schedule, to also [00:06:00] be present and raise my children who were young.
And so I attended school at night and that was the best fit for me. And I would go, you know, anywhere from, four to five nights per week in the evenings for four or five hours. So I didn’t do a lot of sleeping in those years. I was pretty much on full-time all the time. And you know, it was a lot of work.
It was lot of work anyway, but it was a lot of work raising two little kids at the same time. I’m so grateful. I made that sacrifice.
Louis Goodman: Did you enjoy the legal education? Did you think it was okay?
Stacy E. Remer: Interesting. I really enjoyed it.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job after you graduated?
Stacy E. Remer: Well, I would say that my first experience in any sort of legal job, not as a lawyer who had graduated, was working at my grandmother’s office as a teenager. I was at first, a court runner. And then I was a legal secretary for quite [00:07:00] some time. But as far as after graduation, I didn’t have a job.
I went straight to solo practice. It’s been, it’s worked out just great. It’s worked out really well. I feel very lucky. I opened up my office in Los Gatos and was immediately fairly successful. And it has just blossomed from there.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend to a young person thinking about a career to go into law.
Stacy E. Remer: Absolutely.
Louis Goodman: And what advice would you give that individual?
Stacy E. Remer: Obviously, to make sure that their grades were where they need to be, but to most importantly, understand what area of law it is that you think you want to do, and then go and experience that in whatever format you can. If that means an internship, if that means, you know, sitting in the courtroom and watching, observing if it means, taking a part-time job. I believe [00:08:00] that the experience that I had as a child was invaluable in understanding what area of law I wanted to be in and where I wanted to practice. And they don’t teach that in law school.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing law met or different from your expectations?
Stacy E. Remer: That’s a good question. And again, I refer back to sort of being raised around lawyers. And I think that I had pretty realistic expectations of what it would be like. And you know, it’s not just practicing law, it’s running a business. And so I would say that it has absolutely met my expectations of all, what it would be like.
It’s a lot of work, especially if you’re a sole practitioner and you’re not with a big firm, you have to be organized and you have to be responsive. You have to communicate the clients. You have to manage clients and manage personalities. At same time you have to run a business.
I would say that it has absolutely met the expectations that I had because my expectations were realistic based on my experience.
Louis Goodman: You know, you bring up [00:09:00] the subject of running the business and the business of practicing law. How’s that gone for you? And, and I’m wondering if you could reflect a little bit on your business skills that you’ve used or developed?
Stacy E. Remer: Well, as a child, you always resent having to take math right. In school, and I’m never going to use this. What am I going to use this for? And, you know, you absolutely are going to use math when you’re running your own business. I’m very, hands-on, again, I’m a sole practitioner and I think my ability to be hands-on for the most part, and to have my finger on the pulse of my business has traded in an environment where I’m able to grow and evolve, in a way that I feel comfortable with. So from a business perspective, a small business perspective, I don’t operate outside my means.
I try to always [00:10:00] understand, the importance of the fact that this is a business, but to not get blinded by the business and specifically by the financial aspect of practicing law.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you started practicing?
Stacy E. Remer: I guess I wish I knew how much I was going to love it.
I would’ve done it a lot sooner.
Louis Goodman: Interesting. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Stacy E. Remer: The best advice I would say came from my father.
Louis Goodman: I always got good advice from him too, by the way.
Stacy E. Remer: Well, he wasn’t shy in dishing it out. That’s for sure. You sometimes give unwanted advice.
His best advice was you’re not what you do. You are not your job, right? Your job isn’t defined who you are, but who you are makes a difference in what you do. And he was really big on remaining human and getting sort of, having that bedside manner as a [00:11:00] lawyer. Right, and understanding that people were, and same with my grandmother, that the people were walking through in family law and in criminal law, they say you’ve got bad people at their best.
Right. And good people at their worst. So I get the best of both worlds. Right. They’re walking through a very traumatic periods of time. And you know, Louis you deal you’re in criminal law lot longer than I have that, you know, it’s a trauma that period of time, whether it’s a divorce or it’s a family law issue, or it’s a criminal issue, it’s someone’s liberty or someone’s children are at stake usually.
And you can’t lose that human component.
Louis Goodman: What aspect of practicing law do you think is your strongest?
Stacy E. Remer: I think litigation is my strong suit. I love being in the courtroom. I love the preparation that goes into pre-trial stuff. I love cross examining witnesses. Particularly police officers. I love the thrill of that. [00:12:00] I love the energy of that more so probably in the criminal arena than in family. It’s a lot different speed, but I still, I love it just the same. It’s exciting. And it’s the stakes are high. I believe it matters.
Louis Goodman: So looking back over your career and education so far, is there anything that you would change if you could?
Stacy E. Remer: Yes. I would have gone to school sooner and started my practices earlier.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system works? Do you think it’s fair?
Stacy E. Remer: That’s a really big, I mean, that’s a broad question. I mean, I think that they’re saying it works if you work it right. I think that those who can afford bigger representation have a better opportunity.
For it to work or for it to be quote unquote fair. That’s why it’s a really big question. Sometimes it’s fair. Sometimes it’s not.
Louis Goodman: Let me shift gears here a little bit. You’ve mentioned your family. What is your family life like and how has practicing law affected that?
Stacy E. Remer: Well, I have two [00:13:00] children, one who is 11, Jacob is my son. And then my daughter, Samantha is about to be 16 next month. And I’m blessed to live a comfortable life. You know, I think when I was in law school was the biggest sacrifice for my children and that was very hard to manage that and to be away from them and to study for the bar and to miss those moments.
It was difficult, but I don’t regret it. My family life now is very whole and I would say healthy. We seek balance and I think everyone’s seeking that balance, but we really try to really make time for, you know, to be together and to have family dinners. And I’m sort of old school in that sense that, I believe that we should sit down and have meals still and face-to-face at the dinner table and then turn the devices off and take, extended family trips together.
So I really do [00:14:00] work hard at trying to be the best mom I can be and the best partner I can be and the best lawyer I can be all at the same time. It requires wearing a lot of hats, but I think my children have seen and learned what it means to invest in yourself as a woman and as a business owner and how much strengths and how much joy that has brought to my life. They’ve seen me as a housewife and they’ve seen me as a lawyer and they understand that they have a reference point. They understand the difference and I think that everyone’s benefiting from my success.
Louis Goodman: You’ve talked about going on some trips together, what sort of travel experience have you and your family had?
Stacy E. Remer: So we just spent several weeks on the North Shore of Hawaii.
Louis Goodman: And your dad was always a big advocate of Hawaii, too.
Stacy E. Remer: Yes, he was in love with the Island of Maui. He referred to himself as Captain [00:15:00] Maui and he would take us on trips as children. And we stomped the back roads of Hana, the entire Island on every waterfall and bamboo forest we could find.
And, you know, I’m finding myself. And stall Jake about those times with him since he’s passed. And, you know, we were lucky enough to have a trip with him, with my children two years ago, I guess two November’s past. So they got to experience that Captain Maui act with my dad firsthand, but we’re continuing that tradition.
Louis Goodman: I know that you’re involved in some water sports too. I mean, you waterski wakeboard motorcycle riding, dirt bike riding, street bike riding.
Stacy E. Remer: Yes. I want my children to have those experiences and want them to have those skills. And most importantly, I want them to connect with nature.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there [00:16:00] anything that you would choose to do?
Stacy E. Remer: You know, probably something along the lines of either as like, this is going to sound crazy, CHP officer. I think that would be a lot of fun, but maybe I’ve watched too many CHP’s episodes or CSI like crime scene investigation.
Anything in homicide investigation related. It was very interesting to me.
Louis Goodman: Some sort of a super power and if so, what is it? And if not, what sort of superpower would you like to have?
Stacy E. Remer: I don’t think that I have a super power. And it’s a funny question. I wish I did. If I had one, if I could have one, I guess it would be visibility so that when I didn’t want to be seen, I could just disappear.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things keep you up at night?
Stacy E. Remer: It’s interesting to ask that question because I’d just had this scenario where I found myself restless and walking into the anticipation of a big hearing. [00:17:00] And what keeps me up at night is hoping in my career and what I’m doing that I will be able to, especially in family law, protect those who need protection.
And, you know, what it looks like if I’m not able to be successful on my client’s behalf, especially when you’re dealing with small children. Those cases keep me up at night. The other thing that keeps me up at night, I guess I could say is, we’re living in the middle of unprecedented times in a pandemic where everything is very surreal and we have a new sort of normal and I’m wondering what that looks like a year from now, two years from now. Those types of things keep me up at night.
Louis Goodman: What if you came into some real money, let’s say, $3 or $4 billion, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Stacy E. Remer: Well, I would travel a lot [00:18:00] more, a lot more and probably contribute a lot more than I already do to the causes close to me.
Louis Goodman: Is there any cause that you can think of that specifically pretty close to your heart right now?
Stacy E. Remer: Well, I work with three different organizations. Casa is a community against substance abuse, which is a wonderful program. It goes into schools and curriculum.
And you know, one of the founders of that is a very good friend of mine, her name’s Wendy and it’s just a great organization and it’s really well built and well facilitated. I believe that substance abuse education, the education itself at a young age and prevention is something that can keep people out of the system.
And so that’s one of my causes and the other causes, community service crews. We have, my children and I are involved heavily in our communities and providing homeless services, food, preventative equipment. [00:19:00] PPV, however, and whenever we can get involved with, we try to dedicate our time to that, and then legal aid.
You know, I try to donate my time when, and if I can, and in special circumstances, usually in cases where they’re just, the resources just are not there. So I would definitely be contributing more to those agencies financially, not just with my time.
Louis Goodman: Say you had a magic wand. What is one thing in the world, the legal world, or otherwise that you could change?
Stacy E. Remer: Well, for starters, I would get rid of the pandemic. Alleviate this, the global pandemic so that we could have sort of what we consider to be normal life back. I think there’ve been some lessons for a lot of people.
I know for me I can always speak for myself, but you know, in walking through this pandemic, but I think the lessons have been learned and we’re sort of [00:20:00] ready to come out of the shell now. And I think I know from what I do, I see a lot of the secondary effects of relationships falling apart.
If people, going to jail a lot more frequently, a lot of domestic violence, a lot of family disruption, custody, scenario issues. I’ve seen are the children that I’m directly exposed to either my cases or my social lives, sort of withdrawn. And I think it’s time for it to be over.
And if I had a magic wand, I would make the pandemic and dissipate.
Louis Goodman: Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to talk to you.
Stacy E. Remer: Thank you so much, Louis. It’s been like my great honor. Just want to thank 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. [00:21:00] If you have comments. 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 inflation. Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom and to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey.
Stacy E. Remer: So I get to cherry pick a little bit, and I know that a lot of people don’t approach their business that way. So I’m probably unconventional in that respect, but more than anything, just grateful to be in the position that I’m in.
Hitasha Mowry / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] 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 experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She speaks several languages. She and her husband, Sean are the founding partners of the Mowry Law Group.
She has honed her skills as a courtroom advocate through her representation of hundreds of individuals charged with everything from traffic violation to serious felony offenses. She has a deep commitment to justice and serving the underserved. She feels a special connection to the Bay Area Immigrant Community, and indeed is a part of that community.
She is also a mother [00:01:00] raising a family, Hitasha Mowry. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Hitasha Mowry: Thank you, Louis. It’s an honor to be here.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m very happy to have you. I’ve always admired your work. When I’ve seen you in court, you always seem very well-prepared and you seem very comfortable in court. Where’s your office?
Hitasha Mowry: So I have two offices, one in San Jose, and one in Dublin.
Louis Goodman: And you practice with your husband?
Hitasha Mowry: I do. Yes. It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice to have someone that you can trust and rely on to bounce ideas off of. And just to have someone that you know very well and who completely understands all your idiosyncrasies.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. It’s nice. Where are you from originally?
Hitasha Mowry: I’m from New Delhi, India.
Louis Goodman: Really. And when did you come to the United States?
Hitasha Mowry: My parents and my brother and I moved to the U S in 1992, when I was about seven, eight years old.
Louis Goodman: Do you have much recollection of India?
Hitasha Mowry: You know, I have some recollection of India. I still [00:02:00] have significant amount of family that I haven’t been to India since 2003.
However, so it’s been a while, but I do remember a lot of it. And a lot of my memories were formed later in life. When I went back to visit.
Louis Goodman: What do you think about it when you go back?
Hitasha Mowry: I think it’s beautiful, but I also think it would be somewhere that I could not live at this point in my life. It’s hard to see the poverty on the streets around you.
It’s hard to see how much struggle there is. And it’s hard to give up everything that you’ve gotten used to here.
Louis Goodman: Where did you originally live when you first came to the United States? After coming from India?
Hitasha Mowry: So we lived in Pleasanton for approximately, I want to say about six months to a year.
We lived in Pleasanton shortly thereafter. My parents bought a small house in Fremont and we’ve lived in Fremont ever since. So I would say often people ask me, where were you born? Where were you raised? I would say I was raised in Fremont.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to High School.
Hitasha Mowry: I [00:03:00] did. I went to high school at Mission San Jose, which was quite an experience, but it helped me build a lot of the building blocks that I needed for later on in life.
Louis Goodman: When you say quite an experience, in what way?
Hitasha Mowry: Very competitive High School. Everyone is very hyper-focused on grades and SATs and AP exams. So it requires a lot from you. But after a high school, I graduated, I went to UC Irvine and I remember going to UC Irvine during my first, first year there. And then coming back and actually thanking some of my professors or my teachers rather at Mission for everything that they had pushed us all to get through and to learn because it was amazing.
Louis Goodman: You felt so much more preps for high school. Excuse me, for college at that point, I guess, is that you really thrived in a competitive Scholastic environment.
Hitasha Mowry: Fine, but it was also difficult. It was difficult because coming from an immigrant background, your [00:04:00] parents just wanted you to focus on your studies.
There were no extracurricular activities. My parents had schoolwork that they wanted us to do every summer. So I did. I did well at Mission, but at the same time it was difficult. It was extremely difficult. And from what I understand, it is still difficult. It’s just hyper-competitive.
Louis Goodman: You did well in the academics?
Hitasha Mowry: I did all right.
Louis Goodman: Okay. So you graduated from high school and where did you go to college?
Hitasha Mowry: UC Irvine.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience?
Hitasha Mowry: A lot of fun. I lived on campus for the most part. Irvine is very much a bubble in that you live on campus, you stay on campus, but then everyone goes outside of campus to party, but then you have your own safe spot within the bubble to come back to.
I loved Irvine. I loved where it was positioned, but I soon realized that I would never be able to actually live, you know, have a career or a house in Irvine or an Orange County, because I [00:05:00] wanted to be back home in the Bay Area.
Louis Goodman: I see. And when you got out of college, did you immediately go to Law School or did you do something different?
Hitasha Mowry: No. So for a year I worked as a Legal Assistant at Sidley Austin LLP in the city. It is a huge firm.
Louis Goodman: Yes. How many attorneys do they have there?
Hitasha Mowry: I honestly would not even be able to tell you the answer to that question. It’s massive. They had two floors in the Bank of America Building. It was gorgeous, and I know that they have multiple locations throughout the country.
Louis Goodman: Well, what did you think of working in that kind of thing?
Hitasha Mowry: It was a really good experience. I really enjoy working there. I did, I assisted with contracts and IPO’s and that kind of stuff, but I felt like it was more than a nine to five, some of the partners and some of the associates that worked all the time they just worked constantly.
There were often times where I wouldn’t get home until nine o’clock at night because there was a closing or something else was happening and I was required to stay [00:06:00] that late. So I enjoyed working there. I enjoyed the parks as Sidley, Austin and large firms, but I did not like the hours and I did not like the additional requirements that came up for you?
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Nevertheless, you decided to go to law school.
Hitasha Mowry: I did. I was definitely engaged in it. I, especially after working there, I realized that I wanted to be in the legal world. I didn’t know at that time I wanted to do Intellectual Property Law. I wanted to go down that path.
So I took a lot of classes at Golden Gate University during law school that had to do with IP Law, and it seemed intriguing to me, but I did want to definitely be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking, I really want to be a lawyer. I want to go to law school.
Hitasha Mowry: It actually goes back to my days at UCI.
I took some Poly Psy Class and one of the topics that we had to write about was the Needle Exchange Program. For whatever reason, I was thoroughly engaged in that class. And I was very interested in the Needle Exchange Program and what the benefits of [00:07:00] that such a program could be to those living on the streets.
And that was my first thought process. My first time that I was actually engaged and wanted to be a Lawyer, but it took a while to actually realize that that is where I really wanted to be.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and your family think and say, when you told them that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Hitasha Mowry: It was an interesting conversation.
A lot of them thought I was crazy in high school and throughout college, you know, everybody wanted me to be an Engineer. I was born in India. We live in Silicon Valley. I’m Indian and Engineers, you become an Engineer. I never wanted to be a Doctor. This is not something I could do. So it was always Hitasha is going to be an engineer.
So when I suggested lawyer, everyone thought I was crazy.
Louis Goodman: So where did you go to law school?
Hitasha Mowry: At Golden Gate University in the City.
Louis Goodman: And was there some reason you decided to go there?
Hitasha Mowry: It was just one of the schools I got into. It was a commuter [00:08:00] school, which was nice. Cause as I’ve grown up in Fremont, my parents still live in Fremont, so it was nice to be able to stay with them, commute into the city as necessary, and then be able to come back, save money in that plant.
What did you think of the Golden Gate experience?
Hitasha Mowry: I enjoyed it. I was not one to linger around the campus too long. I always just caught the next Bart train home. I thought it did a good job of prepping me for the bar. And there was a lot of bar prep within the classes and within the system. So I enjoy Golden Gate.
Easy access to teachers and professors and materials. So I enjoyed Golden Gate.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of Golden Gate, what was your first legal job?
Hitasha Mowry: So after getting out of Golden Gate, it was immediately study for the Bar. So my husband, Sean and I, we spent the entire summer just prepping in our parents respective living rooms and kitchens and dining rooms, just studying for the Bar.
We both sat next to each other, took the Bar together. We passed the Bar together and then it was out into the open world, trying to figure out what we were going to do. [00:09:00] The market was awful at that point, no one was really hiring. So I applied for a random position as a Legal Secretary, because I wasn’t able to find a job at a Criminal Defense Firm out of Fairfield.
So I met with the partner in the Firm and he looked at me and said, you’re applying for a Legal Secretary position. And I was like, well, that’s all you’re offering at this point. I need a job. So he really boosted me. So that boosted me into a first-year Associate position. I started appearing in court.
It was a Criminal Defense firm. At that point, I hadn’t really thought about Criminal Defense that much, but the moment I started appearing in court and actually working at cases, they was at that point where I realized I’m going to be a Criminal Defense Lawyer.
Louis Goodman: What was it about the Criminal Defense that you found attractive?
Hitasha Mowry: Being able to help people that are looking for Criminal Defense Lawyers are often at the worst points in their lives. They’re lost, they’re confused. They have no idea how they’re going to proceed or even move forward in their [00:10:00] lives and to be able to just have a conversation with them and tell them it’s going to be okay.
And I can help you get through this. It’s very rewarding.
Louis Goodman: Is that what you really like about practicing law?
Hitasha Mowry: Yes, it is. It’s probably the best part of what we do. I really enjoy making a difference in people’s lives.
Louis Goodman: If a young person was coming out of a place like UC Irvine and thinking about some kind of a career choice, would you recommend that to someone.
Hitasha Mowry: I do and I’ve spoken to them young people in the last few years, who’ve come out and thought about law school and I tell them, yes, go to law school, figure out, you know, a way to help people because that’s what we’re meant to do. We are meant to help people, but be prepared for the fact that it’s going to be very difficult.
Law school is not easy and it’s challenging at times. So you’re going to do it be prepared and be dedicated and ready to take on the challenge. But yes, absolutely. If you’re thinking about law school, you should do law school, go through the different classes, take, you know, a variety of classes to figure out [00:11:00] If there is something specific you’re interested in.
Louis Goodman: What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting a career in law?
Hitasha Mowry: Tell the young people we’re just starting out is listen to everyone around you, because everyone around you has something to tell you, take criticism from other attorneys, especially if they turn to you and say, you know, you could have done that better by adding this one sentence, because they’re not only critiquing you, but they’re trying to help you be a better attorney. And I learned a lot when someone said next time tried this Hitasha. I learned a lot from those people who, at that point, I may have been offended that they would say something like that to me, but I would go back later and think, yeah, you know, I am going to give that a shot.
And then the other thing that’s always helped me is ask questions.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing law met or differed from your expectations of it?
Hitasha Mowry: You know, when you start out practicing law or when you’re in law school, you think like, Oh, I’m going to be an attorney. I’m going to go to court. I’m going to argue a position to the judge. And the judge is going to [00:12:00] make a ruling on it. And that’s it. It’s over. Then one rarely tells you about the human aspect of these things. No one tells you that there’s an actual person involved in all of this. There’s someone whose lives depend on this or whose future depends or whose career depends on it. There are feelings and emotions and backstories involved. And you’re only taught the law and the research and the arguments.
Louis Goodman: What about the business of practicing law? How’s that gone for you? And how’s that met or different from your expectations?
Hitasha Mowry: The business of practicing law is not what you would expect it to be.
Whatever, you know, I retained a new client. I tell them, look, I you’re hiring me to be your attorney, I am not a bill collector. So please just make your payments on time. And that’s something that you don’t realize that you actually turn into is at some point you have a business and you’re not just an attorney.
You have a business to run, you have your own financial issues to deal with and you can’t just constantly just focus on the law portion of it. You have to focus on the business aspect of it. And that’s [00:13:00] hard. It’s really hard. And it’s not something you were taught at all. And the small business world is complicated and that’s something you have to learn as you go.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that it would be a good thing for law schools to have some discussion about the business aspect of.
Hitasha Mowry: Absolutely. I think it would be extremely beneficial to have a couple of small business owners with different practices come in and teach a class on, okay, you not only have to be this great advocate for your clients, but you also have to deal to run your books and you have to be able to run this practice and have it financially stable. Yeah. And I think law schools would greatly benefit from arranging some sort of a program.
Louis Goodman: What do you think is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Hitasha Mowry: The best advice. And I’ve been thinking about this is never give up, but always remember to take a step back when you walk in your house, because you can be this amazing advocate.
But you also have to have your sanity [00:14:00] and you can’t bring everything home with you because it will impact your personal life.
Louis Goodman: What aspect of practicing law do you think is your strong suit?
Hitasha Mowry: Being able to argue my client’s position and my position in court is probably my strongest suit and being able to represent my client to their fullest.
Tell the judge that what’s written in the police report is not all that my client is about. There’s more, I think being able to verbalize that is my strong suit.
Louis Goodman: Looking back, is there one thing that you think you would like to change if you could?
Hitasha Mowry: So early on I became, I would get nervous about taking on more serious cases and that is something that I wish I could change. Not being so nervous, I think, but at the same time, the being nervous made me realize that I cared more about those serious cases. So perhaps it’s something I don’t want to change, but yes, being nervous about trying something different or try something that has more serious consequences is something I wish I could [00:15:00] change to some extent.
Louis Goodman: I think that the legal system works. Do you think it’s fair?
Hitasha Mowry: It has the ability to work, but it often does not. So I would not say that it’s fair, but I think with some changes that happened system-wide I think we could make it more fair.
Louis Goodman: What would you change, would try to offer more services to those that have mental health issues?
Hitasha Mowry: I think there’s a significant amount of individuals who end up in the legal system that has mental health issues and their crimes are directly related to the mental health issues. So I would try to offer more services, more supervision, and not necessarily in a manner in which they are imprisoned or they are, you know, otherwise restrained.
I would try to offer more mental health services within their communities. The other thing I would try to change is that oftentimes the prosecution and the bench get hung up on the moment. This issue occurred or this alleged crime occurred and they’re unwilling to take the person, [00:16:00] the person that is before them into account.
So if there’s any way I could essentially work harder to get them to listen more as what led up to this incident occurring.
Louis Goodman: And when you are in a kind of unique situation in that your law partner is also your husband. I’m wondering how that’s affected your family life and how practicing law has affected your family life and how your family life has affected you?
Hitasha Mowry: So we have two children and we have a dog.
So Sean and I have kind of made it a practice in our house to turn off that part of our brain when we pick up our kids.
Louis Goodman: And how old are your kids?
Hitasha Mowry: Seven and Alma six. Okay. So we try to focus on our children when we’re home and they are here as opposed to talking about work. And on the weekends, we dedicate it to them.
We don’t work on the weekends. We tend to work when they are asleep. And Sean and I have kind of always had [00:17:00] this practice of it’s okay if we’re, you know, nine to five, if we’re working, we’re working. And then when we pick up the kids, we are just focusing on the kids. And then when the kids go to sleep, often we will pick up, you know, whatever work stuff has to be done, but we try to focus just on our kids when we have them, because they grow so fast and we don’t want to miss out on it.
Louis Goodman: Have you taken any family trips, had any travel experience?
Hitasha Mowry: That’s a sour subject at the moment. So before the pandemic hit, we had plans to go to Italy this past June, and that we had to cancel everything. It was going to be the first international trip with all four of us together.
And it was going to be, you know, a 12 day trip to Rome and Sorento and we had to cancel all of that. So then we thought, okay, 2021, it’s the year we’re going to go. So now it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen either. So hopefully 2022 is when we make that big trip Internationally.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things do you enjoy doing [00:18:00] recreationally?
Hitasha Mowry: Sean and I have been hiking a lot. Oftentimes our weekends are just so caught up with the kids. So whatever the kids want to do before pre pandemic, it was go to the movies, you know, go golfing, something like that. But with the pandemic, it’s been outdoor stuff. So if it’s play in the court or bike riding, we like to do that with them.
Louis GoodmanIf you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some job that you think you would like to do?
Hitasha Mowry: Honestly, I don’t know. I cannot answer that question. I can tell you what I wouldn’t be is a stay at home mom or a teacher. If nothing else, the pandemic has taught me that I could never be a stay at home mom or a teacher. But other than that, I really can’t say what else I would do.
I would be at a loss.
Louis Goodman: Well, speaking of the pandemic and you tell me if it’s okay to ask you this question, we had to postpone our interview for awhile because you contracted the COVID virus. And I’m wondering if, just sort of share a little bit about that [00:19:00] experience.
Hitasha Mowry: Sure. I don’t mind talking about it at all.
Yes. All four of us ended up with COVID for a little bit around Christmas time. It was kind of amazing how quickly the symptoms went from one person to the next in our family. So Sean came down with it first with my son, and then it was within about 24 to 36 hours that my daughter and I came down with it.
Luckily for us, our symptoms were very mild. It was a lot of fever and chills and body weakness for 24 to 48 hours. And then we all seem to get our energy back, but the kids are, our kids hardly had any symptoms, knock on wood. They. They had fevers, but they didn’t seem as miserable as Sean and I got. I think we, the adults were in bed for 24 hours, if not more where it was just weakness, but when our major sentence decided it was interesting because we didn’t get our full energy back, it was, we started to get energy back, but we would do something and then be exhausted. [00:20:00] It was still napping mid-day, but just the sheer exhaustion was taxing. But thankfully again, thankfully we all had mild symptoms and I have a genuine fear of the elderly getting COVID because it took me down that much.
I can imagine how hard it is for the elderly to fight it.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Hitasha Mowry: I think what keeps me up at night, not being able to help my clients that really need the help, especially those with mental health issues. I’m battling a current case where the woman who’s got severe mental health issues and the offers a prison offer.
And I’m trying to convince the DA and the Judge in this case to give her a treatment instead of prison. Those kind of cases keep me up because I know this person needs help. I know there’s a future for this person, but I can’t, I can only do so much. And those ones get to me.
Louis Goodman: Say you and Sean came into some real money, you know, a few billion dollars.
What, if anything, would you do [00:21:00] differently in your life?
Hitasha Mowry: That would be nice. I think I would still work. I know a lot of people would say they would close that shop. Its just be gone. I would still work. I would probably reduce my workload, but I would still work because I need something to fight for.
And I know people need services that I can offer. The one thing I would change is how much we travel and hopefully the pandemic would be gone by then, but it would be travel more, take the kids out more, but definitely still work
Louis Goodman:. Say there were one thing that you could skywrite. That you could put it up so that everybody could see it.
Hitasha Mowry: It would be SPE a huge banner in the sky.
Louis Goodman: What would you like to tell everybody?
Hitasha Mowry: Don’t give up hope. There’s always hope you could’ve had a really bad day. Your son, your family member, your daughter could be in custody for something they didn’t do, but don’t give up hope and don’t give up. Just don’t give up.
Louis Goodman: Hitasha Mowry, Thank you [00:22:00] very much for joining me today on the Lovely Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Hitasha Mowry: Thank you so much for having me Louis.
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 ourwebsite 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 Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Hitasha Mowry: I’m losing my train of thought. Do you wanna start over? Hi. Yes, please. Go ahead. I can’t say I’ve been thinking about this question and I really can’t say. [00:23:00]
Dean Shotwell / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
A true son of Alameda County. He has lived, worked, studied, played competitive sports and raised a family in California.
Now practicing criminal law with an emphasis on juvenile justice. He has substantial prosecutorial experience with a ready smile and great courtroom presence. He effectively represents his clients in all stages of criminal proceedings, Dean Shotwell. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Dean Shotwell: Good morning. Thank you so [00:01:00] much for having me.
Louis Goodman: I’m very happy that you’re joining us today, Dean. Where’s your office located now?
Dean Shotwell: I’m located in Pleasanton.
Louis Goodman: How long you been there in Pleasanton?
Dean Shotwell: About 20 years prior to that, I was in sharing office space in Livermore with a attorney by the name of James McGrail, the late great James McGrail.
Absolutely. You’re from that area originally. Aren’t you?
Dean Shotwell: I am, yeah. I was actually born in Livermore a long time ago and a family moved to Pleasanton when I was about three years old and lived in Pleasanton primarily my whole life.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Dean Shotwell: I went to Amador Valley high school.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience for you?
Dean Shotwell: It was good. You know, the town has changed a lot over the years. It was a very small, primarily agricultural area at the time. But yeah, growing up in Pleasanton, it was a lot of fun, Amador was a lot of fun. [00:02:00] I had a lot of history with the town and the school, since my dad actually moved here. His family moved here in 1931. So all my uncles, my aunts, my dad, they all went to Amador.
Louis Goodman: What sort of activities did you participate in when you were in high school?
Dean Shotwell: I played basketball and baseball. Primarily baseball was my main sport, but I played a little bit of basketball.
And a little bit involvement in student government.
Louis Goodman: Well, you were like really a pretty good baseball player. Weren’t you decent?
Dean Shotwell: Yeah. Decent enough to keep me interested for a while and keep me in school long enough for me to grow up and mature and figure out that I needed to emphasize or put a little more emphasis in my schoolwork to the end up in a profession that I wanted to spend some time in and have some passion.
Louis Goodman: What position did you play in?
Dean Shotwell: I was a pitcher in college.
Louis Goodman: So when you [00:03:00] graduated from Amador, where did you go to college?
Dean Shotwell: First, I went to Chabot Community College. Primary focus was baseball. That was what led me to Chabot. Very good baseball program there. At a pretty good success as a team.
Louis Goodman: So you ultimately graduated from where, what
Dean Shotwell: Cal State University, Sacramento.
Louis Goodman: And where did you go to law school?
Dean Shotwell: I went to law school at a UW University of Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.
Louis Goodman: Did you go directly from, from college, into McGeorge?
Dean Shotwell: I did. Yes. I. My undergrad took five years. I was two years at Chabot and then three years at SAC State. And then when I graduated with my degree in criminal justice from SAC State, I went straight to McGeorge.
Louis Goodman: So how was that experience?
Dean Shotwell: It was very good. It was a very small law school. [00:04:00] It’s part of a University of Pacific out of Stockton, but the law school is actually in Sacramento. So that’s a heavy emphasis on government. A lot of ties to the state government, a lot of professors with ties to government.
So it was a very good experience for me there.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking about going to law school?
Dean Shotwell: It evolved. I was a criminal justice major, but I did not want to be in law enforcement per se. I then started thinking about the FBI. Then I realized to be a field agent you needed primarily to have a law degree.
And I figured, well, if I’m going to go to law school, I wasn’t going to go to the FBI. But then my thoughts, Lee Steinberg spoke. I think it was my senior year of college. I saw him speak at least Steinberg was a sports agent out of Cal Berkeley. So he gave a speech and then I thought about the becoming [00:05:00] a sports agent, then that’s kind of what initially drove me to law school.
And then in law school, I got very interested in the trial work and the criminal justice, part of my education there with the evidence in criminal procedure. And that’s where it kind of focused me to pursue a career in the criminal side of it. The legal work.
Louis Goodman: It’s really interesting how people evolve in terms of their interests and their careers all within the sort of general legal world framework.
Dean Shotwell: Yeah, it was, you know, when I got to law school, I think the mock trial and the trial work and things of that nature, it kind of satisfied my competitive urge. I guess that I maybe still have leftover from competing in a college athletics. So that I can have found an outlet for that. And you know, it did provide me with some success [00:06:00] in my trial work.
Initially, when I went to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office out of law school, I tried a lot of cases down there. Which given the volume that they have in Los Angeles County pretty well.
Louis Goodman: How did you go from McGeorge in Sacramento to Los Angeles County DA Office?
Dean Shotwell: Just you know, during the interview process I was interviewing with primarily District Attorney’s Offices and they had a Senior Law Clerk Program through the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
And they accepted me and had some other friends moving down to Southern California. I was married at the time. I had got married after my second year of law school. My wife ended up getting a job down in Southern California. So we decided to take a shot and move down there.
Louis Goodman: How’d that work out.
Dean Shotwell: It worked out very good.
It was a great office opportunity for a lot of experience. As I [00:07:00] mentioned, you know, quite a bit of volume of criminal cases coming through the office. So if you wanted to work, there was definitely the work there for you. It was fun. You know, you could just go down to one of the calendar departments, hang out, talk to the calendar deputies. They would tell you, hey, this case here might be going to trial this afternoon and you start reading it. And next thing you know, three hours later, you’re in trial. So it was a great experience, a lot of great training opportunities. The DA’s office at that time had some tremendous career deputy prosecutors just with some phenomenal experience.
So I enjoyed my time there immensely.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. There’s something to be said for working in a really busy, big city office.
Dean Shotwell: Yeah. Like I mentioned, the opportunity to sit down and speak to a DA fellow prosecutor who’s as you know, 30 years of experience, when [00:08:00] you’re in your second year in the office is a phenomenal opportunity.
Louis Goodman: How long were you at the Los Angeles DA’s Office before you came to Alameda County?
Dean Shotwell: Let’s see. I want to say I actually joined Alameda County the day before Loma Prieta. So I’m in LA for about two years. Came up here in October, started on a Monday, down in Oakland. And the second day was a PR that was the Loma Prieta first day of the world series.
And I’m sorry as game. Game three of the world series.
Louis Goodman: I think I remember that. So how long did you stay in Alameda County DA’s office?
Dean Shotwell: A short time, we were trying to sell our house down in Southern California. I was doing the Southwest Airline commute. So I was working up here. I’d fly home for the weekend.
My wife was still down there. We just had our first child, was about [00:09:00] five months, six months old. So that far was a little difficult. So I did that for probably about five months and we just never were able to sell our home down in Southern California. So eventually I went back to LA DA stayed there another five years and then eventually moved back to Alameda County and started my own practice at that time.
Louis Goodman: So your stint in the Alameda County DA’s Office was fairly short.
Dean Shotwell: Yeah, about probably five months, I would guess. I think it was from October to February of, I started in October of 1989. And then I think I went back to LA DA sometime around February or March of 1990.
Louis Goodman: Well, they must’ve really liked you in LA. If they took you back that easily.
Dean Shotwell: it was kind of a joke with my boss at the time. He said, when I left he said, if it didn’t work out, you know, to give him a call. And from the time I left [00:10:00] to the time I gave him the call back, he’d been appointed to Assistant Deputy District Attorney. So he was like the number three guy in the office, which kind of ease my transition back into the office.
Louis Goodman: It’s good to have friends in high places.
Dean Shotwell: It certainly worked out at that time for me.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Dean Shotwell: The opportunity I know in both sides, really as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney, the opportunity to help somebody when they’re in a tough spot. Given on the prosecutor side, you’re dealing more so with the victims, but it’s a difficult time in their lives for them.
And then on the defense side, you’re again dealing with somebody who’s in a different, difficult position, and you’re trying to help them out as best he can. You know, protect them either from a victim standpoint. Or a woman who has been charged with a criminal act.
Louis Goodman: Well, at some point you left the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Where did you go from there?
Dean Shotwell: During my time in Alameda County, I met Jim McGrail, who I mentioned previously, and we’d run into each other over the years when I was still down in Los Angeles. And he said, if I ever come back to look him up. He had moved on to private practice. I gave him a call and that’s when I started my own practice and went out and started doing criminal defense work.
Louis Goodman: How did that go?
Dean Shotwell: Initially went well. For me, it was easier to deal with a criminal. There was some of the divorce people I was working with.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, they say that in criminal law, you see bad people at their best. And in family law, you see good people at their worst.
Dean Shotwell: Yeah. But for me, it was easier dealing with the bad people at their best, I guess if that’s the same. You know, for the most part criminals, people charged with crimes [00:12:00] primarily, percentage-wise, they’re guilty. And when you deal with people, who’ve been through the system of few times, they know the game is probably in just about as well as you.
Louis Goodman: How do you feel about moving from being a criminal prosecutor to being on the other side of things?
Dean Shotwell: It was not that difficult for me. I made a commitment to my wife, primarily that I wouldn’t do a homicide as a defense attorney, but the way I viewed it is I believe in the system. And I felt my job primarily as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney is make sure the system works. It works the way it’s supposed to be.
I was trained as a prosecutor to always do the right thing.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Dean Shotwell: Well there’s the human element involved, Louis, that always plays a significant role. The power of the government [00:13:00] is unmatched by a criminal defendant. No matter their wealth. And unfortunately we deal with a lot of people who don’t have the wealth to fight the governments.
Louis Goodman: The business of practicing law. How’s that gone for you? And how has it either met or different from expectations that you may have had about it?
Dean Shotwell: It’s been probably the biggest challenge. They don’t have classes in law school on how to run a business, from a defense practice or anything of that nature.
I think it was beneficial that I hooked up with the Jim McGrail, he keeps coming up in this conversation, but he played a pretty big role with me. Jim was a very successful businessman and attorney. So I think sharing office space with him for five or six years that I did, he helped me tremendously in that respect.
I’ve also been fortunate that my wife is also employed, so the financial pressures of [00:14:00] you know, just being solely placed upon me as I pursue my practice, was not always there. So that definitely made things easier for me.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law affected your family life? I mean, you have a wife, you have kids.
Dean Shotwell: I think probably, well, it’s been probably there’s been some positives and probably some challenges. The positive says when I became a private defense attorney, it made it possible at times to control your own calendar. So I was able to manage that as best I could and be part of things. My kids were interested in growing up, coaching little league and things of that nature with my kids and being there for them as best I could.
So that was probably the main positive from a personal standpoint, was the ability to control your own [00:15:00] calendar and be there for my kids and my wife. As best I could.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that, you know now that you really wished you knew before you started the endeavor of practicing law?
Dean Shotwell: I think, you know, having spent the time in the DA’s Office as a prosecutor, you know, I dealt with a defense attorney, so I kind of had a pretty good idea. I think the main thing that I did not anticipate coming back from LA is that I did not have the professional relationships with the legal community here in Alameda County. You know, so I didn’t know most of the prosecutors. I didn’t know most of the defense attorneys. I knew very few of the bench officers. I think that that was a challenge for me in the early part. Obviously that has changed through the years, I have established those relationships. But I think initially that was probably one of the things I [00:16:00] did not anticipate. And I thought would be a lot easier for me, but there was definitely a period of transition there.
Louis Goodman: Having those personal relationships is really quite important. Don’t you think?
Dean Shotwell: I do. And I think everybody has kind of a little bit different twist on how they approach the defense of their client. But I think it does start with those relationships. And that’s often why I’ve many times I’ve referred friends to seek counsel in a local community.
If they, you know, picked up a case some ways away, if I felt that there might be a better opportunity for a local attorney to provide a better resolution for them, I’ve just certainly discussed that with those people in those situations, but the relationships do play a pretty significant role, I think.
And I believe it’s been a big part of the success that I’ve had.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think that it has [00:17:00] to both for you and Anne and for myself. I mean, I think that knowing the people you’re dealing with and having some kind of trust and relationship with them, whether they’re DA’s or Co-counsel or Judges, it’s very important to have that understanding of the other individuals.
Dean Shotwell: Yeah. I, you know, I think as you go through the process with the local attorneys and the judges, as you mentioned, you get a feeling for what they value, what they believe is important. You’ve heard other counsel present arguments and defense of their client. You know, some prosecutors are more receptive to drug treatment programs. Some are not. So you get a feel for which ones may be receptive to certain types of arguments and you figure out the best way to present those to each [00:18:00] individual prosecutor.
Louis Goodman: Any travel experience outside the state, outside the country that you’d like to share.
Dean Shotwell: I was fortunate to have two of my kids play college golf.
Louis Goodman: Wow.
Dean Shotwell: So their travels or their careers is college athletes. And even junior golfers went on some pretty good trips. My daughter was invited to play in a tournament in St. Andrews Scotland. So we get to turn that into a family boondoggle, but my wife and I we’ve traveled a little bit, not nearly as much as we’ve liked to, but depending Europe, a few times would certainly help to do that.
What I was planning on it doing that last year, but that did not work out. And then we have a place in Maui. So we go to Hawaii quite a bit, try and get over there couple three or four times a year.
Louis Goodman: Nice. That’s great. Yeah. [00:19:00] What sort of recreational pursuits do you enjoy? I mean, I know you grew up playing baseball and your kids are involved in golf, but what about for yourself now?
Dean Shotwell: I play a little bit of golf, so that’s primarily my main activity. I’d like to go to Tahoe, do some hiking. And I used to hunt quite a bit with my dad growing up in Pleasanton. Well, we hunted quite a bit around here just to Upland game birds and then hunted out of town for quite a bit for, for deer. So I like to go into the backcountry either just hiking or I have a 1953 Willy’s.
Louis Goodman: Really?
Dean Shotwell: Yeah. So I like to take that back into the back country and just try and, you know, go some places where not too many people have been.
Louis Goodman: That’s one of my dream vehicles. Does it have the fall down windshield?
Dean Shotwell: It does. Yes, it does. So, yeah, that’s, my dad picked that up in the late sixties.
They bought that and so [00:20:00] we had it for a number of years and then he finally gave it to me.
Louis Goodman: That’s a very fun little vehicle. If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some other job or profession that you think you would like to do?
Dean Shotwell: It might be that teaching I’ve enjoyed. I know you mentioned that at the top there, that I have a little bit of a focus on juveniles.
So that’s been something I’ve enjoyed working with. I’ve enjoyed coaching. And then I’ve enjoyed that. The juvenile part of my practice.
Louis Goodman: What’s it about the juvenile practice that has attracted you?
Dean Shotwell: Just, I think it’s just the opportunity to try and help somebody.
I certainly. As a young kid do, you know, made some poor choices and I try and do the best I can to make sure that the mistake that they made that brought them to that particular time and place that it [00:21:00] is, is it has a minimal impact on, on their future going forward.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I think in the juvenile court, you really can catch people before they’ve moved into behaviors that are going to create criminal problems for them, for the rest of their lives. And I think it does feel really good to be able to intervene on some level at that point.
Dean Shotwell: Yeah. So that’s probably where I would have ended up as in teaching or some type of coaching. I coached when I left SAC State. My first year of McGeorge, I coached a freshmen high school baseball team up in Sacramento, and that was a lot of fun.
So. That may have been the path that I took. If the legal side didn’t work,
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, let’s say you came into three or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Dean Shotwell: I would definitely set up some foundations to try and do some things, to help people as best I could, you know, [00:22:00] starting with the juveniles in lower income communities. That’s something I’ve always thought of trying to do. If I ever did come into a bunch of money.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand, what is one thing in the world that you could change legal or otherwise. What would that be?
Dean Shotwell: Well, I think right now, obviously it would have to do something with this virus. If I had something where I had the power to get rid of this last year. You know, I have an 89 year-old mother and I’m sure there’s lots of people that have the challenges that have gone through this last year. Just been unimaginable, but my mother’s pretty much been in the house for a year. If there’s one thing I could change, I think it would be this last year.
Louis Goodman: Where do you see yourself going professionally?
Dean Shotwell: That’s a very good question, Lou, I’m in the process of slowing down a little bit. I think right now so I’m [00:23:00] looking perhaps for my next challenge, next chapter, still staying involved in criminal defense, but probably not quite as involved as I am right now. That’s something I’m trying to figure out.
I turn 60 here in about a month and a half, so I’m trying to figure out where the next journey will take me.
Louis Goodman: Dean Shotwell, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast
Dean Shotwell: . It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Louis.
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you thinking about me and reaching out.
It was very enjoyable.
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 ourwebsite at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, [00:24:00] photographs, and information.
Thanks as always to my guests, who share their wisdom and Joel Katz for music, Bryan Mathison for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Dean Shotwell: Part of my job to fight as best I can to protect my clients from being overwhelmed by the government.