Nancy O’Malley – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. Nancy is the chief law enforcement officer in Alameda County. First appointed in 2009. She has been elected and reelected in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
The 2018 race being one that was hotly contested, but which she won by an overwhelming margin. She is a nationally recognized expert and advocate for victims of crime, and she has made juvenile victims, women, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, a professional priority. She has prosecuted hundreds of felony cases and personally tried numerous serious violent felony cases to jury verdict.
She has won and been presented with numerous awards and recognitions, as a matter of fact, too numerous to really mention, but I would urge you to simply Google her name and see what comes up. Nancy. O’Malley welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Nancy O’Malley: Thank you, Louis. I’m very happy to be here with you today.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m really honored that you’re participating in this program.
We’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve always admired you and your professionalism.
Nancy O’Malley: You’re very, very kind. I met you before you even before I joined the office. And when I met you and other people, I think you had a party at your house, which I was invited to. And that made me realize that this was a, not just a profession, but comradery and people who supported each other and people who were there to do justice.
And that was exactly what I was looking for in my career.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m certainly glad you found it in Alameda County. Right now you have the corner office on the ninth floor of the Alameda County courthouse, which as I mentioned in the intro, you are the chief law enforcement officer in Alameda County.
Is that that’s right?
Nancy O’Malley: That’s right. As you know, the building was built when Earl Warren was the District Attorney. And I’m so proud to sit at the desk that Earl Warren actually sat at when he was the DA.
Louis Goodman: Before you were in quite that elaborative a setting. You grew up in Contra Costa County.
Nancy O’Malley: I did.
Louis Goodman: And as I understand it, you were involved in some law enforcement and protection of victims at a very early age. And I understand that one of the things that you used in those days in order to enforce law in Contra Costa County was a garden hose.
Nancy O’Malley: That’s a funny story. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.
Louis Goodman: I wonder if you could tell us that story.
Nancy O’Malley: After I graduated from college, I was diagnosed with cancer and I needed to move back home to my parents’ house. So while I was having chemotherapy and one night I came home and the cars were parked in the driveway and I heard someone by the car and it was probably 11 o’clock.
So I said something like who’s there. And then I heard rustling and I ran and got the garden hose turned on the water. I’ve got it. I’ve got a hose, I’m going to hose you, if you don’t get away from our cars. And somebody jumped up and ran down the street.
Louis Goodman: Now I understand that when you were 12 years old, you used the garden hose on a prior occasion involving the Connors and the Wards.
Nancy O’Malley: Oh my gosh. How do you know this? So I grew up being a protector and I’m one of nine kids and I was the third oldest and I have a younger brother. So I came around the corner on our little street and we lived in Concord. And these two kids in the neighborhood were trying to beat up my younger brother.
And so I grabbed the hose and I went after them like a crazy woman, even though I was only one [person] and I was swinging the hose, they were swinging the hose, but I grabbed it and I started swinging at them. And then I chased them. They started running and I chased them. They literally jumped through their screen door to get away from me because they knew that if I caught them, I was going to beat them up.
And my mother forced me to go apologize to the mother of these two boys. So I went over to apologize and I said, I’m sorry that I, you know, beat up or hit your kids and that they jumped through your screen door. But if there weren’t such jerks and I wouldn’t have had to do it. And my mother, that’s not exactly an apology.
Louis Goodman: No. Are you originally from Concord?
Nancy O’Malley: Yes, I was born there. My parents are from Boston and they moved out here when my mom was pregnant with me. And so I was born in Concord and we lived there for my part of my childhood. And then we moved to Danville for the rest of it.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Carondelet High School, the girls’ Catholic school in Concord.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience like?
Nancy O’Malley: It was awesome. It’s right across the street from De La Salle High School, which one will know that school, you know, I really loved being in a school where it was all girls, the boys were across the street, but at that time we didn’t share classes with them, but, you know, there was not the kind of posturing and boy and girl energy in the classroom. So it was just a bunch of girls that were learning and having fun. And we had our own territory and I really appreciated that learning environment. And it was also a new and a progressive school, which I also liked very much. And then after school, you know, everybody would mingle the boys and the girls, boys from De La Salle, girls from Carondelet.
But when it came time to studying people were, you know, everybody got down to business in the classroom and that’s great.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to college?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Cal State. Then it was called Hayward now Cal State East Bay. And you know, an interesting story, which I share with a lot of young people who feel like, you know, maybe I’m not the best person.
Maybe I’m not the smartest, whatever, which is all untrue. But I remember there was one nun who was in Carondelet. And she told me, and a bunch of other young women that we weren’t smart enough to go to college. So we should look at secretarial school and things like that. So I had a little pause before I went to college in my adult life.
Louis Goodman: And what did you do during that gap time?
Nancy O’Malley: I had a full-time job and I was, you know, moving quickly in this company. I was the area trainer for all of these people. I was 20 years old and I was training much older people. And one of my friends said to me, you know, why aren’t you in college? Like, you’re smart.
What’s the deal here? And I said, nah, I’m not really college material. And she said, who told you that? And I told her the story. And she said, no, no, you need to go to college. So I did. And I always remind people, especially young people don’t ever let anyone define you. You know who you are and you do what you feel is best for you.
And don’t let teachers or other people pull you down. When you know in your heart that you have a lot of worth and a lot to give.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that that experience of working between high school and college made you more focused or a better college student?
Nancy O’Malley: I think that it did. It certainly opened my eyes up to a much broader population of people.
And the friends that I met at in college were friends that were, that are still, some of them are still my friends. And it also gave me a broader understanding of what adult life looks like. And I appreciated that because when I, in those two years that I was working full time, I didn’t really have an appreciation of the academics, but when I got to college, I realized that there’s a lot more than just having a job.
And I think that that was probably one of the most important lessons from those two years is, you know, you don’t have to just have a job with your education. You can do so much. Your choices are so much greater.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about being a lawyer?
Nancy O’Malley: Well, I when I was growing up, my parents would always say, particularly my mother, oh my God, you should be a lawyer.
Or my dad would say that and they say, Oh, you’re never going to be a lawyer. And when I got to,
Louis Goodman: I don’t mean to interrupt Nancy, but you come from a family of lawyers and, I mean, I come from a family of lawyers. And so I’m just sort of wondering if that affected things in the way you looked at it?
Well, I think that when I was younger and I was declaring to everybody who used to say, you should be a lawyer because of the way I handled myself. And I say, I’m never going to be a lawyer. What happened to me is that I, when I was in college, I became a rape crisis volunteer. And it was when rape crisis centers were first starting.
My father was the District Attorney of Contra Costa County at the time. And he funded those Rape Crisis Centers out of his DA budget. And he came home and told us what he was doing. And I volunteered and I walked into was system that to me was so unjust and so horrible for victims of crime. That I just knew whatever it was I was going to do in my life. I was going to work to change that paradigm of primarily women, but not just women who are the victims of sexual assault are victims of domestic violence were being treated. Like they were making it up or that they weren’t worthy of the system’s support or the justice. And so that really got me on my mind, I mean, I was really there to challenge the system.
I made complaints. I wrote letters to my father’s office, complaining about the way his lawyers were handling cases and I, made complaints to the police departments. About how they were working in interacting with victims of these horrible crimes. And so that was really what started my mind about justice.
And then when I graduated from college, like I said, I was diagnosed with cancer and it was pretty rare form. And nobody quite knew if I was going to live or die. And my doctor, my oncologist, who was at Stanford, the first couple of sessions, he would tell me what we were going to do. And I’d say, well, I don’t really want to do that.
I take the class on Monday. I want to do my chemotherapy on Tuesday. And he’d say, God, you should be a lawyer. And I said, God, you sound like my father. And that year I was applying to law school and thankfully, you know, entered.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Golden Gate in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: How was that?
Nancy O’Malley: It was great. First of all, it was 50% women. When most of the other law schools were like five or 10% women. So I liked that there was a strong, equitable environment.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Nancy O’Malley: I worked for a woman who had a small practice in Danville. I was actually a law clerk for her in the summer.
And then when I graduated, and passed the bar, I started working for her as a lawyer and it was a small firm. It was mostly real estate and business law. Our big client was Ken Behring and the whole Blackhawk environment. And so I used to review the contracts for the cars that they were buying, the old cars and the antique ones.
And I realized they were paying more for those cars and they were paying me as a lawyer. And also what I found was that it was just, it was boring. And, you know, the law was interesting, the practice was boring and I thought, this is what you retired to. It’s not where you start your profession.
And so I was very fortunate to have met Dick Iglehart along the way and called up and asked him if I could talk to him.
Louis Goodman: And I guess you did.
Nancy O’Malley: I did. I actually went to him and said, I think I should be a public defender, but I don’t know anyone in the public defender’s office. Can you help me out? And we talked for quite a bit and he said, you know, the way you think you should be a DA, because we need people that think about justice and think about fairness and think about victims and think about, you know, equities to be on the side where the district attorney, where a lot of authority exists.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You know, I, I just so agree with that. I think that Dick was really a pioneer in that sort of thinking and how way ahead of his time, he was in that kind of thinking of how way ahead of your time you were, in recognizing that kind of thinking. I mean, just now I start reading in the papers about how we need more people who have sort of a humanitarian bent involved in law enforcement and, and this was years ago.
Nancy O’Malley: Yeah. You know, I think that when you see, when you’ve experienced people and, you know, we can look at not only victims of crime. Of course, that was an important focus. Our office, your former office, my office was the first office in the country to have a division just dedicated to helping victims through the process.
Who thought that? Nobody but Lowell Jensen, the former DA, who I think was DA when you were hired,
Louis Goodman: I was the last person that Lowell hired.
Nancy O’Malley: Wow, that’s a distinction. But you know, his theory was I’m sick of victims being treated like evidence, they are people, and we need to start treating people like that.
I mean, that was incredibly progressive. Making sure victims were treated fairly and respectfully and things like that. But also at the same time, how we’ve evolved as we recognize that somebody could be a victim today and potentially a perpetrator the next day, or someone who’s charged with a crime, people come from very unique backgrounds and very different backgrounds.
And you know, that humanitarian component that you talk about, I think is really critical as we recognize all the different dynamics that people experience in their lifetime.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I was listening to somebody, a lot brighter than I am say. The people who are doing the hurting are people who are hurt themselves.
Nancy O’Malley: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: And I think we see that every day.
Nancy O’Malley: I agree. I mean, the fact that we recognize what psychologists have known for years or mental health professional, that people are a product of their childhood.
Louis Goodman: If someone were graduating from college and thinking about a career choice, would you recommend going into law?
Nancy O’Malley: I would. I would. It comes from me who declared many times I would never do it. You know, I think that the law is really about the concrete structure of our society. The law brings order. It brings to some extent, predictability, it brings stability for society.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law as a District Attorney, and then of course, as the elected District Attorney, how has that met or differed from your expectations of what being a lawyer would be like?
Well, that’s a good question. So I think that my expectations were that you could go in and just work as hard as you wanted and do good. What surprised me was that there was, you know, there was a structure in place that was hard to break in, particularly for a woman. You know, in those days, primarily it was the men who were attorneys and for sure, and District Attorneys, there was kind of this law and order rough and tumble attitude.
And, you know, a lot of when I first joined the office, that the women were often times relegated to the soft crimes, like family support or child abuse. And what surprised me was that you couldn’t just go and be all, although I say that, but then I want to say the caveat to that, I saw that happen and I saw people be held back.
Because they didn’t fit into the norm of this, you know, rough and tumble type attitude. But then I also saw our bosses at the time, you know, Jack Meehan was the DA after Lowell and Jack was really focused on that on order and law and motion and things like that. But he didn’t really interfere with people’s ability to excel and Tom Orloff.
And for sure, Dick Iglehart and then Tom Orloff, the DA, the person who became DA after Jack. You know, they, I think that they understood that they could benefit from the energy and the ingenuity that people like me and people like you were bringing to the office and that we were part of the evolution of the office to be modernized and to be continued to be as effective as it had been.
Louis Goodman: You know, in my intro remarks, I mentioned that you ran for District Attorney and that you got quite the challenge last time out. And I don’t want to relitigate that campaign. And fortunately you were successful in it, in my view, but I’m just wondering if you could just talk a little bit about what it feels like running for office.
You know I did it myself, not as successfully as you have, and I found it to be a very different experience than anything else that I’ve ever had in my life. And that it’s hard to explain to someone who’s never done it. So I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about your experience.
Nancy O’Malley: Sure. So, you know, I mean I look at my career and I do my job. The purity of heart, I’ll say, and I don’t mean to say so, you know, goody two shoes about it, but I come to work to make sure that all the things that I value in life, helping people. Running for election is has almost nothing to do with that.
You know, there are accusations that can be made that are false and there’s almost no way to correct it or to respond to it. You know, they say if you’re denying, you’re lying or something like that, it’s frustrating experience because if you could just get up and have a solid debate about philosophy or about practice and it was respectful and dignified, then it would be very exhilarating, but it’s not like that at all.
The campaigns now are ugly and they’re aggressive. I never took the low road. I kept reminding myself, Michelle Obama said, when they go low, we go high. And I did my best to stay above the fray and the personal attacks. And so that’s the first thing is that you just think, God, people like me, but out here, I feel like I’m the enemy of the people.
If you listen to my opponent, the other part of it is that it’s just so money driven. That of course, you know, you have to campaign, you have to get put information out, you know, things like that, but there’s a lot of outside money that infiltrates into these races.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, that’s what really shocked me about that campaign was how much outside money came, flowing into it.
Nancy O’Malley: It was insane. And I mean, I stayed on the path because I never looked at some of the flyers that were being put out, because I knew if I did, I would either feel upset and feel defeated or I’d want to go fight. And I mean, fight as in like beat the heck out of someone. Exactly. But I wanted to stay my one foot in front of the other, such that I kept telling myself one foot in front of the other state on your path.
But there was so much money and so much distortion and such you know, just a lack of recognition of the things that we’ve done. I mean, Alameda County DA’s office has always been progressive for its time.
Louis Goodman: What sort of mentors have you had over the course of your career?
Nancy O’Malley: I will say my first major mentor was my dad who, you know, even when he did not have his career in the DA’s office, he was in and out.
He loved doing trials. But he had eight kids. And so our nine kids and my mother said, you can’t make $300 a month. You need to go get a job. As a real lawyer, he always was brought back to the DA’s office. He started the Public Defender’s Office in Contra Costa. And yeah, and I used to go with them just, you know, when there’s that many kids, you find your time.
So I would say to him, he’d go to work on Saturdays, and I’d hang out with him. And you know, I’d read books, read, talk about the law, or you talk about circumstances. And so watching him, how he ran his office, how he worked and did a lot in the community also was my first real mentor.
The other mentors I’ve had, I have to say Tom Orloff was probably one of the best mentors I had in terms of leadership and guidance. And, you know, I’m probably more, definitely more animated than he is. But he’s very thoughtful and very strategic and very calculated in a healthy way, in a good way.
And it taught me a lot about when you’re sitting in the chair of the DA, the District Attorney, you know, you can’t be the hot head and run down and try every case, which I love trying cases. So he was a great mentor. And then I’ve had other really strong women that have guided me, Carol Corrigan was just amazing to watch a strong woman, good sense of humor at the same time balance in her life and not afraid to go for it and, you know, put herself out there. And so, you know, there were a lot of people, Buzz De Davega was a great mentor. He was a great friend. He was a wonderful guy, but he was so smart and so sophisticated in strategies, trial strategy. That I learned a lot from too, about trying cases. And, you know, I think that being, having friends like that, and you know, you, you were a little bit ahead of me, but we were in the same crowd, having these people that had that kind of experience and they were successful and smart, and they understood the law.
We got like a college degree in our first couple of years in the DA’s office, because we were friends with them and we got to sit at their feet, so to speak and listen to them, talk about how to do things and how to make an argument and how to try cases and stuff. And I was really, really blessed that I had those relationships.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, me too. I mean, Buzz was, as you well know, one of my great mentors.
Nancy O’Malley: And a great friend to you.
Louis Goodman: Great friend. Yeah, absolutely. How’s your family life been? How does that work in terms of being an elected official and being very, very busy and active in the community?
Nancy O’Malley: Well, my husband, is now retired, I was single for a very long time, was married when I was younger and that didn’t work out. I was single for a long time. And that was really when my career was my highest priority. then I met this wonderful guy who was perfect for me. And I think I for him, we’re a little bit older when we met and got to know each other and eventually got married, he was working in the banking industry and so he worked nights and when I would come home he would be gone for work to work. And when I got up in the morning, he would be, I go work out. And when I came back, he’d already be asleep. So I used to say, when I was younger, I need to marry an athlete. Who’s gone a lot of the times so I cannot have the distraction.
I can just, yeah, my career. And then when I got to a certain age, I said, well, I can’t have an athlete. Yeah. Now I need a coach. Like one of those professional coaches who’s gone all the time. And then I ended up marrying a guy who worked nights.
Louis Goodman: What other things do you like to do? Recreational pursuits travel, that sort of thing.
Nancy O’Malley: I do travel a lot. When I was in the DA’s office, someone gave me good advice, which was trying to take, to be gone, like go really, go away from the office for your vacation. And so I started going to Paris and I rented the same apartment for 20 years and I went the same time of year. And it was so invigorating first I loved Paris.
I mean, who wouldn’t, but I became very comfortable and very familiar. And it’s a place where you could walk everywhere.
Louis Goodman: Do you speak some French?
Nancy O’Malley: I do speak French. I mean, I’m better when I’m there, but when I was going there every year, I was very good. I used to tell people I can have a conversation, but I might not be able to get out of jail.
Louis Goodman: Well it’s a good thing you didn’t get arrested.
Nancy O’Malley: And then, I’ve traveled to Europe a lot and I’ve been to South Korea. I’ve been, but you know, just different places like that. I, I really liked to, be able to get that separation. Though I never really separated. I check my emails at night or something, but also during, just in my regular life, I mean, we both swim.
So we swim. I don’t swim during the week, but I swim on the weekends and we like to take walks and we have dogs. I have two dogs that, you know, are just great. Animals are great companions. They actually, the older one, he’s three now, but I had him when I was running for election and I would come home at night, sit on a chair, just, you know, kind of spent and he’d come over and just put his head on my knee and just sit there.
And I thought, okay, these dogs, these are great dogs. They’re great.
Louis Goodman: Yeah We have dogs too, and, and we have a little, little embroidered pillow and it says your dog loves you even when no one else does.
Nancy O’Malley: I’ll attest to that. Absolutely
Louis Goodman: Say you came into some real money, like $3 or $4 billion just dropped into your lap.
What, if anything, would you change about your life?
Nancy O’Malley: I would fund foundations for one thing. We have a family justice center, , which I created 15 years ago, and I would fund that thing so that there was money for anybody who needed help, that we would be very highly in doubt. I would, there’s a hotel in Oakland that I would love to acquire too.
It’s an old historical landmark right on Harrison Street. And when I first looked at this hotel on the outside, it’s inscribed dedicated to the nobler womanhood in 1926. And it was a hotel built for women, has 93 rooms, and I would buy that and I would fund, I would pour money into places like that, so that women and children don’t have to be on the street or they don’t have to stay in a violent environment kind of thing.
I mean, that’s what I would do with my money. I would travel. I would probably buy houses for all my nieces and nephews, but, you know, I think that’s the kind of stuff I would want to endow these programs that I focus on so that when I’m done, when I’m not doing this anymore, when I’m too old to do it, or I die that they don’t have to hope a new leader comes along and has the same values or, or wants to protect the same programs that I protect.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise, what do you think that would be?
Nancy O’Malley: What would that be? If I had a magic wand I’d end this COVID pandemic right now.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that would be greatly appreciated by everyone.
Nancy O’Malley: I mean, I think that I was at a funeral this morning for a Deputy Sheriff who died from COVID. At the courthouse, we all know him, wonderful guy. And you know, I now know a couple people who have died from COVID and more people who have thank God survived, but, you know, I would, that’s one thing I would do is try to get rid of the health issues. I was at a dinner one night on a foundation board that I sit on and there was a doctor who’s doing a lot of research in breast cancer, and we raised money for his research and he declared that he, with the work they’re doing that, they would find a cure of breast for breast cancer within 10 years.
And he was very confident in his declaration. And I think that, you know, those types of illnesses that they’re so close from a research perspective to making no longer be a death sentence when someone gets it, you know, that’s my magic wand.
Louis Goodman: Nancy, I know that you have lots of things going on in your office.
Can you give us a specific of one project that you’re really interested in right now?
Nancy O’Malley: Yes, I, four years ago, I created a working group in the office. It’s called the fair and equitable policing and prosecution working group. And we’ve spent the last couple of years really tearing ourselves apart to expose or uncover any implicit bias, to look at ways in which we are eradicating racism or race based decisions. Really making our office be a race neutral and fair and equitable to everybody with whom we deal with. The new part of that project is to create an advisory committee from the community and bring people in from the community to look at what we’re doing around those issues, and advise us. That’s a project that I’m very active, excited about. And we, the rules for the people that were serving on that, my working group was that you had to tell the truth, you had to speak up. It was nobody repeated what went outside the room. So people felt like they could talk honestly.
And we had to, we had to continue moving forward. That there was no complacency in this working group. And that’s what I’m looking for with people from our community who bring diversity to us and help to educate us and influence us in our, in the way we manage the important work that we do.
Louis Goodman: Nancy O’Malley. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been really fun talking to you. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we see each other from time to time. And this has been a real experience in being able to talk to you on the pod.
Nancy O’Malley: Thank you, Louis. Thank you so much for inviting me.
And I’ll just say that. You know you were one of the people I knew when I joined the office and I watched you and I learned from you and I’m so glad that we still have a relationship and a friendship. And it’s a pleasure when you come into court, it’s a pleasure to deal with you. And it’s great talking to you.
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer, many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make this show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman
Nancy O’Malley: It takes a lot of fortitude to hang in there when all of this craziness and bad stuff happens.
David Lim – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. Today we welcome David Lim. He’s a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney.
He’s the former Mayor of the City of San Mateo. And he’s been an educator. Please help me welcome David Lim. Mayor David Lim, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Thank you so much for being here. And I’m very honored that you’re talking to me today.
David Lim: Hi, Louis. It’s good to be here. Glad to be on your podcast. Thanks for inviting me.
Louis Goodman: What was it like being Mayor of a city in the Bay area?
David Lim: It was a lot of fun. You know, I ran for the city council of San Mateo in 2006. I won, and I served two terms, so a total of eight years, and in San Mateo, we rotate the Mayorship position. So. I was selected by my colleagues to be Mayor in 2013.
And again, in 2017 and I had a wonderful time doing it.
Louis Goodman: What made you decide to get into city politics to begin with?
David Lim: You know, I started when I was still working for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. In San Mateo, like many smaller cities in California, city council is a part- time position.
So I had gotten involved in my community serving on a City Commission. I was on the neighborhood watch board for the City of San Mateo and when one of my City Council members who I adored, decided to retire and left a spot open, it just sort of was a natural progression for me to decide, to run for City Council.
And my boss at the time, Tom Orloff gave me his blessing to, you know, do this part- time gig. And I ran and I had a lovely time doing it, but it really was just a sense of community involvement that made me seek out the City Council Seat.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally David?
David Lim: So I grew up in Montebello, California, which is a small suburban town in Los Angeles County, kind of near East LA.
And I was born and raised in the same house for 17 years until I left for college.
Louis Goodman: And what high school did you go to?
David Lim: So, the name of the high school was very strange. It’s called Schurr High school. Like, you know, for sure, but it’s spelled S C H U R R. It’s named after George Miller Schurr, who was an administrator the Montebello Unified School District. And I don’t know what he did to get a school named after him, but he did something. And so he’s got a school named after him. No one else has ever heard of this man.
Louis Goodman: And after you graduated from Schurr, where did you go to college?
David Lim: So I went to UCLA for undergrad, got my bachelor’s degree in political science.
And then I did another year to get a master’s degree in education. Also, UCLA.
Louis Goodman: Did you teach for a while?
David Lim: I did. So my first career was not the law. I was a school teacher in Los Angeles Public Schools. I taught for about three years. I taught Middle School History. I actually taught two years of middle school.
And then I did a year as an adjunct Professor at UCLA, helping to teach in their Teacher Ed Program. So a total of three years in education.
Louis Goodman: What made you start thinking about going to law school?
David Lim: So I had actually gotten into a PhD program at UCLA after my second year of teaching. They said, UCLA approached me, my old professor and said, we really like what you do.
We’d like you to come full time to the faculty at UCLA, but you need to have a Doctorate Degree. So I got into a doctorate program at UCLA. I was going at night. While I was teaching and it almost just about killed me. I was 23 at the time I was young. I was teaching all day and going to classes all night.
I had no social life and I literally looked in the mirror about two months into the program and thought, is this really what I want to do with my life? And I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, but it was just too much. And I thought, you know what? I always wanted to go to law school. I still have that desire to go to law school.
If I don’t go now, I won’t go. Because after about five years in teaching or anywhere in a job, you might kind of get settled in. So I said, I’m going to go to law school. And so I quit the teaching job. I dropped out of the PhD program. I packed up my truck, moved to the East Coast for a year, worked on Capitol Hill while I took the field and got my applications in.
Literally just sort of caroused and worked and had a good time in DC until it was ready to come back to time to come back and go to law school.
Louis Goodman: Where did you work for in DC?
David Lim: So I worked for the late Congressman Robert Mitsui. He was a democratic Congressman out of Sacramento. Great man, great mentor. He actually went to the same law school.
I went to Hastings law school. So when I was applying, he gave me a lot of good advice about, you know, which law schools to apply to what he did with the practice of law. He passed away in early two thousands, but he was a great guy to work for.
Louis Goodman: He was a real mentor to you.
David Lim: He was a mentor.
Yeah. He was a nice guy.
Louis Goodman: When you went back to Washington, did that sort of peak your interest in politics as well?
David Lim: You know, I’d always sort of been interested in politics, but that, yeah, it really did give me the first taste of how to do politics effectively. You know, I went there without a job and I basically walked the halls of Congress banging on doors, dropping off my resume.
Then I came back to law school. Yeah. I came back to East, came back to California, moved to the San Francisco Bay area. I chose San Francisco because it reminded me the most of an East coast city. And I’d had so much fun in DC I didn’t, I wasn’t ready to go back to Los Angeles.
So Hastings was a good school. They accepted me.
Louis Goodman: What was your experience in law school? How did you like Hastings?
David Lim: I did not like Hastings at all. To be honest with you. I thought, you know, after my time as a teacher and then I’m working in DC, going back into graduate school and being told what to think and when to do things was a little, little hard.
So, I, you know, fought the system a lot. I would ask a lot of questions that really had nothing to do with anything about the study of law and were more kind of policy, social justice issues. I was not intimidated by my professors, you know, when they tried that whole Socratic method, if I, you know, did the reading and didn’t understand it.
And they asked me a question, I would say, I had no idea what you’re talking about. And I think over time they grew to respect me because they realized, Oh, wait, this guy, you know, he’s in his mid-twenties, he’s not, you know, some newbie out of undergrad, he’s got some world experience. And so I actually ended up becoming friends with a lot of my professors, but the beginning was rough.
I didn’t like the competitive nature of, you know, everyone worrying about their grades so much. I really thought you should be learning about justice and you know what it meant to be a good moral lawyer. But, yeah, Hastings was very, very cutthroat.
Louis Goodman: When you got out of law school, what was your first legal job?
David Lim: So I’ve only had three legal jobs. The first one that I did for almost 20 years was as a prosecutor for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. I did a short break, about 13 years in, I moved over to the Santa Clara County DA’s Office, which has a whole, we can do a whole podcast just on. The politics of moving district attorney’s offices.
It didn’t take so after 18 months there, I moved back to Alameda. I lasted another, Oh, probably six, seven years in Alameda. And then I retired. Last year in 2019, opened my own private practice, did that for a year. And now I’m at a firm called Richards, Watson & Gershon, which does public law, representation
Louis Goodman: When you were in the district attorney’s office, can you tell us about, any notable experience that you had there, whether it was a specific case or just an experience having been there.
David Lim: Yeah. You Louis, you and I were in the trenches together. I know that the listeners are podcasts don’t know that, but you and I have been friends for a long time.
You were always one of the good guys, but you were a defense attorney who fought hard for his clients and you know, you and I could probably sit for three hours and tell stories of funny things that happened to us and to our clients, both victims and defendants. But I will tell you, I have to. I have a number of good stories.
I have nothing, but really good memories of being a District Attorney for Alameda County. The very first.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, me too, by the way. You know, I was in the DA’s office years ago and it was a great place to work. Really great.
David Lim: Yeah. It was, it was, it’s the two stories that stick out the most. If I had to pick, you know, One or two.
So the first one was, you know, I’m a brand-new DA. I work at the old Berkeley, Berkeley Municipal Court. It’s not there anymore. This was before they consolidated all the courts into Superior Courts. And, so I had a Berkeley Municipal Court. I was doing the misdemeanor calendar and jury trials in Berkeley, which is, you know, kind of like if you’re a Prosecutor, it’s probably the most unfriendly venue to be dropped in as a new District Attorney because it’s very liberal and they are very, you know, even back in 1999, when I started black lives matter had not even come onto the scene yet, but there was a very high, suspicion on any government prosecution agency.
And my very first case, literally the first week I had, you know, I hadn’t even sat down and warmed up my seat yet. I get handed a case to take out to trial. It’s a case involving, the old Albany Bulb. The park and rec area out there. Probably every 10 years, Albany gets a bee up their bonnet and they say, okay, we want to clear all the homeless people out because we want to develop it into housing or a park or whatever they want to do.
So back then they were in one of their moods and they wanted to, clear out the bums. So they did, there was a man there named Michael Smith, who was this eccentric, you know, homeless guy. And he had, he was an artist and he built this wonderful native American teepee painted, and they basically bulldozed it.
And they forced him out and they charged him with trespass and it was a political case because they needed to make an example of someone and they had decided to pick on poor Mr. Smith. I get this case for jury trial. I’m looking at it and going, this is not why I became a District Attorney. I did not become a District Attorney to pick on you know, homeless guys who just want to live somewhere and have this beautiful teepee that the city bulldozes down seemed crazy to me, but you know, I was brand new and I needed the job. And, my boss explained to me that, you know, sometimes you get marching orders and you got to follow them and you know, he was in violation of the law.
So I screwed up my courage. I had no idea how to pick a jury. I had no idea how to make In Limine motions. I just went in there. I literally got my butt handed to me, I think it was like a 20-minute acquittal where people said, how can the city do is to this poor man? And so I fulfilled my constitutional obligations as a prosecutor.
Luckily things got better. I started handling, you know, real cases after that, where people had committed real crimes, but I’ll never forget that one. Cause he was a really nice man. He would talk to me while we were on breaks and he at one point said, Oh, I know you’re just doing your job. You know, no harm, no, no hard feelings.
And he was so nice and he really made it better for me to feel like, you know, he was going to be okay. So I felt okay. And you know, you, and I know it was a misdemeanor trespass, even if he had been convicted, he wasn’t going to do any time. It was more just a political statement. So that was kind of an eye-opening kind of fun first experience, a very low stress jury trial.
One more story. So yeah, the other story was a little more serious, but again, it’s fine. It’s sort of the gallows humor that Louis you and I have, right. As being in criminal law. If you practice it for any amount of time, you take it seriously, but you also kind of have to laugh at some of the weirdness that goes on. Otherwise you’ll go crazy. So this was a case, it was a very serious case. It was an attempted murder, assault with an assault rifle. A young man basically decides he’s going to kill his rival. He walks up on a van that he thinks contains his rivals, starts shooting a Mac 11 or some sort of semiautomatic weapon at the van, just lights up the van. Peppering it and you’re right with bullets, such a bad shot. He hits the van. Luckily doesn’t kill anybody. Thank God. But it also turns out that the van is full of people. He knows his friends, his rival was not in the van. It was just like six people who all knew. One of them jumps out of the van and started screaming, Mooky, Mooky. It’s me. Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. And he gets hit in the ankle for his trouble. So that’s the worst injury thing. Thank goodness. But during the trial, we basically call all six witnesses and because all six witnesses are friends of the defendant, they were reluctant witnesses, uncooperative witnesses, I think you and I used to call them and, The defendant for some odd reason, decides that instead of just sort of appealing to the friendship of his friends, to tell them, you know, to not cooperate with the prosecutor, he decides to go strong arm tactic.
So he has three guys come into court every day and sit in the audience and basically glare at the witnesses as they’re coming in and glare at them while they’re on the stand. And this has the effect of them all, not suddenly not remembering what happened. But I’m able to impeach each of them with their statements.
And so it goes very well for me. Cause a jury is watching these, you know, thugs in the audience mean mug my witnesses and they can put two and two together. And it was a very quick trial. And I remember that attorney yelling at his guy saying, you gotta get these guys out of here. You know, you they’re ruining the case. You’re going to, you’re going to get convicted so fast. And of course, nobody listened. So the funny part of the story is they’ve done this to, you know, three or four of my witnesses. I got two or three more left to go. We’re coming back from a lunch break. I come into the hallway of the old Rene C. Davidson courthouse, which is you, and I know you come up the elevator and you come into an hallway and you’re kind of locked on the floor and the courtroom doors are on either side of the hallway. Well, the courtroom doors were locked because we were coming back from lunch and I was a little early and I wanted to sit out there and, you know, go over my notes for the afternoon session.
And the witnesses are downstairs in our office with our inspectors so that, you know, they’re kind of being kept safe because of these guys walking around and we didn’t want some sort of altercation that could pop off. So I’m sitting there alone in this hallway, the courtroom doors are locked.
There’s nowhere to go. I’m sitting on a bench, the elevator door opens and two of the guys come in. Two of the thugs come in. And they see me and they come over, they sit right next to me on either side of me, clearly in an effort to intimidate me. And they’re just sitting there and I’m thinking, okay, what am I going to do?
I’m you know, I’m alone. My police officer inspector’s downstairs. If these guys suddenly decide to wail on me, there’s not a darn thing I can do about it. If I scream, I don’t think anyone’s going to hear me. But then I think they’re not dumb enough to attack a prosecutor in a courtroom. Are they? But you and I Louis know that everything happened they didn’t, you know, they’re not the smartest bananas of the bunch of they’re trying to intimidate witnesses.
So I’m literally there sitting there with them for about 30 seconds. And finally, I decided, you know what, I’m just going to, I got to play tough. I gotta play tough if I don’t who knows what can happen. So I turned to them and I said, I’m very polite. I don’t yell at them, but I said, gentlemen, can I help you?
I said, because you know that I’m the District Attorney. And is there anything that I can answer? Any questions I can ask for you to answer for you? Anything at all that I can help you with? I just want to let them know that I wasn’t scared of them. I was trying to just act confident and it’s hilarious because they kind of look at me for a second and then they go, Oh my God.
We’re so sorry. We thought you were the next witness. We did not know we do for a guy. You were the District Attorney. It’s our bad. We would never they’re like we don’t meet. We would never try to do anything to the District Attorney, man. We’re so sorry. It was it all good. And I’m looking at them like, first of all relief that I’m not about to get beat up, but to being like you guys gotta be the dumbest people ever. I’ve never met, like we’ve been trialed out for a week and that, and you’ve seen me as asking these people questions, but maybe they were so fixated on it. The witnesses they never took notice of me, which is the only thing I can think of.
But the funniest part was they became so nice. They were like, Oh, we’re so sorry. Oh, you know, we didn’t mean it. You mean last week I on the, and they left and I thought in their mind signs, intimidating a witness. Okay. But intimidating a DA is not like that’s a weird. That’s a weird line to have, right. A weird line.
Not to cross you figure if you’re going to do me a witness. What does it matter to intimidate the, but I thought it was hilarious because after that, they were kind of nice to me. See me and they’d sort of wave kind of smile and then go back to intimidate witnesses. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, well, everybody’s got their job. You know, the judge has got a job. You’ve got a job. Attorney’s got a job. That’s nice. That’s their job to intimidate witnesses.
Louis Goodman: You left the district attorney’s office and went into practice for yourself. Yes.
David Lim: For a year or two.
Louis Goodman: And what sort of practice did you have at that time?
David Lim: So I left office, took my pension. I’m 50 and I had one of those old timey pensions. That’s really good. So I’ve turned 50. I’m like, I’m going to take that good old timey pension and opened my own practice focused mostly on criminal defense work, I would say about 80% criminal defense. And then I was trying to build up a land use, civil practice from my time as a city, a city council member.
Cause I really enjoyed a local municipal law. I enjoy watching our city attorney work and I thought I want to do that. That’s kind of fun.
Louis Goodman: How did it feel going from the District Attorney’s Office over to the criminal defense side?
David Lim: You know, it wasn’t as hard a transition as people would think. I think people always think that for a prosecutor, the hardest part is interacting with your client who is now the defendant.
And I never really thought that was an issue. Even as a prosecutor, I was probably one of the more liberal prosecutors you’d ever meet. I mean, you heard my story of Michael Smith, the teepee guy and sort of the sympathies I had for him. To me, there was always a thin line between a person who was a defendant and a person who was the victim.
A lot of times it boiled down to who drew their gun first.
Louis Goodman: Were most of your cases in San Mateo County?
David Lim: I would say, yeah, the large portion were in San Mateo County. I did a few with our good friend, Jack Noonan. He’s a very prominent well-respected defense attorney in Alameda County. Nice guy.
He had some cases he needed help with, so I worked with Jack on a few cases, but you know, it’s hard driving from San Mateo to Dublin. It’s a long drive.
David Lim: Yeah. I mean, yeah, the, before times now you just go on to the blue jeans and you appear, and your microphone doesn’t work and that’s a whole another set of problems.
Louis Goodman: I’m wondering if your experiences coincide with mine, which is people tend to, I think, to get in trouble with the law, mainly because they’re either drinking or using drugs or both.
David Lim: I would say that’s absolutely fair, you know, or if they just have bad decision making processes, you know, you go through the mind and you talk to your client and you’ve done this a hundred times more than I have thousands of times more than I have.
But I agree with you that the, the trigger factor for most crimes is some sort of substance abuse, you know, but I think socioeconomic status plays a large role in it that. You know, if you are financially insecure, if you’re housing insecure, it leads to a lot of stress which can lead to poor decisions because of the stress that you feel that you need provide for your family.
And you make decisions which ended up not, you know, being the best choice.
Louis Goodman: Well, do you, do you think that the, that the legal system is fair or dispenses justice, or do you think it’s unfair and doesn’t dispense justice?
David Lim: See, I’m used to talking to those who don’t know. I mean, this is the secret that we can release to your listening audience, that prosecutors and defense attorneys, at least the good ones on both sides, we get along.
Right then, would you agree? I mean, like if you had a client, if I was still a prosecutor and you were the defense attorney and you had a client that you absolutely believe was innocent, you would do everything in your power to acquit him. You would come at me with every tool in your legal arsenal, but at the end of the day, we would go get lunch.
We might hang out. We might even see each other in Tahoe, skiing and talk and hang out with our families. That’s a secret that I think people who watch Law and Order don’t understand is that you know, it’s important in the system for the system to work for there to be good relationships between prosecutors, defense, attorneys, judges, court staff.
And so to answer your question, I am not avoiding your question. My point is I think that our system, our American judicial system is the best system in the world. Hands down for dispensing justice, but like every other construct, it is a human made construct. And so it is still susceptible to the prejudices and foibles of are very humanistic.
Louis Goodman: if someone was, just starting out in their career, someone was in college and asked you about going to law school. Would you recommend the law as a career for a young person?
David Lim: Yeah, that’s a loaded question because on the one hand I’ve had a great career. I have had no complaints.
That’s paid for my house. It’s allowed me to have a very privileged lifestyle with my family and we are never wanting for anything. You know, I would say it’s not for everybody, you know, I think you have to go on with a clear mind of what it is that you want to do. I think the advice I’d give to people, in fact, I gave this advice to my niece because she’s starting law school this fall and the advice I give young people is, you know, law’s a wonderful career. It teaches you wonderful skills in terms of analytics, in terms of thinking and negotiating and parsing down issues. But you shouldn’t do it just because you want to make a lot of money. Because I think if you go into law thinking, Oh, I want to make a lot of money. You’re going to be miserable. You’re going to go to the highest paying job that you can find, which is probably going to be some firm. But if you’re not passionate about it, you’re quickly going to become disenchanted.
Louis Goodman: What one thing would you like to change if you had the power to do it?
David Lim: Wow, that’s a great question.
So in terms of societal health, I think the one thing I could change would do, I would improve our education system.
Louis Goodman: David Lim. Thank you very much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. We’ve known each other for quite a while. I certainly learned some things about you today that I didn’t know before.
So thank you very much for being so open about it.
David Lim: I enjoyed being on your podcast, Louis. I wish you the best of luck and that’s nice to hear from me. Always. Good to talk.
Zach Thompson – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Today Love Thy Lawyer talks to Zach Thompson. Zach is the President of MediaSmack, a company that focuses on website development for lawyers and for assisting lawyers and law firms in gaining marketing advantage. We’re going to talk about a few different subjects, including website design, SEO campaigns, pay per click advertising, online marketing and internet best practices.
And we’ll touch on a host of other law, business and marketing issues. We’ll also discuss some strategies for dealing with these kinds of marketing and law business issues. Full disclosure. I’ve worked with Zach and Media Smack for years, and they’ve put together the LouisGoodman.com website.
Zach Thompson welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Zach Thompson: Thank you, Louis. I’m actually really excited to be here.
Louis Goodman: Good. So tell me a little bit about your background, where you grew up, where you went to school, what your education is.
Zach Thompson: Sure, so I was actually born in West Texas and as a preteen, I ended up moving out to Northern California.
We lived everywhere from the Central Valley to Sacramento. And then about two years ago, we decided to move back to Dallas.
Louis Goodman: So you’re living back in Texas now?
Zach Thompson: I am, yes. I live about 30 minutes, right outside of Dallas.
Louis Goodman: And you work for a company called Media Smack. And matter of fact, you’re the president of Media Smack.
Is that correct?
Zach Thompson: That’s correct. Yes. We started Media Smack back in 2013 and originally I started it with a good friend of mine who had worked with, at other companies. And about two years ago, I ended up buying him out. And now I’m the sole president.
Louis Goodman: You and I met, and I have this uncanny ability to remember just about everyone, my first encounter with them. And my first encounter with you was at a restaurant in Jack London Square, Scott’s, where you had invited me and a number of other attorneys to a business lunch to discuss what was then really the cutting-edge technology of. lawyer websites and SEO campaigns. And you were working for another company at that time.
Do you recall that?
Zach Thompson: I was, yes. I do remember that day. Yes. I was working at Lexus Nexus, the division of Martindale Hubbell that was doing similar items to what we do now, Media Smack, and yeah, I will always remember. You have a great memory and you were always what I considered more of the cutting-edge lawyers as well.
Louis Goodman: Well, thank you. So what exactly does internet marketing entail? And can you walk us a little bit through the setting up of the website and the SEO process and tell us what exactly is SEO? What does that stand for?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So SEO stands for search engine optimization. All that basically means in so many words is that when someone goes to do a search on the internet, let’s say through a search engine like Google, when you’re doing a search, they’re going to have results that pop up. What search engine optimization is, is there’s some ads that’ll pop up on most searches. Let’s say for a lawyer, you’ll have some maps settings that pop up as well beneath those advertisements.
And then you’ll have the organic section that comes up underneath. And so there’s really three ways that somebody can be found when you do a search result. That’s what search engine optimization is in a quick rundown.
Louis Goodman: When you design a website. Do you think about the search engine optimization in designing the website and what goes into that design?
Zach Thompson: Sure. It’s really important when you’re developing a website, obviously there’s two rules of thumb. There’s one where the consumer, what the consumer is going to see what the client, what one of our personal clients let’s say, wants to have their site look like. And that’s from the user experience standpoint.
Now, the other part you have to think about is the design. The speed, how it’s built again, back to user experience, but you have to think about how am I going to optimize this site? How am I going to make sure that Google reads it? Because that’s really what it is. Google’s reading and crawling all over your site to make sure that you can come up well for a particular search.
And so you have to make sure that there’s, hundreds of factors that go into building out a website the appropriate way. And it’s really important that you’re following those best standards and best practices from Google.
Louis Goodman: I know you’ve talked to me about this a little bit. I can’t say I’ve ever really completely understood it, but there’s certain backend things and kind of invisible pages in a well-constructed website is that correct?
Zach Thompson: There are anything from, to make it simplistic. Anything for me, even having, let’s say with your practice, you’re a criminal defense lawyer. And so you have your criminal defense practice. And then within that, even as in building out a website, if I was talking about your domestic violence page or DUI page, any other sub area of practice page, those have to be structured in a format that makes it easy for Google to read, because what we see is this wonderful website.
On the backend, what Google sees is a bunch of different code. And so you have to make sure the code, the structure, et cetera, is all submitted the appropriate way in order to number one rank. Well, but number two, give off a good user experience because without a good user experience, Google really is not giving you as much push towards the top of the page as others.
Louis Goodman: Zach, can you tell me a little bit about online marketing and how that works?
Zach Thompson: Sure thing. So a lot of different component can be done online. We talked briefly about having a website, having search engine optimization, SEO. There’s also pay per click advertisements. Those are Google AdWords. It’s a budgetary process.
It’s the ads that you see. On top of Google, whenever you do a particular search, that’s pretty simplistic. You give Google an ad budget, and then from there they’ll run the appropriate ads and you monitor and maintain them. There is social media marketing that you can do with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I’m even seeing lawyers now doing things on Snapchat, as well as doing things on tiktok.
So it’s always ever changing another type of advertising online. That is not as utilized as in my opinion, as it should be is video. Right.
Louis Goodman: How does that work? How does the video advertising work?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So it’s in multiple different ways that you can utilize video advertising. You can either have a main video of, let’s say one to three minutes that you put on your website.
You can have it in your email, signature, those types of things, or you can cut several different videos, uh, client testimonials. 30 to 60 second spots that you can have. On your website, let’s say you have a domestic violence page. You can have a video explaining why to call you for as a domestic violence lawyer or any type of very practice.
So that’s how they’re utilizing videos a lot.
Louis Goodman: On your website you talk about something called internet best practices. What do you mean by that?
Zach Thompson: So again, like we talked about with Google and how when you’re building a website, they have different parameters. We have to follow the best practices for Google, but also we have to follow the best practices in general, for ethics, especially dealing with the legal industry.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to get interested in this type of work?
Zach Thompson: So funny enough, I actually, years ago began, I went in and did an interview and began selling yellow page advertising.
Louis Goodman: I remember those days.
Zach Thompson: Yeah, yeah. It was funny to me; I was unaware that the advertising costs any money. So I very quickly learned that the advertisements were so expensive and part of my youth was selling advertising, but it was right when the internet was getting big.
And back then we were selling one, three or five page websites. So if you can imagine not large sites whatsoever. So one of my jobs was to help, help the folks that and wanted to still maintain advertisements. But I was such a believer in the internet that I began putting a lot of those programs online.
And then from there eventually made my way at Lexus Nexus. Back when I was with Yellow Pages, I was dealing a lot with the lawyers that were from our books and was helping a lot of different branches close out those books and make those movements over to the internet. Because it was so new and then went over to Lexus, did the same thing for Martindale Hubbell and then eventually made our way to Media Smack.
Louis Goodman: I know that you and Media Smack, I don’t know whether you personally have, I know someone you work with, Sean, has done some presentations for the Alameda County Bar Association, so that lawyers could come to a presentation that Media Smack put on. And I certainly appreciate you guys doing that because it’s interesting and informative for lawyers to hear that kind of thing. But I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the Alameda County Bar Association presentations.
Zach Thompson: So we did speaking events a lot throughout the country prior to COVID. We had several setup with even large bar organizations and their leadership groups.
One of the things that we talk about in Alameda with, at that bar association is the fact that everybody’s familiar and it’s more of a technology niche group area as compared to other parts of the country. So one thing that we talk about is a big statement, which is why Google doesn’t trust you. And one reason why we bring that up is because a lot of lawyers don’t always understand that, although they’ve been practicing for quite some time, or maybe they’ve split from a firm of some kind.
Although they have ethics and they have been in this industry for quite some time. From a website standpoint and from an SEO standpoint, Google doesn’t quite trust you yet. And what our goal is with that presentation is to talk to you about ways to build trust, just like a relationship with Google.
Louis Goodman: So how does that work? How do you build trust with Google?
Zach Thompson: So one of the things that you have to do is you have to make sure that you’re submitting the right information. You have to make sure that again, even going back to the website, the appropriate standards and how you built your site, you want to start giving Google information about your firm.
You want to start getting listed. On several different sites throughout the internet. Now, some folks will just say we build backlinks. That’s not exactly what we’re talking about. It’s creating backlinks, but it’s following all the standards. It’s also, if you’re going to, let’s say build some links that are, go to your website.
You’re not going too fast and too quick with Google. I’ve seen it so many times where a firm has gone straight to page one. And then they fallen off and gone to page five when you do a search and it happens so quickly and it’s because they’re not following those standards. It’s like a relationship you don’t want to move too fast, too quickly.
You want to follow the right steps. And by doing that, you’re building trust. Another thing that we do for some clients is we do things like guest blogging. Well, if you were, if you’ve been a lawyer for 20 plus years, it was in articles you were featured, let’s say in an article. So that was a really respectable thing.
And now with the internet, we’re able to do those same types of programs, but do it more from a guest blogging standpoint where we can feature you and then send out that information. And what you’re doing is you’re showing Google that you’re linking well with others and then the third linking well with you.
And again, it’s kind of like being good on the playground if you’re working well with everyone and everyone’s sharing Google seems to like that on a personal level.
Louis Goodman: What do you like about the work that you do?
Zach Thompson: One of the things that I really care about is following through with the things that I say that I’m going to do.
And that is why we actually started Media Smack because we were tired of going out and talking with lawyers in any community. And that was the same thing over and over. We continue to hear, they had signed up for a service regardless of the company and that they felt that the service wasn’t being performed.
And so what we did at Media Smack is we wanted to start this company doing what we knew how to do in a great way, and actually fulfill. The promises that people tell people they’re going to do. And so one of the things that I want to make sure, always I enjoy dealing and interacting with different types of lawyers.
It’s a great group., I think you have to have the knack for it. They’re highly educated folks. They need to be talked to a certain way. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years with so many different lawyers throughout the country.
Louis Goodman: So if someone was just coming out of college and was looking for a career, do you think that going into a career doing the kind of work that Media Smack does is something that you would recommend?
Zach Thompson: I do. I think that it would be great for somebody who is just graduating from college to get into the world of internet marketing. I think it could be done. And if done right. And I wouldn’t necessarily start my own business necessarily because it does take time and it takes success from previous endeavors to do well and for a lawyer to feel comfortable with it.
But I think great is that if somebody learns how to do this, they can help a firm later on, let’s say that they were going to law school. They could go and help a firm that they’re working at and they could help. Gain more on their paycheck from that, obviously doing more and be little bit more dependable with those firms, but also it teaches you marketing in general and some of the best firms in the country that I’ve seen, know what they’re doing via marketing.
It’s tough out there. And especially with the COVID times, you know, if you don’t have a good word of mouth system and a lot of marketing that turns into clients which turns into word of mouth, I think it’d be great for anybody young to get involved with it.
Louis Goodman: How has actually doing this work met or different from your expectations?
Zach Thompson: I’ve never would have thought that we would have grown to our size and the amount of time I had expectations of growing. And I’ve always said that I would never want to get to the size of a company or I don’t know my clients by first name basis. I never want my clients to feel that they are just client number 86203
And so I’ve been really, really fortunate having a fantastic team. I have some of the best people that are out in the business right now. And from an expectation standpoint, it’s met and exceeded all of our goals.
Louis Goodman: What kind of stuff keeps you up at night?
Zach Thompson: So I’m a dad. I worry about that.
Especially right now during the times that we’re in, I worry about my kids and what the new normal is going to be.
Louis Goodman: What if you came into some real money, I mean, somehow or other two, $3 billion landed in your lap. What if anything would you do different in your life?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So I would probably do one of two things.
I would either continue doing exactly what I’m doing, because I think that so many folks stop working and stop doing the things that are normal and they kind of get away from it. And I mean, although it would be very lavish and fantastic. God’s been really good to us. We have a beautiful home, beautiful family. Everyone’s healthy. I really, I’m not a materialistic person, so I don’t really need to go spend all of that, but I would probably either do that or funny enough, I would probably go and coach high school football because I’m a big sports guy and it would be great to not have to worry about financial pieces that are involved with having to work and just go back and help kids get better and be a mentor to them as they go through those times.
Louis Goodman: I remember once asking you that question some time ago and you gave me a slightly different answer. So. Well, I’m just going to tell you what it was. Because I’ve asked this question to lots of people, not just on the podcast. It’s one of my questions. And I remember your answer because I thought it was one of the better answers I’d gotten.
And you said, and I’m wondering if you still agree with this, that you’d set up a really nice home gym and hire a personal instructor to come by on a routine basis to work with you.
Zach Thompson: Absolutely. I could tell you, it would be fantastic to have that. I still would follow suit with that.
Absolutely. To be able to have an at home chef and a personal trainer come to your house. That’d be great.
Louis Goodman: Well, if let’s say you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, whether it’s in the marketing world or in the legal world, or just in the world in general, and you could wave that magic wand and have a change, what would you like to see changed?
Zach Thompson: Hmm. With the magic wand? One thing that I’d really like to see is for everybody to be more open to others’ ideas. I’m a very big outside the box thinker. And I think that whether it’s myself or whether it’s someone I’m listening to, or whether it’s just folks in general, especially in society, I think it’d be great if we could have a little bit more patience with folks.
And sometimes I feel some of the best ideas are ones that sound crazy. Out front, whenever we picked the name Media Smack, for example, I thought it was a crazy idea and it ended up being fantastic. So I would just say if I could wave a magic wand, it would be to listen to some of the outlandish ideas and give some of them a chance.
Louis Goodman: We talk a lot these days about the corporate environment or the business environment or the work environment. Can you tell us a little bit about what the environment is like in the Media Smack universe?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So we’re a predominantly, a women run company. Everybody on my senior management team is a woman, we have fun, fantastic groups of people I’m so lucky to have gotten some of the folks that work for us.
I attribute all of our success to my team, to the folks that are out there doing what we do every single day. We like to have fun. And even if you go to our about us page, for example, you’ll hover over one of our photos and we have, if you hover over, there’s all these different things that everyone does.
We have our serious picture and then we kind of have our fun picture. And so I think keeping it as a good culture of everybody getting along, holding people accountable.
Louis Goodman: How big a company is a Media Smack now?
Zach Thompson: So we have 20 employees here at Media Smack.
Louis Goodman: So if I were to hover over Zach Thompson, what kinds of recreational things would come up for what you like to do?
Zach Thompson: So I am a coach first and foremost. So even on our website, if you hover over my photo, I’m holding a clipboard, a track, a whistle, a football. I coach I have three kids. I’ve coached all three of them, many different times.
I’m a coach first and foremost. If I could have had a golf club in there, I’d love to. I would love to have that in there, but it didn’t go with the photo. And then funny enough, I enjoy fishing. My sons love it. So we go fishing often. And then once we moved to Texas, I don’t know what it was, but my wife decided all of a sudden that she wanted to be kind of a little rancher. So we actually funny enough have several farm animals here at the house as well, too. She’s interesting. Never would’ve thought that would be the case.
Louis Goodman: What kind of animals?
Zach Thompson: So we have a miniature Longhorn, a miniature mule. We have about 16 chickens, two dogs, two cats.
And then we have six fainting goats.
Louis Goodman: What’s a fainting goat?
Zach Thompson: A fainting goat is a goat that when it becomes startled, the legs literally tense up and faint. And sometimes after you’ve had a tough week or you’ve just in general, just need to go out and smile and laugh. It is fun to watch those goats run around and faint.
Louis Goodman: Zach Thompson. Thanks so much for joining us today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and I really appreciate your insights.
Thanks so much, Louis. Glad to have been a part of it. I love what you’re doing, I think it’s a great thing, to have this podcast .
Carin Johnson – Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to love by 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. Today, We welcome Carin Johnson to the pod. Over the past 25 years, Carin and her husband, Peter have built an aggressive litigation practice focusing on criminal law and juvenile justice.
They’ve also successfully raised three boys. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing her story. Carin Johnson, welcome to love thy lawyer. It’s. Such an honor to talk to you, and we’re very happy to have you on the program. You have a very impressive background and resume. And, where are you from [00:01:00] originally?
Carin Johnson: Originally, I’m from South San Francisco.
We called it South city. the industrial city. If you drive from San Francisco to the airport, you can see the big letters on big white cement letters on the mountains has South San Francisco. When I was a kid, I used to slide down those letters on cardboard.
Louis Goodman: And did, did you have like brothers and sisters who you did that with?
Carin Johnson: my older brother, my partner in crime, basically. I see.
Louis Goodman: Okay. Well, I hope the statute’s run on everything that you did. Did you go to school there at, in South San Francisco?
Carin Johnson: I did. I went through elementary school and middle school, Southwood junior high Ponderosa elementary school.
And then later on, I never went to El Camino high school. Because my mom moved over to the San Ramon area and then eventually quite quickly, I [00:02:00] moved to go live with my dad in a small town called fall river mills and went to school at the high school. They’re a very tiny, tiny
Louis Goodman: where’s fall river mills
Carin Johnson: fall river mills is about one hour South of Mount Shasta and an hour and a half East of Redding, California.
And it’s gorgeous. fly fishing is very popular there. In fact, when I was in high school, I worked at the fly fishing lodge down the road from my house.
Louis Goodman: So it sounds like you got some experience being a country girl too.
Carin Johnson: Yeah. So I’m a little country. I’m a little rock and roll. So there’s a little bit of me from both sides and anyone who knows me well will tell you that that’s.
Pretty spot on.
Louis Goodman: What high school did you graduate from?
Carin Johnson: I graduated from fall river, junior, senior high school in MacArthur, California. And that’s the little tiny town outside of the little tiny town of Fallbrook.
Louis Goodman: After you got out [00:03:00] of fall river high school, you went to
Carin Johnson: college. I did. So I used to take a bus from fall river mills to Redding, California every day.
They were, they had a bus to get the kids to college. And I went to Shasta junior college. Eventually I moved to Redding, California, about a year, I think, up for the bus, the bus trips, and then eventually moved to Chico state and finished and got my bachelor’s degree at Chico state. Universal.
Louis Goodman: How was your experience at Chico?
Carin Johnson: Well, we were the number one party school when I graduated as a C.
Louis Goodman: Was that because of you?
Carin Johnson: Mostly because of me. I studied really hard through college and I left all my easy classes for my senior year, so I can keep a great GPA and go to school full time party, full time. And
Louis Goodman: what sort of work did you do?
Carin Johnson: I was always waitressing. [00:04:00] I had usually had at least two days jobs, because I put myself through college and law school. I was always working two or three jobs. Well, yeah. Wow.
Louis Goodman: So you probably had to take a pay cut when you became a lawyer?
Carin Johnson: yeah. Well actually when I first became a lawyer, I was still catering for Marriott at their big facility in San Ramon because when I opened up my shop, I didn’t have a lot of money.
I, a junky old car, but I was able to be a lawyer full time and still get some extra money catering until my, lawyering took off.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Carin Johnson: I went to law school at golden gate university in San Francisco. That’s where I met my husband, Peter Johnson,
Louis Goodman: the luckiest guy in the world.
Carin Johnson: Pretty lucky.
Louis Goodman: When you graduated from law school, what was your first legal job?
Carin Johnson: My first legal job, [00:05:00] well, was working for myself. So I graduated law school. Took the bar. And, I had a ton of public defender applications on my desk because I really wanted to be a public defender. I wanted to, you know, I wanted to have like a hundred cases and I wanted to run through the court, hallways, you know, from one court to another, helping people that the government was stepping all over.
but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to fill out the forms because my whole life I’ve been filling out these job application forms, as a waitress and I didn’t want to do it anymore. So what I decided to do was just go into practice for myself. And when I did, I had $27. I’ll never forget it. I had $27 in the bank and, I opened up a practice in Hayward, California, Richard Stone, who is one of the most wonderful, most important people in my life.
To [00:06:00] this day, he offered me an office. He said, look it, if you help cover some of my court appearances, because I have too many, you can open up your practice right here in my bill and Hayward. And that’s what I did.
Louis Goodman: Started working as a defense attorney with Richard Stone as well. And it was a great experience and I learned so much from him.
How did you originally start thinking about going law school? I mean, why did you want to be a lawyer in the first place?
Carin Johnson: Well, people tell me, I don’t remember this, that I guess I said I always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was young and the first time, I remember it being, a definite path for me is when I kept seeing my brother and my stepbrother, getting arrested out of my home, where I live with them.
You know, the cops would come in and drag them out often. my brother had a lot of run ins with the law and it was always a little interesting to me as I listened to what happened and what was going on. And that’s [00:07:00] when I decided for sure that law would be my career path.
Louis Goodman: So you came out of law school, you didn’t want to fill out all those forms.
So you hung your shingle and, got some space with Richard Stone, and. How did things go after that?
Carin Johnson: Well, things went really well. I learned a lot from Mr. Stone. I was in his building for about, I think 10 years or nine years. He taught me how to literally, Be fearless. My husband also taught me how to not fear experts because I always thought they were scary once I had the, I guess, knowledge too, not be fearful of these.
Potentially tough circumstances as an attorney, I took off and Richard Stone was the first one. I think I was in his office for two weeks and he said, Hey, Carin, you want to be a trial lawyer. Right. And I said, yeah, I want to be a trial lawyer. And he hands me a file. And he [00:08:00] says, trial starts in five minutes upstairs.
And I tried my first case in front of judge Peggy Hora and the penalty for the case, if I lost was a hundred dollar fine for my client and stone just wanted to sort of, kind of break me in, I think, and throw me into my very first jury trial. And I absolutely loved
Louis Goodman: it. What kind of case was it?
Carin Johnson: It was a solicitation for prostitution case.
Louis Goodman: What was the result?
Carin Johnson: The result was my client was found guilty.
Louis Goodman: Did you do after that? I mean, give me like a brief history of your legal career because. You and your husband have really developed quite the practice.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, we have Peter and I are partners at the law offices of Johnson and Johnson, and we like to consider ourselves frontline trial attorneys.
Most of our cases go to trial. We welcome it. trial, cross examination is the engine [00:09:00] of truth. I believe that whole heartedly, you don’t get justice many times until you have a trial. Peter goes to trial all day long. I go to trial all day long. It’s kind of been what we’ve always done as lawyers.
We’re not really settlement types. We are very happy and comfortable being on the front lines. I try a lot of right now. I try a lot of dependency cases. Which is when the government takes your children from you. I get them back. I’m pretty fearless about that. I have a, a lot of very high-end cases where I’m dealing with intentional burns, strangulation, abusive head trauma, the old shaken baby syndrome, which has been debunked because the science was a bunch of, Bologna.
I deal with broken bone cases, all kinds of pretty high level. I call them high level because, they’re very tough.
Louis Goodman: Are the dependency cases in front of juries?
Carin Johnson: No, [00:10:00] they’re not. they’re not. So I wish they were. some States have jury trials for dependency cases. California does not, which frankly I find is extremely unfortunate.
And if there was something I could change about the system, it would be exactly that because when you impeach a social worker, it would count.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Carin Johnson: What I like about it is, I am able to provide strength to my clients. Strength to the families who feel defeated from day.
One, many times treated frankly like garbage by the system and I’m able to, protect them, fight for them and get them through the system with dignity. And I get their kids back. How has
Louis Goodman: actually practicing law met or differed from your original expectations when you got into the profession?
Carin Johnson: To tell you the [00:11:00] truth.
It’s quite what I expected. I wanted to be the lawyer that ran through the hallway with a ton of cases, shooting from the hip, I guess, but prepared at the same time. That’s what I wanted to do. And that’s what I ended up doing. I ended up just loving it, taking my cases and fighting really hard. What I do.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about a case that went really well for you?
Carin Johnson: A case that would really well for me is when I was, hired on the case in San Diego. My client had hired an attorney who I had offered to help for free train him on the science of phones, broken bones fractures, but he didn’t take a take me up on my offer.
when the trial started my client. Was texting me under the table, telling her things were going horrible. And I said, well, I can’t advise you. I’m not your lawyer. You’re the lawyer in the courtroom next to you is so she flew me, these [00:12:00] San Diego the next day with my paralegal who came with me because we had to get ready pretty fast.
We stayed up all night. I came in on the trial the very next day called an expert witness that. The day after that day, I had a bone expert on the stand. I lost the trial. I should have won the trial. I filed an appeal with the fourth district court of appeal. I got a unanimous reversal, because the court of appeal said, to not give this person a reversal would be a substantial injustice.
Well, then I tried the case again in front of another judge that I don’t know, maybe didn’t care so much. I lost again, which I should have won. I filed another appeal. With the fourth district court of appeal got another unanimous reversal and the child went home.
Louis Goodman: Great result.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, it was awesome.
Louis Goodman: You and [00:13:00] Peter have been practicing law and obviously you are in the business of practicing law.
And I’m wondering how that’s been for you
Carin Johnson: with my husband and practicing law.
Louis Goodman: Well, yeah. Working with your husband and then also the business, you know, where you get business from and, and taking care of just the money aspects of it. Cause it’s not easy.
Carin Johnson: No. So how we do it is Peter’s office has way up front in the office and mine is way in the back.
We sort of run a, two sides of the office.
Louis Goodman: You also have a family; you and Peter have kids.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, we have three boys. They’re giants.
Louis Goodman: How old are they now?
Carin Johnson: I have a 21-year-old or wait, I have a 22-year-old. I have a 20-year-old and I have a 15-year-old. Wow.
Louis Goodman: I bet that has been quite an experience during the practice of law.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, [00:14:00] so we have three boys. They’re awesome. and they get it. They were carried around on, on the hip while I had a deposition transcript and the other hand, they’ve spent a lot of time in the office when we had to get something done. They’ve seen us up at three in the morning working and they understand it.
So I think that my kids have developed a really good, I guess, work ethic because they see. It was just by accident. They see Peter and I working. We try to work when we, when they were little, we tried to work when they were sleeping and not so much when they were awake. So that’s where the three in the morning thing came from.
But we had the help of his family.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system dispenses justice, do you think it’s fair?
Carin Johnson: Well, I only think it’s fair when everyone leaves their confirmatory bias at the door only. You mean by that? [00:15:00] Well, many times you walk into a criminal courtroom and people assume the guy or the gal is guilty.
Cause they’re there. And that everything that goes into their head, everything, they hear everything they see many times just they see that in a, in a vision that confirms their bias. So if confirmatory biases were really left at the door, this goes for everyone, the judge, the government, the minor’s counsel, the prosecution, the jurors.
Then I think the justice system would work.
Louis Goodman: What I’m hearing you saying, correct me if I’m wrong, is that you think that it’s very difficult and unusual for people to leave their confirmatory biases at the door?
Carin Johnson: I do. I mean, I think the justice system does work. If you’re able to send them, send that message to leave it at the door.
I mean, even attorneys themselves have their own confirmatory biases and [00:16:00] you have to always check. That and even, even strategizing a case, I, for example, check that confirmatory bias.
Louis Goodman: You’ve done some teaching too, haven’t you?
Carin Johnson: Yes. I teach. Yeah. Every year at Los Madonnas college. and the juvenile class.
I love that. I also bring in a lot of interns, lawyers. I try to teach what I know, to other people. I love it. I reach out. And say, Hey, let me, let me teach you about, how to handle this broken bone subdural hematoma case. I’m in fact, I’m thinking about reaching out to a program and Hayward, where they have a lot of new lawyers and I’ve found them to be very, energetic and great.
And I want to. Go over there and sort of give him a rundown on how to handle these complex medical cases.
Louis Goodman: You’ve also sat as a judge pro tem. So you’ve seen the courtroom from the bench.
Carin Johnson: Yeah. Yes, I have. [00:17:00] I did a lot of that and Contra Costa County when they had the funding to have protons come in and give some of the judges a break.
I did it in juvenile court for a couple of different judges.
Louis Goodman: What was that like?
Carin Johnson: You know, I people ask me that all the time and I’m like, well, I’m more of a frontline fighter. I want to be the guy behind the counsel table fighting the case.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the courtroom looks really different from the bench?
Carin Johnson: Oh, yes. It looks very different from the bench. Well, I think a little bit about, I guess disappointing.
Louis Goodman: Really. Okay.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, because I wanted to see, I want to see advocacy. I want to see people making good arguments, being prepared, and I wanted to see advocacy and I didn’t really see a lot of that. And it was disappointing.
Louis Goodman: So is there any things that you and Peter [00:18:00] like to do outside of practicing law?
Carin Johnson: Well, that’s funny because, yeah, we discovered not so long ago that Peter. Just his happy place is to fish. He’s a fisherman, and mine is to be on water. So
Louis Goodman: those could work together.
Carin Johnson: It’s like I said, you know, we should just get some little boat.
I can sit on the water and you can fish. What are we doing? So these are some of the things you’ve been talking about.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise. What do you think that would be?
Carin Johnson: judgment of people based on race culture? Gender identity or wealth.
Louis Goodman: What if you and Peter came into some real money? I mean like a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you change about the way you live your life?
Carin Johnson: We would do. And we’ve talked about it is we would open our own innocence [00:19:00] project branch. we would hire a bunch of really tough, smart fighting lawyers, and we would.
Open that right up to the public and start looking at, people’s cases and helping them. We’ve talked about this several times.
Louis Goodman: Carin. There’s lots of things that I think we could continue talking about. I’ve really enjoyed our conference here today. Thank you so much for being unloved by lawyer. And I hope to see you again soon in court.
When, some of the craziness that’s been going on in the world passes.
Carin Johnson: Thank you, Louis. It was awesome talking to you as always.
Louis Goodman – Inside the Pod
Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love thy Lawyer inside the pod edition. Kind of like inside baseball. It’s a view from the dugout, how it looks on the inside and what’s been going on in the podcast. I kind of think it’s interesting. And so I thought I would talk about it a little bit. Let me just start with talking about equipment, microphones and sound.
I’m always working on trying to make the sound better. We’ve gotten some new equipment and hopefully the sound will be better. Although I’ve gotten some really good feedback; people saying that the sound is actually quite good and they like the sound. To be perfectly straight about it, there’s a lot of digital recording that’s done that then goes through some automatic sound engineering programs that really improve things.
I’ll give you an example. Let me just mention Rock’s interview, Rock Harmon’s interview. We had some technical difficulties with that. Some people heard it, some people didn’t, and in terms of just the, the technique of it, but the way that that interview ended up being recorded was me talking into a microphone and holding up my iPhone speaker to the microphone. So that’s the way got the interview done.
And obviously that’s probably not the best way of recording from a technical point of view, but it worked and by putting it through some of these automatic sound engineering programs, it made it so that it was listenable. Speaking of Rock and his interview, I wanted to just say a couple of things.
You know, all of my guests, all of them are people who I really admire and respect and like for their work and for who they are as individuals. And Rock is someone who I’ve always really admired for his service in the Navy, for his service as a deputy district attorney, and more than anything really, his relationship with his autistic son. I’ve seen them together on numerous occasions and it just really is something to behold. I just have a just unending respect for the way Rock has treated and taken care of that young man.
Speaking of Rock’s interview. Here’s a quick follow-up. I neglected to ask Rock why he went to law school. So I sent him an email and here’s his verbatim answer by email.
“It’s kind of the same as why I became a DA after eight action packed Navy /Academy years. I knew that I needed to find an action-packed field. It seemed that law school could prepare me to find that kind of action. It sure did.”
I want to talk a little bit about transcripts.
We’re putting them up. And the way these transcripts are created is they come through a program called Descript, which is really interesting. What you do is you take an MP3 or WAV file and you put it into the descript app. And what it does is it creates both an audio track. If anyone’s, if you’re familiar with audacity or garage band or any kind of audio editing, there’s an audio track that comes out.
And at the same time, it’s linked to a text field that looks sort of like a word processing program. When you edit on the text, it edits audio as well. So it’s really an interesting technology. And then it creates a transcript. Now this transcript is not the meticulously. Indexed kind of the thing that we as attorneys are used to seeing from the court reporters, but it’s, it’s a rough track, but it’s pretty good.
And it requires a little bit of work in order to, you know, make it so that the words are really the words that were said and to do some punctuation and some capitalization and getting a few proper names correct. But it, but it does work. And I’m told that this is the same program that some of the big broadcasting companies use when they make their transcripts. I’m told NPR uses it, some of the other big networks.
And I’ve often, you know, when I’ve seen a, a transcript of a TV or radio show, that I’ve seen on the internet. I see a transcript. I want to know they do that. Well, this obviously is the way it is done. And so the transcripts are, are really good because certainly if someone is hard of hearing, it’s, it’s a way to see, what’s in the podcast. And, and in terms of like the wave of the future, the podcasts are going to be running with, with subtitles. Right on the screen of your smartphone or your computer, wherever you’re listening. Very similar to the way there’s subtitles on TV shows and movies. So you heard, you heard it here first.
Speaking of the transcripts. We put a link to the transcript in the show notes. So if you’re listening on Apple podcasts or Spotify, there’s the show notes below the episode and there’s the link to the transcripts. So if you want to get to the transcript, it’s easy to find.
You can also go to the LoveThyLawyer.com website and look at the blog there and all the transcripts are easily available. If you want to look up or download a transcript.
Moving forward, we have three or four new episodes in the queue. They’ll drop on Wednesday mornings. And also I have some ideas for some future bonus episodes.
So stay tuned. I hope you’re listening to podcasts in general. I am, and I’m learning a lot by listening. I try to listen critically now in a way that I’ve never really had before, both in terms of the technique and the content, because there’s, there’s just so much for me to learn in terms of technique.
And there’s so much content out there that I really find fascinating on so many different subjects. So until I talk to you again, thanks so much for listening as always. I want to thank Joel Katz for music, Brian Mathison, for technical support and Tracey Harvey for everything that she does: For me, for my practice and for the podcast.
I’m Louis Goodman. .
Ernie Castillo – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect today. We’re very happy to have Ernie Castillo with us.
He’s a lawyer practicing in Alameda County for quite some time and handled serious cases. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Ernie Castillo: Thank you, Lou. It’s an honor to be here with you on this podcast. It’s my first podcast and I’m happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m very honored to have you on the program. especially considering some of the cases that, you’ve handled.
We’ll talk about that a little bit later. First of all, let’s just start here. Where is your office located?
Ernie Castillo: I have an office in Oakland, on Washington Street down by Jack London. It’s a small little office, I rent some space there. I’ve been out in Oakland practicing for about, I don’t know, 18 years now.
Louis Goodman: And what kind of practice do you have?
Ernie Castillo: I do criminal defense only. Most of my practice consists of homicide cases out here in this County. I have some other types of criminal cases, that I’m dealing with currently, but for the most part, it’s mostly murder cases.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Ernie Castillo: I grew up in San Francisco. I was born in the city, went to high school out there and went to college, went to law school. I moved out to Oakland, I think in 2009, 2008. I’m a city kid.
Louis Goodman: I understand your parents were immigrants from El Salvador.
Ernie Castillo: Yeah. I have an interesting background. Both of my parents, met in America, but they were, originally from El Salvador.
My mother comes from sort of a middle-class family out there. My father was a working-class guy. He grew up primarily with his mother. His father though was, my grandfather was the president of El Salvador in between 1961 and 1962. He formed a coup that took the country over.
So yeah, that’s an interesting background. My parents came here separately and they met here in America.
Louis Goodman: So this fighting spirit is well within your DNA.
Ernie Castillo: It is definitely deep rooted in, right. In my DNA. Absolutely.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to high school in San Francisco?
Ernie Castillo: I did. I went to Reardon high school. It’s a Catholic school. I grew up in San Francisco. I think it’s called Archbishop Reardon now. I think they just went coed. It was the last high school in San Francisco to be all boys until this year, this school year will, they’ll be opening up to girls as well.
Louis Goodman: What was your experience like when you went there?
Ernie Castillo: You know, Reardon seems like a long time ago. Mostly working-class school. So there are these three, you know, Catholic schools in the city that kind of all competed it’s SSI, Sacred Heart and Reardon, and Reardon was definitely on the lower totem pole of the spectrum there between those three schools, mostly a working-class school, predominantly Latino, Asian, and African American.
It was kind of rough. It felt like a high school, to be honest with you, but it was definitely a good bonding experience amongst guys. It was like a locker room. interaction every day, sports was a big one. so you know, it was good. It’s definitely a lot of life experiences that were learned there.
Louis Goodman: Did you play a sport there?
Ernie Castillo: I played a little bit of football, primarily baseball. I was a big baseball player, so I played baseball for years and then I was a catcher actually. So I loved calling the games. I loved being part of the strategy of the game. So we had a lot of fun.
Louis Goodman: And when you’re a catcher, you’re always in the game.
You’re not standing around waiting for the ball to come to you.
Ernie Castillo: Right. Always in the game, always strategizing against batters, putting on calling the defense and all that. It was great. And it’s a lot of fun.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. When you got out of high school, you went to San Francisco State, is that right?
Ernie Castillo: Yep. At San Francisco State, I kept it local.
Kept a working class and went to SF State, graduated in the social sciences with a minor in criminal justice. And, it was a great school. I had a good time there. I developed a very strong bond with the director of the criminal justice program there named John Curtin. And he kind of took me under his wing there.
Try to help me get out of the working-class background I had and tried to push me into law school and make me a professional. And so he took me under his wing, expose me to the law, got me into law school and the rest is history, I guess.
Louis Goodman: So is that when you first started thinking about becoming a lawyer?
Ernie Castillo: I did. That was the very first time. I was at SF state studying in the criminal justice program. One of the classes, there was focused on criminal law. We reviewed like cases, things like that Supreme Court cases. And that really sparked my interest and got me into thinking about going to law school, becoming a lawyer and yeah.
Trying to figure out kind of what I would do if I had become an attorney.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to law school?
Ernie Castillo: I kept local. I stayed at Golden Gate University here in San Francisco. and I loved it there. The professors were great. They were very good, very personal with students. They were very, available and I thought it was great.
It was a great time there.
Louis Goodman: It sounds like mentors have been very important to you in mapping out your career.
Ernie Castillo: Yeah, they have. I’d say it started with San Francisco State guiding me towards law school. Once I went through law school, you know, I think it was after my first or second year in law school, I hooked up with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office as an intern.
I had a trial attorney there who kind of took me under his wing and really exposed me to the work of a public defender and a criminal defense attorney. And one of the emphasis there at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office was trial work. Courtroom work. And so once I got there, the guy that I was working for, essentially just threw me into that courtroom, doing preliminary hearings, motions to suppress, 995 motions, whatever, you name it, just to get me in there.
I can get a feel for what that was like. For sure. And then when I was done with law school, I started in private practice right away in San Francisco. And I worked with a guy, I shared office space with a guy named Joe Sullivan, who is still practicing out there. And he was a big trial guy as well.
And so he had this culture of going to trial and everything. He handled big cases and I learned a tremendous amount about trial work. Being alongside Joe Sullivan. And from there, I just, everything about my connections in the field really centered around trial work. So when I got to Oakland, working out here, my mind was pretty set on doing trial work.
Louis Goodman: I want to come back to that just a minute, but first I’d like to ask you, what did your friends and family say or think when you express to them an interest in going to law school becoming a lawyer?
Ernie Castillo: My friends growing up were guys who, just, you know, they do a lot of different types of work.
They’re police officers, they’re firemen, they’re delivery guys that do a lot of different working-class jobs. And only a couple of us ended up doing legal work. So when I took the route of trying to become an attorney, I think it was a shock and a surprise to most of my friends and people who knew me. But it was something that I felt like if I can make it into the legal community, I felt like I could go back and work in the sort of environment that I grew up in and try to do some work for people in that scene. So it was definitely a big surprise for not only my friends, but especially, yeah, my parents, who had no real expectations for me to ever become a professional.
Not that they didn’t want me to, but it was just, wasn’t really in the works. But it just kind of worked out that way. There was a lot of ambition behind it and a lot of dedication.
Louis Goodman: As a matter of fact, your brother’s a San Francisco police officer.
Ernie Castillo: Yeah, he is. He’s a police officer in San Francisco.
We actually talk every day and we give each other a hard time every day. So we have a good time.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that’s great. So speaking of trial work, you know, you really have a reputation in Alameda County as someone who tries tough cases. Goes to trial. Is prepared for trial and has had a lot of success at trial.
Tell me a little bit about your notion of the work that you do.
Ernie Castillo: Yeah, so, you know, I think it starts with why I’m a defense attorney, really, you know, the way I see things from my perspective, my background, I really enjoy helping the underdog. I feel like people in the criminal justice system have gone through a difficult time trying to survive. They are definitely going through a system that has been considered by a lot of people, especially during these times as an oppressive biased system. and I think they are underdogs in a lot of different ways economically, especially, and I think those guys need the most help. And those are the people that, honestly, Lou, I have a connection to just because I feel like I’m connected to those are the types of people that I grew up with. You know, these working-class guys, having a hard time, making mistakes, getting caught up in the system. I grew up around that. So I definitely have a passion for representing people in that situation for representing the underdog. I had this big dedication to that. At least that’s how I see myself and that’s what motivates me. And so when I stepped into this criminal defense arena, I think the maximum were the most impactful or influential thing I can do as an attorney is to do trial work at the most extreme. In the most extreme way possible, which is going to trial on murder cases, sex cases, things like that.
I see people charged with murder and sex cases as the most, outcasted group amongst defendants. They are the people that need the most help. They are the people that are hated the most by society, and I think they need the most help. So I, I enjoy representing that underdog. In that scenario, in that boxing ring.
And so, you know, that’s how I ended up doing trial work and doing murder cases and sex cases.
Louis Goodman: For sure. As a matter of fact, you said to me when we talked about doing this podcast, just before we actually started recording that you have a jury out right now on a murder case, and that we might need to interrupt this conversation if the court calls and says they need you back in court.
Ernie Castillo: Yeah, I do. It’s a murder case in Oakland. It’s anyone’s worst nightmare. It’s a robbery at gunpoint and with a kidnap. brutal beating, and torture person was bound driven up to the Hills in Oakland and assassinated up there, shot in the head three times. There are some interesting issues in the case.
We started the trial back in, I want to say February or January of this year, we were in actual evidence in the case in March. We were scheduled to do closing arguments, March 17, and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the shelter in place orders went into effect the courtrooms shut down. And we had a pause since March 17, all the way up to, I guess we went back June 23rd, a couple of days ago. So there’d been a delay of over a hundred days, just waiting for us to do a closing argument on this thing. So, it’s been a hell of a roller coaster dealing with that.
Louis Goodman: You know, most of us have a notion of what a courtroom looks like.
I mean, I certainly do as an attorney. I think, you know, everybody sort of thinks of it as there’s a judge sitting on a bench, there’s a jury sitting on one side of the courtroom there’s counsel tables. What does the courtroom look like in a jury trial with the coronavirus situation going on?
Ernie Castillo: Well, it’s the way it looks now, it had a long road to get to where it is today, where, how we did our closing arguments this week, when the pandemic struck, everything was on pause. Everyone was trying to figure things out. Eventually there was a push by the Alameda County system to have us finish this trial on some type of remote platform.
Basically stripping us from having to show up into a courtroom physically and finishing this thing up. It was proposed to us to try to have the jury even deliberate remotely amongst themselves. and I, you know, we fought, I fought tooth and nail against that. I was not going to agree to that at all.
The County put plexiglass around the witness box. They created a plexiglass box that surrounds a podium for us to stand in and do our closing arguments. So it was a very unusual experience. As soon as you walk into the courthouse, there’s stuff everywhere. Marking how far to stay away from people.
When you get into the hallways, there’s markings everywhere, telling you how far to stay away. And when you enter our courtroom, there were signs all over the seats about where not to sit, where to sit and all that it was, it’s a complete nightmare. It felt like you were walking into a danger zone.
Louis Goodman: Curiosity, who’s the judge and the DA that you’re working with in this case?
Ernie Castillo: Judge McCannon and the DA Stacie Pedigrew.
Louis Goodman: Do you have some sense of how they’re going to handle deliberations?
Ernie Castillo: So, they’re in deliberations right now. The judge decided to give them the courtroom that we did our closing arguments in. So the judge will be out of that completely. He won’t use the chambers in that courtroom. The clerk and court reporter will be gone.
The sheriffs or the deputy in the courtroom will be sitting outside the door to the courtroom. And they’re going to give the courtroom to the jury to use for deliberations.
Louis Goodman: Interesting. You’ve tried a lot of cases. Do you have some sense of how many, Well, let’s start her, how many serious cases you’ve tried?
Ernie Castillo: Gosh, I don’t even know. It’s a total guess, but I would say just murder cases alone, probably about 20 or 25. Well, and then, you know, I’ve tried sex cases and everything else in between all the way down to misdemeanor. So I don’t know, I’d say maybe 35, 40 cases, total maybe is my guess.
Louis Goodman: Now you’re also bilingual, aren’t you?
Ernie Castillo: Yes. I speak Spanish.
Louis Goodman: Well, I had a case that was a very serious case that my client left me and hired you, and in large part because you speak Spanish and they felt very comfortable talking to you. I was frankly happy that they did take you on as their attorney, because I think that they did feel comfortable and the client felt comfortable talking to you.
And very frankly, I’ll let you know, in that case, it was a murder case and you got him a very good manslaughter disposition.
Ernie Castillo: Yeah. I think we ended up resolving it for four years, midterm on a manslaughter and, yeah, I think the client was very happy about that. Some of that incident was actually on video and photos.
Louis Goodman: Right.
Ernie Castillo: Sure. Was. Yeah, I was, I was really very happy about the way the whole thing turned out and thank you. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: If a young person was thinking about a career in law, would you recommend that they do that?
Ernie Castillo: You know? I don’t know. Well, I should say my career and what I do, it’s not as glamorous as you might imagine going into it. You know, it’s a.
Louis Goodman: I know that
Ernie Castillo: it’s not like a movie that you’re watching about lawyers. So it’s definitely a grind.
Louis Goodman: it’s hard work.
Ernie Castillo: It is hard work. and sometimes, especially in criminal defense world, people, especially with the kind of cases I do deal with, you know, sometimes people hate you for representing a murderer or somebody who killed the child and things like that.
So you got to have some thick skin. To do this, you know, I would definitely recommend it if they got that skin for it.
Louis Goodman: Well, how has practicing law met or differed from your original expectations?
Ernie Castillo: To be honest with you, Lou, I don’t really think I had any expectations going into this. I didn’t really know much about going to law school or any of that stuff.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system is fair? Do you think it dispenses justice?
Ernie Castillo: The system has definitely, evolved into a system that reflects, I would say more than anything, a class bias and all certainly racial concerns. And I think that, that is definitely something as a trial attorney I have to be conscious of when I walk into a courtroom and I’m trying to pick a jury, I need to understand what my client looks like to society, what people are thinking about him and how members of society are going to look at this particular case. So I can’t be, I can’t bury my head in the sand about issues like that. When I’m thinking about a case.
Louis Goodman: Are you seeing any more diversity in the jurors?
Ernie Castillo:. I do see a lot more diversity in the jurors.
Louis Goodman: I’m not just talking. I’m not just talking about racial diversity, but kind of diversity in thinking.
Ernie Castillo: I think so, you know, my concern, Lou, on these kinds of cases that I see a lot is you can get a very socially conscious juror show up to a case, and will scream out and say, Hey, you know what, I think the system has problems. I think people are biased in the system. I don’t like cops, whatever it is. And they say that, and then they get themselves off of a jury panel.
Louis Goodman: How about your family situation, your family life. And, and how is practicing law affected all of that?
Ernie Castillo: Well, you know, I’m lucky my wife, we used to all work together.
At the place I used to work at before I went into my own private practice a few years ago.
Louis Goodman: She is an attorney as well?
Ernie Castillo: No, she’s not. She was like a legal assistant there. So she knows the ins and outs of the criminal defense business, and sort of what needs to be done. And so she helps me out. She’s kind of my right hand
Louis Goodman: Do you have kids?
Ernie Castillo: I do. I have two kids, they’re nine and seven.
Louis Goodman: That’s great.
Ernie Castillo: And it’s a fun age. So I try not to miss, you know, their activities and things like that despite being in trial all the time and trial takes a lot of time and a lot of work and effort.
Louis Goodman: What other things do you like to do?
Any travel, recreational pursuits?
Ernie Castillo: You know, if I wasn’t an attorney, Lou, I’d be a musician.
Louis Goodman: Really.
Ernie Castillo: I love playing guitar.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say magic wand. You could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise. What would that be?
Ernie Castillo: I think I would change economic inequity. I think that has a lot to do with the root cause of a lot of the social problems that we see in our world and in our life. So I would say economic inequity.
Louis Goodman: let’s say you came into some real money, a couple of billion dollars somehow. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Ernie Castillo: In my life? Well, first of all, I’d probably quit practicing law for sure. I would definitely try to use that money to fund grassroots organizations who are out there working with the people who need the most help.
Louis Goodman: So you’d be a philanthropist?
Ernie Castillo: I guess you can come say that.
Louis Goodman:. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you today. Thanks so much for coming on the pod.
I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I think I’ve learned a few things and thanks so much for being here.
Ernie Castillo: Thanks for having me.
Rock Harmon – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Rock Harmon. Welcome to love they lawyer. It’s great to have you.
Rock Harmon: It’s good to be here.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Rock Harmon: Upper West side.
Louis Goodman: I lived on the upper West side for a while. Of course I grew up in New Jersey, which doesn’t have quite the same cachet
Rock Harmon: We’ve talked about that. I grew up on West 76th.
Louis Goodman: Right. And I think I lived on West 83rd and Broadway.
Rock Harmon: Yeah. When I was born, we lived on 84th between Columbus and central park West. Then we moved to 76, the same block on Columbus with Central Park West
Louis Goodman: Where was Xavier high school,
Rock Harmon: 30 West 16th street between check the sixth Avenue.
Louis Goodman: So how did you get there when you were in high school?
Rock Harmon: The I N D local from either seventy second by the Dakota or 79th by the museum of natural history, I took it to 59th street, changed to the express, used to see Lew Alcindor, getting off his train to go to high school.
Louis Goodman: How was your experience at Xavier? Did you enjoy going to school there?
Rock Harmon: So again, you know, great. You know, the school has changed. Like a lot of schools have changed, but yeah, there were people that drew from all over the New York area. So in that sense, it was different because probably where you went to high school, you saw your friends after school.
We had kids coming in from Connecticut and New Jersey and all the boroughs. So, unless you we’re involved in some activity, you didn’t see them on the weekends or things like that. So it was in that sense, it was very different. It’s a good school. Great group of guys. I’m still in close contact with many of them
Louis Goodman: You graduated from there in 1963. Is that right?
Rock Harmon: Yes.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to decide to go to the United States Naval Academy for college?
Rock Harmon: You know, I honestly, I can’t tell you exactly why. I know when I was a kid, my parents used to take us to West Point, so picnics and things, and that was pretty impressive place.
Louis Goodman: We used to do family trips up to West point too.
Rock Harmon: Then, you know, later on there was a local Sergeant in the NYP Dean, the 20th precinct, which was right where we used to hang out at 68th and Amsterdam and, and he was in the national guard. And, he took us up there on trips and those trips were different because he had a lot of dealings with them up there.
So we got to meet a lot of cadets. You know, this was probably late grammar school. And, you know, when you’re exposed to those kinds of things, those are pretty impressive experiences. So when it came time to go to college, if you went to Xavier, you either went to a Catholic college or the academies, there were very few other options.
That’s just the way it was back then. It’s very different these days.
Louis Goodman: And how did you decide on Annapolis?
Rock Harmon: I like blue better than green or Brown and the ocean and the ocean.
Louis Goodman: So, I mean, New York, obviously surrounded by water, but you always sort of had an attraction to a water sailing, that sort of thing?
Rock Harmon: Yeah. Yeah. My parents would take us to Jones Beach in the summertime. We’d go out there Saturdays or Sundays all the time.
Louis Goodman: Let me ask you a couple of questions about. Your experience at the United States Naval Academy. The first year there is called your plebe year?
Rock Harmon: I remembered the date cause it’s still a big date for us, June 26th. So two weeks after high school off you go, and that’s the end of your life as you knew it.
Louis Goodman: And during plebe summer, it’s, it’s very physical. Is that correct? Sort of like basic training,
Rock Harmon: You know, constant constantly going.
Louis Goodman: Have you ever heard of a book called Reef Points?
Rock Harmon: Yes, I have. How do you know about that?
Louis Goodman: Why don’t you tell us what Reef Points is about?
Rock Harmon: Reef Points has everything you better know as a plebe. And, and I probably can’t even remember more than half a percent of it now, but it’s just full of all sorts of information.
That you need to start memorizing and can carry it with you all the time. And upperclassmen are often will stop you and ask you questions about things, you know, and most of it is nonsensical. No, I shouldn’t say most of it. A lot of it is nonsensical stuff.
Louis Goodman: What’s a, what’s a come around?
Rock Harmon: Come around is when an upperclassman has some reason to test you. and, and there are times during the day, usually before meals, where they tell you come around today at lunch or tonight, and, and you report to that person’s room. And they will, it’ll either be mental challenges or physical challenges or you have to come back in a certain uniform.
Report back. So it’s it, you know, it goes on, see those things don’t happen until the brigade comes back at the end of plebe summer. That’s one of those dreaded moments when the brigade is back at the end of summer and usually before Labor Day. And that’s when they come around stuff starts with upperclassmen and you usually eat in your, your own comfort.
Louis Goodman: Now you mentioned mealtimes now three times a year. They serve something called cannonballs.
Rock Harmon: What,
Louis Goodman: What, what are cannonballs?
Rock Harmon: Wow. Is their big cream filled like rum flavor. I’ll call it a dessert for want of a better thing, but you know, there, there’s also it come into play in this whole process, because if you can eat a certain number of cannonballs, something way out of my comfort zone, then you could get all this stuff relaxed.
For the rest of the year. So, and very few people ever tried because the stuff was that it was deadly to eat if you want to just work for dessert. But if you tried to eat it a whole tray full and, and some guys did and failed, I don’t pity my family memory, but I don’t remember anybody ever succeeding.
And the challenge, the guys made good efforts at it, but it certainly wasn’t something I could do.
Rock Harmon: Let me just, we had, my whole class will never admit it publicly, but privately we had a plebe year that was a little easier than, than many classes. I mean we had a secret weapon. We had a Heisman trophy winning quarterback and in my plebe year named Roger Staubach.
And, and the way it would work is if the football team won on Saturday, you would have a relaxation or the rest of the week until the next game and Navy winning. I think nine games won, lost two. And so for the, at least for the first semester, we, we, it wasn’t as stringent as it was. So those poor guys went through seasons when they only won two or three games.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from the Naval Academy, what, what, what rank did you leave there with?
Rock Harmon: Well, the lowest commission officer, ensign, equivalent of a second Lieutenant in the army air force and Marines.
Louis Goodman: Where were you assigned?
Rock Harmon: My, my first assignment was to, ship an old World War II destroyer.
It was actually off the coast of Vietnam when I graduated. So they sent me to a couple of schools in a, not a vacation spot, called Brunswick, Georgia, in, in South Georgia, along the coast. And so the ship came back late in the winter. So I finally got to the ship in November,
Louis Goodman: When you were, at the Academy, during the summers, there’s the summer cruises, which are kind of like an internship, had, was there anything about that experience that helped you out in your initial experiences and Anson.
Rock Harmon: Just the sea life. Cause we were at sea a lot, you know, after the plebe year, they call it youngster cruise, which is that second year. And we, we all boarded different ships. Either on the East coast or the West coast, I was on the East coast and we onboarded and then went to Northern Europe.
And in Europe it was actually very cold, went to Norway, Belgium, France, England, and, and it was a large group of ships. So when it came time for Liberty, some would go to one place, say Copenhagen, really good experiences, but also you heard the rigors of ship life, you know, there’s no days off or anything.
You work constant rotation; you have your watch standings and then you have whatever your job is for itself.
Louis Goodman: What was your job?
Rock Harmon: You mean after I graduate? Yeah. Okay. I had; I was lucky I had what I think is the best job. I was the CIC officer, which is combat information center.
It’s kind of a nerve center for the ship. You see the pilot radar and things like that. Usually right adjacent to the bridge. So, we know exactly what the ship was doing. If you’re down in the engine room, you just know when they want to go faster or slower, not really with what’s going on around you.
So, yeah, it was a great job.
Louis Goodman: Rock you went to Vietnam and, you served there as a commander of a Swift boat. And I happened to know that you were decorated for your service. I also know that you were wounded in the service and received a purple heart. and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to tell us a little bit about that experience.
Rock Harmon: The whole Vietnam experience. Sure. it was, you know, I, I have to go back to the ships for a little bit. I realized after being on the ship for about almost two years, that that was not going to be my future. And so I, I decided. I volunteered to go to Vietnam. And, so by then it was 1969.
I started my training in the Bay area up in Vallejo, but, and I was fortunate that by the time I got to Vietnam, most of the people or most of my crew consisted of guys that had been through training with me. A swift boat: It’s a 50-foot aluminum patrol boat with a lot of heavy arm in there are not army that harms, there’s one officer charge and five enlisted men.
I was 24. I was older than everybody except for, We had a senior guy was going to be a career who might have been through my training with, so we were together.
Most of the time we had, we had patrol areas because we are gone. The patrols are two, three, four days, in different rivers throughout Vietnam. we would get assignments at night. Somebody’s being attacked, fired your mortar. They give us coordinates. Sometimes we would go in with Navy seals and cover for them.
Cause we had more fire power than their boats did. Sometimes it was Vietnamese troops. They were wanting to go in and find an operation and clean out place. We would sweep them in and then cover for them and then pick them up after they were done.
When we didn’t have missions like stop and search boats, just, you know, in part a little bit like being a cop is part of like being the support team or guys that are actually needed to go in there and do something. we had Navy aircraft that were always ready to protect us in the form of these, Huey gunships.
That that was the Navy version. That affects way was that. Wherever Swift boats and the smaller river patrol boats operated. The aircraft and were ready to help us whenever.
The best experience that I can describe is, I would run into my classmates from the Naval Academy who I didn’t know, were there wherever I went. I say over that, without a doubt, you totally go into a place and they’re on assault craft. So we’d go to a briefing on an aircraft carrier and in there and your classmates. So in that sense, it’s a pretty cool expectancy. but, you know, it it’s, it’s one of those things that changes you actually for the better. I think it changed me for the better.
Louis Goodman: I’d like to segue from that to, you’re going to law school, you went to law school at the university of San Francisco USF, correct?
Rock Harmon: Right.
Louis Goodman: And unlike many of. Your classmates, I would imagine who went directly from college to law school. You would have this interim experience of serving with the United States Navy in Vietnam.
And I’m wondering how that felt when. You went back to school after having an experience of enormous consequence and responsibility?
Rock Harmon: Well, you know, me, Lou, I was pretty excited. and that I, that, that, that makes me remember a bunch of things because one of the first days, I see this guy named Steve. He’s one of my new classmates. Well, Steve had new hardware. He lost his leg on Swift boats in Vietnam. Soon after I got there, I had no idea he was going to be in my class. So it was pretty great to see one of my Swift boat buddies then probably that day or the next day. I see another Vietnam guy, who went on to be a judge up in Shasta County. Roger was a Navy intelligence officer in the areas that we operate in. So, so, so. But I’ll tell you that there were some, I had to make some adjustments because you know, we talked about my background. I remember in USF, everybody wanted to vote about everything.
It’s like not, it was beginning of my indoctrination into California life. If you’re complaining about it. and so I remember we had, you know, there was a way to get your locker. So you had to sign up by a certain time. Well, the guys that didn’t get up complained about it. So they wanted to get a petition to cause the whole process.
And I thought, wow, this, this why this can be like, you know, the other thing was USF is a Catholic school and there’s nothing really Catholic about the law school. Well, I didn’t realize there was a crucifix high up on the wall behind the teachers. And then the next thing I see is a petition to remove the crucifix from the wall because it offended some non-Catholic people.
And I thought, wow, I know I’m going to have to be able to fit it very well. Here would have been just kind of where everything bothers you and you, and you get to vote about it. Now where, where are we now? You know, 46 years later. We’re still complaining and arguing.
Louis Goodman: It’s not exactly. Yes, sir. No, sir. No excuse, sir. I’ll find out, sir.
Rock Harmon: Yeah. And honestly, those things so seem so trivial to me compared to what I’d been doing with my life. I never forgot
Louis Goodman: After USF. What was your first legal job?
Rock Harmon: The only legal job I ever had was the Alameda County DA’s office.
Louis Goodman: Well, that’s one thing that, you and I have in common, we’re both alumni, of the Alameda County district attorney’s office. You served there a lot longer than I did. And you were there, before I got there and after I left, how did you happen to get into that job?
Rock Harmon: Great question. Do you know the answer to that?
Louis Goodman: I don’t.
Rock Harmon: Well, my classmates, Joanne Parilli at USF, and a guy named Mike Walsh, had already arranged going to the DA’s Office.
Joanne was an East Bay person. Somehow she had made the connection. Mike was an East Bay person. So they had had summer intern jobs here and I didn’t. And I have something else you need to know. My older brother is a West point graduate. he was then a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office. So seemed like as a natural progression from, you know, going from the service to criminal law. That’s the way it seemed to me.
Everybody said, you know, you have to know somebody to get a job there. And I thought, well, I don’t know anybody. What am I getting out? Am I going to do this? And one day I was talking to my brother in the DA’s office. Somehow he had this boss and then he was in the homicide Bureau, the DA’s office.
His boss said, Hey, Lowell Jensen is a personal professional longtime friend of mine. My brother’s boss wrote a letter of recommendation, and I had never met the guy. Just saying I hired his brother. His brother said you ought to hire him. That’s that changed my history.
Louis Goodman: Well you had a really, storied career in the Alameda County district attorney’s office. And I’m wondering if you could give us a brief history of that career up until the time that you started and how you started getting into the DNA prosecutions.
Rock Harmon: Let me give you a little flavor. When I was in law school. There were some crazy things going on and crimes in the country. There was the zebra killers and they were, I was in San Francisco and people were getting shot, just walking down the street. And it just seemed like. You know, maybe my military experience, again, maybe I craved the excitement a little bit too much, but it just seemed like with all this craziness being a prosecutor would be a great spot. Something that I would, I would fit in very well with. So, so, you know, when you start, I didn’t do any of the clerkship programs. So my offer was right after I got out of law school to start after I took the bar exam.
And then we got the bar results Thanksgiving, and then I got sworn in, which was a few weeks.
Rock Harmon: I started in Oakland muni for a short time. They had put me in juvenile. Juvenile was just changing to allow peers an active role, but I spent the better part of my first two, two and a half years in Berkeley, which is a great place small office while I was there. And Emily Harris had gotten arrested for kidnapping Patty Hearst.
To go back before that, you’ve got a time period when Ramiro and Little were prosecuted for shooting, the Oakland schools, chief, Marcus Foster. Then it’s time to go up to superior court where you start handling felony trials.
And you know, you remember Lou, when you’re young, you just get whatever comes your way. And most cases are plea bargain or it’s time we go to trial. So I just found out, worked my way through, through those assignments. after a little bit of that, that was at a time when we started having specialty teams, I was on the drug prosecution team.
Jeff Horner was my boss and rolling. Then I think my next stint was in career criminal and Bill McGinnis now an appellate court judge was my boss there. That’s when I started doing some serious cases, picked up a murder case while I was there that fit the career criminal criteria. And it just kept going from there.
Louis Goodman: How did you get into the DNA work?
Rock Harmon: Sure by, by about the mid-eighties, I was assigned a triple murder case that, it involved the LSD manufacturing business. And the business side of it for the most part. A man and his sister, his wife were murdered in their home and, and a key bit of evidence was some blood drops from blood smear on a piece of toilet paper.
In the context of the crime scene, obviously were from the killer. the case had already been tried; the murders happened in 79. I think, the guy had been convicted once, the case was reversed on appeal for not having any visibility on the blood type. And so when it came back to me that the challenge was to have an admissibility.
I would say it’s about 1985. So, we had an admissibility issue. So, and I did a lot of work because it actually beginning to be a national legal problem. And so to my surprise, unbeknownst to me when there was, when we got the trial court decision and even more so when it was affirmed on appeal, it became the legal precedent for the admissibility of what we were doing.
And as I say, it became a big deal to my surprise. People started inviting me to, to talk about it at, at scientific meetings. Cause I seem to be the only prosecutor in the country that had gotten that interested in it by then, it’s going to be taboo to guess what, they’re starting to talk about DNA.
Louis Goodman: Well, not only did you, not only did you get invited to talk about it, but ultimately you were invited to be part of the prosecution team in the OJ Simpson case, specifically because of your DNA background. You know, the OJ case is undoubtedly one of the most famous cases in the 20th century. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit of your experience with that trial?
Rock Harmon: Sure. yeah, it was funny. I just did a four-hour interview last week for a documentary. I’ve never, never sat down and talked about that much for any reason. You know, I think the first thing is to try to compare how Alameda County, the way we do things and the way they do things in LA.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific about that? I mean, I’m not, I’m not in any way trying to relitigate the OJ case, but I’m wanting to get what rock Harman’s view of the situation was?
Rock Harmon: Sure. I’m turning the clock back to the first day that I walked into the courtroom there.
And I always stunned by how small it was, you know, it’s smaller than our own, virtually any of our courtrooms. And I was struck by that for cause by then, that was November. The other thing I was struck with was the, the formality of, of everything, but even more so everybody just talked and talked and things, things should normally have taken five minutes retake two or three hours.
Louis Goodman: In court, on the record?
Rock Harmon: in court, on the record. And, and, you know, I, I just remember at one point there was some esoteric issue that came up concerning Judge Ito, you know, and his wife who’s with LAPD and they had to assign this issue to be heard by another judge. And I just remember watching it, I was at court that day. And my friend from San Diego, Woody Clark was saying, what he realized is that if I was the judge we’d be home already
That was the most dynamic thing. You know, it was, it was a very formal atmosphere. if I was going to serve on a jury, I’d be wearing shorts and a tee shirt, because I’d want to be comfortable. These people were dressed up all the time.
Louis Goodman: I remember that. I remember that.
Rock Harmon: Really, there were, there were always celebrity in attendance, you know, watching the trial.
So it was really, it was a very weird, it was a weird experience. Not that I don’t like weird experiences, but it,
Louis Goodman: yeah,
Rock Harmon: yeah. That might not my cup of tea.
Louis Goodman: What did you really like about practicing law?
Rock Harmon: Well, you know, unlike you, I was only ever a prosecutor. Okay. But I, but I think, I I’m sure you’ll, you’ll agree with this contrary to some of the stuff that you see in places. If you’re a prosecutor, you don’t have to do anything that you don’t believe. Right. It is, it’s not like you need to drum up business, there’s plenty there. And if there are, if there are doubts, then that’s the end of it.
Louis Goodman: When you left the Navy, and you decided to start. to go to law school and to practice law. I’m sure you had some expectations about that. How does, did your experience actually being a prosecutor and actually being in court meet or differ from your expectations about it?
Rock Harmon: Probably it was probably better.
Louis Goodman: well, do you think that the system is basically fair or not fair?
Rock Harmon: It’s very, it’s very fair. I think so. Look how the DNA issue has developed. So, you know, and we have a great degree of attention paid to forensic science in general, not just DNA it’s should also be helping us get to the truth
Louis Goodman: You have had, you have a family and, I’m wondering if you’d tell us just a little bit about your family.
Rock Harmon: I met my wife when she was a prospective juror. Really did you know,
Louis Goodman: I’ve met Kathy a number of times, but I didn’t know that she was a prospective juror.
Rock Harmon: She said it was my shoes. Yeah. So now we’ve been married for 33 years. I son, Rocky is, he has a nice job, but he also recently has become, army national guard Blackhawk Pilot. So needless to say my military experience, I’m very proud of that. My son, Tim, lives with us. He’s autistic, the coolest guy in the world. probably the best thing about this dynamic is I get to be with him every day, all day.
Louis Goodman: He loves the water too. Doesn’t he?
Rock Harmon: And going to the beach. Yeah. Well, we’ve already done our beach walk. We’ll go out there later today.
Louis Goodman: If there was one thing in the world legal world or. Otherwise that you could change. What do you think that might be?
Rock Harmon: How about this De- politicize the Supreme court.
Louis Goodman: Rock Harmon. You’ve had a storied career. You’ve done so many great things in your life. I want to thank you so much for coming on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a really interesting conversation. I’ve known you for many years, but I learned a lot talking to you just now. So thank you very much for coming on and I hope to see you soon.
Rock Harmon: My pleasure as well.
Mike McElroy – Podcast Interview Transcript
Louis Goodman: Today, we’re doing something a little different we’re going to talk to someone who is not a lawyer, Mike McElroy, he’s a retired police officer. He has a lot to say.
Mike McElroy, welcome to Love thy Lawyer, it’s great to have you. I’m so happy you’re able to join us. You’re not a lawyer, but you’ve. certainly had a lot of experience working with lawyers, both professionally and in your personal family life, is that correct?
Mike McElroy: Correct.
Louis Goodman: So you are a retired police officer, is that right?
Mike McElroy: Yes. 28 years of service.
Louis Goodman: And your first experience as a police officer was in the United States army?
Mike McElroy: That is correct. I joined the army when I was 17 in the delayed entry program and went in the army in November of 75.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Mike McElroy: San Francisco, California raised in the, projects, public housing in North beach for the first few years of my life.
And, I went to high school in San Mateo
Louis Goodman: at San Mateo high school.
Mike McElroy: We have a few famous people that, went there. Merv Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Dennis Haysbert, just to name a few I, who was the other, somebody Alicia Silverstone.
Louis Goodman: And after you got out of high school, you went to college.
I mean, to the army right away.
Mike McElroy: That is correct. I went to the United States army was honorably discharged. I went there from November 75 to 78. and I did a year of college.
Louis Goodman: Your, your primary job in the army was a military policeman. Is that correct?
Mike McElroy: That’s correct. I was a correctional specialist, military police.
Louis Goodman: How did you get into, how did you get into that work in the army?
Mike McElroy: Well, Lou, here’s what happened. I went down to the recruiting station. I was kind of one of these guys didn’t know what he was going to do after high school, but I know I didn’t want to go to the college of small minds. that’s called San Mateo on the Hill.
Sure. I decided, Oh, I’ll just be, I joined the army. It was the Vietnam war. Just ended, April of 75. So I said, let me join the army. And I went in there and, went to the recruiting office. I’ll never forget it because the, the guy in the Navy was too nice. I mean, he was, you know, I didn’t want to be on a ship.
The guy in the Marines was just, you know, too jaw jacked at me, you know? So, the air force, I wasn’t into the planes, but the army guy was really nice. I mean, he was super nice. Anything to sign on the dotted line, turkeys, cookies, drink, soft drinks, whatever you want, you know, sit and listen to him. And then you take a GT test what’s called and they come out and they tell you, you could, you could do anything you want to do here on this list here.
This is where you scored. And it said military police. And I said, well, I could do that. And he said, yeah, you could do that. Signed up for it.
Louis Goodman: What kind of work did you do as a military policeman?
Mike McElroy: I was a correctional specialist, so I worked in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas disciplinary barracks, did a number of duties in the prison.
Louis Goodman: Is that basically where you learned your police work
Mike McElroy: More or less? Well, you learn a lot about police work, but I also went through military police course at our Fort McClellan, Alabama, where that was interesting. You know, you just, you learn all the things about police and patrol work and, and, you know, taking the most direct route.
And, it’s like a really. Crash course schoolwork. And then you also had a correction course too. So I went through both courses and it was a pretty interesting, he got out of the army, went into the Oakland police department. Well, first I, I went to school for a while and then I went to the Oakland police department. and then I went to the Sheriff’s department. And then I ended up, retiring out of Berkeley after 15 years,
Louis Goodman: Do a little compare and contrast with Oakland Sheriff’s department, Berkeley police. What were those experiences like?
Mike McElroy: All of them are completely different, completely different. Oakland had a different philosophy than Berkeley.
As far as police work is control as concerned. And then as, the Sheriff’s department, a number of duties that you have. I did the jails and the court. And they had a little training patrol program out of Eden township station. But for the most part, it was the jail and the court. And, the duties are very different compared to the police department.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about the difference between Oakland and Berkeley police. Cause they’re cities that are right next to each other.
Mike McElroy: Yeah. I, when I was in the Oakland department in 1980, so those were the, you know, eighties, you know, that was before all that. I mean, that was, before all that, what was that Riders thing?
I had never experienced any of that when I was working in Oakland, it was that kind of Riders crap. I was actually really surprised when I, that kind of, that kind of thing. So, I think that Oakland had just a different philosophy in those days. and then of course, Then when I, had to deal with in Berkeley, I think Oakland was a little more aggressive as far as, you know, the philosophy of policing.
And that was because of your clientele. For the most part during the eighties, Berkeley was different in a lot of ways, smaller department, bigger egos, but smaller department.
Louis Goodman: What did you, what did you like about doing police work?
Mike McElroy: I think I was kind of programmed for it.
and what I mean by program for it after, after this, service in the military, the three years in the military, basically you’re 23 or 21 and 23, you’re coming out. You need a job. I didn’t look at it as a bad job and it wasn’t a bad job and it’s an easy thing to get into. For the most part.
Louis Goodman: So in some ways it was sort of a natural progression from the military into the police.
Mike McElroy: Right? Right. Exactly. It’s, it’s, it’s, it comes kind of easy to you because the, all the police departments are paramilitary organizations, as you know, so, you know, the uniform, the keeping up with things and that kind of stuff, it’s kind of easy to do.
And it’s even easier to do when you run into a group that’s never been into the military and there’s a lot of people in California. in law enforcement that haven’t never been into the military.
Louis Goodman: So would you recommend going to police work for a young person thinking about a career choice?
Mike McElroy: Yes. It’s just would have to depend on the person and, you know, you grown to things and you know, if you sign up when you’re 25, you’re going to be a different guy at 35 anyways, and anything in life.
Louis Goodman: How, did police work? Meet your expectations if it did, or did it differ from your expectations?
Mike McElroy: Well, I’m retired now, so I have a pension and I’m happy, you know, that it’s over with for the most part. so. It’s met my expectation is as far as the benefits, after 20 years,
Louis Goodman: You have a lot of lawyers in your family.
Your brother’s a lawyer. Your sister is a recently retired judge.
Mike McElroy: Yeah. Yeah. My brother and sister are both lawyers, so there’s a lot of talk around the table.
Louis Goodman: And you were around the legal system and observed the legal system, as a bailiff in court. Do you, do you think the legal system was. fair to people in general or not fair. What was your sense of it?
Mike McElroy: You know, my time I worked at the Hayward municipal court for, I think it was about three years, three and a half years. The judges really care. The judges that I work for, they seem to really care, to really care.
Louis Goodman: You’re a retired police officer.
You served in several different departments, had your whole career in police work. You’re also an African American man. What’s your take on what’s going on these days here in the United States, if you’d be willing to comment on that? And I, and I, and I also want you to know that I don’t expect you to, to represent all police officers or all African American people, but I just want to hear what Mike McElroy thinks because you’re a guy I’ve talked to a lot and I have so much, respect and enjoyment for. The things that you say
Mike McElroy: it’s, it’s just me. It’s just a personal opinion. Is it more or less? Right? My own personal page. Now, what was the question again?
Louis Goodman: Just what’s your, what’s your take on what’s going on with the, with, with the way police agencies and black people and other people of color are relating to each other.
Now in the, in the wake of the, of the, recent events in Minneapolis, in Atlanta, where, where there’s been, police shootings and people dying as a result of police shootings?
Mike McElroy: Yeah. Well, I think you have so many of them, that’s the thing about it is, and I think the thing about it is if you didn’t have the phones, I mean, if the problem with a lot of this stuff is if you did not have a phone and you didn’t have a video people with the police report, imagine a whole different story. Take for instance, that Oscar Grant thing, there wasn’t a video come on. The report would have read that this guy was bucking like a horse.
I couldn’t control him. And you know, all this stuff and boom, when the report comes out and you have a video, you still can’t believe it because the report is right. This isn’t the same thing that I’m matching on video.
Louis Goodman: Traveled a lot in, your life. Tell us a little about some of the places you’ve been.
Mike McElroy: I try to go as many places as possible. I like Latin America. I’ve been to Asia and Tokyo and Osaka on Kong type a and I lived on the Island of Saipan,
Louis Goodman: How did that happen?
Mike McElroy: My dad was director of Peace Corps. Micronesia. It’s very interesting, but so my dad was director of peace Corps in Micronesia out there, in the Micronesian islands from ’67 to ’70.
Louis Goodman: And you lived there,
Mike McElroy: Lived on an Island called an Island Truk. Truk islands for a couple months. No electricity biggest house on the islands, infested with termites. It had an ice box that, ran on kerosene. So everything that came out of it tastes like kerosene. Cold showers and mosquitoes.
That’s what I remember about Truk. And then we moved up to Saipan for the rest of the tour, which was like two and a half years on the Island of a Saipan in the Mariana islands. 140 miles North of Guam
Louis Goodman: What’s your experience with lawyers been like,
Mike McElroy: Good, actually good. They’re very necessary and if you get it, if you get it to a lawyer who knows what he’s doing.
Damn. You really hit pay dirt. No matter what your case may be.
Louis Goodman: If you were not a police officer, what other job do you think would interest you?
Mike McElroy: Being an auctioneer? You know,
Louis Goodman: Auctioning things?
Mike McElroy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Something like that. You know, something I could do that, but, and I, I don’t mind security, that kind of thing.
Louis Goodman: Security is, you know, police work, right?
Mike McElroy: Yeah, yeah. Kind of, kind of, but, but security it’s all you do actually is observe. You know, it’s like that. it’s like that’s the commercial, the guy in the bank. Now, when the guy comes in and robs and everybody’s on the ground, just get on the ground and observe, you know, you don’t have to do anything foolish.
That’s what they tell you. You’re doing security anyways.
Louis Goodman: Foolish.
Mike McElroy: Yeah, call nine one one and call nine one one and observe and try to remember what you saw and, and, and they don’t want you to do any, they don’t want you to do anything.
Louis Goodman: Say you had a magic wand, you could kind of wave it over the legal system, the police system, the world.
What if there was one thing that, that you could change? What, what do you think that would be?
Mike McElroy: It would be the treatment of mentally ill people.
Louis Goodman: Can you be more specific?
Mike McElroy: More specific. There’s a lot of people who are obviously mentally ill and of course, that’s, you know, one’s man’s judgment, but there are some things that are quite obvious.
Louis Goodman: And then they end up being treated as criminals,
Mike McElroy: Just, just up being too criminal, going around in a circle and, and the whole 10 yards instead of having true treatment. And that’s the same with people in confinement. You know, they get in there. Most of these guys, you know, other than the guys like Madoff, you know, that guy who did all that swindling and stuff, right?
Yeah. You’re you could probably work with some young people. Some people are just criminally minded, you know, and there’s nothing too much you can do about that. But if you could get to some of these people, when they’re young, it would be really helpful. And of course, Straight poverty is always a, a loser.
Louis Goodman: If you had a couple billion dollars came into it somehow, what, if anything, in your own life, would you change
Mike McElroy: Health care and schooling? Free healthcare, especially healthcare, healthcare and, and schooling up to four years of college free. Anyone who wants to go anyone?
Louis Goodman: So you would like to set up a, like a scholarship so people can go to school,
Mike McElroy: Well assist a system of public school system, or, or that works for everyone and everyone, you know, we all know Lou, if the schools in Dublin are different than the schools in Oakland, you wonder why. I mean, you wonder why, and there’s a lot of kids.
There’s a lot of kids with the really, really smart and articulate that just can’t, you know, geez can’t afford it. Can’t afford it. Can’t navigate the systems in getting a higher education higher than even than a than four years of college. But that should be free for everyone, everyone, and anyone
Louis Goodman: To go through four years of college?
Mike McElroy: Four years of college, please free free.
And breakfast when you go there in the morning,
Louis Goodman: Mike McElroy, thank you so much for joining us on love thy lawyer. It was really a pleasure to talk to you. I always enjoy talking to you whether recording or not. And I want to thank you for all your comments today.
Mike McElroy: Well, it’s been my pleasure, Lou. I really appreciate it.
And, yeah, I get sick of talking to my brother and sister.
Louis Goodman: Thanks for joining us today on love thy lawyer.
Here’s a transcript of Elliot Silver from the Love thy Lawyer podcast.
https://www.lovethylawyer.com/ (You can hear the podcast on that website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen.)
Elliot Silver Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to love by lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law,
Louis Goodman: 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 today. We’re happy to welcome. Elliot Silver to love thy lawyer.
Elliot’s an attorney who was originally from England and he’s been practicing law in Alameda County Elliott. Good to have you.
Elliot Silver: Thanks a lot. Lou, how you doing? I’m well,
Louis Goodman: Elliot, why don’t you start off by telling us where your office is located?
Elliot Silver: My office is in Oakland, on the Embarcadero, pretty close to harvest side.
Louis Goodman: What kind of practice do you have?
Elliot Silver: Yeah, it’s primarily a criminal defense. That’s pretty much the bulk of our [00:01:00] work. we also do some, personal injury and, some civil forfeiture. so, but pretty much I say 90%, 95% criminal law.
Louis Goodman: Now, when you say we, do you have other attorneys that you work with?
Elliot Silver: Yeah, I’ve got to give a shout out to my, a trusted colleague, Tom McMann. Who’s an absolute genius. I could not do this practice without him. Cause he kind of fills in all the soft spots that I have. I’m not, I’m not, I never was probably never will be a legal genius. but he is, he does all my research and writing and he handles all the, you know, a lot of heavy cases.
so Tom McMains, the man,
Louis Goodman: Well, we’ll have to get them on the pod one of these days.
Elliot Silver: Definitely.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been practicing?
Elliot Silver: Funnily enough in July, this year, July 5th is going to be my 25th anniversary of being a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: As of the 4th of July.
Elliot Silver: Yeah, exactly. If the fifth, but [00:02:00] close enough, close enough.
Louis Goodman: Now, where are you from originally?
Elliot Silver: I
Louis Goodman: I note a slight accent.
Elliot Silver: Yeah. I was born and raised basically in the suburbs of London in England. I I’m what you call an Essex boy. And if you want to Google that we have a certain reputation. If you will.
Louis Goodman: Well, what are the boys like at the Chigwell school?
Elliot Silver: How did you know when to Chigwell school?
Chigwell school, right now it’s actually coed, but when I was going there, it was an old boys’ school and it’s sort of a typical British or boys school used to wear a uniform.
Louis Goodman: Did you do your O levels and A levels and that sort of thing there?
Elliot Silver: Yeah, I actually left England, right before I was supposed to do our levels.
I left England, when I was almost 13, going into what would be considered sort of the middle, the middle school. my parents moved to [00:03:00] Florida. because they thought that that was going to be the land of opportunity. the sun, we had come on a holiday, my parents had four kids. They brought us out here for a holiday to Florida.
And my dad told me that we had such a great time that he thought that’s what life is like, we’re going to America.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience like?
Elliot Silver: Well, I, I just, my personality, I kind of, I’m kind of blended in pretty easily. My sister had a bit more of a hard time, but my personality is sort of gregarious.
So I, I had no problem. I blended in, I made good friends and it is all kind of like a bit of an adventure
Louis Goodman: Is that where you graduated from high school?
Elliot Silver: Yeah, I went to Spanish river high school, graduated, 1987.
Louis Goodman: And then where did you go?
Elliot Silver: I went to the university of Miami. I actually was supposed to, go up North.
I was accepted to university of Pennsylvania. but I was only [00:04:00] 16 when I was going to college. Well, yeah, my parents, they kind of talked me out of it. so I went to university of Miami, which was a, yeah, it was a good school. It was certainly no Ivy league school. but I went, I went there four years, undergrad.
I went there for law school as well. I just stayed.
Louis Goodman: And how was that whole experience at the university of Miami?
Elliot Silver: It was, it was cool. I mean, it was quite frankly, it was a lot of partying, so I didn’t really know any different, I didn’t really explore anything else. You know, I went, I went to college with the expectation of going to law school and I, you know, I was a history, major communication and political science, all the typical law school stuff.
So I didn’t really. I wouldn’t say it was my own personal choice. It was just kind of something that was always told to me, this is what you’re going to be.
Louis Goodman: So, what was your first legal job?
Elliot Silver: my first job was actually, I did a, I suppose you’d call it a [00:05:00] clerkship for a judge in Florida. His name was judge Rappaport.
It was kind of unofficial. he was working out of his home. In fact, I don’t actually think he may have even been a judge. He, he just called himself. Judge Rappaport. and he had me doing legal, you know, just filing and research and stuff like that. I was just kind of this Vivian, he was sort of an old decrepit, grumpy.
I, it didn’t really Dawn on me. There’s unfortunately had a lot of lawyers end up, but, it was, it was interesting. I was very young and, it was, it was kind of, it was kind of cool, but my first real legal job was public defender, which, that was in Miami Dade. And it was absolutely incredible experience.
It was just incredible being a young, you know, I graduated from law school and went right into the public defender’s office. I had done an internship there, with, with one of my friends. Just the minute, the doors open. So the jail, [00:06:00] what you do is you go for an orientation the first day, they tell you what it’s going to be like and stuff.
And then the second day you’re in the jail and the minute the doors open, it was like a rush of adrenaline. For me, I’m seeing these people and I, I just had this, this, this sort of like, she got to help these people. It was, it was just a natural thing for me. And, that was the internship. And then I did good work there and they, they really liked me as a person.
So when I graduated from law school, they offered me the job. And I, that was my first real legal job. I was there for about five years.
Louis Goodman: So you took the bar in Florida and then later you. Took the bar in California.
Elliot Silver: Yeah. I took the bar in Florida in 94 when I graduated. And, I didn’t say in California, but so about 2013 and I’ve kind of had a, I don’t know how, what you would call it, but sort of.
Interesting meandering [00:07:00] path, through, through life. I’ve been very, so situated the past, seven years. But before that I was traveling a lot in that I was living in New York. I did a.com a company up in New York for a little bit. I did some real estate. Yeah. Some non-non-law related type of activities.
But always, always have my, my law degree and I always came in handy for whatever I was doing.
Louis Goodman: So when did you decide to come to California?
Elliot Silver: I wanted to come to California, actually for law school. I was accepted to, McGeorge in Sacramento and, I actually remember it very vividly. Again, I was young. I was, I was 20 years old.
And, my parents, you know, were kind of footing the bill for me. I remember vividly sitting around the dinner table. I had the Sacramento bee, I think it was, and I was looking at apartments and my mother goes to me in a very proper English accent. [00:08:00] She goes Elliot what’d you want to go to Sacramento for, to follow that band the Grateful Dead?
So my, so my, my parents, they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t pay for me to go to California because they knew I was, you know, Kind of like, you know, it was 20 years old having a good time. So, so they, they said, well, you know, we’ll, we’ll send you to university of Miami. We know where you are. so that was it.
Yeah. So it’s a university of Miami.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Elliot Silver: I’d say a, you know, two things really. first of all, I do like to help people. I think it’s in my nature, to help people and, you know, there’s a sense of satisfaction, you know, when you get. You know, you get a big smile from somebody at the end of these cases and you get a thank you.
I mean, there are a lot of people that are ungrateful, you know, I don’t do this work for the thanks because, you know, that’s just ridiculous. But you know, when you get that, thank you, you get a [00:09:00] smile and you get to help someone out and how that family, for me, you know, that’s a great sense of that distraction.
I’m grateful for everything that I’ve got. Some people are not as fortunate, so I’m happy to help those people out. The other thing is I love to stick it to the man. You know, I think, Alameda in particularly you don’t get to do that too much. It’s kind of a kind of congenial co-operative.
I don’t get to fight with prosecutors too much. Cause to me that doesn’t seem a good, a good route of a. Getting what you want. but I, when I practiced in Miami, it was the opposite. It was kind of more like Santa Clara. When you know, everything’s a war, every single thing is a war. So we used to, we used to love sticking it to the man, man.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you don’t like about practicing
Elliot Silver: I did find it kind of stressful. quite frankly, I, you know, I I’ve in my older years now, I’m going to be 50 in October and, you know, my [00:10:00] nose and not what they used to be. The, the stress of it, I think is, is pretty heavy. I’m still fearless, you know, back in the, back in the public defendant days, they used to call me long shanks, who was the King of England.
He was known to be fearless in battle, and I still have that kind of fearlessness. But, the, the stress I think is, is its kind of weighs on you after a while.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Would you recommend it to a young person who was thinking about it as a career choice?
Elliot Silver: I, I always, it’s a good question. Cause people have asked me, I think if you’re going to be a lawyer, you got to really think about if that’s what you really, really want to do
Louis Goodman: I agree. Yeah.
Elliot Silver: It’s it shouldn’t be something like, Oh, let me choose a job and just be a lawyer, I think. Yeah. If you, if you don’t enjoy and I still do enjoy it, I really, you know, like I like helping people to me, it’s quite entertaining actually the stories and, but, I think if you, if it’s [00:11:00] not something that we really, really want to do and it’ll, it’ll chew you up, you know, it’s very stressful in LA, you know, I work long hours.
I’ll probably work about a hundred hours a week. I know most people that are there. Don’t, I’m kind of crazy like that, but I do about a hundred hours a week.
Louis Goodman: Has actually practicing law, met or different from your expectations.
Elliot Silver: I’d say, you know, when I was younger, I was pretty idealistic. I still have those kind of idealistic nature of the way things should turn out, but I’ve also discovered that, you know, we’re, we’re part of a system, That, you know, you can’t even really beat the system, you know, as much as you try and as much as you can, you know, one case at a time, you probably can get good results, but by and large, you know, I’ve been watching the news and you know, the protests and, Brandon Woods, you know, he’s awesome.
He’s, he’s out there doing it. So I think if you, if you have a collective. power, you know, like the public defenders do I think, yeah, you can, you can fairly be the system, but, you know, as a sort [00:12:00] of individual, it’s very difficult to kind of, change things. You can just change one case at a time. And I think that’s a, that’s kind of what I try to do.
Louis Goodman: Well, tell me about a case that went well for you.
Elliot Silver: Well, I tried a case down in, Palo Alto, not too long ago, you know, a couple of years ago where it was a, a guy had just come from India and he was on a dependent visa and he, his wife was at work. He’s kind of sitting at home and he sees a beautiful girl go by the window.
And each day he sort of watches a go by same time and he’s sort of quirky in the he’s sort of slowly falling in love with her from a farm. And he finally gets up the courage to go out and, and, and talk to her and he’s chatting her up and she discloses that she’s underage and he in a very kind and apologetic way.
motion to, to give her a hug, you know, so I gave her a hug, turns [00:13:00] out the girl was the niece of the chief of police of mountain view. So she went home and complained and they, you know, they think he’s a sexual predator and they, the, the police, you know, they set up a state and they swarmed him and they took him in, And the, the, you know, they wouldn’t give him a battery, which is what it was, it was unwanted touching.
It wasn’t sexual in any, any way. So I told the prosecutor, I says, look, you know, you’re going to end up with nothing. I, we went to trial in the middle of the trial and I kind of knew it was going well. And the judge brings us back, you know, and I said to the prosecutor said, give me the battery now, you know, in the middle of trial.
Right. And she goes, no, you know, I said, well, cause it’s not actually a lesser included offense. Believe it or not. And then the judge, the judge wouldn’t give the instruction. Cause it’s not official, lesser included. We took it all away and we got not guilty and it was great. Cause his wife was pregnant.
And the guy would have been deported, had we had lost. So it was, it was a great victory. it was only a misdemeanor. It [00:14:00] was, you know, those, those kinds of things really sit very well with me. when, you know, it could have been resolved, you know, we didn’t have to go to trial. If they just offered what it, what it was, you know, it was just a battery, but then because of the, the bullheadedness of that particular, district attorney’s office, then again, nothing, you know, and I felt great about that.
What about the business of practicing law? Obviously you are in practice for yourself. You’ve had some success how’s that gone for you and you know, where do you get cases from and what do you attribute your business success to?
Elliot Silver: Well, I’ve always been a businessman. I’ve been an entrepreneur. I never had a regular job.
until I moved out here, I had a, I worked at a law office four years. even as a public defendant, you’re pretty much kind of on your own. I’m independent, I’m in a group, you know, they let us make our own hours and stuff, which was cool. So I’ve always had kind of a, isn’t a sense [00:15:00] of how to, how to bring people in through the door and, you know, I mean, just get him, you know, it’s a salesy kind of thing, but not, not disingenuous.
I get, I really, from my parents, my parents were shop owners in England. They had pharmacies and, you know, they knew how to treat customers. Right. And, and, and yeah. I, you know, I’m, I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can have a good business. I get pretty much, most of my cases off the internet, some word of mouth.
Obviously as repeat customers, you know, they get frequent flyer miles, but mostly off the internet. and I kind of learned the language of the internet, the language of marketing, through that. I, I don’t do it myself. I have a guy that does it, but I understand the way, the way it works. I understand the language.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Elliot Silver: Well, I think the cards are stacked against people that don’t have money. I mean, let’s face it, you know, people that don’t [00:16:00] have money. and the, I mean, I, I was a public defender. I love the public defenders. I think most of the public defenders are actually the best lawyers in the courtroom.
Number one, cause it’s a pure practice. They’re not concerned with, with, you know, getting the money. They’re concerned only with doing a good job. and then, and you know, from what I’ve seen, you know, the public defenders, not all, but most of probably the best lawyers in the courtroom and, it’s just, they’re overworked, you know, they don’t have, they don’t have a time to spend, you know, if you have a hundred cases, You know, they probably have more than they really, they probably have a hundred a week.
Right. So, you know, if, if I, I always thought if I ever made enough money to be a great philanthropist, that I would set up a, another public defender’s office for free, like a private public defender’s office. For free, you know, sponsored by Elliot silver, just to, I don’t know how it would work and illegally or whatever, but, I think the cards are stacked against people that don’t have money.
And it’s, it’s kind of [00:17:00] sad.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the system is basically fair?
Elliot Silver: I think that by and large, when we talk about, you know, the crime and punishment, Yeah, I know it differs from County to County. And that’s kind of unusual to me. It’s, it’s it doesn’t make sense. You know, if you, if you do something as San Francisco and then you cross the line to San Mateo, you know, you’re going to get triple damage.
Right. But I think by and large, you know, over my 25 years now, I’ve found that people generally get, you know, just, just punishment.
Louis Goodman: How about your family life? I know that you, have children.
Elliot Silver: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: It’s a little bit about that.
Elliot Silver: Yeah, so I, I live alone with my 11-year-old, beautiful, gorgeous, incredible daughter.
And her name is Sydney. And, I had her on my own since she was three years old. her mother unfortunately passed away, in Florida. [00:18:00] Sorry. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, it’s a sad thing, but I, you know, I’ve done my best to, you know, provide for her, but the truth is no matter what I do, there’s no love like a mother, the motherly love.
It’s just, it can’t be replaced, you know? And, she, she seems to be pretty well adjusted. And we talk about it. It’s not anything that’s hidden. And every year, you know, on a birthday, we, we light a candle and we, we celebrate, her mother’s life. but it’s, it’s difficult. It’s been really difficult, you know, to, to provide not just food and shelter, you know, like a, kind of a, sort of a masculine type of approach, but it’s, it’s been difficult for me to provide the type of love that a mother could, but I, I do my best.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what would you choose to do? I know you’ve had some other professional experiences or work experiences.
Elliot Silver: Yeah. So, I actually always envisioned myself, [00:19:00] either, either being, an art professor. Who has a studio producing art? I don’t think I would have been a, you know, just a pure student.
but I always sort of always be an art professor. I love art history and, you know, going to the museums and, and learning about all the different, Yeah, the different influences. It’s really a tree. You know, it’s a tree of, just like music is, is a tree of, derivatives, you know, and that just studying the, the derivatives of, of the art world.
And I always imagined myself being an art professor
Louis Goodman: Elliot, it’s really been a pleasure talking to you. There’s a lot to cover, and I’m sure that there’s other things that we could. Discuss at length. I think this would be a good place to leave it. I want to thank you so much for coming on. I love the lawyer and I hope to see you again soon in court when things get back to normal.
Elliot Silver: Thanks, Louis. It’s been a pleasure and a hope you’re doing very well out there. Take care. Thanks Lou.
Louis Goodman: Thank you. [00:20:00] Thank you for joining us today on love by lawyer. Thanks to Elliot Silver, Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey, please rate us and review us on Apple podcasts.
I’m Louis Goodman.
Elliot Silver: I’ve had an internet business before I had a, a in New York, I had an internet pharmacy, and I had also, adult entertainment, website, if you will.
Obviously, people who face criminal charges have a lot on their plate. For instance, the outcome of a criminal case could have life-altering implications. On top of this, you are probably considering whether you should hire a criminal defense lawyer. Many people decide against obtaining legal representation due to the fear of footing a large legal bill. Others believe that they can handle their own case. However, given the stakes of a criminal case, hiring an attorney has many benefits worth considering. Here are the top five reasons why you should hire a criminal defense lawyer:
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Knows the Legal System
Unfortunately, the legal system is complicated. Therefore, a successful defense in court requires a detailed understanding of the law. Also, it requires knowing how to use the law to your advantage.
At the same time, the actual court proceedings are often technical. Thus, representing yourself in court is a tougher challenge than you might expect. Luckily, criminal defense lawyers have gone through extensive schooling to understand the legal system. Further, an experienced attorney will have many years of practice under his or her belt.
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Has Handled Cases Similar to Your Own
While knowledge of the law is a plus, a criminal defense lawyer with courtroom experience is even more beneficial. For instance, when an attorney handles a certain type of case, they learn how to best handle that case moving forward. This includes knowing what evidence to look for and present in court.
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Will Fight to Get Your Charges Reduced or Case Dismissed Entirely
While this is the goal for all defendants facing criminal charges, many do not know how to best achieve it. Moreover, they may believe that the evidence against them is too strong to successfully fight their charges. However, a trained attorney will know each step involved in a criminal proceeding. Often, a subtle legal maneuver is all it takes to get a case dismissed or a charge reduced. Therefore, it is in your best interest to consider hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Knows When to Negotiate a Deal or Plea Bargain
Along with fighting to get your charges reduced, a criminal defense lawyer knows when to negotiate a deal or plea bargain. For many people, this could mean the difference between extensive jail time and fines and satisfying the minimum penalties. Also, it is important to remember that even if you receive a guilty verdict, this does not necessarily mean that your penalties are set in stone. Thus, an Alameda County criminal defense attorney can provide you with tangible benefits.
Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Potentially Save You Money
While you may be concerned about paying for an attorney, facing criminal charges could mean potential jail or prison time and hefty fines. Also, spending time in jail or prison means lost wages and potentially a lost job as well. As such, hiring a criminal defense attorney could help you dodge many of these financially-draining outcomes.
Speak With an Experienced Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney
As a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, Louis J. Goodman knows his way around the legal system. He has represented clients in the criminal courts for more than 30 years. This includes clients facing misdemeanor and felony charges in a wide range of criminal cases. If you would like to learn more about what he can do for you, then leave a message or give the office a call at (510) 582-9090.