Miki Tal – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice of law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She is an experienced former prosecutor who worked for the legendary Bronx County District Attorney’s Office in New York City. She has also served as a Prosecutor in Napa and Alameda counties in California, and as a Public Defender in Santa Cruz, she now practices criminal defense throughout the state of California, and in Federal District Court. She represents criminal defendants in the most difficult of circumstances. Miki Tal welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Miki Tal: Hi, great to be here. Thank you.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m very happy that you’ve joined me today for this. I’ve seen you in court on many occasions, and I’ve always [00:01:00] been very impressed by the level of preparation that you show and your poise in the courtroom. So I’ve wanted to talk to you for this podcast.
Miki Tal: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Miki Tal: I am originally from Israel.
Louis Goodman: Born there?
Miki Tal: Yes
Louis Goodman: Where were you born?
Miki Tal: I was born in a city called Ilaun, south of Tel Aviv, and I grew up in Israel and my family moved here when I was 10. So I was at the end of fourth grade.
Louis Goodman: So do you still speak fluent Hebrew?
Miki Tal: I do speak fluent Hebrew.
Louis Goodman: And do you get, I mean, before this pandemic, were you getting back to Israel very much.
Miki Tal: I love it there. Yes. It’s a wonderful place to visit. I was just there. We were all my whole family was there last summer, so yes, we like to visit.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Miki Tal: So I [00:02:00] went to high school in Orange County.
When my parents moved, we moved to Orange County, which is kind of an unexpected place for me, but that’s where I ended up living during my childhood in high school.
Louis Goodman: What was that transition like coming from Israel to Southern California?
Miki Tal: It was a huge transition, obviously, completely different cultures. Being an immigrant, coming into that environment of a very, you know, mostly white culture, very, mostly Christian culture, I would say at the time. I think Orange County and Southern California has become a lot more diverse in the last, probably 10, 15 years. But when I was growing up, it was pretty homogeneous culture. So it was obviously a new language, a lot of transition and adaptation had to take place.
Louis Goodman: So what high school did you go to?
Miki Tal: I went to high school in Orange County called Eldorado.
Louis Goodman: What [00:03:00] was that experience like?
Miki Tal: That experience was I’m a very social person, so I think I became very engaged in school as far as, not only the academics, but extracurricular activities, student government, things like that. Also other things that I was involved in to make the experience as sort of satisfying as possible, but when it was over, I think I was ready to go.
Louis Goodman: And where did you go from High School?
I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad, and that was a very, very satisfying and positive experience for me.
Louis Goodman: I imagine that was another transition going from Orange County to. Berkeley.
Miki Tal: Yes, it was a very good fit for me. It was a very diverse environment, very intellectually alive. And that was kind of my scene.
So I actually went to Berkeley summer school when I was in High School. So when I then started [00:04:00] college at Berkeley, it was sort of a natural sort of continuation. I met great friends that I still have today. And it was, I majored in philosophy and it just was a very intellectually and social leave. Very satisfying experience.
Overall. I loved it.
Louis Goodman: I don’t know too much about philosophy, but I have heard that it is a really brutal major.
Miki Tal: I’ve heard that too. It’s sort of considered that way. I found it to be very interesting. I think it’s a very good sort of transition to doing law as well, because there’s just that kind of, you know, you’re thinking you’re arguing, you’re thinking about different ways of looking at something.
So. You’re writing so about it to be a great experience. And Berkeley was very, had very renowned professors teaching philosophy. So it was a great experience.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking about going to Law School?
[00:05:00] Miki Tal: You know, already in high school I was doing mock trials and we competed statewide.
It was a very intense process. And so I, always liked the idea of being a Lawyer. I liked the thought of being in a courtroom, and I think that started probably in high school, the thought of going to law school.
Louis Goodman: Cool. Where did you go to law school?
Miki Tal: I went to law school in New York City. It’s called Cardoza Law School.
It’s the Law School for Yeshiva University and kind of interesting that I ended up there. I knew I wanted to go to somewhere in New York and it was the only school I applied to in New York City., For some reason that I’m not sure of at the moment, but it ended up being a very good experience just because of the specific involvement that I had.
I was already focused on Criminal Law at the time. It is a very good school. It’s in the Village in [00:06:00] Manhattan. One of the things that the school has is the Innocence, the original Innocence Project, which was run by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. So I was very involved in that and also in the Criminal Law Clinic where we actually went into court and represented clients. It was a Criminal Defense Clinic, so it was just a very good, you know, actual experience of practicing law already or having exposure to it.
Louis Goodman: While in law school, did you go directly from College to Law School or did you take any time and do something in between?
Miki Tal: Before I went to law school, I did take, I think it was a year or two off.
I lived in San Francisco. And I was actually thinking of going to school for fashion design.
Miki Tal: So I believe it, so that was sort of my other thought. And at some point, my mom and I went to check out some schools [00:07:00] in New York. Like Parsons and Fashion Institute of Technology it’s called, in Manhattan and I just kind of became, it became clear to me that I love fashion. I love design, but I didn’t want to do that for a profession. So that kind of sealed the deal for me as far as Law School.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that having taken a couple of years off and worked, you know, in industry, just out in the real world really better kind of prepared you for going to Law School and being focused on Law School?
Miki Tal: Possibly. I mean, I was still pretty young. I know a lot of people go directly from Undergrad to Law School and I did take that year or so. I wasn’t as ready for it as some of the people I think that you see who are maybe going into law school as a second career, or really have some kind of objective with it.
I think you see those people, older people in law school who are really just [00:08:00] focused. They go and they do it and they know what they’re there for. Right. For me law school was a bit of a surprise as far as just the process seemed very different, I think than what I was expecting. So, yeah, I don’t know that I was mentally as prepared for it as maybe someone else who kind of already knew what to expect, you know, the Socratic Method and the outlines in certain aspects about it. I was not ready for, or wasn’t aware of before I went into law school.
Louis Goodman: While you were in law school for three years and living in New York City, how was that?
Miki Tal: That was wonderful. Love New York City. Loved living there. Loved being a student there. It was a great experience. Very vibrant. Wonderful place on so many levels. Everything from the legal industry to culture and, you know, obviously New York City’s just one of a kind. So it was a great experience.
Louis Goodman: Hey, you said that while you were in law [00:09:00] school, you did some work for the Innocence Project and you worked with Barry Scheck, right?
Miki Tal: I did.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I’ve always, by the way, thought that Barry Scheck is the person who really won the OJ trial for better or for worse. I think that he’s the guy that really put that team together for all of the other people who may have had a little star power. I always thought Barry Scheck was the brains behind that.
Miki Tal: You know, he was, it was great. He was the Innocence Project was situated in the law school. So you know, him and Peter Neufeld were there, they were kind of mentors. They were kind of stars by that point. And, you know, there would be like taping of shows and things like that. That would happen occasionally.
Louis Goodman: What was your first real legal job?
Miki Tal: So I think it was sort of, as I was in law school, as I was saying, I was doing the Criminal Defense Clinic and Innocence Project. So I was already working on cases. And then [00:10:00] when I graduated, I took a position as a Deputy District Attorney in New York City, Bronx County. So that was my official, you know, first job as a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: How is it that you decided to start out as a prosecutor?
Miki Tal: Frankly, I’ve always been defense oriented and I think that’s always been my calling to be completely frank about it. I think I can do both sides. I have done both sides, but at the time the DA’s Office was hiring and the Public Defender’s Office, which is Legal Aid Society was not.
And I had this opportunity to be in the courtroom, really be in the mix of things. Bronx County was also headed by Robert Johnson at the time, which is one of the one and only African American Prosecutors, I think at that time. Certainly the first one in New York State. So I just thought it was going to be an interesting experience and something that I could, you know, professionally develop from, et cetera.
So I [00:11:00] decided to go that route.
Louis Goodman: Have you read Bonfire of the Vanities?
Miki Tal: Yes. And I’ve seen the movie.
Louis Goodman: The movie. I thought it was terrible, but the book is one of my favorites.
Miki Tal: Yes.
Louis Goodman: And of course that’s all about to the Bronx County Criminal Justice System.
Miki Tal: Yes, it was, it was quite a way to start your legal career.
I mean like the ultimate bootcamp or sort of like jump right in situation. We had night court, and weekends because in New York City, individuals have to be arraigned within 24 hours. So there was night court and it was just unbelievable. I mean, it was, it was during the time of Giuliani and it was really before things were done on the internet.
So the police officers would come in into the complaint room. We would be making charging decisions. It was a very intense experience. There [00:12:00] was a very high volume, Bronx County also happened to have jurisdiction over Rikers Island.
Louis Goodman: How long did you stay there?
Miki Tal: I stayed there about a year, little over a year.
Louis Goodman: Then what did you do?
Miki Tal: I was engaged and my husband was going to Law School at Berkeley, so we decided to come back to California. And at that time, I think you mentioned Alameda County DA’s Office. I was never a DA in Alameda County, but what I did is I was a, sort of like a law clerk in the Consumer Protection Division while I was studying for the bar, the California bar, because I had taken the New York Bar after law school and I had to take the California bar. So I was sort of a law clerk at the Alameda County Consumer Fraud Division. And then once I passed the bar, I went on to take a position as a DA in Napa County, which was very interesting. Very [00:13:00] different than the Bronx, obviously.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, no, you’ve had all these really juxtapositions, you know, going from Israel to Orange County and then Orange County to Berkeley, and then from the West Coast to New York City and the Bronx, and then going from being a prosecutor in the Bronx to being a Prosecutor in Napa County. And I imagine that was extremely different.
Miki Tal: The saying in Napa was, come on vacation, leave on probation.
Louis Goodman: I have heard that, but that is funny. Every time I hear it, it’s funny.
Miki Tal: It’s fun time. It’s absolutely pretty much sums it up because you know, it’s a lovely, pretty calm, safe environment overall, not urban at all. And the main sort of thing there or a lot of it is the DUIs. So I did have a bunch of DUI trials that were actually quite interesting and lasted for a [00:14:00] long time with experts and things like that. As far as doing a sort of beginning criminal law trials, I think those were really good for training purposes for me.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. When I was in the DA’s office and, you know, we were trying a lot of DUI cases that it was pointed out to me that really it’s only in DUIs and murders where you get to deal with as much scientific evidence as you do. And so I always thought DUI trials, especially from the point of view of prosecutor were really interesting case
Miki Tal: I agree.
Louis Goodman: At some point you ended up in Santa Cruz, how did that happen?
Miki Tal: So I think as I was saying, just based on my background and everything, I sort of lean towards, I’ve always been interested in Criminal Defense because of just the fact that you are representing the individual, you are holding the government to their standard of proof. And [00:15:00] I decided I really wanted to go into Criminal Defense and I applied and got the job at the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s Office. And that was definitely a good fit for me.
Never turned back.
Louis Goodman: What did you do there and what did you like about that?
Miki Tal: It was a great office. I had a lot of the heads of the office were very supportive. As far as mentorship. The cases were interesting. It’s kind of an almost a small city with big city crime. And so I started doing more serious felonies.
Louis Goodman: At some point you opened your own office.
Mike Tal: I did. So just gave birth to my daughter and moved back to Berkeley area and kind of went on my own at that point, sort of to try to balance having a family and also having a career. And so I kind of went out on my own around 2000.
Louis Goodman: How has that gone?
[00:16:00] Miki Tal:
Great. I initially felt sort of that I was missing the camaraderie that you have from being a part of the office, whether it’s, you know, mostly the criminal defense really environment, where you are strategizing, you are creatively thinking about things and you can kind of. Kickoff ideas with colleagues.
So that part of being on my own was definitely an adjustment. I think after you do this on your own for a while, you realize you’re not really on your own because you have colleagues and you develop relationships that provide that type of support. And I feel that at this point, I really do have that. I feel I have a network of smart colleagues that I kick off ideas and they kick off ideas with me on an ongoing basis. And so I’ve recreated that support system for myself, but I [00:17:00] think it took a while to do that.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think that’s a really important part of practicing law, especially as a solo practitioner in a small firm, you know, having friends and colleagues who you can bounce things off of and get together and who have an understanding of what you’re going through.
Miki Tal: Absolutely.
Louis Goodman: If someone was coming out of college right now and was thinking about a career in law, would you recommend?
Miki Tal: I think it depends on the individual. I think law can be a great fit for someone. For instance, if I was doing it again, I would probably still be doing this because it’s really, I really enjoy a lot of parts about it.
There are, I think a lot of people who go into law because they don’t really know what else to do or, you know, they’re kind of like, okay, my parents want me to go law school or it’ll be a stable job or things like that. And I think in that case, those people can find themselves [00:18:00] unsatisfied or sort of not wanting to go through it because it is sort of a committed process you have to be in or out.
I think you can sort of do it, but it’s not going to be a very satisfying experience. So I think if you are a good fit for it, I would definitely recommend it.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law either met or different from your expectations about it as you were going into it?
Miki Tal: I definitely think there’s been different aspects of it.
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think you were on constantly learning new things. The reason I like to do it is because it’s constantly changing. I’m constantly learning about human nature, humans, whether it’s my clients or opposing counsel or the bench, or you’re constantly kind of finding out new ways of looking at things or new things to consider. And so I think in [00:19:00] that way, it’s constantly changing. And it’s interesting in that way, the being in the court is always interesting as well. I don’t know if it’s different. I think I just like the fact that it is kind of changing and different and interesting
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair.
Miki Tal: I don’t. I don’t think the Criminal Justice System is necessarily fair. I think it’s a reflection of our society. Our society obviously has a lot of bias built into it.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you would change about the way the legal system works?
Miki Tal: I think that there needs to be a lot more recognition and awareness of the disparities in resources and sort of power between the Defense and the Governor.
Louis Goodman: Well, besides practicing law, what other things do you like to do?
Miki Tal: I have two kids. One is nine and one is 13. I like to spend time with them, with my husband. I enjoy [00:20:00] Design and Art and, you know, traveling. There are many things that I like to do to sort of live life to the fullest.
Louis Goodman: So besides Israel, are there other places that you’ve traveled to that you’ve enjoyed?
Miki Tal: Yeah, I very much enjoy travel. Obviously that’s not happening at the moment other than kind of local traveling in California. But yeah, I’ve been to Europe. I’ve been to Mexico. There’re many other places that I’d like to go. I just think it’s wonderful when you travel and you just like the smells and the food and the oh, Japan. I’ve been to Japan and that was incredible.
So, yeah, many other places that I want to return to and go for the first time,
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Miki Tal: Sometimes my cases do for sure. Parenting definitely keeps me up at night, sometimes because there’s obviously so much effort and thought and contemplation about how to do [00:21:00] it the right way. Both in my cases and with parenting.
So those are definitely things that keep me up at night. And just thinking about the future for my kids, you know, the state of our country, the environment. I feel like those anxieties always come up in the middle of the night.
Louis Goodman: If you and your husband came into some real money, you know, a couple of billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Miki Tal: What would I do? I probably do some things like some crazy creative things that I probably wouldn’t do now, because I would just have time to devote to other projects and maybe some crazy amounts of money to do those projects. I would probably buy real estate in several places throughout the world, so that I would have my own place, let’s say, in Japan or in Manhattan. And you know, it’d be nice to actually have your own place versus go stay in a hotel. And I would probably spend some time on some issues that are [00:22:00] going to be facing our children, like the environment or like racial disparities in the system. I think I would probably just take on different projects that were interesting.
Louis Goodman: So if you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Miki Tal: Climate change.
Louis Goodman: So Mickey, we’ve talked a lot about where you’ve been in your career and things that you’ve done and things that you were doing, where do you see the system, the criminal justice world going next?
Miki Tal: I hope that the Criminal Justice System is headed in a direction that is more equitable to individuals, especially people of color in our country. You know, things like police brutality and abuses, racial disparities in the jury selection process. So many things are there that happen. I’ve been there for a long time, but we are now at a state where maybe we are now [00:23:00] ready to take a look, close look, and actually confront those issues and make progress with regards to that.
Louis Goodman: Miki Tal, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a really interesting conversation. You’ve had a very interesting career and life so far, and I’m sure that if anybody can put into place, some of the things that you’ve suggested, it’s probably you.
Miki Tal: Thank you so much, Louis. It was really great talking to you today.
Louis Goodman: 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, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Megan Burns / Louis Goodman – ACBA Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, this is Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with members of the ACBA about their lives and legal careers. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the LTL podcast. And yes, I’m a member of the Alameda County Bar Association. Today, we’re very happy to welcome Megan Burns.
She is an aggressive and experienced trial attorney. She has over 15 years of litigation experience and has tried approximately 50 cases to jury verdict. She spent many years advocating on behalf of the criminally accused as a San Francisco Public Defender, and she handles both criminal and personal injury matters.
She helped file a civil rights case that resulted in an important First Amendment decision in the Ninth Circuit. Megan Burns. It’s a pleasure to talk to you this afternoon.
Megan Burns: Hi Lou. Thanks for having me.
Louis Goodman: Megan, where is your office [00:01:00] located right now?
Megan Burns: The main office is located in Pleasanton, California, but we also have offices in Oakland as well as in the Fremont Newark area. You may know some of my law partners. One of my law partners is a founding member of our firm Jules Bonjour, who’s been in practice here in Alameda County for more years than he’d like me to count. My other law partners include Michael Thorman, Emily Dahm, and Jared Winter. I was actually born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up for most of my life in the suburbs of Detroit.
I went to Oxford high school, which is, as I like to describe it, it’s a suburb of Detroit. Where at the time that I lived there, it was right where the suburbs ended, and the cornfields began. So that was kind of my main place I grew up as a kid.
Louis Goodman: How was your experience there?
Megan Burns: It’s good. I mean, it’s ideal kind of Midwestern living, [00:02:00] although there are certainly any issues with small towns, and I was anxious to kind of get to a larger urban area and kind of knew that relatively early. My father was an airline pilot growing up. So I’d had a wonderful opportunity of travel at a young age, and so kind of strived for kind of moving to a bigger city and more metropolitan life experience.
Louis Goodman: So did you do that when you went to college?
Megan Burns: Yes. I actually played soccer in high school and was recruited to different colleges to play soccer, but I ended up at Boston College on a soccer scholarship, which was amazing.
And Boston is such a great place to go to undergrad with all the different Universities. Each University in Boston has a very different kind of culture and experience, so it was great to be there and be a part of it. And I spent four years living in Boston and was a Division One Athlete as [00:03:00] well for my time at Boston College.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of Boston College, did you go to Law School directly or did you take some time off?
Megan Burns: Well, I actually had always known that I wanted to be a Lawyer. I actually can’t remember a time where I did not expect to go to law school or to be an attorney? Not necessarily because I have a bunch of lawyers in my family, so I don’t know what prompted me to want to follow that particular career path.
But when I graduated from undergrad, I really wanted to have just some life experience, not be a student, have a job, have an apartment, pay my bills, kind of live in the real world for lack of a better term, and just really kind of decide whether being a lawyer was something I truly wanted or whether it was something that had just been kind of an idea in my head.
And with some years I might feel differently. So I actually moved to Chicago after I graduated from [00:04:00] undergrad and spent a couple years living there doing consulting work in the finance industry.
Louis Goodman: That was before you went to law school?
Megan Burns: Yes. So my undergrad was in finance and so I did strategy consulting and then I also work for an intellectual property consulting firm in Chicago had great experiences, did a lot of very intellectual work, interesting work, but I didn’t find it as fulfilling as what I thought life would be like being a lawyer.
So I did, after a couple of years, decide to pursue my dream to go to law school.
Louis Goodman: And where did you go to law school?
Megan Burns: I ended up in Lewis and Clark Law School, which is in Portland, Oregon. It’s a relatively smaller school, primarily known for its really excellent Environmental Law Program, but it’s a beautiful campus.
Great place to go to school.
Louis Goodman: How was your experience in Law School? How’d you like that?
Megan Burns: I actually only spent two years at Lewis and Clark. I was a visiting [00:05:00] student at Hastings College of the Law for one semester where I was actually working at the Public Defender’s Office while in Law School. And I also spent another semester in Georgetown, taking different sorts of classes in Civil Rights Law, and other kind of related classes.
Louis Goodman: That’s great.
You said that you kind of like had always known that you wanted to be a lawyer. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Megan Burns: Sure. I come from a very blue-collar background of which I’m very proud of. My family are primarily auto workers and farmers and people that know how to put in a good day’s work.
And I think that forms a lot of who I am today. So I didn’t grow up with lawyers or other professionals really as role models. And I really honestly don’t know why I got it in my head that I wanted to be a lawyer, but I remember that kind of being my goal or dream in elementary school. So I don’t know what kind of [00:06:00] prompted it, but I just always knew it was something I wanted to do.
Louis Goodman: What was your first actual legal job after you got out of law school?
Megan Burns: So I had been working for several years as an intern in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. I had actually accepted a position at the Mendocino County Public Defender’s Office, and I worked there for one week, that particular position was a Dependency position, which as you know, Lou, is pretty different than the actual experience of doing Criminal Defense. I had been talking to a lawyer that had been at the San Diego Public Defender’s Office for many years, but at the time was living and working in Nevada City in Nevada County. And he offered me a position as an Associate with his firm.
And so my partner and I moved up there for a couple of years and it was great living in Northern California and going to all these different counties, [00:07:00] Sierra County was 6,000 permanent residents and just all the way down to Sacramento. So that’s what I did for the first couple of years after law school.
Louis Goodman: You eventually got to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. How did that come about?
Megan Burns: My partner had actually gotten a job at Bay Area Legal Aid, so we were going to be moving back to the Bay Area. I love trying cases. I wanted to try cases. I wanted to be a Trial Lawyer and I knew that if I didn’t go into a Public Defender’s Office, I really wasn’t going to get the trial experience that I needed and that I desired to have.
So I actually went to the Solano County Public Defender’s Office for about a year. And at the time I was being promoted into the Felony Trial rotation. And at that moment, I was also offered a job in San Francisco and decided to take it.
Louis Goodman: Interesting. When you first started out in the Public Defender’s Office can you give us a story from your early years [00:08:00] there.
Megan Burns: Oh my gosh. I very much remember those first years. And in fact there is a whole group of wonderful female lawyers that are just absolutely exceptional trial lawyers, smart as whips, just brilliant litigators that we were all in misdemeanors at the same time. We had great support. We had team meetings, and everybody was just kind of constantly in trial and that was the culture there.
And the office was really to build you up into a true trial lawyer with top level skills. And so the main thing I remember is just many, many late hours coming back to the offices, after our various battles in court. And usually multiple people were in trial at the same time, kind of talking and collaborating about our experiences.
I had the same office mate for seven and a half years that I was at the Public Defender’s [00:09:00] Office, a very well-regarded Criminal Trial Lawyer in East Bay by the name of Kiana Washington. And she and I were just constantly in trial. So I’d say probably my favorite memories are just Kiana and I coming back from court and talking about our trial worst stories.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Megan Burns: You know, I think that there are a lot of ways to kind of earn a living in this world that are a lot easier than being a lawyer, if I’m to be totally frank. So it’s not that the practice of law or being a trial lawyer is easy. You know you work an eight-hour day where you just get to go home and forget about everything that’s happening, but I really truly enjoy helping people.
I do that every single day and it’s very rewarding.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend going to law school for a young person coming out of college?
Megan Burns: I would, with an exception. You must understand what it means to be [00:10:00] a Lawyer. And the analogy that I give to a lot of young people is think about Doctors. I mean, there’s a million different kinds of doctors out there.
You could be a Knee Surgeon; you could be an Ophthalmologist and similar to the specialty areas that exist in Medicine. I think that’s also true of the law. Like what your experience of being a lawyer might be, is very different based on the type of practice area that you go into. And so I think it is a mistake to graduate from undergrad, take the LSAT without having any kind of real-world life experience, and then go to law school expecting, you know, what you want to do, and then have that job look and feel very different than what you expected it to be.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations?
Megan Burns: Like I said, I actually spent a lot of [00:11:00] time in law school doing clinical work and making that a core component of my law school experience. So I felt like I had a good sense of what it meant to be a lawyer in practice, at least the kind of lawyer I wanted to be before I started practicing, certainly in private practice. In comparison to public service and the public defender’s office, you really have to have an understanding of business and marketing and, you know, promoting yourself online and how people review you or review your firm.
And so kind of understanding those business aspects of running a business and being in private practice was certainly something that I had to adapt to. Once I left public service.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that, you know now that you really wished you’d known before you went to law school or before you started practicing?
Megan Burns: I think that when I went to law school, and I [00:12:00] think this is true of a lot of people. The cost of law school was not something that I was particularly concerned about and I think if I was to give one piece of advice to young people that are considering law school is really to consider what the overall debt burden is going to be for yourself.
Once you graduate. I do think that there is a return on investment of going to law school, but I think you have to be cautious if you leave law school, $300,000 in debt and you really want to be a Public Defender.
Louis Goodman: What about starting out in private practice? Are there some things that you think are really important for a young attorney to know about when they’re starting off their practice?
Megan Burns: I think if you’re a young lawyer and you’ve just graduated from law school and you’re thinking about hanging out your own shingle, First, I would say the most important thing about being a lawyer is looking for mentors you really can trust and that [00:13:00] relate to you and you relate to them that can help guide you.
Being a lawyer is not just a job. It is a profession. I think the core, at least for me, is you know, your reputation as an attorney, making sure that not just you’re respected in the community, but that people consider your word to be your boss.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair? That sometimes the legal system does get it right?
Megan Burns I do think at least, if I’m speaking to my experience as a Criminal Defense Attorney, I think in today’s day and age, you cannot ignore the impact of Systemic Racism on the Criminal Justice System. You know, when I went to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, I actually, I had a lot of guilt about going there because I knew there were so many other exceptional lawyers that were already practicing in that office.
And I felt like maybe my skills and what I had to offer would be better [00:14:00] served in a different community where there weren’t quite as many people that were as dedicated to the practice of law and providing the best representation that money can’t buy, is the way that I described what I tried to do as a public defender.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Megan Burns: I think even in the last 15 years that I’ve practiced; a lot has already changed. I think that understanding and being trained on Implicit Bias is something that is more a focus of the Judiciary, as well as both District Attorney’s Offices and Public Defender’s Offices.
So part is recognizing that we have a problem. Step two is talking about it in a productive way. And step three is figuring out what to do about that.
Louis Goodman: Let’s talk about your work-life balance a little bit, you know, your family life, what you do when you’re not practicing law?
Megan Burns: I [00:15:00] I am very blessed to be married to a wonderful woman.
She and I have been together for nearly 20 years. We have two beautiful kids, a daughter who’s nine and a son who’s four. If I’m being totally honest, work-life balance is something that I definitely struggle with on a daily basis. Doing work where I know that I’m representing human beings that are facing the cross. She’ll be there. The Criminal Justice System are going up against a large insurance company. When they’ve been seriously injured in an accident. There’s a lot of responsibility of representing people like that and doing the best I can for them. And really I could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there’d still be more to do.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some other line of work that you think you would like to pursue?
Megan Burns: Oh sure. I can think of a million things. I might go back to my roots and have a small farm, or I could [00:16:00] see studying Art History, being a Travel Writer. I mean, the list is a million miles long of different things that I’m interested in and love to do.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Megan Burns: You know, I can think of small things that I might do for, you know, my family members, my extended family members, but I don’t think I would live my life that much differently than I do now.
I think it would certainly give me more flexibility with time. And maybe I cut back on the day-to-day practice of law a bit and hire more attorneys to kind of continue the work that I love to do, but I’d probably start working immediately to figure out how best can I make that money go to work, to kind of deal with some of the Systemic changes that made me want to be a lawyer in the first place.
Louis Goodman: This podcast is presented and supported by the Alameda County Bar Association. ACBA [00:17:00] provides a wide range of certified continuing legal educational programs, networking opportunities, and social events. If you’re a member of ACBA, thank you. If you are not yet a member, we hope you will consider joining this organization, that is by, for, and in support of practicing attorneys.
And now back to our interview.
Let’s say you had a magic wand. That was one thing you could change in the world, the legal world and the general world. Anything. What one thing do you think you would like to change?
Megan Burns: Wow, that’s a big question, Lou. You know the idea that we live in a society where you have children that are dying of hunger in places like Yemen and Africa is Sub-Saharan Africa and in War Zones. And we here in the United States have internet access that is stable and certainly have, you know, vehicles and public transportation, [00:18:00] not to mention climate change. Gosh, I can I get three wishes? Can I fix world hunger, eliminate global warming? And finally, as I mentioned before, help in whatever way I can to adjust, address systemic racism.
I think we would be a much better world if we could deal with those three main issues.
Louis Goodman: We’re doing this recording in conjunction with the Alameda County Bar Association and the Barristers Club, and I know that we have a few other people who are on the call and listening. I’m wondering if anybody has some questions for Megan, some things that I haven’t covered or that specifically you have some interest in or follow up.
All right. Do I have to call on people here? Manjula Martin. I see you’re muted out. Are you there?
Manjula Martin: I’m here. Hello? How’s it going?
Louis Goodman: Hi, how are you?
Manjula Martin: Hi, I’m Manjula. Good to see you
Louis Goodman: Nice to see you [00:19:00] all too. Do you have a question or a comment either for Megan or about anything that she said?
Manjula Martin: Yeah, actually I was curious about how she has dealt with the, I guess know, glass ceiling of being a woman and what’s pretty much been the most part of male dominated world for quite some time.
Megan Burns: You know Manjula, I’ve had a lot of great women mentors that have come before me. So on the one hand, I recognize the struggles that we as women, particularly in the litigation field of being an attorney experienced today. But I also recognize that there are people that came before us that had it a lot worse. For many years, I was a Board Member for Women Defenders, which was an organization started several decades ago by many kind of well-known well-regarded women trial attorneys here in the Bay Area to kind of support each other.
And I guess if, you know, I think number [00:20:00] one, community and support are really essential to kind of dealing with issues of gender bias in the court system. And particularly as attorneys.
Louis Goodman: Jason?
Jason Leong: Sure. One of the things that I appreciate that Megan saying was the importance of having a life outside the law. And I’m just wondering if there’s any particular extracurricular activity that helps you get through the work week or helps keep you focused when you are on the clock, like one activity that you enjoy above others. Do you still play soccer?
Megan Burns: I don’t play soccer anymore, although I’m happy to do it. My daughter is an aspiring soccer player, so I do play with her and she’s on the team. So that’s fun, certainly kind of doing physical activity, like hiking and that kind of thing. But in terms of extra curriculars or hobbies, I really like to completely step aside [00:21:00] from things that are intellectual. I like to garden. I’d just like to put my hands in the soil and plant something and see it grow something that is a totally different skill set than what I do on a day-to-day basis, which is using my brain power and my voice and my written advocacy to fight for people and their rights. So I really need to kind of step aside.
I need to get outside right. And that’s really helps me stay sane.
Louis Goodman: Joanne Kinston is on this call. Joanne, are you there?
Joanne Kingston: Hi. Can you hear me?
Louis Goodman: Yeah, we can hear you Joanne.
Joanne Kingston: Well, I’m impressed by the amazing person you are. I was curious, do you feel if there is a glass ceiling that it’s different in the criminal arena than it is in the civil arena?
Megan Burns: Wow. That’s a big question. I think, you know, I recently had this amazing opportunity to [00:22:00] present at a conference of Women in the Law, which was a group effort between the Contra Costa Bar Association, Alameda County Bar Association of the Queen’s bench, and several other professional organizations to really kind of come together as a group and really talk about the struggles of gender bias and just by us in general, in the court system.
And I remember very distinctly the first night of that conference, which was shortly before the pandemic. We had this amazing panel of presenters, including several judges, including a Supreme Court Justice talk about their experience. So I think to say that there is not a glass ceiling is not credible. I do think some of the struggles in Civil practice are different in the sense that, you know, there are so few women partners at big firms. And so I do think that, you know, being in private practice as a Criminal Defense Attorney [00:23:00] does certainly help you avoid some of those glass ceiling problems that other individuals have experienced in larger organizations.
So I hope that answers your question.
Louis Goodman: Lisa Simmons. Is there something you’d like to jump in here with?
Lisa Simons: Thanks Lou. Good to see you again, even if it’s on video. I’ve enjoyed you speaking several times and I’ve been out to Dublin before, but my name may be unfamiliar to a lot, but I worked for 20 years under an older attorney and I recently left his office after COVID at how do some of us Attorneys that are wanting to get that experience and used to hang out in the courtroom. And now we’re kind of cut off from all of that, what would you recommend?
Megan Burns: Well, a couple of things, Lisa, I don’t think you and I know each other, but if you ever have an opportunity where you’re going to do a big hearing or a trial, first of all, feel free to give me a call and I’m happy to talk to you.
That’s kind of the beauty of being where I’m [00:24:00] at in my career at this point. I’ve been mentored by so many excellent trial lawyers. It’s my job to kind of give back to people that also want to grow within the profession and really develop their trial skills. I actually just completed a trial this week in Department 706 out at the Dublin Courthouse.
It was a competency trial. So it was a court trial, not a jury trial, and one thing that I learned is that there is a public feed for a lot of these trials that continue to happen, even in the age of COVID. And so if you go to the court website and maybe ACBA could do a blog about that and put it up on the website or something, because to be honest, I was familiar with going to court based on the video conferencing software that we usually access to actually appear in court.
I was not aware that the court was actually doing a public feed of what was happening in the courtroom until I did that trial last week. But apparently that is the case. [00:25:00] And so, yeah. my understanding is that you can access that public feed on the court’s website to maintain kind of the constitutional rights everybody has to public proceedings.
So there’s that. And like I said before, whether it’s me or somebody else that, you know, if you want to kind of grow your skills as a trial lawyer, find mentors.
Lisa Simons: Awesome. Thank you so much, Megan. That’s exactly what I was looking for.
Megan Burns: You’re welcome.
Lisa Simons: We’ll get started together.
Megan Burns: You bet.
Louis Goodman: Megan, thank you so much for doing this.
I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. I think that we’ve all heard a lot of very interesting information about you personally and gotten some great tips from you professionally. So thank you very much for doing this.
Megan Burns: Well, it’s an honor, Lou, I’ve really enjoyed listening to your prior podcasts on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
I think this is a great idea. So I really appreciate you [00:26:00] taking this on and kind of giving us an opportunity to talk about our careers and our experiences. And I’m also appreciative to the ACBA. I’ve been a Board Member of the ACBA. I’m currently a Board Member of Legal Access Alameda.
So I’m always here to support our local Bar and local Attorneys and whatever their professional endeavors are. So thanks to both of you. And it’s an honor to be asked.
Louis Goodman: This is Love Thy Lawyer in collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, please visit the Love Thy Lawyer website at Lovethylawyer.com where you can find links to all of our episodes. Also, please visit the Alameda County Bar Association [email protected], where you can find more information about our support of the legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession and facilitating equal access to [00:27:00] justice.
Special thanks to ACBA staff and members, Caitlin Dahlin, Saeed Randle, Hadassah Hayashi, Vincent Tong, and Jason Leon. Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Megan Burns: I, for one, bring a lot of my experience as a collegiate athlete to the practice of law.
Kurt Robinson – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He’s a retired attorney. He has been a lawyer. He has sold legal cannabis. He has a close relationship with the San Francisco 49ers and the now San Francisco Warriors.
He runs a documentary film company. He’s had a very interesting and storied career. Kurt Robinson, Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Kurt Robinson: Well, Louis, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you asking me.
Louis Goodman: I’ve always enjoyed talking to you.
Kurt Robinson: Same here.
Louis Goodman: And whether that’s [00:01:00] been in a judicial chambers or at a restaurant in Fremont, it’s always been, always been fun.
Kurt Robinson: Yeah, you left out my book. I think you would be a person who read it.
Louis Goodman: Reading your book? Yeah, we’re gonna definitely going to get to that.
Louis Goodman: So right now, what are you doing?
Kurt Robinson: Well right now, I’m really involved in making a documentary. It’s called, Ready To Be Seen. It’s based on the history of protest in Oakland. We’ve been shooting it for about five weeks.
We’ve got about six weeks left.
Louis Goodman: How did you get interested in doing documentary film, having been a lawyer.
Kurt Robinson: I think that. Everybody is going to have to reinvent themselves in the new COVID world or post COVID world. I don’t think post COVID is appropriate because we’re right in the middle of the pandemic. So I’m at a point in my life where I could choose [00:02:00] what I really want to do.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Kurt Robinson: Born in Detroit, Michigan, but raised primarily in St. Louis, Missouri.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school in St. Louis?
Kurt Robinson: Yup, high school in St. Louis. Chaminade College Prep for young men. I went on a basketball scholarship to believe it or not. It was the biggest mistake they ever made.
Two of our students are playing in the NBA right now. Jason Tatum, for the Boston Celtics and Bradley Bill from Washington Wizards, both recruited the same way I was. Catholic schools used to go to the hood and they find players and Chaminade has been doing it for 40 years. They finally got some good ones.
Louis Goodman: So you graduated from Chaminade and you went to college?
Kurt Robinson: Yeah. I went to University of Notre Dame. A buddy of mine kind of recruited me there and I had a scholarship opportunity to go there. [00:03:00] Chaminade was really one of the best high schools in the St. Louis area. So I was very lucky to get a great school education. No, it was a little bit of a rare commodity coming out of high school.
I had in those days, an opportunity pretty much to going row.
Louis Goodman: How was the experience at Notre Dame?
Kurt Robinson: No, what you’re doing was tough because, you know, coming from the hood and then going to Notre Dame, it was a very foreign environment to me. I was lucky because I had the Chaminade experience. But at Chaminade we came home at night. We didn’t board there. So we came back to our neighborhoods every night. At Notre Dame, and that became your neighborhood. It was a tough, curious, because it was a very small pocket of minority students at the time when there were no women, it was all boys school. So it was challenging.
It became, I started to say integrated, but it actually became co-head of the next [00:04:00] year, which made it a little different and a little bit of a more broad-based school. But overall, I would have to rate the experience as great, because I got a lot of opportunities, you know, each step of the way in my life.
First, I got the lucky break. Getting chosen out of the school yard, you go to Chaminade. And then I got the lucky break getting shows to go to Notre Dame, where I ran into people who really helped me to go work. I ended up working on Capitol Hill and the Congressman’s office as a result of a program that I was in at Notre Dame.
So overall it was a great experience for me.
Louis Goodman: What was the experience working on Capitol Hill like?
Kurt Robinson: it was a bit disillusioning because at the time that I went to work on Capitol Hill, I was interested in politics and doing something to help the community. And I was very disenchanted when I actually saw how Capitol Hill works.
It was very dysfunctional and my main job was just [00:05:00] going to parties, representing the Congressman who never really showed up for anything. So it was, I would say pretty disillusioned and experience. It wasn’t what I expected. It was at a time before CNN.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking about going to law school?
Kurt Robinson: Well, I started thinking about going to law school in the third grade when I was appointed to be a lawyer in a case. Well, we were playing like role playing. They said I was a lawyer because I talked a lot and I argued a lot. So they figured lawyer. And so after third grade I was, I knew I was going to be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Kurt Robinson: I went to Santa Clara.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to Santa Clara right after Notre Dame?
Kurt Robinson: I did, again, was another break that was based on disappointment. I was waitlisted at Berkeley and it was the same year of Bakke versus board of Regents [00:06:00] Council, the special admissions program. So it just left me on the wait list.
I was hoping that I was going to get into Berkeley, but when I came to California, I sure liked Santa Clara more in Berkeley, I’d never seen palm trees or anything like that in Santa Clara, it looked like a country club. So in Berkeley was really more like the cities I was accustomed to. So Santa Clara was actually refreshing.
I’d never seen nothing like Santa Clara when I went there, but I’d done.
Louis Goodman: Did the Santa Clara law school experience turn out to be heavenly?
Kurt Robinson: Well, I think there’s probably more, I thought it wasn’t as much of a challenge as I expected really. Because I just, you know, expected in those days go listen you’re old enough to remember all this stuff.
Most people won’t be. They had the strong Socratic method, traditional law schools. And there was a movie out called The Paper [00:07:00] Chase. I don’t know if you remember that movie. And I expected it to be like that and it wasn’t near as competitive or hard. So I actually thought last year was somewhat of a breeze.
I just enjoy living in California and walking around. I don’t think I left Santa Clara the first two years I was here. Had never seen anything like that. I really thought I was in heaven. I had a beautiful apartment surrounded by beautiful plants and I just never lived a place like that. I don’t think I even went to San Jose.
That’s how we like that. So it took me a while to venture out in the Bay area.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Kurt Robinson: I was in private practice from day one.
Louis Goodman: On your own?
Kurt Robinson: As soon as I passed the bar, I hung up my shingle. That’s what people tell to do in those days. There weren’t the opportunities like my daughter had and some people have [00:08:00] for people in those days.
So I hung up my shingle cause I wasn’t going to be broke if I had a ticket. So I just started the day after the day after I got sworn in.
Louis Goodman: What sort of work did you do?
Kurt Robinson: I was able to get cases through conflicts in Santa Clara County where I started and I thought it was great because my experience practicing all over California was the Santa Clara County was really one of the most difficult counties for criminal defense.
So I cut my teeth. Then I felt like that was a good place to cut your teeth because I actually found every other County, I went to, to be more lenient in Santa Clara County. So the rest of the time, our practice, when I got out of Santa Clara County, I was just impressed with how easy I thought the [00:09:00] prosecutors were in comparison to Santa Clara County and I started doing Juvie.
So all my original cases were Juvie. I got to do a lot of trials and do one out without juries. Of course. So I just started off doing juvenile trials. I’d say the first year.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system dispenses justice, do you think it’s fair?
Kurt Robinson: I don’t think, well, I don’t think anything is necessarily fair in the world.
I don’t think the world is fair as a general principle. I don’t think the legal system is fair. I think the legal system is like everything else. I mean, I think there, there are people who are share and there are people who are unfair or situations that are unfair. Generally speaking, I’ve found it to be better in California and what I’ve seen on the East Coast and in St. Louis in terms of cheer to me not to be as [00:10:00] political or corrupt. Oh, like, you know, in some of States you can just buy justice. I didn’t have that experience here where I thought there was a lot of bribery or anything like that, going on.
We’re a St. Louis or Chicago, some of those places in those days. And I’m talking about the late, you know, early eighties here, 81, 82, it was kind of different in some other communities in here.
Louis Goodman: Well, besides being a lawyer, you’ve had interesting experiences in the sports world. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit of that with us.
Kurt Robinson: For every few years, I got sick of being a lawyer. I mean, I really wanting to do some other things. And so the first sideline career I had was representing athletes. Started when I went to University of Notre Dame and I was a tutor in the academic support program. During the time I was at Notre Dame, we won two national [00:11:00] championships.
We had really great players and one of those players was Joe Montana, who was a part of the academic support program I worked in. And I thought in those days, Notre Dame only had 5,000 students. And I still don’t think there were diamonds, those tremendous stars, who I don’t, I have no idea, but it wasn’t like Ohio State or any of those schools where you had a hundred thousand kids.
So I knew Joe Montana quite well. Um, well actually I hit a wall, the 49ers trained at the University of Santa Clara. So when he got here, he called me and I still joke with my wife who said to me when he called, what kind of name is Joe Montana? Is that a real name? So actually the only person I knew and the only person he knew was me.
So he invited me actually out to the 49er training camp. Took me to meet all the [00:12:00] players. I got to be really good friends with a —- and Eric Wright, who I had to take a break from the podcast answers call. He was from East St. Louis. So we hit it off. He ended up wanting me to be his agent. So he actually was the first guy represented or he asked me to do it.
And then I was actually just, those guys were all my contemporaries age wise. So because Joe was on guard, I knew, and Eric, I knew my first group of friends. In the Bay where a 49ers, Eric was really close with Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley and Keena Turner. In 1985, we started one of the earliest Santa Clara nonprofits called the Champs Foundation, which we have programs to help underprivileged youth.
And we had a great program where we [00:13:00] actually went out with the sounds that to lease department. And delivered turkeys door to door at Thanksgiving. And this was odd because we would actually go into the houses and, you know, Joe Montana’s show up at your door, with a turkey, Charles Harris, they sit down and talk, sit down and have hot chocolate in people’s houses. You know, stuff you could not do today. But it was great. It was a great experience for me, because I got on the ground level and then I was lucky enough to sign a guy. Then Charles Haley, who at the time was a defensive player of the year, he became a little bit disruptive, got traded to the Dallas Cowboys.
And then I ended up in Dallas with working with Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, and lot of those guys. So just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Louis Goodman: What’s your take on dealing with the NFL?
Kurt Robinson: I enjoyed it. I mean, it was the best job, brilliant. The history of mankind, because [00:14:00] it’s really kind of unfair to the players at the agent.
You just paid a percentage of their salary, negotiate the contract in one year and just pay from five. I thought that was so unfair. I exposed it to the players, which is really kind of how I got in the door. I charged players, all of the rates, like any other attorney would charge. I never charged players percentages of their contracts until maybe 10 or 11 years later when I decided to do that.
But in general, I broke in by offering players hourly rates and exposing the hypocrisy that a lot of agents were getting paid on a five-year deal for five years when they only took a few minutes to do it. A lot of players at the time didn’t even know that the NFL contract is and a lot of people don’t know this, but the NFL contract is a standard form contract.
The only thing that’s negotiated is the base. The bonus, the [00:15:00] incentives, the guarantees kind of conditions that we put in contracts nowadays, other than that, every player in the NFL signs, the same contract, which is selected. So, probably as easy a job as you can have as good a job as you can have at the time, because our agent was getting anywhere from 4 to 5%.
For maybe two or three days of work and you still get paid for the life of the contract. So being an NFL agent can be extremely lucrative at the cost to players.
Louis Goodman: We had some dealings with the NBA as well?
Kurt Robinson: Most publicized thing I deal with the NBA was representing Sprewell and also in the whole, I don’t know, this is a long time ago.
And PJ [00:16:00] Carlesimo was a coach. My client was accused of children to coach in practice. So that was, that was probably the most interesting NBA experience I had was representing the free world during your time. And he was choking the coach. And basically what happened was Carlos Emma was really good and ——— a hard time.
And Moseley was a great friend of Sprees, freedom check into it and went bad on led to the shyness choking incident. So we dealt with that and that actually became national news. Oh, I learned a lot about doing what’s immediately at the time I was reticent to deal with the media. So I actually hired Johnny cause he was coming off the OJ trial.
I hired Johnny for $5,000 to be my call representative. And of course, once you bring in Johnny, it really became a big media [00:17:00] circus. And I was actually glad because I learned a lot from how Johnny dealt with the media. And I was actually glad I don’t have to have all that because he was, it was really when you deal with a story like that actually had another story like that.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific about something that you learned about dealing with the media from Johnny Cochran?
Kurt Robinson: Well, when you deal with an incident like that, if you’re a new one, you’ve never seen anything like that. It’s overwhelming. How everybody in America has your phone number immediately.
How media trucks are outside your house. It was for me, overwhelming. I did not feel like I had the expertise to deal with it. And Johnny loved it. So what I learned from him was because calm, you [00:18:00] know, right. Well, when I first came around the corner with Johnny, the media pushed me out of the way and I was lead counsel in the case.
Cause they didn’t know who I was all in with Johnny. So what I loved about that was I kind of got to learn from him. I have a very interesting story about that. I’ve never seen anybody do this before, since then, you know, at the time I was, I was just happy to be working with Johnny and we were leaving the Sprewell press conference and he was late for a slideshow LA and he asked me to call Southwest Airlines and ask them to hold up the plane for him.
Oh, I’m like really? Oh yeah. Yeah. I do it all the time. So I call Southwest Airlines. We actually got through to the pilot and the pilot, let the passengers take a vote, whether they would delay the plane for Johnny Cochran and they voted unanimously. [00:19:00] No, but he had the courage to do that. I mean like, you know, who calls the airline and say, hold the plane for me.
But I learned a lot from him in terms of just confidence and calmness.
Louis Goodman: You wrote a book called On The One what’s that book about and how did you come to write it? And I’ve read it.
Louis Goodman: So how did you come to write that book?
Kurt Robinson: Actually, I had a very blessed career. I had a client, a former client who I represented, that actually didn’t make it up in that field, but became a tremendously successful real estate investor.
Who basically came back to me and said, Kurt always wanted to work with you. I want you to write a book on, you know, kind of what you went through and being an agent. I said, well, I’m not willing to do that because I’m not willing to [00:20:00] out my clients like that. But I did agree to write a novel that was, I’ll say for the purposes of the podcast and loosely based on my experiences, although I don’t know, loosely based on it or not. So that book really came out of a book that I was asked to write in, basically got an advance to write and I wrote it or as my first novel was on the one, I actually have a contract for a second one and I never really got around to, but again, it was a more based on my experiences. Once I went to Dallas, representing Dallas Cowboys was a completely different experience representing the 49ers was at the time I found out. So different.
Louis Goodman: What was the difference?
Kurt Robinson: Things that are different. Number one, I think even though the 49ers were a big deal in [00:21:00] the Bay area. There’s so much to do in the Bay area that everybody wasn’t afford uniter, not in Dallas, everybody was accountable. And the profile of the Dallas Cowboys, even though at the time they really couldn’t spell Superbowl. And Jerry Jones says they couldn’t spell Superbowl. So they got Charles Haley. They were still a much more high- profile team.
They would call America’s team. And in Dallas the Cowboys were we revered far more than the 49ers here in the Bay area.
Louis Goodman: So did you live in Dallas at the time?
Kurt Robinson: I didn’t, but I spent a lot of time there with Charles Haley.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about this cannabis business.
Kurt Robinson: Well, I think I was having issues in terms of the law and I was really over it, to be honest with you, I was looking for a way out, the cannabis started legal cannabis.
I think three [00:22:00] years ago, I felt that it was going to be success. So I started really specializing my practice in obtaining licenses for cannabis companies. So I did that for a few years.,
Louis Goodman: So what’s your family life been like?
Kurt Robinson: It’s been great. Two daughters, very proud of both. My daughters are tremendously successful.
My youngest daughter is currently in Germany with her husband. Who’s in the military. My oldest daughter actually we’re proud of was the youngest partner in the history of Lace and Lockton. She made partner. I think that 32 or 33, she is hiring partner there and now she represents Beyonce and Miramax.
Shelly was named the top 30 Hollywood power brokers in the country in a recent article in Hollywood Reporter. So [00:23:00] she took my law career and devastated and just a few years. And we’re super competitive. She was a big basketball star at Harvard. She just generally destroyed her father’s career. So now I’m trying to get an Oscar.
That’s my joke with her. I’m gonna get an Oscar because she hasn’t done that. But the first case was the Michael Jackson wrongful death. So, I mean, she just walked into the legal world. She’s been killing it again. So I’m very proud of that. My other one I’m equally proud of because she’s been giving me grandsons.
I never could get boys. I had these two girls, but the last five years, I’ve got three grandsons.
Louis Goodman: What sort of recreational pursuits do you have? Anything that you like doing besides working all the time?
Kurt Robinson: Actually, I’m not a guy who works all the time. I really love working out. I mean, I see you all the time.
You were kind of a fitness and through this, I think I am too. I used to love going to the gym, but now yeah,
Louis Goodman: I used to like going to the [00:24:00] gym too.
Kurt Robinson: Well, I’ve got everything here now. You know, I got a trampoline, I got a boxing bag. I got a dip bar. I’ve got weights, so I’ve adjusted, but I love working out. I love staying fit.
I’m proud to be back at my college weight over 40 years after I left. So that’s the main thing I really, I know we’re not on the COVID. So my view of this COVID. Since there is no organized governmental response to that. We have to have individual responses and I feel like one of the best thing you can do to fight COVID, to stay as healthy as possible.
I really spent a lot of time just trying to be healthy.
Louis Goodman: You came into some real money, you know, like a couple of billion dollars came your way. What, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Kurt Robinson: That’s a good question. I think that for a couple of billion dollars came my way. I think, I don’t think anybody [00:25:00] needs a couple billion dollars.
So I think I’d be like, so based off this life, like almost all over the way, I mean, my wife just walked in and looked at me, so I’d have to keep about half being for her. The rest I’d probably give away. I think at this stage, the material doesn’t really matter to me as much as, you know. Louis, the older you get, the more you focus on who you love and who loves you.
Right. It’s not right. You can go hang out in Tahoe and live the life, you know, but you know, I think though that you came on after you accumulate enough material things that you really. I think appreciate the bigger things in life at this point. So I think there’s just so much going on in the world that she could address with that.
That would probably be my first card.
Louis Goodman: Kurt Robinson. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. I found out a number of things that I never knew about you and It’s really been an honor to have [00:26:00] your Love Thy Lawyer.
Kurt Robinson: Well, thank you, Louis. It’s been an honor to talk to you. I think I’m much more than it should to be here.
I just appreciate you asking me, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to you whether in person or at the country’s way or on your podcast. So I really appreciate it.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests group contributed there are time and wisdom and make the show possible.
Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Kurt Robinson: I think it’s in the best interest of the lawyer, but rarely in the best interest of the client.
David Lim / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. We’re going to do something a little different on Love Thy Lawyer.
I’m talking with attorney David Lim and David and I have in common, and we both ran for judge a few years ago. Not against each other, in different campaigns and since it’s election season, and since we have a judicial race, I thought it would be interesting to talk to David about his experience running for judge.
And I would [00:01:00] talk to him about my experience, about running for judge, and we would make a podcast out of it. So with that, David when did you first start thinking about being a judge?
David Lim: Well, Louis, I want to first thank you for having me on the podcast and reopening old wounds. I think, you know, it’s a lot of fun to have to relive, you know, some of your defeats as a lawyer.
But all kidding aside, you know, you and I always joke that we belong to a very elite club of good lawyers who didn’t win their judicial races.
Louis Goodman: And let me say this, welcome back to Love Thy Lawyer, because we’ve had you on and we did a very successful interview with you a month or two ago. So thank you for coming back.
David Lim: That’s great to be back it was an honor to be asked back, but to answer your question, I ran for judge in 2016. And I’ve been thinking about it probably for, Oh, probably three or four years before that. How about you, when did you start thinking about running for Judge, [00:02:00] when did you run?
Louis Goodman: I ran in 2010 and I had never really thought about running for judge. I put in an application because Oh God years ago, when I first left the DA’s office, I was very good friends with John Purchio , who was a retired Alameda County judge. And he sort of put the notion in my head that it was something that I should aspire to and that I should do and that I should work on. So I did that and I put in my application with Gray Davis and I was essentially kind of informally promised that I would get an appointment in Gray Davis’ second term. However, as we all know, Gray Davis didn’t really even manage to finish his first term. So there went my judicial aspirations and a lot of politicking kind of down the drain.
So what happened with [00:03:00] me is in late 2009, it was before Christmas. I know that Judge Hashimoto, Roy Hashimoto called me into his chambers. And he said, you know, there’s going to be a judicial opening. I think that you should run for it. And so that’s what got me started thinking about running. And I thought about like turned it over in my mind.
I talked to my family and decided, okay, this was something that I was going to do. So that’s how I got started. What about you?
David Lim: Yeah. So, you know, in 2016, I was still working for the District Attorney’s Office in Alameda County, but I sort of had a side job. Where I was an elected member of the San Mateo City Council.
I’d been elected in 2009. I had won my second term in 2013. So I come off of two successful campaigns where, you know, one election and retain my seat as a City [00:04:00] Council member. And kind of like you in 2016, I mean, I’d always thought about becoming a judge. I’d never been kind of gone through with the application process, but in 2016, there were two open seats.
Actually three open seats and that was unheard of at the time. I mean, we had three judges who were retiring and letting their seats go open to election. And so the Governor wasn’t going to fill those spots. And so there was a lot of buzz in the County about who was going to run for those three seats.
And I remember. The weekend before the filing deadline, there was still no clear notion of who was going to run. And people started to tell me, hey you should put in your name. You know, you’re a politician, you’ve won elections before, you know how to campaign, you know, maybe if you get in there, people will decide not to run against you. And, you know, we think you’d be a good judge. And so people were encouraging you to do it. And I remember seeing, I think it was the Monday or Tuesday before the filing deadline and my kids were in school, [00:05:00] but for whatever reason, my wife and I had had a day off. And so we went and got breakfast together, which with three young kids is almost unheard of.
And we were sitting there over breakfast burritos and tater tots and we saw, you know, what the heck. You know, we’ve always been open for an adventure and she says, you like the law, you’ve always thought about being a judge. You know, why don’t you put your name in, you know, what’s the worst that can happen that we, as we saw as we thought.
And so, you know, got it. And that leads me into my next story, but I want to ask you a question. So what was your filing deadline like? I mean, did you have a campaign staff? You know, what did you kind of plan out your strategy for how you were going to file and then how you, how you were going to run the campaign?
Louis Goodman: Yeah, well, unlike you, I’d never run for office. So, I had no experience whatsoever with running or filing, it was completely new to me. Setting up a bank account. So I hired a [00:06:00] professional, you know, who runs campaigns and talk. I remember having this meeting with them and, and they just kind of told me what to do.
And so I did it, it was frightening. I remember going down to the basement of the courthouse where the, you know, the elections offices and there were all these people down there who were filing for different offices around the County for Supervisor, for City Council elections. And it was just, I was just so, like really frightened, I have to say. Yeah. And so I remember that day very, very clearly. And I also remember it being pretty expensive. I had to write a check in order to get the ballot statement printed. And I don’t know, it was like about 17, [00:07:00] $18,000. So it just seemed like a lot of money. I think it’s even more now.
David Lim: Yeah. You know, I remember that too. And you know, in hindsight, I actually paused because I did not know the filing fee was that expensive because in San Mateo County, when I ran for Council, they base the fee based on the number of voters in your election and because of judicial races, a countywide election.
Yeah, it was up there. I remember it was in the tens of thousands of dollars and, you know, thinking back in hindsight, I should have just put my checking checkbook back in my pocket and walked away. That was first notion that maybe I hadn’t thought this through as well as I should have, because it was a lot of money.
I mean, for council, I probably paid, maybe a thousand dollars or a couple thousand dollars, but it was not so cost prohibitive. The other thing I’ll tell you is, I don’t know, did you know who your opponents were going to be when you went down to file or were you still sort of in the dark as to who was going to come out of the woodwork and run against you?
Louis Goodman: I’m not sure. I’m not sure [00:08:00] if I knew at the time that I filed who else was going to file. I just don’t remember.
David Lim: Yeah, I remember because we had three seats and Margaret Fujioka, now Judge Fujioka had laid the groundwork for a run a year before, so she had all the endorsements lined up and she had a campaign staff already to go. And so nobody was going to challenge her. My friend, Jennifer Madden, who was in the DA’s office with me at the time, now Judge Madden was going to run for another seat and she had an opponent whose name I can’t remember, but a nice lawyer, I think out of a Livermore Pleasanton area. And then there was a third seat. I had no idea who was going to be in my third seat and I had no Intel. I didn’t hear about anything, but as it turns out, Barbara Thomas, who you and I know is a defense attorney in a nice lady, nice attorney and Scott Jackson, who was my former colleague in Alameda County DA’s office and at that time was working, I believe [00:09:00] either for Golden Gate Law School or a Law Firm or both. And he’s now Judge Jackson. He ended up winning, they ended up filing and I joked with both of them after the fact that if they had managed to catch me down there, just before I wrote that check, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to convince me not to write that check.
You know, they said, Hey, you know, we’re running because I admired both of them. I think Barbara is a very good lawyer. And Scott is an excellent Jurist now. If either one of them had caught me at that door and then I had heard how much it was to pay that filing fee, I probably would have said, you know what, good luck you guys.
You can go fight this out and you know, maybe I’ll put my application in. Maybe I’ll run it some other time, but I think I would have walked away. And I think I told that to them and I think Scott laughed. And I think Barbara thought I was making fun of her, which I wasn’t. I was very serious. I said, you know, I could have used that money to buy a car or something.
You know, I didn’t need to be out here with you guys. You, the campaign trail, I’ve done all that before. So I do remember that. Yeah. I wish I had known beforehand that they were going to run.
Louis Goodman: Well, you know, [00:10:00] Barbara had prior electoral experience as well. She had been on the City Council for the City of Alameda, had run for that office and had been elected.
David Lim: Oh, that’s right. I forgot that. So, yeah, so that was even more reason for me not to, you know, jump in that race and, you know, Scott and I were friends and we remained friends and yeah, and you know, after the fact that we sort of laughed at each other saying, you know, we could have saved each other some heartache.
So how did your campaign go? Did you do any studies reading books on how to campaign, or did you just lean on your consultants?
Louis Goodman: I read a couple of books. One was a book that my consultant had written about how to run a campaign and things to do. And I don’t know, I think a lot of these things are somewhat more geared to people who are running for School Board or for City Council rather than a judicial race.
But yeah, [00:11:00] I read that book and then Don Squires gave me a book. He was very much in my corner and he gave me a book as well on, you know, how to campaign and that sort of thing. And you know, I thought that there was some good information in both of those books, but I was really such a babe in the woods, in terms of politics. And then I started raising money too. And I was aware of what it was going to cost to run this thing. And I mean, just to, you know, just to be very straight about it, I think I spent about $150,000 on my campaign and I raised about half of that and about the other half was my own money.
David Lim: Yeah. It’s not cheap thing. I’ve heard of other candidates who I won’t name because we don’t have their permission, but yeah, other people who could join our club, Louis of [00:12:00] good lawyers who didn’t win to judicial campaigns have told me how much they’ve spent. And it is a little mind boggling. I’ll tell you, and I’m not gloating.
I’m not making fun of you. My wife and I agreed that we were going to put a very strict limit on the amount of money that we spent on the campaign. And I think I have the benefit of having been an elected before I sort of have the self-discipline to know, not to mortgage my house. And, you know, I have three kids who are still very young.
None of them are in college yet. So I have, you know, their long-term financial wellbeing to think of. And so I, we had a $10,000 cap on personal expenditures for the campaign that we agreed. I wasn’t going to spend more than $10,000 of our own money. And I blew that in the campaign finance statement right out the door.
Yeah. It was gone. Right after that, I was like, okay, I guess I better raise money.
Louis Goodman: Well, I just couldn’t believe how expensive these things were, like the signs and the printings and everything required that they have a [00:13:00] union bug on it. And it was just, I mean, it was just amazing to me how expensive it was. We also ran some TV advertising and it was just a lot of money.
And I was, I just, had had it budgeted. I had the money. I was, I didn’t take a second on my house. And you know, so, I mean, it was, I went into it with eyes wide open as far as the money is concerned.
David Lim: So what, how did you feel during the campaign? Do you have a good time doing it? Was it a grueling for you?
Louis Goodman: You know, there were parts of it that were really fun and really interesting. I, some, you know, there were certain events that I went to that just worked and they were just fun and they were good and the people were fun and sometimes the other candidates would be there and sometimes they weren’t there.
You know, some of it was, it was fun going out and meeting a lot of people [00:14:00] and just seeing these places and these venues that I’d really never been before, you know, like the Hayward Democratic Club or the MGO club in Oakland, or there was this, I don’t know, maybe you’ve been there, there’s some Democrats that meet at the Humanist Hall in downtown Oakland. And then I don’t know how many Rotary meetings I went to and Kiwanis meetings and lunches and breakfasts and those sorts of things. Some of are really fun, but some of them were also just really grueling, you know. I thought that the schedule was brutal, that every morning I had some breakfast to go to every lunch, I had some lunch to go to every evening I was out an event. And then I’d be making phone calls, dialing for dollars, and also trying to keep my law practice going. So it was. [00:15:00] a difficult time for me. A lot of my campaign that seemed took place in January, February, March. And it seemed to me that it was raining all the time.
David Lim: Well, maybe that was a symbolism for how you actually felt Louis. Maybe it wasn’t really raining. It was just in your heart that it was raining.
Louis Goodman: Maybe. How about you? What was your take on, you know, the campaign?
David Lim: better prepared? And I guess I was because I had campaigned before, but I had never done a countywide campaign.
And then, you know,
Louis Goodman: It’s big, isn’t it?
David Lim: It’s huge. And then here’s the thing that I don’t think our listeners realize even some of our lawyer listeners, that when you run for judge, it is not like any other political campaigns. So I ran for City Council and, you know, that’s a more traditional political race where you can make promises like I’m going to the streets, I’m going to, you know, make our parks better. And you know, everybody’s going to get, you know, the garbage can, you know, bigger, garbage [00:16:00] cans, so you can throw away more trash and keep your streets cleaner. You can make those sorts of crazy promises as a Council Member, you know, cause you’re running for office. But when you run for judge, you have to sign an oath that you will abide by the Judicial Rules of Conduct, which means you have to start acting Judicial, which means you cannot prejudge any issue.
You can’t offer opinions about things because that’s not the role of a judge. And so I found, honestly I found the judicial campaign to be in reality boring, because you couldn’t take a position on anything. People would ask you, what’s your view on the death penalty? What’s your view on the three strikes laws? You know, what’s your take on our drug treatment programs? And you’re only allowed to say, you know, if elected, I will be fair and impartial, I will look at each case on its merits and I will do my best to uphold the law. Right. Basically, that’s all you could say.
Louis Goodman: And you can say it, you can say, yeah, that’s right.
David Lim: And so, you know, I, towards the mid, towards the end of the campaign, I would be sitting around with the other candidates [00:17:00] at, you know, whatever function we were at and we’d be all like, why are we here? We could just send one of us. And, you know, one person could say I’ve done behalf of all the candidates.
We would be fair and impartial. We’ll follow the law and we will not prejudge any issue. Because all of us were extremely ethical. And, you know, even though you have moments of them being your competitors and you definitely want to win, I can say, and I don’t think I’m looking through rose colored glasses.
I had fun with my opponents, with Barbara and Scott. You know, we didn’t go at each other’s throats and we never, we did what we needed to do to win, but you’re sort of limited to what you could say and do. And it almost became humorous. And I thought this is goofy. This is a really goofy way to run a campaign.
And I was, I almost, you know, I almost stressed out because in addition to running the campaign, I was still, you know, a deputy district attorney during the daytime. So I had my court obligations and obligations to the People of the state of California, but then you remember, I was always also a council member.
So I was [00:18:00] doing my council meetings. I had constituents to take it care of here in San Mateo. And so I was out yeah, a lot, you know, that just it’s about broken because there was almost too much on my plate where I thought, you know, I may have bitten off more than that I can chew, but I think it’s really not being able to really flesh out where you stand on things that makes judicial races sort of, sort of
Louis Goodman: goofy.
Yeah. I really agree. Did you have any sort of like go to people? I mean, I had a couple of real kind of go to people like if a question or a problem came up or just some people who I would, would talk to on a regular basis, because I have to say that I found, I found the whole thing to be really kind of, of a lonely experience.
David Lim: You know, I think I had one up on you there, Louis, where I had, because I was in the political game for a while. I knew people in politics. So I knew some of the members of the Democratic Club I met. I knew people from the unions and those [00:19:00] were good friends who would give me Intel on what they thought about things.
And I had a friend who was a consultant and she helped me and I hired her to do a little bit of work just to kind of keep me on the straight and narrow in terms of being organized. So you know, I was in the political game. And so I kind of liked that whole political gossip thing. So I found that to be interesting.
I mean, I met some wonderful people as well. So, yeah, I didn’t find it as lonely, I think, but because I had already been around for, at that point, I’d been on the council for seven years and I’d been on some regional boards, so I sort of knew some people. But I get what you say. I mean, you go into a room and you don’t know, half the people are more or less than half the people and, you know, People come up to you and you’re trying to keep track of, you know, the hundredth person you’ve met in that particular day and it can get quite lonely.
Louis Goodman: So there was a guy, as a matter of fact, he’s on the ballot this November, his name is Chris Peeples and he’s the AC transit. [00:20:00] I don’t know, at large Representative on AC transit and Chris and I knew each other from law school from Hastings a million years ago. And I would call him and he’d always pick up the phone.
He would always pick up the phone for me and I would, you know, run something past him and he would tell me what to do, what was really going on. And it was just so helpful. And, and then I got to say, my sister was someone who I would talk to during the campaign. She would always listen to me and give me some advice.
And that was, it was always helpful. And there were a couple other people who were just really kind of came out of the woodwork for me, that I never really had much experience with them before, but they just came out and they were really there for me. And I just can’t tell you how much I appreciated [00:21:00] those people because a lot of it.
Yeah. So a lot of it, to me, I felt like I was like living in this bubble, like this kind of plexiglass bubble that the campaign stuff was there. I could see the rest of the world out there doing things, but I had no ability to participate in it because I was so busy doing this judicial campaign. Does that make any sense?
David Lim: Yeah, it does. It totally does. It’s almost like an out of body, other worldly experience sometimes, you know, and in the moment you’re so busy, worried about a million different things. You don’t kind of have time to step back. And I think it’s only after you’ve done the journey that you realize. Wow, that was kind of weird.
You know, there’s a lot of weird things going on there and everything comes together. Now, how did you do with, you know, there’s a number of organizations that everyone knows that endorse candidates, like Sierra club, the unions, the newspapers, democratic party, or the various [00:22:00] political parties. How did you do with those?
Did you fill out all the questionnaires, you know, those long questionnaires. And did you go do the interviews and how did that work?
Louis Goodman: I did. I filled out the questionnaires. I had someone who was very helpful to me in explaining how you fill out those questionnaires because like the Sierra club would ask you these questions about CEQA.
I can’t even remember what it stands for anymore, but you know, it has to do with land use regulations. And I remember getting asked questions about that. And I remember asking, you know, the union people asking me questions about. These kind of esoteric union questions. And I was thinking, you know, I don’t know. You know, I’m running for judge because I think that I’m a pretty good, you know, pretrial guy, you know, I know how to pre-try drunk driving cases and I know how to [00:23:00] get through a preliminary hearing.
And I know how to, I could listen to both sides and make a bail request, something intelligent around that. But these things were just stuff that was like, so out of the blue to me, but I learned, and I did okay with them. I did get the union endorsement and I got the endorsement of the newspaper you know, the East Bay times. I guess it was the Oakland Trib at the time, but that whole, you know, Tribune/East Bay times all of the, at the time, I don’t know, there were a whole bunch of them, the Argus and the Hayward Review. And if you got one, you got them all. And I remember that, that editorial coming out and just like, oh my God, this is the greatest thing in the world. And then I heard that getting the endorsement of that newspaper, it was sort of the kiss of death that any judicial candidate who got the endorsement, never won.
[00:24:00] David Lim: you know, it’s funny.
I got the endorsement as well. So I think we’ve proven that.
David Lim: But no, but we’ve proven the point that getting the East Bay times endorsement is basically the kiss of death. That it’s just another nail in the coffin of print media, basically being dead in this country. And I’m kidding to all my friends who work in print media, but yeah, I got their endorsement.
So we’ve proved that, that you should not seek East Bay times, but running for judge or maybe they just take good lawyers. And it doesn’t always mean that just because you’re a good lawyer, there could be other good lawyers who will win the election and not, you.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, I think that the three of us who ran were all qualified and Vicki Kolaikowski was the person who ultimately prevailed and I’ve been in front of her any number of times.
And, you know, she’s always been very pleasant to me, very fair with me. And very frankly, in my view, she’s very fair with everybody. [00:25:00] So, I mean, I think she’s done a really good job and brought a very unique perspective that I certainly couldn’t have to the bench. And the other person who was running in that campaign is one of our old colleagues from the DA’s office, John Creighton, and John and I have certainly remained friends, although he’s retired from the DA’s office now I don’t see him very often.
I’ll tell you one thing that I found difficult. Or difficult, but it was just something I noticed myself doing was just having to be nice to everybody. You know I’m like pretty nice to everybody anyway, but there was this, it was just always having to be nice to everybody.
David Lim: No, it’s funny that you say that Louis, because I’ll tell this to your listeners, cause you’re normally the host. So a lot of times we don’t get to interview you Louis. And so you’re the one that’s asking the questions. All the listeners who are listening to this podcast should know that Louis Goodman, has [00:26:00] a reputation for being a very good lawyer and a very good advocate for his clients on both sides of the aisle.
But people who don’t know him should also know that he enjoys a reputation in Alameda County of being one of the nicest lawyers. I mean, you really are. Those people always sing your praises about how you always come in. You’re always positive. You always got a smile in face. We could be having a horrific case where we’ve got to just, you know, beat on each other, you know, to advocate for our size, but you will always stop to ask somebody how their day was, how their weekend was. So for you to admit that it’s tough campaign to have to be nice, 24/7 is very telling about just sort of how much of a grind a campaign is.
And I’m not nearly as nice as you. I mean, I like to think I’m a respectful person, but if I get tired and I think someone’s being, I’m not afraid to tell him, so. That’s a big reveal for you, Louis.
Louis Goodman: Did you put up lawn signs or anything like that?
David Lim: You know, I wasted a lot of money on some lawn signs and I ended up [00:27:00] not putting up very many of them.
And the main reason I didn’t put them up is I have a huge pet peeve. I do not like candidates who put up lawn signs and then don’t take them down after the election. And so I kind of chose principle over practical, Sally, you know, my campaign consultant was saying, Oh, we’ve got to put up signs and I’ve got a guy.
He’ll go throw them up along the Bart tracks. He’ll throw them up down on International Boulevard. He’ll go out to Livermore and throw them out on the, on ramps and off ramps. And I said, no, you know, I don’t want to do that unless, you know, we’re going to pay him to take them down. And she said, nobody cares about that.
And I said, well, I care about it, the living crap out of me, I do not like candidates to work so hard to get their name out there. And when the election is over those things become like an eyesore for months. If not years, I was just driving down the street and I saw a campaign sign from the primaries back in March pre pandemic, and it’s still sitting on the corner.
And I keep telling myself one day, I’m going to just stop my car and yank that thing out because it just bugs me so much. So [00:28:00] I didn’t put up that many signs. I know it was a waste of money. I gave them to a lot of friends to put out in front of their houses, but I realized in a County wide election, the use of signs, unless you basically paid for the entire County, you know, it’s not going to have much utility.
I like the fact that you did TV ads. Did you do a lot of sign adage as well? Or did you do a billboard or bus stop or anything like that? Individuals who volunteered to put up a sign in front of their house.
Louis Goodman: And whenever I would drive by somebody’s house and they had a Louis Goodman for Judge sign up and it always made me feel really good to see it.
But yeah, we did TV. That was intro. I really enjoyed that. I, somehow talking in front of a camera, microphone and stuff. I kind of like that obviously. And, I thought that the TV ad really, really came out quite well and I enjoyed doing it. We did it [00:29:00] on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse downtown, and then a little bit around Lake Merritt and we had some professional voiceover and some music. And it was, it was great. It ran on like Fox news and CNN and you know, the cable news channels.
David Lim: Yeah. That’s pretty impressive for a judicial race. Cause most people who don’t know again, if you’re not running a campaign, running media ads, like a TV ad in a judicial race is very unusual and good for you.
It means you work really hard. Because number one, they’re expensive. And number two for down ticket races, like a judicial race, where you have a lot of other stuff above you on the ballot, which is why it’s called the down ticket race. You know, it’s hard to get any sort of traction. And so a TV ad is really a nice way to get your name out there.
And I don’t remember, did you finish in the top two and go on to a runoff against a judge?
Louis Goodman: No, no, no, no. I, I was out in [00:30:00] June.
David Lim: Yeah, me too. I was out. So tell me about that experience. We let’s trade stories and let people know what goes on in the candidates’ head on election night. Where were you? Did you have a party?
With friends and family, you know, did you do the whole thing at a restaurant with caterers and what, what did you do and how did you feel when the results came in?
Louis Goodman: We were at my sister’s house in Piedmont. And there were, I don’t know, maybe 30 people there and as the results came in, you know, we just kept checking it and it was, it was quite obvious that I was coming in third and as the night wore on it just, it just became quite obvious that I wasn’t going to win.
And I remembered just going outside. And by then the rain had stopped and it was just beautiful. It was a beautiful evening. It was warm. It was in June. And I just kind of went out by myself and just kind of like took a walk around the block and thought, well, okay, [00:31:00] that’s it. This is over.
And I felt, I felt okay about that. You know? I mean, I had really given it, my all. I’d done everything that I possibly could have, it wasn’t my night. And I was kind of okay with that really. And then the next morning I made three phone calls. I called Victoria and congratulated her. I called John and I congratulated him. And I called Hawaiian Airlines and I made a reservation for my wife and myself to go to Maui about 10 days later. And we spent, you know, week, week and a half or whatever, over there doing some kiteboarding. And that was a kind of a great way to end it.
David Lim: That really is. Did you sleep like 16 hours then died the day after the [00:32:00] campaign was over?
They say people do that. People run campaigns and then the first, within the first 48 hours of the election being over, you’ll kind of just go comatose for literally like 16 to 18 hours and just pass out.
Louis Goodman: I don’t think so. I don’t think so, but I can’t say that I really remember. I’m not a great sleeper as it is, you know, if I get five or six hours of sleep at night, I’m in great shape.
So, I don’t remember having some really long sleep experience, but. I don’t know. Did your campaign get audited at all?
David Lim: Yeah, we did. I think it’s a matter of law. I think under the FPPC guidelines, all judicial campaigns get audited, just because of the nature of the office.
Did you get audited?
Louis Goodman: Yeah. And we came out to the penny, thanks to my secretary, Tracey Harvey, who I give credit to at the end of all these podcasts, but she was my [00:33:00] treasurer and just did a phenomenal job. I remember this woman; very nice woman came from Sacramento and she sat in my conference room with all the books and stuff.
And she was here the whole day looking at stuff. And at the end of the day, I mean, she just gave us a clean bill of health and really the books came out to the penny, which kind of shocked me. Cause there’s no way I could have done that. Yeah. I mean, I think it, yeah, it makes you realize why people don’t run for office.
You know, people say, well, how come more people who were interested don’t run for office and you know, well, it’s really a difficult, expensive proposition. It gave me, it’s given me a great deal of respect for anybody who runs for any office whatsoever, regardless of what their political persuasion might be.
David Lim: Yes, absolutely. But we talk amongst elected officials or people who even run for [00:34:00] elected office, that there is a certain amount of respect that you give to people who’ve put themselves out there, put them, I was in the arena. How do you feel that Louis, like you should be proud that you put yourself out there and even though you didn’t win, you should take measure of pride.
And, you know, let you know when people complain and whine about how bad our society is and how things aren’t going well, don’t you have a place in your heart that kind of quietly as well. You know, I did my part, I got out there, I tried to make a difference. I stood for something and I put myself out in front of the public, you know, and stood for election to try to change things.
Do you ever feel that?
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Yeah I do. And I take it upon myself in any election that I care about to try and do something meaningful, whether it’s writing a check. Cause I realize how meaningful it is to the candidate to get some money and, you know, perhaps make some phone calls, [00:35:00] write some postcards, you know, whatever it might be.
But I just recognize how important that is to any campaign, even a low-level campaign, like running for Judge in Alameda County and it’s an important, very important job, obviously. But as far as the ballot is concerned, it’s considered very much of a down-ballot race.
David Lim: Yeah. So do you have any regrets about running.
Louis Goodman: I don’t, I don’t have any, there’s hardly anything in my life that I’ve done that I have regrets about. I think everything is a learning experience. The one thing that I would really do differently if I had to do it again, is I would not have closed my campaign account. I would not have stopped campaigning and I would have jumped into the next election and run for the next open seat. That’s the advice that I give [00:36:00] people who asked me about it now I say, be prepared to do it twice. And I think that, you know, Victoria Kolakowski did that, and she got elected, you know, she lost first and then she learned from whatever mistake she made and she ran a very effective campaign and she won.
And judge. Hey, Hiyashi, you know, same thing there. He ran and lost the first time and then ran again and won. So I, I think that the one regret, the only regret I have is that I didn’t recognize that I should just keep going.
David Lim: Yeah. Oh, that’s good. I never thought about that. You know, for me, I sort of knew.
So what, the one thing I didn’t tell you is my wife and I had decided that I wasn’t going to run for reelection to city council, that I was going to stop after two terms to spend more time with the family [00:37:00] and just do one job as opposed to two jobs. And so this was sort of a no-fault campaigning.
I figured, well, if I don’t win, you know, I still got a good job and, you know, if I win and great, I get to be a judge, which is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, but it was a little disappointing that it was my last campaign. Cause I already knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to run for another campaign.
And I was kind of divesting myself from politics. So I was a little bummed to go out, not winning, but on the other hand, you know, I thought, well, you know, I’m a have one, two last one. So I’ve still got above 500, so I can retire from politics with a winning record. And you know, that’s not so bad.
Louis Goodman: So that was fine. Would you encourage other people to run for judge?
David Lim: You know, I’m not sure that I would, because I think if you want to be a judge, I think that the better route is to put your name in for appointment and see where that takes you. I think running for judge is [00:38:00] such a crapshoot because as we’ve talked about a number of times or alluded to in this podcast, it’s a down ticket race.
I think if you honestly ask most people, most voters about a judicial race. The majority of them are going to say they know nothing about the candidates.
Louis Goodman: Well, David, it’s been fun talking to you and opening up the old wounds of the past. And I wish both of the candidates who are running right now Good luck.
And I think that looking at the election coming up, it’s going to be interesting on a lot of levels.
David Lim: Yeah. I wish them both the best. I know one of the two candidates, but my heart certainly goes out to both of them. It sounds like they’re working really hard and you know, whoever wins, I think will be a good judge and we’d lucky to have both of them.
Yeah. I agree. Well, good talking to you, David, and see you soon. Thanks. That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who [00:39:00] contributed their time and wisdom and make this show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for tactical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
David Lim: I hope Judge Madden and Judge Jackson don’t get too angry, but this is all public knowledge.
Elizabeth Echols / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
She grew up hiking with her family in the East Bay regional parks. She began her extensive career in public service as a junior ranger and camp counselor in Tilden Park. She later served in the Obama administration and more recently, former Governor Jerry Brown appointed her to a team of senior environmental advisors. Her policy work has focused on wildfire prevention and mitigation.
She volunteers in the Berkeley Public Schools. She’s an attorney [00:01:00] and currently running for the East Bay Regional Parks Board, Elizabeth Echols, Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Elizabeth Echols: Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be here today.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s a real honor to talk to you. In my introduction, I just touched on some of the things that you’ve done in your long career, in public service. And didn’t get to any of the endorsements and some of the other important things that anyone is involved in, in running for office. But I’m hoping that we can get to that as we discuss some things this afternoon. What are you working on these days?
What do you, where do you, what are you working on besides running for East Bay Regional Parks Board right now?
Elizabeth Echols: Director of the State’s Public Advocate’s office. We are an independent watchdog organization. We are situated at the Public Utilities Commission, but, we are independent and I report to Governor Newsom’s [00:02:00] office.
Well, this is actually the same position that Jerry Brown appointed me to back in 2016. So I have been there now going on, well, it’ll be five years in early next year.
Louis Goodman: And what sorts of things do you focus on in that job?
Elizabeth Echols: is to achieve the lowest possible rates for the state’s utility customers, consistent with safety reliability and the state’s environmental goals. I manage nearly 180 staff.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Elizabeth Echols: I grew up, we moved here when, when I was nine years old and, lived mostly in Berkeley since then. Spent some time in Oakland as well. And some time in Washington, D C but locally grown. Raised in Berkeley.
I went to Berkeley High School. It was great. It was really great. I went all the way through the Berkeley schools, starting with what is now for the parks. And it was Columbus back then, but yeah, Rosa Parks [00:03:00] and then I King Middle School and then Berkeley High School.
Louis Goodman: And after you got out of Berkeley, where’d you go to college?
Elizabeth Echols: I went to Yale University for College where I majored in Economics and Political Science.
Louis Goodman: What did you think about being back East after having grown up in Berkeley?
Elizabeth Echols: Well, the interesting thing is I always wanted to go back East. Maybe I wanted to get as far away as possible from my parents or maybe it was just perhaps it was an idea that my grandmother put in my head as she lived in Virginia. And we used to visit her in Virginia every year.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. When you got out of Yale, you ultimately went to law school. Did you do that right away or did you take some time off?
Elizabeth Echols: I took some time off and among other things, I had a fellowship to study in Australia. So I spent some time in Australia doing graduate work in international economics, focusing, [00:04:00] particularly on the Pacific Rim Countries, Canberra, which is the capital of Australia.
Louis Goodman: Right. And when did you decide that you wanted to go to law school?
Elizabeth Echols: Well, according to my mother, it was probably in at least by junior high. So that was part of my plan for a long time.
Louis Goodman: And were you involved in like debate and theater or that sort of thing when you were in junior high?
Elizabeth Echols: I was involved in a lot of student government.
And how my mother puts it is I was always a really good negotiator.
Louis Goodman: So you’ve always been a politician running for office and negotiating?
Elizabeth Echols: Yeah, I did actually. I ran for office the first time when I was in the ninth grade.
Louis Goodman: What prompted you to like, you know, start thinking about really going to law school?
Like when did you think, like, okay, I’m really going to apply. I’m going to do this. I’m going to take the LSAT. I’m going to go.
Elizabeth Echols: I think pretty much all the way [00:05:00] through Junior High and High School, I was serious about law school pretty early on probably junior high.
Louis Goodman: How much time went by the time that between the time you graduated from college and the time you started law school. And was that whole time in Australia?
Elizabeth Echols: No, I spent a couple years in New York and about another six months in Japan and then went to Australia after that.
Louis Goodman: So you decided to go to law school and where did you go to law school?
Elizabeth Echols: I went to Stanford for law school. It was great. It was a beautiful spot and I felt very fortunate because it’s a school where the classes are small and they’re there only when there were only 172 students all together in the whole graduating class for my year. But I think what was really the best thing is I just had some incredible roommates [00:06:00] and friends, and that was actually the best part of law school is just the people.
Louis Goodman: And when you got out of Stanford, what was your first legal job?
Elizabeth Echols: I went back to Washington DC after graduating from Stanford.
Louis Goodman: And where’s that? And what kind of work did you do there?
Elizabeth Echols: The reason why I wanted to go work in Washington DC. Well, first of all, I had huge debts to retire, so I didn’t have any option of going straight into public service. So the plan was to go and get some good experience and pay down my debt and then move into government.
And so it was actually a hard decision for me, deciding whether to take a job in San Francisco or Washington D C, but because I was so interested in politics in the legislative process, I decided I would go to Washington D C and in fact, I was able to work on some pretty interesting public [00:07:00] international law issues in particular.
Eventually come back to California for a while, actually, not for a while because I stayed, I stayed at Steptoe until I, well, when I got involved in the Bill Clinton campaign, when he was running for President. And then after he got elected and I volunteered on the transition team and then after he got elected, I was asked to come and join the administration and then spent seven years in the Clinton Administration.
Before returning back to the Bay area.
Louis Goodman: What did you do in the Clinton Administration?
Elizabeth Echols: Well, I started out working actually initially in export control issues, but pretty quickly moved over to, at the time brand new area of the internet. And at that time, that [00:08:00] Vice President Gore was talking about the information infrastructure, the global information infrastructure.
So our goal was to allow them the internet to grow and deliver information and economic opportunity while making sure that there were regulations in place that would protect people’s financial privacy, their health, privacy, and our children on the internet .
Louis Goodman: What was it like to work for those guys to work with Clinton and Gore.
I mean, you know, you really had an up close and personal look at the administration.
Elizabeth Echols: They’re both amazing people, just both of them are brilliant. President Clinton had a mind like a computer, that kinds of things that he would just process at once hold both President Clinton and Vice President and Gore are absolutely brilliant people. And it was really incredible to spend time with both of them. [00:09:00] I remember one time I got to travel all the way from Washington, D C to Japan with Bill Clinton on Air Force One. And on the way back, he was in a really good mood. He was kind of hanging out and talking about things and it was just incredible to see how his mind worked, because not only was he brilliant on the policy issues and the strategy issues, but he just, his mind was like a computer the way he remembered everything about all of the different Presidents and Prime Ministers that he’d been talking to, and he knew all about them and their families and their wives and all of their histories and, and the way he could process things was really, really extraordinary. I should say is really extraordinary.
Louis Goodman: So you had mentioned that when Vice President Gore didn’t win the Presidency, you came back to the Bay Area, right?
Elizabeth Echols: Well, then I still had this [00:10:00] passion around the internet and how we could use the internet to create opportunities for people. I’d worked on issues around the digital divide, but for me it wasn’t just getting people connected to the internet.
And so I had an opportunity to take over a nonprofit organization in San Francisco called Community Ventures, and we train low income people, low income young adults on internet, web design and web programming and help them get really great jobs in the internet industry.
Louis Goodman: You’ve run for office, correct?
Elizabeth Echols: I can get you to the part of where I ran for office.
And so I, from some of my work at Avnet, I eventually took a position with Google because at the time on Google was still in its younger years and I was attracted by its vision to take all of the world’s [00:11:00] information and organize it and make it accessible to everyone. And so I went to work for Google for a period of time.
And then it was actually when Al Gore was beginning his, well, I guess you could call it his tour with his power point on later became the movie, the Inconvenient Truth. He came to Google to present his PowerPoint on climate change, and I listened to what he had to say and all of the data around what he was talking about.
And that’s when I said, Oh my goodness. That’s what I need to be spending my time and talents on is this climate change crisis? Surely after that, I, I left Google and found a position at the U.S. Green Building Council and was director of the U.S. Green Building Council for Northern California. I was running the Oakland [00:12:00] United Democratic Campaign.
And this was when President Obama was running. And there was this huge excitement. I mean, we had like businessmen and homeless people literally working together on this coordination, democratic campaign. And I’ll never forget. It was about 10 days before the election and I was —— and she’s sitting at my dining room table and is sort of mapping out some strategies for our coordinated campaign and the phone rings and I pick it up and
someone who I never met before and said, Oh, is this Elizabeth? And it’s like, Should Senator Obama win on election day, would you be willing to come to Washington and work on his transition? And so then we had a conversation about it and then I, you know, I think I was still sort of surprised cause then at the end of the conversation, I was like, okay, well let me think about it and I’ll get back to you. And it just so happened that I was meeting [00:13:00] with, I guess then Assembly Woman, Lonnie Hancock. Uh, later that day and I told her that strange she’s like, Oh, there are you kidding me.
You need to call him back right away. So, you know, so yeah, so she was right. And I did, and I had the opportunity to go into DC and be a member of the Obama/ Biden transition team in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: So did you work for Obama for his full eight years that he was there?
Elizabeth Echols: No, because here’s when I left to run for the assembly.
Louis Goodman: What prompted you to leave the Obama Administration and run for office?
Elizabeth Echols: I had been interested in serving in an elected capacity and was really looking for the right opportunity. And this seemed to be the right opportunity because the issues that I wanted to address, like educational opportunity and economic [00:14:00] opportunity and protecting our environment and climate change.
Those were issues that seemed best addressed at the state level. And so I already had that in mind.
Louis Goodman: So how did that go?
Elizabeth Echols: It went well for most of the campaign until the very end, but it went well. I you know, I’d never run for office before and I put a whole wonderful campaign together.
Got to know just so many partners from the community, from labor, from a whole range of stakeholders that joined together to support my campaign. It was a really incredible coalition and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed talking to people and learning from people. I haven’t even tried fundraising for a while.
It was kind of, I just thought of it as this kind of fun, you know, call my friends, [00:15:00] call people. I didn’t know very, and then we had to unfortunately do this, this top two and, and this was the first time, at least for our assembly district. But anyone had to do the top two. And that was really hard because I liked Tony Iris. Tony, and it’s just hard running against someone who you like and who really isn’t that different from you on the issues.
So it was a very strange experience and not having a demo on the general election. And I did in the end, I lost. And that was, you know, that was hard, but life goes on.
Louis Goodman: So what have you been doing since then?
Elizabeth Echols: So after that, I had the wonderful opportunity to work for Governor Brown. I’m director of what is now the Public Advocate’s Office, and then stayed on in that role under Gavin Newsom.
Then January of this year, [00:16:00] I was appointed Director of the East Bay Regional Park District Board for ward one to fill the remaining term. After Director Whitney Dotson had retired. That is what’s been keeping me busy.
Louis Goodman: Right now you are already an East Bay Regional Park Director. Is that correct?
Elizabeth Echols: Yes, that’s correct. Yes. I was appointed in January.
Louis Goodman: Who actually made that appointment? How do you get that appointment to director?
Elizabeth Echols: Whitney Dodson decided to retire. The board opened up a process and put out the word that they were looking for people to apply. And I believe about 16 people applied originally, and then they narrowed the group down to eight for interviews, and then they narrowed it down again for four to have interviews at a special board meetings. So this was an interesting [00:17:00] process where you’re actually, it’s almost like a job interview, but you’ve got like a whole, you got the board interviewing there and then you’ve got like a whole room of people, like a hundred people watching the interview. So yeah, so that’s, that’s what happened.
There were four finalists, including me, the Board asked their questions and we answered our questions and their questions. And then the Board voted and they voted unanimously to appoint me as the next Director for Ward One.
Louis Goodman: I mean, we’ll let me just comment here that you know, we’ve talked before going on the podcast and I just told you that I’m very pleased, that you are involved with the East Bay Regional Parks, because I know how caring you are and how competent you are and how much I care about the East Bay Regional Parks, because I really think that they’re one of the great jewels of living in the East Bay. So I’m happy personally that you’re there and [00:18:00] I do hope that you get reelected.
Elizabeth Echols: Thank you. That’s very kind and I couldn’t agree more. We’re so lucky. It’s we have over 125,000 acres of Parkland here in the East Bay that’s managed by the East Bay Regional Park District Board. This is the largest regional park system in the entire country. And it’s beautiful. I said, it’s beautiful. And I want to make it even bigger and even more beautiful. You know, I think it’s important when we get the opportunity to acquire more land, because if we don’t acquire it, it will be developed and lost forever.
So I want to continue to acquire land, but then also make the parks more accessible for everyone in our community,
Louis Goodman: Regional parks also have a lot of access to the Bay. There’s a lot of beaches and water areas.
[00:19:00] Elizabeth Echols: Yes, 55 miles of shoreline along the Bay. So yes, it’s fantastic. And one of the things that I’m really proud about this past summer, we were able to open up the Albany Beach and new trail. The new trail connects a one month or actually I should say that the trail closes a one mile gap between Berkeley and Albany, so that now you can walk all the way from Oakland to Richmond or ride your bike or run all the way from Oakland to Richmond.
Louis Goodman: You’re talking about that path that’s behind the racetrack?
Elizabeth Echols: Exactly. Yeah, just a beautified. And if you’ve gone on it,
Louis Goodman: okay. I’ve been there. It’s beautiful. And it really came out nicely. It really just, it’s just a great piece of construction. Well, it’s obvious that you really enjoy public service and that you’ve worked in government pretty much your whole [00:20:00] life.
I’m wondering if you would recommend it to a young person as a career choice?
Elizabeth Echols: Well, I would. I think, you know, for me, it’s important to find your passion and if you’re lucky enough to have a job that you enjoy, that instead of the best thing ever.
Louis Goodman: Do you have a 30 second elevator speech for this job?
Elizabeth Echols: It may be a little bit more than 30 seconds.
Louis Goodman: I’ve always heard politicians have an elevator speech. So
Elizabeth Echols: yeah, but more than this is a one-minute ride. And then give me my one minute ride your representative on the East Bay Region Park District Court. I listened to the needs of our communities and deeply committed to preserving the natural and cultural heritage of our parks and providing open space trails and recreational opportunities for our diverse community.
My commitment to our parks states back to childhood when I served as a junior ranger. Since that time I’ve dedicated my life to public service with [00:21:00] leadership positions in environmental policy, parks and recreation from serving in the Obama Administration to implementing environmental policies has head of our State’s Public Advocate’s Office.
I have the experience to be an effective steward for our parks and ensure that the park district is working for you. I’m proud to be endorsed by prominent community leaders like Congressman Mark, this all named State Superintendent, Tony Thurman, State Senator Nancy Skinner, and all of my colleagues on the East Bay Parks Board.
Please visit Elizabeth for parks.org to learn more. I’d be honored to have your vote. Thank you.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, that came in right at about 50 seconds. Was there anything in particular that you would change about the way the park system works? And you touched on this a little bit earlier, but do you think that in doing so it meets the needs of the community?
Elizabeth Echols: I think that there’s more that we need to do to create access for our underserved communities. A lot of our parks [00:22:00] are further away from the inner city. And so it’s harder for folks to get there, especially if they don’t have their own transportation. So some of the things that I’m interested in seeing is, well, first of all, to expand Parkland that is in close proximity to underserved communities and in particular there’s opportunities to continue to convert industrial land to Parkland, especially along the North Richmond Shoreline also to increase the summer and year round opportunities for youth.
Louis Goodman: We talked a lot about recreation as kind of a community thing. How about yourself? What about you and your family and what sort of recreational pursuits do you yourself like?
Elizabeth Echols: Well, my husband and I met on a hike in Tilden. So that’s where we got our start. And I love walking with my daughter in the park.
Louis Goodman: What kinds of things keep you up at night? What do you worry [00:23:00] about?
Elizabeth Echols: Boy, a lot right now. Well I’m worried, I worry about my daughter. I worry about my daughter, you know, being able to learn what she needs to learn. I think the Berkeley Schools are excellent and they’re doing a fabulous job with this distance learning, but it’s still very hard. You know, she is six years old. She’s an extremely social exuberant little girl. And it’s just, you know, to have her locked up in the house with mom and dad, it’s just, it’s hard. It’s really hard.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, a couple of billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Elizabeth Echols: A couple of billion.
Louis Goodman: I mean, you know, three, $4 billion, real money
Elizabeth Echols: First of all, then I could buy the Parkland that I would like to buy I’d go out and buy Point Molate right now.
[00:24:00] We wouldn’t have to fight about sometimes we can just go buy it and give it to the Park District to run, but City of Richmond could have its money. So that would be, that would be great. But, on a broader scale, I think I would put some type of foundation or nonprofit together that it really brought some experts together to, to figure out how do we solve, you know, how do we solve some of the deepest challenges that we face?
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand and there was one thing in the world that you could change in the park world, in the world of Washington DC and just society in general and anything in the legal system. I mean, you know, you’ve had a lot of experience. What one thing would you like to wave your magic wand at and change things?
Elizabeth Echols: I think I would make our elected representatives look like the people they represent. So [00:25:00] they would be 55% women and a whole range of races and ethnicities and sexual orientation and everything else. So I, you know, that’s what I would do, because I think if you did that and if you did that globally, that we would have a really different world.
Louis Goodman: What’s one thing you wish you had known before you got into all of this,?
Elizabeth Echols: Trying to think of what it is. It has something to do with, I don’t think he’s in something you have to know in advance, but I think it is something that you learn as a candidate. It is surprising who, who your real friends are.
No, I think that’s one thing about running for office. It is you do see. The crew, the people who really are your friends and loyalty, you and are going to stick by you and who are the people who are just, you know, want to be involved because it may help them. [00:26:00] So I think that’s maybe one thing I’ve learned.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You know, I mean, I’ve ran for office. You know, 10 years ago. And it was, I mean, for me, it was just a really different, and I don’t know, it was just kind of a crazy experience for me really, you know, and I couldn’t believe some of the people who really came out and helped me. And I couldn’t believe some of the people who didn’t.
Elizabeth Echols: Exactly.
It’s surprising. It’s not the same. It’s not necessarily how you had originally cared that had her guys them in your mind. You know, it’s interesting. You definitely find out who your true friends are, but also who your true who the people are, who really do what they say they’re going to do, you know, who are the people you can rely on to be there for you?
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I agree. Elizabeth Echols, Thank you so much for joining me this afternoon on Love Thy Lawyer. I’ve really enjoyed [00:27:00] talking to you.
Elizabeth Echols: Well, likewise, thank you so much for having me. This has been fun and thank you for taking the time to talk with me this afternoon.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who contributed their time and wisdom and make this show possible.
Bryan Matheson, Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Elizabeth Echols: That’s why I just kind of skip over it because no one has ever asked me except for you. So you’re good. You’re a good journalist, but yeah,
Louis Goodman: we’ll leave this out.
Chris Peeples / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
In 1997, the AC that’s a board appointed him to serve as an at-large director.
He has been reelected to that position every four years, and since he has served on the Oakland Ethics Commission and numerous other governmental and community boards. He’s a strong supporter of the AC transit zero emission bus fuel cell program. He is also an attorney and I had the privilege of attending law school with him.
Chris Peeples, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
[00:01:00] Chris Peeples: Thank you very much, Louis.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s great to have you. And in this election season, I’ve had the privilege of talking to several people who are running for political office who are also attorneys in Alameda County. So before we get into the politics, tell me a little bit about what sort of law practice you have outside of your politics.
Chris Peeples: Well, I retired from the practice of law about 10 years ago.
Louis Goodman: Where did you grow up originally?
Chris Peeples: I was born in Atlanta and moved to San Francisco when I was nine months old. My parents said it’s too hot and muggy in here. I don’t like it. And so I grew up in San Francisco, went to the Sunset district.
Right by the, the sunset reservoir went to Riordan High School, went to our grammar school downtown, which was at that time, the only place that had a dual French [00:02:00] English instruction. And my mother was French. Wanted me to be fluent in French.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from Riordan, where did you go to college?
Chris Peeples: Well, I tried to get into UC Santa Cruz. I’d been convinced it was, it had just opened. Didn’t make it ended up spending a year at Santa Barbara, but two years, two weeks at Santa Barbara. I applied for a transfer and ended up going to Crown College at UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Cruz music, sort of the Oxbridge system.
So I had originally intended to do a special major in Urban Studies, but ended up getting seduced by Political Theory. So I ended up politics major and basically with the major in Political Theory.
Louis Goodman: So after you graduated from Santa Cruz and Crown College, did you go to law school immediately thereafter?
Did you take some time off?
Chris Peeples: I didn’t take time off. I worked for about five [00:03:00] years. I had worked my way through college as a union brewer, brewers, brew masters, and yeast workers, local eight 93. Wow. Yeah, I did that along with a summer when the breweries were on strike, I worked as a sewage treatment plant operator.
My job technically was as a Stationary Engineer. But it meant that I got paid about twice as much as the sewage treatment plant operator would get paid at East Bay Mud, or some other place like that. It just has to do with union politics in San Francisco. And then I spent about a year that I really did take a year off wandering around Europe, the sort of typical Eurail pass.
I’m going around, and of course my mother was French, so I had lots of relatives in France. And so spent a whole lot of time in various places in France. I’m [00:04:00] actually a dual citizen. I’m a French citizen and an American citizen.
Louis Goodman: I learn something about people every time I do this. So what is it that prompted you to start thinking about becoming a lawyer, going to law school?
Chris Peeples: Well, you know, I had always been very verbal and always been sort of interested in justice and how things work. And it just was a logical place for me to go. I mean, I started thinking about that when I was about in sixth or seventh grade and I did sort of formal speaking, starting when I was in seventh or eighth grade in high school.
I did speech and debate, and I did drama and all that stuff, and it just seemed a place for me to be. Also on my father’s side, I [00:05:00] come from many, many generations of lawyers and judges. My dad was not he after World War II. Went to USF for a, but didn’t make it. My father, my grandfather, my father’s father was advised not to be a lawyer because he was too nice.
And the guy, his father, who was both a lawyer and the judge, and when he passed away in the end, this would be my great grandfather. In his obituary one of the interesting comments was there in there with every volume of Georgia reports from when they were first published, had a Peeples as either a lawyer or a judge in one of the appellate cases.
That’s what he said.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that’s really a great honor. It really is. [00:06:00] So where’d you go to law school and how did that come about?
Chris Peeples: I went to Hastings and we’re both the same class. So I think when we were there, it was like 250 bucks a semester or something like that was the tuition.
So I knew that I probably was not going to make a whole lot of money and I have always had a fear of debt. And so I chose a place that was pretty inexpensive and it provided a really good education and a really good legal education.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, now I think that the young attorneys coming out of law school are so burdened by debt that they really can’t go into public service very easily. I mean, even jobs like being a Public Defender or [00:07:00] a Deputy District Attorney, which really pay pretty well, are sacrifices. And I just find that whole notion really frightening because it’s so hard to get lawyers to go into the kind of public service work that so many of us and our colleagues really wanted to do.
Chris Peeples: No, I agree. I remember I took a tour of Hastings. Oh, a few years ago, five, six years ago. And we were being toured around by one of the students. And I was appalled when she said that this year Hastings is $48,000 tuition and next year they’re raising it to 50.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I just really couldn’t agree more.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Chris Peeples: First legal job was when I took a bunch of Labor Law with Joe Grodin who went to the [00:08:00] California Supreme Court. Brilliant, brilliant guy. One of the most accomplished lawyers I’ve ever met. And he got me a job with what was then called the Educational employment Relations. It’s now graduated and become the Public Employee Relations Board.
But basically what we were doing was overseeing elections. One or more unions would try to organize the teachers in a school district and that the classified employees, and we would go and run the elections. And it was interesting. We’d wear aprons so that you didn’t have access to your pockets.
You had to wear a shirt without pockets and you were manipulate, not manipulate, but counting and sorting ballots under the watchful eye of whatever unions were seeking to [00:09:00] compete. And you play man. And Management had somebody there staring at you as well. And so you had to be very strictly neutral and you had to be very proper in the way you did everything, it was fun.
Louis Goodman: And then after you got out of law school, took the bar, passed, what did you do?
Chris Peeples: I went to work for a small firm. I tried to get jobs in Labor Law, but the only ones I could get were management side. And I wasn’t really interested in doing that. And I went to work for a small firm that basically did Antitrust work, but mostly with franchises.
They did a lot of the franchisee litigation cases, a friend of mine had gotten the job there and he got me a job there and Tim was a bright guy, but a bit weird and we represented McDonald’s franchisees, Midas Muffler, and franchisees. In a really big case. Was [00:10:00] he represented newspaper distributors?
So, I mean, he had a very long running case with the LA times. We finally got settled when Otis Chandler died and his son who was somewhat more liberal took over and rather than spending unlimited money on big LA firms, he decided to settle the case, but it basically got some protections for the people who are independent, but who distribute and deliver newspapers.
Louis Goodman: Did you stay there for a while or did you move on to some other firm?
Chris Peeples: Stayed a couple of years and moved on to, Faretta, Braun and Martel. They do basically everything. They’re a medium size firm. That’s probably best known for Litigation. Martel was a very [00:11:00] aggressive and creative litigator. Jerry Braun was the president of the California Academy of Appellate Attorneys and did mostly appellate work and was the business with the business person, transactional person. But I got hired in there as sort of a special counsel because they needed a bunch of extra work on a bunch of their big Class Action Antitrust cases. So, I wasn’t a regular associate. I was sort of a, I don’t know, nowadays, I don’t know what they would call it counsel, but that sounds too formal. I was basically doing research work and helping supervise some paralegals who were doing all the paperwork. We had the Plywood Antitrust Litigation, which is what I [00:12:00] originally got hired for. We had 27 warehouses around the country full of documents and there was an entire team of Plaintiff’s Class action attorneys.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Sounds like an enormous undertaking.
Chris Peeples: It was an enormous undertaking and I was a very, very small part of it.
Louis Goodman: What prompted you to get into public service and elected office?
Chris Peeples: Well, I’ve always been very interested in politics. I started out literally in grammar school, doing work in the Civil Rights Movement in the fifties and sixties.
And got into the Antiwar Movement. Starting my work in about 63 got started in that partly because a whole lot about Vietnam because it was formerly [00:13:00] a French colony. And so I knew about it from the French angle and had, was supportive of all the premium movements, which were then going on all around the world.
And Colonialism Movements in the sixties was when all the colonies were being broken up and knew that the treatment of the Vietnamese by the French had been pretty God awful. And why the Americans took the side of the French rather than taking the side of the Vietnamese. Didn’t make sense to me at the time I’d later sort of figured that out, but I’d gotten involved on that side.
I’d also even when I was high school. So I’ve been interested in all of that from a very young age. And when I was in college, [00:14:00] I got, I did an externship with a sociology professor at Santa Cruz and he placed me with SNIFLAF Neighborhood Legal Assistance. And I got to know Sid Lewinsky, who later went on to found Public Advocates.
Louis Goodman: Sure. Yeah. I remember Sid quite well.
Chris Peeples: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, as you may remember, he had taught a class at Hastings. Yeah. I don’t know whether if we were in the same class? I took it as well, but I forget whether I took it my second or third year,
Louis Goodman: I remember the office being that, you know, that really neat brick building with brick walls inside
Chris Peeples: that was their first office right around the corner from Hastings.
And I helped them move into that one and I helped them move into the next one that they went in. I still do a lot of work with Public Advocates, although he hasn’t been there in many years. He’s now retired. But he went from Public Advocates to Disability Rights Advocates and [00:15:00] actually sued AC transit a couple of times.
Louis Goodman: Well, speaking of AC transit. Let me just put it this way. How did you get that initial appointment to the AC Transit Board?
Chris Peeples: I’d been interested in AC Transit for a long time. I believe that humans should live in cities. And if you live in cities, having everybody has a car doesn’t work, so you need to have a robust public transit system.
And I used AC transit starting I had some friends who lived over here after we graduated from college and I would take AC Transit. This was pre board. I would take AC Transit from San Francisco over and then, you know, wander around. So I knew about the system and I’d grown up riding Muni.
So I knew Muni pretty well. [00:16:00] And in the eighties, AC Transit was really a mess. And Tom Bates, who at the time was my Assemblyman, decided to try to fix it. And he got several people onto the board and ——- Bruce Goddard, who was District Director. Went over to AC Transit and was their community and legislative guy.
And so I would go and visit him every once in a while at AC and talk to him about what was going on in the community and all that stuff.
Louis Goodman: So you like ran a campaign to get the appointment.
Chris Peeples: Okay.
Louis Goodman: Absolutely.
Chris Peeples: First person I called was Bill Lockyer, Bill and I were on opposite sides of many in the East Bay, but there was no question that he ran the Democratic [00:17:00] party in Alameda County.
And nobody was confused about that. So, you know, I talked to Bill and went on from there to talk to basically every elected official in Alameda County and, other political activists and all that stuff. And I was viewed as, too left wing. And originally the board was going to be split.
When the business person dropped out, I became the logical person and I ended up getting appointed.
Louis Goodman: And then you’ve had a run for that office over the years. Right?
Chris Peeples: Yes. I was appointed to fill out of John Woodberry’s term. So the way the law works is if you get appointed midterm, and if you’re appointed more than I think 120 [00:18:00] days before the next general election, you have to run at the next general election.
So I was appointed in 97. I had to run in 98. For the remainder of that term, which ended in, so I had to run in 98. I had to run again in 2000 and then since 2000, it’s been every four years, there are two at Large Directors Transit I’m on the Presidential cycle. My colleague Joel Young, who’s also a lawyer runs on the Gubernatorial cycle.
So we run two years apart.
Louis Goodman: Okay. I want to get into the running for office thing in a couple of minutes, but before we get there, obviously you made some effort to get appointed, you’ve run and you’ve continued to run for this job. So it seems to me that you like the job, and I want to know why.
Chris Peeples: I like it [00:19:00] for a couple of reasons.
One, I think Public Transit is very important. It’s important in terms of land use, it’s important in terms of equity, it’s important in terms of all its environmental benefits. But I really like AC Transit because it’s small enough that I know virtually everybody. Who’s really significant. I ride the buses.
I know the drivers, I know the shop stewards. I know all the union leadership of all three of our unions. I know all the senior staff. And all the various different departments. So it’s small enough that I can sort of know things it’s big enough. We’ve got about, Oh, about a $500 million a year budget.
It’s big enough that we can do things and do [00:20:00] interesting things. Everything from buying the buses to fixing them, to dealing with all the labor relations problems. And what is ———- and figuring out how to raise money to pay for all that. So there’s a broad enough scope of things that it’s interesting, but it’s narrow enough that you don’t get scattered.
Louis Goodman: A young person coming out of college, wanted to go into law and public policy and political work. Is that something that you would recommend that they do or not do?
Chris Peeples: Well? I would recommend they do it because it’s God’s work. And it’s fun, then you get a chance to really exercise. It’s what makes it really difficult nowadays.
And what we were talking about earlier is you, you come out of college and law school was such a burden of debt. It becomes very difficult to do things that are not [00:21:00] hugely remunerative. And that’s sad. I mean if you can. Manage to work the finances. I would certainly advise people to do it.
For me, it’s been enormously rewarding, but it is really tricky nowadays because of the debt problem.
Louis Goodman: Has being in public service and serving on the AC Transit Board, has that in any way differed or met your expectations of it?
Chris Peeples: I think it has. I mean, it definitely, It’s a little bit, I don’t know what I thought back 23 years ago, I knew a certain amount about it. I’d been talking to my friends who were on the board. There’s a very steep learning curve. You get on one of these boards on you. It was a whole bunch of stuff to learn and it takes two or three years to really figure out what you’re doing. [00:22:00] But once you figure it out, then to me, it’s very satisfying,
Louis Goodman: Chris, you’re involved in a campaign and it involves everything that running for office does raising money, meeting with people, going to meetings, all of which is I’m sure complicated by the whole COVID-19 thing that we’re going through. And I would just say that, you know, some years ago I ran for Judge and you were always so helpful to me in explaining some of the nuts and bolts of politics, things that I really did not understand. And I’m wondering if you could just share with us a little bit about what running for office is like?
Chris Peeples: It’s very interesting. I am a very bizarre politician. I do not raise money and I do not spend money.
That’s really impossible [00:23:00] nowadays in a position that people with money and influence care about. One of the things about running a bus company is there are not a whole lot of people with money who care about you. So I people who run against me can’t raise 250,000 or so that it would take to run a traditional campaign in the district.
My district is bigger than 11 States and the District of Columbia. I have 1.4 million constituents. It’s everything from San Pablo, all the way down to Fremont Hills to the Bay. It is interesting when I’m back in Washington. And I point out that I should, I represent 1.4 million people.
And that’s about three Congressional Districts. And as I say, I have [00:24:00] more constituents then 22 Senators, and that’s pretty bizarre. But anyway, I run, I went from all of my life I’ve been very involved in Democratic politics, so I get a whole lot of endorsements. And I know enough about what issues there are four plus districts that I’m pretty good at getting endorsements.
And I write pretty well. One of the things that is somewhat frustrating by the way that this system works. Is you ended up getting all the endorsement questionnaires, and they’re usually on a fairly short timeline. Writing well and accurately under intense time pressure is what you and I do.
That’s the job of being a Lawyer. Having done that for 33 years, [00:25:00] I’m pretty good at it. So I managed to do that, but also just a wide variety of both activists and elected. All of whom know me and all of them, all of whom respect me and that I had never lied to them. One of the interesting things about politics is it’s a very small community, your reputation proceeds you.
That’s a very important thing to keep up. It’s sort of like, if you practice a lot in a particular Court in a particular County, or are in a particular area of law after you’ve done it for a few years, people know who you are. They know whether they can trust your word or not know whether you are going to deliver when you say you’re going to deliver. And that’s a very important thing, both in the practice of law and the practice.
Louis Goodman: Let me just get back to the campaign for just a [00:26:00] minute. Do you have a 30 second elevator speech?
Chris Peeples: Sure. Hi, my name is Chris Peeples. I’ve been on the AC Transit Board a whole long time.
I’ve helped AC Transit through three recessions. So that’s very useful thing to know in these days. I’ve been the Lead Director on our zero-emission bus program and our Lead Director on the Environmental Justice Transportation Program. And I think I do a pretty good job. I’ve been elected President of the board five times and I would like to continue to do it.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about this zero emission bus.
Chris Peeples: Yeah, this is something we’ve been working on for a little over 20 years. When I first got on the board. There’s obviously a great deal of concern about air pollution, both in terms of smog, oxides of nitrogen, which ends up [00:27:00] creating smog and particulate matter, which is pretty nasty and is one of the reasons why, for example, children in the zip code that’s around the port are eight times more likely to go to the hospital for asthma and a child that lives in my zip code, which is 94611, which includes Piedmont. Montclair. California has probably the best regulatory Air Quality Agency in the world, California Air Resources Board.
And when I first got on the Board, they were pushing for natural gas. CNG or LNG liquified natural, as an alternative for diesel, 20 years ago was pretty dirty stuff. We were using two cycle engines. If you were a member, there would be these great clouds of black smoke that would come up occasionally.
And that’s [00:28:00] when they were slightly out of tune there was lots of black smoke in the nineties. Was all let’s go to natural gas burns much cleaner, much less particulate matter. The General Manager of AC Transit at the time I had come from New Jersey Transit and they had tried natural gas in the seventies during the first oil crisis. And it was a disaster. It was Rick used to say he replaced engines more often than he replaced tires. It’s got very different characteristics than diesel. It’s nowhere. The engines are nowhere near, as durable, nowhere near as reliable. We really did not want to go to natural gas. Great technological advances on both sides since buses last 12 years, that meant by 2028, all the new purchases are going to have to be zero emissions. So people really began [00:29:00] to scramble. There is now pretty serious competition with battery electric buses because of the vast improvements in batteries. And AC Transit are actually running the comparison study. We have 20 fuel cell buses. We’re going to get 10 more.
We’ve got five battery lipid classes. We’re needing to 25 more and we’re going to take three. Fuel cell electric buses, 30 battery electric buses, 30 diesel electric buses, hybrids, and 30 shredded diesel buses run them on the same routes with the same drivers and drivers every few days. The buses are instrumented to hell and back.
And the work is going to be done by the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Center for Transportation and Technology and a professor down at Stanford and his graduate students are going to do an analysis of how these three of these four different kinds of buses work, [00:30:00] how well they run the routes, how long they last, all that kind of good stuff.
And we’ll publish that for the industry around the world. And there’s a huge amount of interest all around the world in this test that we’re putting on.
Louis Goodman: Just change the subject a little bit here. What, if anything, would you change about the way the AC Transit System works? And as part of that, do you think that it meets the needs of the community?
Chris Peeples: I would try to have us integrate better with the underlying jurisdictions. We don’t own the streets. We don’t own the sidewalks. We don’t control the streets or the sidewalks. And there are 13 cities, 9 unincorporated areas, 2 counties, and a bunch of the streets that we run on are actually Caltrans Highway.
San Pablo is a Caltrans Highway for part of its length. [00:31:00] International Boulevard is a Caltrans Highway for part of its length. We could do a much better job of integrating with the Cities and that’s beginning to happen. Now that there’s a Department of Transportation in Oakland, they’re talking about red lanes, exclusive bus lanes in many more parts from Oakland, the Alameda County Transportation Commission is in there.
My Lodestar for transportation is where my mother used to live, which is Paris and Paris. Does not allow buildings that are taller than Notre Dame, but almost all the buildings are that tall. So the buildings tend to be five to eight stories tall with retail on the ground floor and housing, above that.
As a result, my mother lived sort of on the edge of Paris, but the bus came every four minutes. [00:32:00] That’s the kind of transit you need for people to feel perfectly comfortable about not having a car and in Paris, the Metro runs every 90 seconds and the buses run every four minutes. It’s the sort of thing that in America, people dream about.
That’s part of it. I think AC Transit is actually pretty well run it is a fairly expensive system because we treat our employees well.
Louis Goodman: if you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars. And I recognize that you’re someone who probably money means less too than a lot of people. But if you came into some real money, a few billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Chris Peeples: I’d probably travel more. I would be giving lots of money to various progressive political causes. You [00:33:00] know, Tom Steyer came into billions and I think he’s using it quite well. Same thing with Mayor Bloomberg. I would like to go to some of the really classic musical festivals.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world and the political world and the transportation world and the legal world, or any aspect of society. What would that be?
Chris Peeples: I’d change the current Supreme Court.
Louis Goodman: Chris Peeples, it’s been a pleasure talking to you this morning. Thank you very much for joining me here on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a very interesting and informative conversation.
Chris Peeples: Thank you, Louis. Thank you very much. I think this has been an interesting conversation and I think these podcasts are a real service to the community and also to the legal community, the lawyers in the community and it’s people out there get sort of an understanding of what we do and how we [00:34:00] do it.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode and Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Chris Peeples: And I think that’s something young lawyers really need to understand that unless you flit around the country, people are going to know who you are and your reputation is definitely going to precede [you].
Mark Fickes – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He is a civil and criminal litigator in both State and Federal Court. He served with the United States Security and Exchange Commission as a staff attorney and trial counsel.
He was a litigator with Wilson Sonsini. And before that served as a Deputy District Attorney in Santa Clara County, he is currently running for Alameda County Superior Court Judge and will appear on the November ballot. Mark Fickes, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Mark Fickes: Louis. Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s a real privilege to have you on and for taking time out of your [00:01:00] campaign in order to join us today. Mark, what sort of practice do you have right now?
Mark Fickes: Well, Louis, one of the things I love about my practice is just how diverse it is. I do a mix of work. I still do the occasional criminal defense case, often pro bono, usually for someone where a client refers me.
And I do that just to keep my feet wet in the criminal law pools. So to speak right now. Well, I’ve got a real variety. I am doing some civil rights cases on behalf of an African American owned business up in Butte County. I’m wrapping up a civil case on behalf of a Laotian immigrant in Lake County.
And right now my docket is actually pretty full on some workers’ rights cases. I’m representing some union employees who are being subject to various kinds of workplace discipline, usually for a retaliatory purposes, either because of race, gender or sexual [00:02:00] orientation and in the three or four cases I’m doing right now, actually it’s all of the above.
I’ve got cases involving people who are being discriminated against because of LGBTQ status because of their race, their sexual orientation by and large.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Mark Fickes: I am a rare breed here in that I was born and raised in San Francisco. My dad was born and raised in Oakland and my grandparents lived in Hayward for most of my childhood before they passed away.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Mark Fickes: I actually went to high school down in Southern California at a place called the Facture Down in the Ohio Valley.
Louis Goodman: What was that like?
Mark Fickes: Facture was a really great place. It gave me an opportunity to really get an outstanding education. They gave me a tremendous financial aid package.
Otherwise my family could never have afforded to send me there. And it really set me up for my life and my career afterwards. Some of my longest [00:03:00] and best friends are people that went to Thatcher with me. I’m convinced that I got into UC Berkeley for college because of that. And again, I was very fortunate that the school gave me financial aid so that family could afford to send me.
Louis Goodman: What was your experience at UC Berkeley like?
Mark Fickes: Berkeley was great. First of all, for me, it was a bit of a homecoming in that growing up in the Bay area. I was familiar with Berkeley. So I had friends such as, from my childhood in the area.
Louis Goodman: Did you go directly from college, into law school?
Mark Fickes: No, I did not. When I graduated from college, I actually didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I liked the idea of teaching and public speaking.
And so I decided to go to graduate school and study French Literature at Johns Hopkins University.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about going to law school?
Mark Fickes: I started in my fourth year in grad school. And just to tell you how that happened, I had spent time in France on a research [00:04:00] grant and come back home.
And this was sort of in the heyday of Court TV and televised trials. And believe it or not, it was the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, which was sort of big news in the early nineties. And I watched that trial on television and I thought to myself, that’s what I want to do with my career. And yeah. So to make a long story short, after that, I applied to law school and came back to San Francisco to attend UC Hastings.
Louis Goodman: What did you think of Hastings?
Mark Fickes: I loved it. You know, it was a big school, which I enjoyed by then. I moved to the East Bay and my now husband, but then partner, you know, he had his career. We lived here in the East Bay and I commuted to the city and went to school. And I had a great time. Again. I met a lot of great people who are my friends to this day.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family and your now husband have to say when you told them that you were going to law school and you wanted to be a lawyer?
Mark Fickes: Well, there was a mix. I [00:05:00] Would say half of the people out there asked if I was crazy and the other half of the people were pretty darn supportive. I think people knew that I went to law school with this idea of wanting to be a trial lawyer.
I loved the idea of trials.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Mark Fickes: My first legal job. Well, I started as an intern, so this was not for pay. Actually. I started out as an intern in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. And I did that during my first year of law school. My first paid job, however, after law school was with the District Attorney’s Office down in Santa Clara County.
Louis Goodman: What did you think about the difference between being in the District Attorney’s Office as opposed to the Public Defender’s Office?
Mark Fickes: Well, you know, for me it was a real adjustment all through law school. I had interned with Public Defenders and I think I started my career thinking that that’s what I was going to do, but I was really lucky that the people I worked with at the DA’s office in Santa Clara County were really just [00:06:00] a good group of people who in my view were really committed to justice. And by that, I mean that I learned from, and worked with people who use their discretion often not to charge cases and often to look at cases and look at the people charged, you know, in a pretty holistic way.
And I think the view there, and it’s one I embraced and one, I admired. Was not that the criminal justice system was just about punishment, but about trying to get people on a track in life where they can be more successful. And that’s something I really appreciated and I would add that it was, for me, it was a great first job when I was there.
When I started at least I was only the second openly gay man to work in that office. And I started feeling a little worried about what that might be like, but I loved working with a group of colleagues who judged me for my work ethic and my trial skills. And I could care less about my sexual orientation.
And so it was a really positive work experience with some really talented and thoughtful people.
Louis Goodman: After you left the [00:07:00] District Attorney’s Office, you went on to work with Wilson Sonsini and some other pretty heavy-duty litigation firms that had clients in Silicon Valley. So, how was that experience compared to coming out of the criminal world?
Mark Fickes: Well, I will level with you.
Louis Goodman: Gamble with the truth.
Mark Fickes: Yeah, it was a rude and harsh awakening in a lot of ways, you know. When you at the DA’s office, you know, the focus was on trial work and resolving cases and things moved in a pretty quick pace. When you work for what at the time was one of the nation’s largest law firms representing some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, there was a notion that everything you did have to be perfection. Those clients didn’t pay for a large law firm to make mistakes. And so it was really a learning experience for me in cases where I was involved in [00:08:00] investigations. I learned how to do an investigation where you left no stone left unturned. And I think where I grew the most was, you know, in civil litigation, a lot more turns on written product, you know, and not just oral skills. I mean, you have to file a lot of briefs. They have a lot of paper associated with them. And I think I learned at a large law firm, how to be a written advocate for my client and not just an oral advocate and the other big awakening for me was starting to litigate cases in federal court. I think when you practice criminal law in state courts in, in some ways it’s a little bit like the wild West. I mean, people are talking in the courtrooms. Things are happening at a mile a minute and there’s a lot of activity. And when you get to a federal courtroom for your first time, it’s just a very different environment.
Louis Goodman: You’ve also worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mark Fickes: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Mark Fickes: Well, not including my current [00:09:00] practice, I would say that my work at the SEC was my favorite, my favorite gig that I’ve ever had. And what I liked about it was I liked being the person that kind of got to wear the white hat.
You know, at the SEC, we predominantly worked on two kinds of cases. One of which was corporate fraud where, large corporations were misleading people and investors and getting rich off of misleading people. And in the era when I was there from 2004 to 2011, we were really cracking down on fraud in Silicon Valley.
But what we also got to do was to help a lot of what I call like the average person down the street. I did a lot of cases that involved investment scams, someone who could have been my grandmother or my grandfather got cheated out of their life savings. On an investment scheme that was just, you know, completely ridiculous, completely bogus.
And I got to work for them.
Louis Goodman: Well, you’ve certainly had a varied career. You’ve been in a number of [00:10:00] different types of practice and it strikes me that you’re somebody who really likes being a lawyer. And I’m wondering. What it is about practicing law that you really like?
Mark Fickes: Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of different things about being a lawyer that I like.
I think there are, for those of us that practice law, there’s a bit of a masochistic side to it all. Which is sometimes you go into a courtroom thinking that things are going to go your way. And he ended up kind of getting kicked in the teeth. You know what I mean? Either judge a judge, see it your way or a jury doesn’t see it your way. And you know, what I love about it is when that happens, you get one thing. There’s only one thing you can do. You pick yourself up by the bootstraps and you try again the next time. And I love the thrill of trial. I just find it exhilarating and exciting. And I don’t know if all lawyers feel this way, but I’m rarely happier then when I’m in trial, I just love the pace of it. The dynamics of everything, just moving so quick and [00:11:00] the kind of chaos that comes about when you take a case that you’ve nurtured and loved for years and years and years, and you’ve handed it over to a judge or a jury for them to decide.
Louis Goodman: If a young person was coming out of school and was thinking about a career in law, do you think that that’s something that you recommend?
Mark Fickes: You know, I think it depends a little bit on the person. My daughter has occasionally suggested that she might want to go to law school and you know, what I tell people when I hear that they’re interested being in lawyers is that the practice of law, it can be really rewarding, but it can also be incredibly demanding and if you want to be a lawyer, you got to be sure you have a thick skin
Louis Goodman: You’re currently running for Judge.
Mark Fickes: I am.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about that as a career move?
Mark Fickes: I think the idea first came to me probably eight or nine years ago when someone had suggested that I consider applying to Governor Jerry Brown’s [00:12:00] office to be appointed as a judge.
And, you know, I just started sort of turning that notion around in my head. I did take a look at that crazy a hundred page or so application. It’s not quite that long, but it’s a long application. And, you know, I just, I thought I started thinking about what I like about what I do, what it is that I see good job, which is doing and you know, it really just kind of sat with me. And I just thought to myself, you know what I love about my work. A lot of times is helping people navigate the legal system in what can often be the most difficult periods in their life. And that’s true, whether you’re accused of a crime or, you know, whether you’re involved in a lawsuit. It’s very stressful and learning to navigate that situation is and helping someone navigate that is probably one of the most rewarding things I get to do.
And what I realized is although judges cannot be advocates, you know, the good judges do [00:13:00] help people navigate the system by showing the people that come in front of them, that they work hard. That they’re fair, that they’re willing to hear everyone’s point of view, and that they’re going to do the good work that they need to do in order to get a case decided.
Louis Goodman: How’s the campaign going?
Mark Fickes: The campaign is exhausting. It’s a roller coaster ride. It’s everything you see in the practice of law as well. You know, there are, I think one of the things I love the most is that you just get to go out and you get to meet people all the time. And, you know, in Alameda County, people are pretty engaged.
I mean, I don’t go to a farmer’s market where at least a couple of people don’t come up to me and really chat with me for a good 5 or 10 minutes about, you know, who I am, what I do and why I want to be a judge. And that part, I absolutely love it. I just love it.
Louis Goodman: How about raising money, how’s that been?
Mark Fickes: I think money is the hardest part of what we do and, you know, it’s a discipline [00:14:00] and it’s funny, you know, Louis that I was president of a synagogue here in Oakland for three years and oversaw one of the biggest capital campaigns we had done. And I never had problems asking people for money when it was for a good cause.
And you know, for me being the grandson of people who fled Austria during the Holocaust raising money for the Jewish community has always been something that I take great pleasure in, and I consider it a privilege to do it when that good cause is you. It’s just, it’s a little bit different, you know, and it just, it takes getting used to. But a friend of mine who works in politics, she once told me, if you don’t believe in yourself enough to ask people, to give you money, to run a race, then you have no business being on a campaign.
And I take that message the heart. And every time I feel a little frustrated about having to make fundraising calls or every time you get a no, you know, some people give money and other people don’t, I just remind myself of that, I believe in myself enough to [00:15:00] ask people to give me money in order to keep this race going forward.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, as you know, I ran for judge a few years ago and it was really shocking to me how much money it costs to run a campaign. And I’m sure you found that to be true too.
Mark Fickes: Yeah. You know, and I know some people who have run campaigns in San Francisco and in some other counties and Alameda County is unique in terms of how much it charges at least judicial candidates to get that 200-word statement on the ballot materials that come out.
That is, I think it’s almost a $27,000 price tag. So it’s one of the most expensive races to run just right out of the gates. And, if you’re in a situation like I am, where there was a three way, a contest for the primary and now a two-way contest for the general election, you pay those fees.
Louis Goodman: Do you have a [00:16:00] 30 second elevator speech?
Mark Fickes: I do have a 30 second elevator speech.
Louis Goodman: Let’s hear it. I’m starting the clock.
Mark Fickes: Yeah. Alright. Well, I am running to be a judge because I want to be an agent of change. We need to they have more diversity in our courts and I believe I’m the person to bring it to the courts. Out of 72 judges currently serving in Alameda County, there was only one openly gay man who served as a judge right now. So I would add to the diversity in that sense. And also I believe that for years, we have generally elected and seen appointed judges, whole experiences in the criminal justice system. And while that’s a noble cause I believe absolutely that a lot of the court’s businesses have to do with the civil justice system.
And I am the one candidate in this race that has both been a prosecutor and a defense attorney in criminal cases. I’ve represented plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases. And in fact, I’m the only candidate who’s basically handled every kind of case a [00:17:00] judge is asked to decide with the exception that I don’t do divorces and I don’t do probate.
And I think that makes me the best suited candidate for this race.
Louis Goodman: Well, that’s very concise.
Mark Fickes: I told you I was getting tired of all the speed dating I’m doing for endorsement. So I had to take some liberties.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Mark Fickes: Yeah. You know, and that goes a little bit to my campaign pitch that I was talking about.
I think that the legal system does not often understand the toll that it takes on people, particularly small businesses like I represent and individuals. And, you know, lawsuits are incorrect, I believe expensive and can move very slowly. And so you represent a farmer in Red Bluff, like I do, for example, or a small African American owned business in Chico, and they’re involved in a lawsuit that really could make or break them. When we show up to court and a [00:18:00] judge hasn’t read the papers or isn’t ready or it doesn’t quite feel like they want to decide things right now. I think that sometimes judges forget the incredible emotional and financial toll that that takes on people.
And again, that goes to this diversity of experiences show I was talking about earlier. And so the one thing I think I would change is I look for ways to get judges a little bit out of the ivory tower that they’re in and, you know, give them more opportunity to be around, you know, small businesses, you know, average working people just to kind of understand.
Yeah. And get reacquainted with what that’s like, you know, to not shoot and not be sure where your next paycheck is coming from. And when that paycheck comes in, how much of it you’re going to have to pay your legal fees. And I think that if judges were to become a little bit more compassionate and understanding and empathetic about that, I think that the legal system would be a little bit better. You know, I’ll tell you this Louis that I’ve had [00:19:00] clients who’ve won and I’ve had clients who’ve lost. And a client loses their case if they feel that they had a judge who understood them, who heard them and who did the hard work needed to decide their case, to the best of their ability, those clients were satisfied, even if they didn’t get a winning result.
And so I think what I’d like to see and what I would change is just making sure that we remind our judges that that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s about hearing people, understanding them, giving them their say, and putting in the hard work to decide the cases in the best way that one can.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system is fair and the dispenses justice?
Mark Fickes: You know, I think overall in the majority of cases that I’ve handled in my life, I think that the right result came about. I think I can count on one hand cases where I thought that there was a miscarriage of justice. Having said that I do think that there are systemic challenges in the justice system.
Particularly in the [00:20:00] criminal justice system. And, you know, I think that it can lead to a perception that the system is not always fair, but I’ve also seen a justice system that is evolving and growing to meet those challenges. You know, when I first started practicing law we didn’t have way much by way of drug courts or mental health courts or really court systems that looked at ways of looking at the root causes that bring people into the criminal justice system, for example, and rather was more focused on punishment.
There’s a law, you broke it, you get punished. I think that the system has evolved and looked at the ways in which substance abuse and addiction and mental health can bring people into the system and tries to address some of those problems.
Louis Goodman: You’ve been in a very long-term relationship with your partner, and now husband. I’m wondering if you tell us a little bit about what your family life is like?
Mark Fickes: Well, you know, my family life. Um, it is, I think it’s pretty much like everyone else’s. [00:21:00] I think the only difference is that my husband and I were together for about 20 some odd years before we could legally get married. Which is not always the way it works for people, but you know, what can I say?
We have a son and a daughter of who are sophomores at Oakland Tech. And I think our family life is just like anyone else that has two teenagers. There are days that are incredibly great and everyone’s doing really well. And there are days where we have to cantankerous teens who are twins. Wait, so there’s a lot of competition that goes on there.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things keep you up at night?
Mark Fickes: What keeps me up at night? Well, you know, I worry about my clients, you know, my firm, one of the things we pride ourselves on is we are there for our clients 24 seven. You know, I can’t be specific visits sort of in a union context right now, but, you know, I represent an LGBT person of color in the context of a work situation where they’re injuring a lot of [00:22:00 harassment and retaliatory behavior. And you know, when they write me notes about their pain and about that experience, I spent a lot of time at night thinking, you know, how am I going to make this ride?
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you and your husband came into some real money, a couple of billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Mark Fickes: What would I do different? Well, I often get asked whether I would retire. My husband asks me that question, what I’m going to get him to do with our lottery winnings when they come in. I, you know, I got to say, I’m one of those people, like I have to work. And I think that everyone in my family would hate me if I were to retire too young,.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand and you could change one thing in the world and the legal world or the world in general. What sort of thing do you think you would want to change?
Mark Fickes: I think that if I could change only one thing I would like to change the situation for the unhoused that we see [00:23:00] here.
You know, I’ve been living, I’ve lived in my same house in Oakland since 1992. And I see the tent communities that have popped up under every freeway overpass. I used to commute when I was taking Bart to the city out of West Oakland and seeing the 10 communities that have cropped up there.
And I just think it’s a tragedy and I think it’s something that we, as a society, all bear responsibility for. So I think if I could change just one thing, it would be that I believe that housing for everyone is so fundamental to everything else from mental wellbeing to physical wellbeing, to being able to work that I would love to be able to change that and be able to find a place for everybody to live, because it’s just, it breaks my heart when I see it every day.
Louis Goodman: Mark, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and hearing about your career and your judicial [00:24:00] aspirations, and I wish you the best of luck in all of it.
Mark Fickes: Louis, thank you so much. I have started listening to your podcasts more and more, and I really enjoy what you do.
I think you’ve got a great thing you’ve put together here and I just really want to thank you for giving me an opportunity to be a guest on your podcast. Thanks so much.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom to make the show possible.
Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Mark Fickes: I feel a moral obligation to do right by the people that help me do the work that I [00:25:00] do. And I want to make sure I live up to that obligation by providing for them as best as I can.
Elena Condes – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice of law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She has vigorously defended the rights of the criminally accused for over 25 years. From her office in Berkeley, she has appeared in Courts throughout the Bay area.
She has extensive volunteer experience and currently serves on the board of the LA rasa lawyers association. She is currently running for Judge of the Alameda County Superior Court, and her name will appear on the November ballot, Elena, Condes welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Elena Condes: Thank you, Louis and happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m very honored and pleased that you’re participating in this podcast. We certainly enjoy having people who [00:01:00] have the kind of experience that you have, and also someone who is taking the opportunity to run for judge. Your office is in Berkeley. Is that correct?
Elena Condes: I’ve had my office for a little over 20 years.
I started with an office in downtown Oakland.
Louis Goodman: Now I know you do criminal defense. Is that your primary practice area?
Elena Condes: It is, I do restraining orders, often times they’re sort of connected to the criminal cases that I have, but it is primarily criminal defense.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Elena Condes: Tucson, Arizona.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school?
Elena Condes: It is.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your high school experience.
Elena Condes: Thanks. That’s a good question. You know, it was a mixed experience.
Elena Condes: I was in school when Title IX came into effect. And so it was when our school was first had a junior varsity softball team.
And so I joined that team and by the end, by our senior year, we were the state champions [00:02:00] in Arizona. Our whole team was, and it was also a hard experience because I was outed when I was in high school. I was about 16, 17. And then I come from a very traditional Mexican Catholic family. And so when I was outed, I had this choice to make about whether or not to be honest about who I was.
And knowing that there would be consequences to that or not, in sort of stay in the family. And I chose to be honest and, you know, and from there I’ve been on my own. And so I went to, I used to at a donut shop, I made donuts at night and got into a community college and started community college.
And then from there went to transfer into the University of Arizona.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s explore that a little bit. When you say that you were outed, I assume you mean around your sexual orientation, is that correct?
Elena Condes: That’s correct.
[00:03:00] Louis Goodman: And what was your family’s take on that?
Elena Condes: Well, it wasn’t positive. I was taken to see the priest.
And the priest sat me down and he made this Venn diagram. You know, the thing with the three circles, there’s an intersection. And he told me, you know, if you, when you follow the church and your family, you’re in this, you know, the warm center of the Venn diagram right there, the warm center where everybody intersects.
But if you stay the way you are and you essentially, if you stay queer, you’re out here in this circle all alone. And so, you know, that that experience was, that was a hard one because I’ve grown up in the church. My family is we have a lot of family in the border town of Nogales and spent a lot of time there with my grandmother and in the old.
Hey, old ladies going to [00:04:00] church, you know, and praying the rosary. And so that kind of rejection was really hard, but it formed who I was. And since then I have always been one to never, you know, step away from standing up for the truth and for what’s right. And you know, I think it formed me. In a positive way, even though it was such a difficult experience.
Louis Goodman: When you left Santa Rita High School, you went to Pima Community College.
Elena Condes: Yeah, that’s right.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience like?
Elena Condes: It was fun because, you know, when I left my parents’ house, I had an apartment with a bunch of friends. And I was working nights, making donuts for $5 an hour. And, you know, you sort of see people who are been working in that kind of a job, you know, for a good chunk of their life.
And I thought, boy, if I don’t get myself into college, that’s me in 20 years, you know? So [00:05:00] I started taking classes and I was a Fine Arts major first. And then, you know, it took a bunch of classes here and there until, you know, I was in a class, it was a Criminal Justice class that I just took. There was this sanctuary movement that was going on in Tucson at the time.
And people from El Salvador, Mala, we’re coming through Mexico and into the Arizona border when the Wars were going on down there. And so there are a lot of refugees in Tucson and there are a lot of people dying in the desert, much like they are today. And there are some priests in Tucson who we’re giving them sanctuary.
We’re giving them water and food and housing when they arrived in Tucson and we’re going to the desert and leaving water for them. And those priests were getting prosecuted. One of the lawyers that represented those priests came to talk to the class. And, you know, there are no lawyers in my family.
And in my mother’s side of the family, I was the [00:06:00] first girl to go to college. So the lawyer that came in to talk about representing the priests and the work that they were doing, I mean, that really struck me. I mean, like, Wow. There is something I could spend my life doing. You know, it is righteous work.
You are standing up for people who can stand up for themselves and who are protecting other people and, and that’s for me.
Louis Goodman: So it sounds like you’ve had kind of a mixed relationship with the Catholic church and with priests. In other words, you know, some of them have been people who are like real mentors to you in a way, and others were people you had real differences with.
Elena Condes: Yeah, and you know, I think the difference is how they have chosen to follow their path, you know? Well, one was to condemn and the other was to, you know, for salvation for [00:07:00] people. And so, yeah. So yeah, you’re absolutely right there. Both sides of that coin.
Louis Goodman: What’s your relationship with the Catholic church?
Elena Condes: No, I don’t have one. I would have to say there’s probably the biggest regret in raising my daughter because you know, there is something to those rituals. There is something to that having. Having that sort of bigger than yourself, sense of a divine that I don’t think I was able to successfully give that to my daughter because of my conflicted experience with the church.
Louis Goodman: Now, it sounds like you decided to go to law school even before you went to the University of Arizona.
Elena Condes: Yeah, that’s correct.
Louis Goodman: When you graduated from the University of Arizona, did you go directly to law school?
Elena Condes: No, I didn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I graduated in August, so not in the traditional kind of end of June sort of thing.
So I graduated in August and [00:08:00] then I applied for schools. And there weren’t a ton of schools that started in the middle of the year, in the January term. But I had been accepted to a couple of schools. One was in the Midwest, one was up North and then one was Golden Gate University that had programs that started mid year.
So I went to Golden Gate University.
Louis Goodman: How did you like that experience?
Elena Condes: I liked it. My first semester of law school was the first semester of any of my schooling where I wasn’t working at the same time as I was going to school.
Louis Goodman: What did you think about being in San Francisco as opposed to being in Arizona?
Elena Condes: As you can imagine it’s a lot different. Yeah. That was a really, really great thing to see. And you know, when you come from where you’ve been all your life, to someplace, completely new, some place that is open and accepting to everyone. You get [00:09:00] to define who you are and who you’re going to be, and you get an opportunity.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job after law school?
Elena Condes: I was a law clerk, my freshman year of law school in a Construction Law Firm. And so that is my sort of quasi legal job. I work for this Construction Law Firm, second half of my freshman year. And I worked there for a bit.
Louis Goodman: Have you always sort of like, you know, basically been on your own?
Elena Condes: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Elena Condes: I really like all of the people I get to meet, you know, you probably know this, you dive into somebody’s life and the most difficult moments of their life. And you can really get to see more of a human when they’re in those positions.
And so I really appreciate really getting to know people on a deep [00:10:00] level for a short period of time and do that over and over again. You know, for the last 26 years, it’s like that the best about it. I met some wonderful, wonderful people.
Louis Goodman: So if someone was coming out of college, just graduating from the University of Arizona and they were thinking about a career, would you recommend going to law school if they asked you?
Elena Condes: I would. I mean, it is noble righteous work, so I would recommend it. You know, I think I CA I can’t imagine. No through the East Bay, let us a lawyers association. We give out scholarships to Latin ex law students in the East Bay. And when we see the applications, the scholarships we have coming out of Law School is just eye watering. So, I hope something changes in that respect soon because I, there is no way I could have gone. [00:11:00] I could go to law school now with the debt, these kids carry.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. It’s insanely expensive, certainly compared to when I went to law school. It’s yeah. I mean, like you say, it’s just mind boggling the debt that people are carrying these days coming out of school.
Let’s talk about that LA Raza a little bit. Tell me a little bit about that organization and what got you interested in working with them?
Elena Condes: It’s a lawyers association has been around, I think since 1978. And you know, it is to sort of promote and support Latin ex law students and lawyers.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law either met or kind of different from your expectations as you were going into it?
Elena Condes: Well, yeah, we didn’t have lawyers in my family and I didn’t know any, and so I didn’t have any [00:12:00] expectations really. I mean, I saw a little bit about how civil firms work when I was working during law school, but I can’t say that I really had any expectations, but, you know, it’s like everything else that has ups and downs and yeah.
Things I love about it. Things I’m not crazy about.
Louis Goodman: Can you think of a case or a person that you really feel you helped out?
Elena Condes: I had a case it was a woman, Latino woman, she had a daughter who was about six years old. By the time the case went to trial, her daughter was a little bit older. She was about eight or something like that, but she, my client was a victim of severe domestic violence.
She was charged along with the codefendant, her boyfriend. They had two kids in common, those two, and she was charged with a failure to protect her [00:13:00] child as a felony and he was charged with torture of the girl. We went to trial with a Battered Women’s Syndrome Defense, she walked out of there with a not guilty and was able to be reunited with her kids because the kids were taken away from her.
When the case started, she was breastfeeding, her youngest baby when she was around.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Those are really brutal cases. I’ve had a few of them and it’s just heartbreaking.
Elena Condes: Yeah, because she was as much a victim as her daughter was. And she was doing the best she could just to keep everybody alive. And so that was really satisfying for the jury to see her for who she was.
Louis Goodman: Let’s talk a little about the business of practicing law. How’s that gone for you? Because you know, being in private practice and being on your own valves, being a business person in addition to being an attorney.
Elena Condes: I have to say that’s probably been the easier [00:14:00] part of it because I ran a business. When I, after, I made rent for a while, I managed a few donut shops while I was in undergrad. And so I knew how to run a business. By the time I got to this business,
Louis Goodman: You are currently running for judge. When did you start thinking about that as a career move?
Elena Condes: You know, I’ll say, Oh, over the many years of in the East Bay, La Raza, Lawyer’s Association. What we have seen is that they’re all a lot of good luck next, Latino and Latina lawyers who have put their name in over the years to be appointed by the governor and where we were, you know, not seeing the numbers and those numbers are going up. I mean, Alameda County is 23% Latino and there’s only 13% of the judges on the bench or Latin X 3% are Latinas. And so, you know, I started thinking about, [00:15:00] you probably have heard the old Shirley Chisholm quote, that if they won’t give you a seat at the table, you bring a folding chair.
So I started thinking, well, that is how we bring up the numbers. You know, there’s not a path instead of waiting to be invited to the table, we get to the table on our own. And so, I have, I feel like I have an opportunity and an opportunity for, you know, to show other young Latin that there is a path for them and this is one of them. So, yeah.
Louis Goodman: Have you always kind of wanted to be a judge and thought of yourself as a judge?
Elena Condes: Not so much. I haven’t that I wasn’t paying attention before, but just sort of seeing that the effect that judges have on people’s lives. And, you know, particularly when, you know, judges are, don’t really have the, some judges don’t have the life experience of the people who are [00:16:00] coming in front of them.
And I think it makes a real difference in how a person is seen, you know, if they’re just so different from their experience. So I think it’s always been for the last several years that I’ve been thinking about it more of a way to serve, given my experience, you know, the sort of depth of knowledge of the law and my experience in the County.
I thought this is a nice way to serve. And, and I wanted to try that.
Louis Goodman: How’s the campaign going?
Elena Condes: It’s going great. I came in first and, you know, highest vote getter in the primary that endorsed by Judge Brosnahan who is retiring after 40 years, which was a real honor. And I’ve been endorsed by 32 other Judges in Alameda County.
Which is humbling because you know, they know me and so to have their endorsement is really meaningful. So, it’s been great and so [00:17:00] kind and supportive and that’s been really nice, you know, because I’ve always been on my own. Yeah, I haven’t had that sort of office environment. Like I don’t come from, you know, an office full of people.
So this has been a really nice process to kind of connect with people that I don’t normally connect with. So I’m really enjoying.
Louis Goodman: How about raising money? How’s that gone for you?
Elena Condes: Um, it’s going fine. I’m not, and I think many women have this problem of asking for me for themselves. So that part is hard.
That’s probably the hardest part of this whole thing is asking somebody to give me money, but it’s really for, you know, I mean, it’s for the candidacy. It’s to diversify the bench. It’s for much more than me, but, but it is still me that is asking. And so that’s, I just think that there must be a way, particularly for the judicial race where [00:18:00] they can do it without having to raise so much money because, you know, it’s the one office where you probably want the least amount of money in it. And it’s the one that has the highest limit, which makes no sense.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I know a lot of it is like that. I mean, as you know, I ran for judge a few years ago and I found the amount of money involved to be just staggering and I found the campaigning process to be just different than, I mean, really anything that I’d ever been involved with in my entire life. And as you say, you know, some of it was kind of fun and some of it was just grueling. And so that’s why I asked these questions. I’m really curious as to what your take on it is.
Elena Condes: The transactional nature of relationships in politics is disappointing. I got to say that I don’t like much at all.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Do you have an elevator speech?
[00:19:00] Elena Condes: Pretty much. It changes depending on who I’m forming the elevator with.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s hear it.
Elena Condes: Okay. Yeah. I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for 26 years in the courts in Alameda County. And I’ve represented the most vulnerable in our community, ordinary people in their worst moments and make sure that their constitutional rights are protected. More than 50% of people who come into court come without a lawyer. I’ve served as a judge Pro Tem and I know that it matters when the judge making sense about the most important things in their life understands their lived experience.
I’m the first Latinx to run for Judge in Alameda County. And it felt like that I’ll be the first Latina lesbian on the bench. My experience depth of knowledge of the law and perspective or why I was a lead vote getter in the primary. That’s about 30 seconds. I think kind of goes on.
Louis Goodman: All right. I wasn’t timing it, but it was nice and concise.
Speaking of, of being on the bench, you’ve sat Pro Tem a bit haven’t you?
Elena Condes: I was [00:20:00] back in, it was around 2005, 2006.
Louis Goodman: What kind of cases?
Elena Condes: Oh, small claims and traffic.
Louis Goodman: Mainly traffic, a little bit of small claims and yeah, I do it all the time and I enjoy it. But the thing that strikes me the most is how different that courtroom looks from the bench.
Have you noticed that?
Elena Condes: In what way?
Louis Goodman: Well, all eyes are on you and people really expect you to kind of know what’s going on and know the right answers.
Elena Condes: Yeah. You know?
Louis Goodman: Yeah. And it’s and then you’re and you look out over the people who were there and you’re really are often times being asked to make some decision that to them at that moment is really important in their lives. And I find it to be a [00:21:00] position of great responsibility.
Elena Condes: Yes, for sure.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change in the way the legal system works?
Elena Condes: I would say to make access easier for people in so many, there are so many ways that people have huge barriers to utilizing the justice system.
So I would make access easier.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system is fair? Do you think it dispenses justice?
Elena Condes: I think I genuinely believe in the potential of our system of justice and I think many, many times it gets it right. And so many times it does not.
Louis Goodman: What sort of thing do you like to do recreation or travel or any other things that you do besides practicing law?
Elena Condes: I like to be outside a lot. Yeah, I do. For a while I was doing adventure races, which isn’t a ton of fun. What’s up, it’s for you to do it’s orienteering [00:22:00] mountain bike, riding, kayaking, and trail running. And so you show up, you get a blank, a Topo map, and then you’re given the coordinates of these checkpoints that you have to get to. And you, sometimes you figure out, you know, which ones you get first, but you get all the checkpoints and you come back and it’s a race and whoever gets all the checkpoints or the most checkpoints and gets back wins, and it’s through kayaking, mountain bike racing, trail running, and in the orienteering. It’s the best fun.
Louis Goodman: Wow, that sounds great. Elena Condes thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a very interesting conversation. I wish you the best of luck in your judicial campaign.
Elena Condes: Thank you so much Louis has been a genuine.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom [00:23:00] and make this show possible.
Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
State of the Pod 9:27:20 – Transcript
[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Love thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experiences are, I’m Louis Goodman the host of the show. And yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
This is a bonus episode. There’s three topics that I want to cover. One is some things about the election. The second is what is available now for podcasting and some things that we’re taking advantage of. And the third is what we, as a podcast are doing, coming up with the Alameda County bar association.
So we have the most important [00:01:00] election in United States history coming up. That’s what the president says and who am I to disagree with him. So I think it’s very important for all of us to vote. And for those of us who can to contribute. Because every campaign cost costs a lot of money and most campaigns spend about $50 per vote for getting their votes out.
So, it’s important to not only vote, but to contribute, especially if you live in a deep red or a deep blue state, like we do here in California, on the presidential level. Because if you care about the presidential election, your vote is really, yeah, it’s important, but it’s not really that critical for the presidential election.
Although there are certainly some important down-ballot issues and we’re going to get to that in a minute, but it’s really important to send some money to campaigns that you care about so that you’re essentially [00:02:00] getting your vote made in a swing state.
One of those down-ballot issues. That’s really important. And certainly to those of us who are attorneys is the judicial race that we have right here in Alameda County. And there are two candidates, Elena Condes and Mark Fickes, who are running. And one of them is going to be the next judge of the superior court in Alameda County. The next two episodes of the podcast are going to feature those two individuals. I’ve interviewed both of them and the interviews are up and available or they will be available, one on Wednesday, the 30th of. September, this Wednesday and the next one is going to be on October 7th and Elena Condes will be first. Mark Fickes will be second. I did both of the interviews and determined who [00:03:00] would be first and who would be second by the flip of the coin. And then on Wednesday, October 14th, David Lim, who was on the podcast a few weeks ago, and I are going to be discussing what it was like to run for judge, because obviously who, who was a judge on our bench is important to those of us who are attorneys.
I’d also like to say what I’ve said to so many people who have run for judge or asked for my support in getting their appointment. I say, well, look, here’s what I’m willing to do. I’m willing to send you some money. I’m willing to write a letter. I’m willing to give you my support. I mean, you know, assuming that I feel that it’s an appropriate candidate. And here’s what I expect, here’s what I expect.
I don’t care what you do about sentencing. [00:04:00] I don’t care what you do about bail, I don’t care what you do about evidentiary rulings. Those are things that I think are within the purview and the discretion of the court, but here’s what I expect. And here’s what I want from you as a judge. I want you to take the bench on time. I want you to call my case and I want you to give me the date that I want. As long as what I’m asking for is within reason. And they all laugh. They’re Oh, ha ha ha. Louis. That’s very funny. Yeah, sure. Of course. Yeah. Then they take the bench. Well, seriously, as far as I’m concerned, if you can take the bench on time, call my case and give me the date that I want you are just a couple of millimeters shy of being Louis Brandeis in my book. So if you’re running for judge and you’re listening to this, that’s what I would like. Okay.
Also [00:05:00] now, I love my lawyer is now available on YouTube. Now that’s an interesting process. And since this is kind of a state of the pod behind the scenes, what’s going on podcast, just going to give you a little bit of tech geek stuff here. The podcast obviously is an audio file. And YouTube takes video files. So you have to make your audio file into a video file. And there is a, there were a couple of companies that do this, a couple of websites that do it. The one I’m using is called wave W A V V E . It’s easy to use. What you do is you upload your audio file into their program and it somehow through magic makes it into a video file that YouTube can read. You can put some, you know, put some pictures and some other little things on it that make [00:06:00] it, appropriate. And I couldn’t really figure out why anybody would want to go to YouTube to listen to podcasts. But a number of people spoke to me about it and said, Hey, how come I can’t find you on YouTube?
So I thought, all right, we’ll go on YouTube. So. We are available on YouTube. The other place that we’re newly available is on Amazon and Pandora. Amazon has just started getting into the podcast world. They’ve never before hosted podcasts, but now, you can find, our podcast and probably pretty much any other podcasts you listen to on Amazon music.
And the third place that’s new to us is Pandora. Pandora has been in the pod casting world for a while. For some reason they’re hard to get onto and our application to be there has been there for [00:07:00] months and Pandora finally said, yeah. Okay, you’re on. So you can find love thy lawyer, in the Pandora podcast feed.
The third subject that I wanted to discuss this morning is our, collaboration with the Alameda County bar association. And. We are going to be doing a coproduction of a program that’s sponsored by the barristers’ club of the Alameda County bar association. Essentially, it’s going to be an interview that, that, that I’ll do on a zoom call with an experienced attorney.
And, I’m not sure who that that is yet. And it’ll be, hosted by the barristers’ club of the bar association. And then we’re going to take that, zoom call and we’ll take the audio and use it to, develop a podcast. So, so look for that.
Let me just say that I really appreciate everybody listening. If you’ve looked at [00:08:00] Facebook, you know, that we’ve hit well over 2,500 downloads of the podcast and I’m. As I said there, I’m just really humbled and honored that so many people, have, have listened to the podcast. many of you have called me or sent me an email, and told me something, about the podcast, giving me some feedback, in general, it’s all been really positive.
And so I just want to say thank you and I appreciate your listening and I appreciate your getting back, back to me on it. And I having fun doing it. I’m sure you can tell him that. So the state of the pod strong. See you on Wednesdays.
That’s it for today’s episode of Love thy Lawyer. Thanks to my guests who contribute their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support [00:09:00] and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
As long as I continue having fun doing it, I’m going to keep doing it.
Annie Beles – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She was born and raised in Oakland, California. She grew up in a family of lawyers. She is a state certified criminal specialist since 2007. She has tried over 50 cases to jury verdict, including serious felonies and homicides. And she rescues pitfalls. Annie Beles. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Annie Beles: Thank you, Louis. Thank you for having me. It’s a real honor to chat with you and I’m looking forward to it.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office located?
Annie Beles: We are in the Ordway building right down near the Lake in Oakland, adjacent to the actual corner of Lake Merritt with a view from the 23rd floor.
Louis Goodman: Sounds good. What kind of practice do you [00:01:00] have there?
Annie Beles: So we have actually, I do almost only active criminal cases. Some appellate, we have two appellate specialists in our office that do post-conviction relief. And then we also have two immigration lawyers because we started because of the dovetail between helping people that are in need or in a little bit of trouble. And so we went into immigration probably right around 2007, 2008.
Louis Goodman: How many attorneys are in the firm altogether.
Annie Beles: At the moment we have six. It’s vacillated between 5 and 10 throughout my career. And we’ve got a good crew going and six wonderful staff members. And so we try to get the job done even during COVID-19.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Annie Beles: I am a proud graduate of Holy Names High School in Oakland. That is an all-girls Catholic school. It was instead of Oakland High at the time. And both my sisters graduated from there as well.
Louis Goodman: What was that [00:02:00] experience like for you?
Annie Beles: Well, I think Holy Names offered each young woman a different benefit.
I mean, I think that one of the benefits was for me, was that it was an absolutely fabulous education. A good group of girls.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to college?
Annie Beles: I went to UC Santa Cruz, primarily because it was close and I could come home. Periodically, even on the Greyhound bus over the hill. I was already working in the office and I remember coming home during summers and sometimes when my dad was in trial during the year to continue to help out in the office.
Louis Goodman: So you’ve been working in the legal field for really, quite some time.
Annie Beles: Yeah. I started when I was 15, I’m 48 now and I did everything. I answered the phones. I did the filing. I did the courier work. And it became greater responsibility as I got older, but I think it was really important to know what the [00:03:00] nuts and bolts of how an office works and what a lawyer needs. And so that I could put that into my practice when I became a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: Do you feel it was kind of a natural progression to go into the practice of law in your dad’s office?
Annie Beles: No, surprisingly not. I mean, I had a wonderful group of, I would call them aunts and uncles when my dad was in the PDs office and he left in 1980 when I was eight.
I didn’t want to be a lawyer when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. And it was kind of funny how I ended up going into law school. When I came home, I was in England, my junior year went to the University of Exeter for junior year abroad and I came home for Christmas and I was sitting there watching football with my dad. And my dad said, “So Annie, what’s the plan here? You know, what are you doing when you graduate?” This is the middle of junior year. I said, “Well dad, I think I might teach, you know what, I’m going to write. And dad in his,[00:04:00] being an attorney many years, turned to me and said, “well, what are you going to write about?”
And I thought, Oh, Blank. What am I going to write about? I’m only 20 years old. Let me try this law school thing. And law school was not wonderful. I didn’t think, but becoming a lawyer was the best thing that I, best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Where did you go to law school?
Annie Beles: I went to USF and I went directly from college, graduated in June from college and started in August at USF.
I’ve lived at home for the first year. Worked. Probably far too much throughout my time in law school. And I really looked at it as a way to get my ticket so I could practice law. The intellectual pursuits were interesting, but I knew in my heart that corporations were only going to be a course I needed for the bar.
Louis Goodman: So going to law school for you was kind of a means to an end because you really were already practicing law.
Annie Beles: Yes, I was already in the groove. I was already preparing cases for my dad [00:05:00] doing filings, doing motion writing, and I really just wanted the ticket. An I mean, I remember my first court appearance, like it was yesterday and that’s what I wanted to do was be in the courtroom and help my clients, help people when they are in sometimes the worst trouble of their lives.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I really remember my first court appearance as well. When you actually started practicing, as an attorney, as opposed to just, you know, being someone who was working in the office, how did that change for you?
Annie Beles: Well, the responsibility changes because I think lawyers, defense lawyers do this for different reasons.
And one of the reasons I found throughout the years is that I really want to take care of people. And so the responsibility of being the actual lawyer is total responsibility. Not saying, okay, I’ll get you this filing, or I’ll do this, this partial [00:06:00] job it’s taking on the client and their families in its entirety.
And that responsibility is an awesome honor and that’s really how it changed from being a staff member to being a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: You are now trying some very serious felony cases on a regular basis. How did you get from being a brand-new lawyer to the point of lawyer who handles really serious cases?
Annie Beles: Well, the office has always had a lot of cases and needless to say my dad thankfully threw me in the deep end of the pool. I had been prepping up the homicide cases. One I remember very clearly was when I was a freshman was a potential death penalty case for my dad. So I knew the organizational skills.
And so my dad gave me big cases. My first felony trial was actually a [00:07:00] life exposure. It was the first Prop 21 minor charged as an adult directly, which is, you know, the law has since changed. Thankfully. But that, you know, you go in the deep end of the pool and you learn to swim. And then I decided, I think it was in 2009.
And to also take on some court appointed cases, because I think that’s important for our community. And I just took the big ones. I’ve had a lot of very serious felonies. I think I’ve only tried five misdemeanors. Although I enjoy trying the misdemeanors just as much as I enjoy trying the felonies, they’re just not four months long.
Louis Goodman: What is it you really like about practicing law?
Annie Beles: I like the mental engagement with the law. You know, for instance, just this morning, I’m looking at warrants that are based upon new technology and trying to figure out how to attack them or [00:08:00] sale them. If I can, I also really like the personal relationships that we have with our clients, with their families. I really want to know who my clients are and I want to be able to help them and their unique position. So that there’s a social aspect as well. I like being in court. I like speaking with other lawyers about their experiences. It’s one of the last human.
Louis Goodman: If someone, a young person were thinking about a career choice, would you recommend becoming a lawyer?
Annie Beles: Oh, that is a very interesting question. I have an 18-year-old niece who has asked me this and I think I would. But I would also caution people that it is not for the faint of heart. Yeah. Criminal defense, especially when you’re dealing with the heavy, violent cases of accusations [00:09:00] you know, heinous crimes.
And you take that on and you see things that you didn’t really saw, you know, you didn’t really think was lawyering. And one of my favorite things about, and I knew this, but I was talking to my niece. My niece said, do you know, do you go out to lunch with other lawyers? And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in trial, out of town, you know, kind of eating a power bar on my knee, in the front seat of my car, with the air conditioning on and the yellow pad on the other knee, trying to get my cross examination going.
It’s a tough job, but I do recommend it because of the satisfaction that you get from helping people. But I also warn people that it is not, you know, it is not the easiest job in the world.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Annie Beles: Well I would change a lot of things I think that we’re moving in the right direction.
I think that, for instance, there’s a Senate bill about dealing with peremptory [00:10:00] challenges. That’s near and dear to my heart. I would very much give discretion to judges. That’s also been changing with some of the gun use enhancements, one hopes that it would change with some of these.
Mandatory sentences regarding sexual offenses. And I would try to really inject, without being too much of a hippy about it, inject the idea of compassion from all perspectives, from the deputy in the courtroom who calls my client a body instead of an inmate or a client, try to humanize this whole situation from both perspectives. From the Prosecution’s perspective and humanizing their victims and, or their victims’ families, but really inject compassion into the whole system so that we are operating with critical thinking skills and in a compassionate manner when we are in crisis.
[00:11:00] Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair and that it dispenses justice?
No, not all. No. I think that there are problems that are in society that I don’t come that manifest within the legal system. I mean, we have systemic racism. We have mass incarceration issues. We have prosecutorial discretion issues. We have the variants of County to County. I mean, you know, a simple DUI here in Alameda County is going to be treated very differently, let alone more serious crimes.
And I don’t think that it is entirely fair. Does it dispense justice? Sometimes. And one time somebody asked me where are the scales of justice, even? Where are they actually, even the way that they’re supposed to be. And [00:12:00] my joke, I guess I should just confess this is that they are flat and even, and straight in the tattoo that I have on my back of the scales of justice. But other than that, they’re tipped very often against the people of lower socioeconomic status, people of color. We really have problems. I know a lot of people are trying, but no, I don’t think that I can say that it’s fair and it dispenses justice over.
That’s why we have defense attorneys standing up against the government.
Louis Goodman: What made you decide to get that tattoo?
Annie Beles: I got it in law school and I thought about it for about two years. Again, I’m telling young people that I think that you should have a waiting period before you get a tattoo. And I realized at that point in law school, that this was what I was going to do. And when I write, I will be probably writing about my experiences, the stories that I’ve heard, but [00:13:00] this justice thing is my calling and has been for the last 21 years.
Louis Goodman: Now you’ve mentioned your dad several times already in this interview and your dad, Bob Belles is a very well-known and well-respected attorney in his own right. And I’m sure he is one of your great mentors. Okay. I’m wondering if there are any other people who have been mentors to you along the way?
Annie Beles: Well, I think of mentoring, there have been so many, I mean, there have been so many, like the first that comes to mind are the aunts and uncles from the public defender’s office.
Just seeing Arlene West, just seeing CC Blackwell as female attorneys was inspiration and that made it okay. Penny Cooper, because our gate is that right. [00:14:00] Okay. To be a woman lawyer. And then the uncles that were around made it okay to talk about law, you know, that parties, et cetera. I also on a more personal level, I think that Kim Kupfer who kind of, she and I worked a couple potential death penalty cases together a couple of years back. And she’s just been an incredible inspiration throughout the years, but my dad and my mom are the initial mentors. I would also say that we get mentoring or I have gotten mentoring, not we, I have gotten mentoring throughout my times in the courts. Bill Linehan, I just went to his Memorial, sadly. And he used to whisper wisdom to me when we would sit in the jury box just about a certain issue. Take more of the time DA’s office taught me more about sentencing. When I watched him do D&S as in department [00:15:00] 11, then I think any book or any other lawyer could have.
So I tried to go on, I tried to glom onto it. I tried to imbibe all of the mentoring and information I could from those that whispered wisdom you hear in the courtroom when somebody is talking about their case. So I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had a lot of people influenced me and lift me up in terms of knowledge and experience.
So I’ve been very, very lucky.
Louis Goodman: And just to let you know, I’ve had people tell me how they’ve looked up to you and consider you a great mentor to them in their careers.
Annie Beles: Well, Louis, that makes me extremely happy. Really, I believe in this community and I think that we are better lawyers when we talk to one another. I am a better lawyer when I talk to someone who’s been a lawyer for six months or someone who’s been a lawyer for 52 years. And that means a lot to me that people would think of me as a mentor. I [00:16:00] take on that role as, as much as I can.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. And I also just want to personally thank you. And I think I speak for a lot of us when people will post to that Alameda Defenders email group with a question, you know, you’re always right there, you have information, you have good information and you’re just very generous with your time and your knowledge when you post there. And I see it all the time.
Annie Beles: Well, thank you. I try to be responsive. And I think that, I think it’s just important. It’s there are people that are sitting in their home offices before COVID and during COVID and, and they’re by themselves, and that we can’t go into the courts during Covid and say, how do I get this on the calendar?
What do I do to file a motion? And [00:17:00] the individuality of being a lawyer, right. Is never going to suffer by sharing experience and knowledge with other people. It’s just not. We’re better. I mean, I think that lawyers, especially defense attorneys, should stick together. And that would, that will raise up our representation of our clients.
So I try to be responsive when I can, and I do my weekly inspiration.
Louis Goodman: I know you do your weekly inspiration, and I was just getting to that. Because as a matter of fact, today, you posted something by someone named Earl Nightingale. Let me just read it. It says we are at our very best, and we are happiest when we are fully engaged in work. We enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life. So wonderful, so worthwhile, and I think that’s true.
[00:18:00] Annie Beles: It did speak to me and I actually don’t know who Mr. Nightingale is. When I do my work, the best I can, then I do feel like I left it all on the field and that I can go back to the locker room knowing I did my best.
And I think inspiration, well, it may be a softer assistance than, you know, how to file a motion. Or do you have a case on this issue? I think we all need to be buoyed up and lifted up when we’re practicing this kind of law.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your family life.
Annie Beles: So I met my wonderful husband when I was 14 playing football on Lake Shore and eating donuts at Colonial Donuts.
And then we dated for a while and then remet when I was 32 and have been together ever since. So almost 16 years now, we got married in 2012 and we have no children, [00:19:00] but we have two rescue pit bulls. Matt and I live in an area where we find dogs, unfortunately that have been fought or hurt or abandoned.
And one of our dogs we got from death row at the shelter that’s Bodie and he had an execution date and we kind of kidnapped him essentially. And we had to do an interview. I do have to tell the story. We had an interview to find out whether or not we would be good parents. And Matt had been a dog owner his whole life almost, but I had not. And the woman took me aside and said, do you understand, you know, the pit bulls are not well liked. And I said, well, yes. and I understand that. Are you ready to be a pit bull owner? I said, yes, I am. And then she said, do you understand that people are going to hate you if you walk down the street with a pit bull? It took everything in my power, not to say people hate me because I represent people accused of [00:20:00] crime on a regular basis. I’m kind of used to that idea. And the other one we found literally on a trail and just couldn’t give her up. And so we kept her and we live in Oakland.
My husband is also from Oakland and both his dad is from Oakland and he was from Piedmont. So we enjoy our time here and travel when we can.
Louis Goodman: Well I suppose most of your travel was taken place in the before times. Any places that you’ve really enjoyed going to?
Annie Beles: Yes. we try to go to Kauai where I have family, and Ireland where actually Matt’s mother, Matt is my husband, my husband’s mother lives there when we got together the second time around.
And so we, those are the two places that we’ve been the most. Oh, we used to travel to the Southwest for, to visit our aunt, my in-laws as well. But Kauai, Ireland and Arizona were the big ones.
Louis Goodman: What sort of recreational pursuits do you have when you’re not actually practicing law?
Annie Beles: Oh, am I supposed to have those.
[00:21:00] Louis Goodman: Well, I don’t know. I mean, some people have a little work/ life balance, maybe you don’t and that probably makes you a better lawyer.
Annie Beles: No, I’m joking. I don’t have, you know, like an absolute hobby, but I have my, I read a lot that has always been my thing is reading. I read nonfiction and fiction.
I walk the dogs. I love to garden. And, you know, I have my funny little things that I try to think are going to be my next hobby. I started knitting and I realized that after a long day’s work. And knitting was not the most relaxing at first. It took a while to learn how to do it, but I knit here and there and I, you know, when I cook. So, but I don’t think that I would be the example of the greatest work life balance.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some other profession that you could think of doing?
Annie Beles: I would like to be a teacher. [00:22:00] A teacher and a writer that was the goal back before the famous football conversation with my dad when I was 20.
So that’s probably what I would do.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars fell into your lap. What, if anything, would you do differently?
Annie Beles: I would take a couple months off. Thank you very much. No, I would take a couple months off and I would somehow try to get the Oakland Public Schools funded appropriately across all districts.
That would be a huge goal for me. I would probably want to buy a home in both Kauai on Kauai and on in Ireland. Yeah. And then I would probably come back and try a couple of cases a year. Not as many as I do now, not at the pace that I do, but I said that the clients before, uh, or potential clients, and I said, you know, if I won the lottery, sorry, I probably would [00:23:00] still try these cases.
Cause I think that’s part of who I am. But I would take time to write, but I don’t think that I would stop practicing law entirely and schools fund the schools.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, I think that you’re happiest when you’re fully engaged in your work.
Annie Beles: I am.
Louis Goodman: What if you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise.
What would that be? What would the one thing, if you could change it be?
Annie Beles: I think I’d go back to, I guess it’s two things, giving humanity, all people critical thinking skills and compassion. The world would be a better place if we use our critical thinking skills and compassion. In every way in every profession and every interaction at the grocery store, everything, if we have critically thought [00:24:00] and we’re compassionate with one another, the world would be a different place.
Is there any one case that you can think about that comes to mind that you think went really well? Where you feel like, wow, this was like really what being a lawyer is about.
Annie Beles: Yeah. I can think of one where I got an acquittal and the man has a very successful career and made sure to send me, you know, a photograph of his wedding, a couple of years later. He sends me a Christmas card every year. That one stands out. Another one where the client walks back into my office, which I’ve had a number of. And that’s I say that because most of my clients with the serious cases are in custody when I’m representing them. Many of them are, I shouldn’t say most and many of them are facing enormous amounts of time in custody.
So to be able to walk into my office after I’ve represented them, [00:25:00] is a real pleasure.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. That is a good feeling. Isn’t it?
Annie Beles: It really is. And to know that they’re successful in that the starfish that I threw back in the sea through my work, hopefully, or whatever I contributed to, it was able to thrive and come back into society.
And that’s been a real pleasure.
Louis Goodman: Annie. I understand you’ve got a poster on the wall, in your office of a starfish. Can you tell us about that?
Annie Beles: Yeah, the story that I read and I don’t know who it’s attributed to. Is in it the poster that I have has the starfish and the story. And the story is that young child, a young girl was walking down a beach and there were thousands and thousands of starfish on that beach, out of the water and ailing and dying.
And she was picking one up at a time and threw it in the water. And an older man came by and said, Oh, young woman, what are you doing? And she said, I’m [00:26:00] saving the starfish. And he said, and she picked one up and she threw it back in the water. And he said, well, I’m okay, but why are you doing that?
And she picked one up and put it in the water. And she said, because it will live and then pick what up, put it in the water. And he said, well, how there’s thousands of them down this beach, how could you help? And she picked one up and she threw it in the water and she said, I helped that one. And I think that’s what I try to do with my clients.
I try to help them that one, the one that’s in front of me, the one that is on calendar this afternoon, the person that’s on the phone at four o’clock. I try to help each person and value them and their families like they were my family. Like I would pick them up and put them back in the ocean.
That’s what that poster is about.
Louis Goodman: Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. [00:27:00] It’s a real privilege to talk to someone who is as respected in the community as you are, who works so hard. And who does so much for the criminal justice community in Alameda County. Thanks for being here. Pleasure talking to you.
Annie Beles: Thank you, Louis. It was a real pleasure to talk with you.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.