James McWilliams / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, this is Love Thy Lawyer where we talk with members of the ACBA about their lives and legal careers. I’m Louis Goodman, host of the LTL podcast. And yes, I’m a member of the Alameda County Bar Association.
Good afternoon. I’m Louis Goodman host of the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
Welcome to the Barristers Club of the Alameda County Bar Association. Today we’re honored to be interviewing attorney James McWilliams. He is now a private practicing attorney. James started in the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office on July 15th, 1970. During a long and stellar career, he tried every conceivable type of criminal case from low level misdemeanors to death penalty murders.
He has also served the [00:01:00] criminal defense bar through his work as Chair of the California Public Defender’s Association and Chair of the Criminal Law Section of the California State Bar. In addition, he has volunteered countless hours to the Alameda County Bar Association. And for many years served on the Court Appointed Supervising Committee.
He has mentored numerous attorneys, both in and out of the Public Defender’s Office and his intellectual generosity is unequaled. After his appearance here, he is open to your further questions about specific cases or situations. On a personal note, I had the privilege of trying two cases against James,when I was a young Deputy District Attorney; as a result, I learned a great deal and we became good friends. James McWilliams, welcome to the Barristers Club of the Alameda County Bar Association, and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
James McWilliams: Thank you so [00:02:00] much, Louis. I’m so happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Well, I really do appreciate your joining us for this program.
What we’re very much trying to do is get the attorneys in the Alameda County Bar Association and opportunity to meet each other, talk to each other and open up some networking opportunities. James, where are you from originally?
James McWilliams: Well, I was born in —— Fifth Avenue Hospital Manhattan, New York. Grew up in Queens.
Then when we moved over to New Jersey, First Millburn and then Short Hills. That’s where I grew up.
Louis Goodman: It’s interesting that we didn’t know each other there, but that’s the town that I grew up in as well. And we’ve talked about that, but we went to different high schools. You went to a very interesting High School, Newark Academy.
James McWilliams: For some reason, I won a complete scholarship, five-year scholarship, to go to Newark Academy School that was established by George [00:03:00] Washington. It was down in Newark, New Jersey. I had to ride a train. And on the train you had to wear a neck tie going to school every day. And it was an all boys school, which had its drawbacks, but it was a nice adventure.
Louis Goodman: Now, after you graduated from Newark Academy, where did you go to college?
James McWilliams: Ended up going to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I was married and had one son later too. And so that’s where I went to college. I studied Sociology as an undergraduate, and then after college, I realized it was impossible to make any money at a job so I just carried on with law school.
Louis Goodman: Did you go directly to law school after you got out of Ohio State?
James McWilliams: Yes. I went to Ohio State Law School. So it was right on campus.
Louis Goodman: And what prompted you to start thinking about being a lawyer?
James McWilliams: After I got out of undergraduate, I couldn’t get any [00:04:00] job more profitable than being a bank teller.
At that time, it was a very modest job and I could go to Law School with scholarships and other things. Well, it’s actually, oddly enough, more economical to go to the professional school than to start work.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to go from Columbus, Ohio to Alameda County, California.
James McWilliams: During those years, California was so exciting. The chief justice was a guy named Traynor, Chief justice Traynor lived in Berkeley.
He was just such an exceptional Attorney and Judge, and there were so many frankly exciting activities going on in Berkeley. I had been accepted to transfer to Boalt, but my father wasn’t willing to afford that. So I came after law school and we lived actually initially in San [00:05:00] Lorenzo and my wife got a teaching job at Colonial Acres Elementary School.
And I started working initially with a major firm in San Francisco with a view of the Bay and all that. And I realized then for a while that was fun. But at some point I realized that even though I might be able to make more money working in a financially oriented from that. It was so much more rewarding to me to work for the Public Defender’s Office, where I came in contact with real people, many looking at complicated life problems, and it was just a much more satisfying job.
So I stayed there. Many many years.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to get into the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office to begin with?
James McWilliams: just looking around for a job, some were compensation, and I was getting. I wrote to both San Francisco [00:06:00] and Alameda County. San Francisco, the Public Defender was a guy named Matt Cuso, sort of an odd guy, favored the death penalty of all things for a Public Defender. And in Alameda County, it started out like that named John Nunez and he was replaced by Jim Hooley and Jim brought me on board.
Louis Goodman: What did you really like about practicing in the Public Defender’s Office? I mean, you stayed there quite a while.
People that needed represented and money wasn’t a factor. I always felt complicated when I went into private practice. After I left the Public Defender’s Office, every case I got always involve questions of how much funds should I personally mentor the case. Because many times the clients on serious criminal cases just don’t have the assets.
They don’t have the funds and all very nice in the fact that I could [00:07:00] fully defend people without making money, a factor in the consideration of what needs to be done
Louis Goodman: . If someone was just coming out of college, would you recommend to a young person, a career choice of going into Law and specifically going into a Public Defender’s Office?
James McWilliams: I would, I think it was very satisfying, especially because you are connected with human beings and many times human beings that are really truly in need of assistance. Some of them were kind of difficult to have as clients, but that was just the nature of what was asked of you. And, I’ve known very few people that worked as Public Defenders that didn’t enjoy it. Now, the prosecutor’s side is also very important, but they don’t usually get as close. The reality of a client as you do from the defense point of view. And I [00:08:00] thought that was more rewarding. At least for me.
Louis Goodman: How did the practice of law meet or differ from expectations that you had going into it.
I didn’t have a lot of expectations. And although I excelled at Law School in certain fields, like Negotiable Instruments and Civil Procedure, those didn’t turn out to be topics that came up very often at the Public Defender’s Office.
But it just seemed like once I got into it, I was very satisfied.
Louis Goodman: Anything that, you know, now that you really wished you’d known before you got into being a Public Defender?
James McWilliams: it’s a hard job. It’s a very taxing job. If you do it the way it should be done. So it takes a lot of hours, especially if you’re handling serious cases, but the reward is the drama.
And [00:09:00] the fact that frankly, in Criminal Law, whether you’re a Prosecutor or Defense Lawyer, it lets you do so many things. You get to present trials or arguments, the jury. It’s an amazingly satisfying thing. Cause you haven’t that much involved with your lifetime work.
Louis Goodman: Well, speaking of trials and actually picking juries and such, I know you’ve tried any number of very serious cases.
I’m wondering if you could tell us about a particular case that comes to mind?
James McWilliams: Well, a sad case was the Robert Case. I won’t give his first name. That would be inappropriate, but he was involved with the shooting death of an Oakland Police Officer. It was a death penalty case. There was enormous amount of pressure on the case on both sides.
Prosecutor was Bob Platt. Very nice, man. And my Co-counsel was Julia Blackwell, wonderful Public Defender [00:10:00] who subsequently died of cancer. And, uh, it was high drama, right to the end. And I can remember preparing for the penalty phase and calling up Mr. Robert’s mother who had raised him and said, kid, you need to come down here.
I need you as a witness. And she said, Mr. McWilliams, I’m not coming down. And I said, why is that? She said, because of the Dow, I said, You mean the Dow Jones average. She said yes, Dow is down. So I’m not showing up a lot of times you were working with people that you needed that had their limitations and they had their own pride for whatever reason.
But fortunately, on that case, the jury found not to be true three special circumstances. So an amazing verdict, my client was then allowed to possibly get paroled at some point in his [00:11:00] life. I think he’s already in paroled. There was an amazingly magical experience.
Louis Goodman: It does feel good when you’re able to really do something for an individual, regardless of what they may have done to get themselves into the circumstance that they’re at.
James McWilliams: That’s true. And of course I lost many of the cases. It wasn’t just a one-sided arrangement, but it was all, very, each of them was fascinating and he chose challenge.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair?
James McWilliams: I think it can be. In other words, I think that people that serve on jurors, juries try to do their best. It’s odd that I did some educational programs for the CPDA. We would bring in jurors and have mock trials, and then we would have them go deliberate and listen to them through a, a two way [00:12:00] radio transmission. And almost always you found that whatever the lawyer could argue whenever they had promoted, it was given very little attention by these jurors.
They had their own thoughts about how it should be resolved.
Louis Goodman: Did the jurors understand the evidence? Did they look at the evidence?
James McWilliams: They looked at it from their own personal point of view. So it made it clear that selecting a jury was very important to be sensitive and aware of the personalities are the people that are going to serve on your jury.
Louis Goodman: You’ve talked to me about a concept that you’ve described as cross-examination in the streets. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?
James McWilliams: A lot of lawyers, they’re very busy with their caseload and they wait to interview, let’s say the witnesses perhaps at a preliminary hearing, but what they don’t realize is that by the time the witness is [00:13:00] prepared to do the preliminary hearing, they’ve sat down with opposing counsel who has corrected some mistakes that they may have in their mind about what happened. So they might say, Oh yeah, I remember the guy had a blue hat and the prosecutor looked down in his statement and finds that the witness, it said a red hat. It, the prosecutor shows the statement to the individual.
And then sometimes the person says, Oh, I see it. I guess it was written, but if you take the energy and go out to where the witnesses are with always was an investigator, you might find that you’re cross-examining. In other words, questioning witnesses that are important to your case, that them being prepared to testify.
So occasionally it’s very profitable in defending someone death penalty cases.
Louis Goodman: There is a great deal of preparation. There’s a great [00:14:00] deal of emotion practice. And you’ve talked to me about the notion that much of what is done in the death penalty world can be trickled down into less serious offenses and used very effectively for the defense of people who are accused of crimes and all kinds of circumstances.
I’m wondering if you could address that a little bit.
James McWilliams: As many for many years, I went to the CACJ CPDA Death Penalty Seminar. In mostly Monterey, California. And I also was involved in the Death Penalty College, which we created at Santa Clara University as a training ground for people that were just about to start their first case.
And you could see a lot of motions evolved. That were appropriate for doing definitely case. And here are some of them. One was a motion [00:15:00] for a jury information that the prosecution has that they’re not sharing with the defense. That’s called the Murgishaw Motion. It would be a motion to federalize all the objections so that if you made a local state objection, it would be deemed to also raise the federal issue.
The third one was to make sure that if you made in limine motions, that those motions would be binding and not have to be reasserted before the jury is we’re all very common, definitely cages motions. But I would file those in every case I tried and it was often to my benefit. It was one of the responsibility of the Defense Lawyer is to make a record.
That protects the client and only during the trial and it’s infected later on.
Louis Goodman: This podcast is presented and supported by the [00:16:00] Alameda County Bar Association. ACBA provides a wide range of Certified Continuing Legal Educational Programs, networking opportunities, and social events. If you’re a member of ACBA. Thank you. If you are not yet a member, we hope you will consider joining this organization.
That is by, for and in support of practicing attorneys.
And now back to our interview.
What if you came into some real money, you came into several billion dollars, three, $4 billion. What, if anything, would you change about the way you live your life?
James McWilliams: That’s an interesting question. Oh, and I just thank God that never happened, because I think those people that are blessed with that if funds lose all sense of their contribution in life, One of the things I was able to do.
Well, it was a Public Defender in Alameda County. We had a special Law Day [00:17:00] award named after one of the great justices of our extreme court. Alan Broussard was a word for humanitarian activity. We brought a number of the local Judges to a Law Day Presentation by the Alameda County Bar Association and let them speak and then applauded their contribution and included the likes of Judge Wilmont Sweeney and Clint White and Stan Gold and Judge Joe Karesh.
And it was a delightful thing to be a part of, and I worked that out with Judge Leo Dorado and we just really enjoyed it. It was great. I also worked on a Program for getting Bay Area Minority Students in Law School place with prestigious firms so that they would have a chance to get to know each other.
And that was a multi-county event. [00:18:00] And we would interview the students and try to place them with good firms. Many of which eventually got jobs. It really ended up expanding the diversity that we have in our legal profession. I thought that was all very good.
Louis Goodman: That was the Bay Area Summer Clerkship Program, is that correct?
James McWilliams: Yes. Yes.
Louis Goodman: And how did that come about?
James McWilliams: Started in Santa Clara County, but I got involved with it at that point. And frankly it may be the only true award that Alameda County has ever gotten an, a bark invention because they acknowledged this program and awarded all the counties that were involved that’s special award or diversity.
Louis Goodman: When you are dealing with Judges, Deputy DA, what personal considerations do [00:19:00] you think are really important in terms of dealing with people in authority when you’re representing a criminal defendant who really has very little power in the circumstance.
James McWilliams: I think what major importance is to not simply view yourself as some facilitator, to let a case move along, to make a positive contribution, or you do that. Number one, I would get the clients to sign many waivers so I could get their juvenile record. I could get their prior probation reports and those things would give me insight on the type of thing that this person might be facing.
I would try to think of ways that I could get the client to expand their life in positive ways that would be marketable and might keep a monitor jail. We had a judge in Oakland [00:20:00] Judge Wheatley. Great guy. But he was always fishing for something he could do because the clients, the bend away from a life of crime and poverty into a life of productivity and benefit to them, he was amazing.
Louis Goodman: Do you recall anything specific that judge Wheatley would do?
James McWilliams: He’d make the prostitutes and the petty thieves go to Laney college? And of course any college is a place where you can learn a lot of skills. Not just intellectual skills, but also trade skills. And then if they didn’t show a proper record, he’d remand them.
And of course the lawyer would be begging the pleading that need not do that. But you see that his goal was to fire up an incentive. So the person, rather than just to pick it up trash on the freeway, Would do things that might positively [00:21:00] change their lives. I’m sure he did for many people. And it was always entertaining, frankly.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the legal system or in the world in general. What would that one thing be that you would like to change?
James McWilliams: Well in the legal system, there were the reality of some of our courts, especially misdemeanor courts, where they are overwhelmed with case files, prosecutors are overwhelmed with litigation.
And once in a while, you’ll find a judge, I would think Carol Brosnahan is a good example, where she would remember the various people that pass through her court and she would try to intervene and try to make them not just a file folder, not just somebody has to get their case processed. But to make a difference in their life by trying to encourage them [00:22:00] to do something positive.
Louis Goodman: Well, what I would like to do is since we do have a few other people on the call, I’d like to see if anybody else has some questions. Jason, you’re there. I see you on the call. Could you unmute and share any question or comment that you might have for me or for James?
Jason: You know, and no matter how much we like, we can’t win every case and we can’t prevail in every endeavor that we try.
And I’m just wondering, is there anything that you can share about a particularly trying or particularly challenging time that you had to deal with where ultimately you did not prevail for your clients and how you coped with that?
James McWilliams: Well, the question Jason, one thing always make sure that you make a request and get that sentencing report to your possession as soon as possible.
[00:23:00] Make sure you read it and have deleted from it anything that’s inappropriate, things like that to get their family down there, to get people to write letters. It’s so easy to get the family to write letters, but when they’re writing letters on behalf of their loved one or their family member that gives you something positive to argue, look at how much this person is loved.
And look, these people are willing to help them get a job. So I was trying to be proactive on the sentencing part. You know, the probation department is overworked often. They don’t make much of a contribution to a realistic evaluation of our clients. You could stand up there and you can add things that are in their favor.
There certainly will be things that are on the negative side. Oddly enough. So those are some comments I’d make about that.
Louis Goodman: James McWilliams, Thank you [00:24:00] so much for joining us today. The Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast, as always, it’s a pleasure talking to you. I always learn something when I talk to you and appreciate your doing it.
Good to see you.
James McWilliams: It’s so nice that you do this, and it’s great that you’re, I think people understand some of their fellow lawyers in the field. I think it’s great. What you’re doing.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s edition of Love Thy Lawyer in collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association. Please visit the lovethylawyer.com website, where you can find links to all of our episodes.
Also, please visit the Alameda County Bar Association website at www.acbanet.org, where you can find more information about our support of the legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession. And facilitating equal access to [00:25:00] justice. Special thanks to ACBA staff and members, Caitlin Daylin, Saeed Randall, Hadassah, Hayashi, Vincent Tong, and Jason Leong.
Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
James McWilliams: I can remember going to Hayward one time and there was a sentencing there and looking over at the lawyer and the client, and the client had a most inappropriate t-shirt and it just was like the lawyer didn’t understand that they’re making a presentation. They’re hoping to sell the discretion of the judicial officer, give a person a break, give them a chance to expand their life in a positive way.
Matt Dalton / 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. He spent his entire legal career representing people, charged with crimes.
He’s represented the indigent in every type of criminal proceeding, including murder. He zealously fights for his clients. He has tried numerous misdemeanor and felony cases to jury verdict. Matt Dalton. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Matt Dalton: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s a pleasure talking to you.
We’ve known each other for quite some time. You know, you were in the Public Defender’s Office and around Alameda County and I’ve [00:01:00] been around Alameda County for a while. And I’ve always, you know, I’ve just always kind of admired the way you present yourself in court. It seemed to be very comfortable there and prepared and competent.
Matt Dalton: Thanks a lot. You know, I tried really hard over many years to pretend at least that I know what the heck I’m talking about.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office now?
Matt Dalton: I have an office in Berkeley.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Matt Dalton: That’s a complicated answer. My parents are from Lincoln, Nebraska. I lived there for a very short period of time when I was really young.
And then they moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they both went to college and then they split up and I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with my father for a number of years, and then ended up in West Lafayette, Indiana with my mother who had married a guy. Became a professor, my stepfather, who became a professor at Purdue.
So I bounced around a lot over the course of, you know, between zero and 18.
[00:02:00] Louis Goodman: And it seems like you were in kind of academic environments.
Matt Dalton: Yes. My father is a pharmacologist and he started teaching at University of North Carolina. And my stepfather again is a Professor. So he was teaching at Purdue and now teaches at the University of North Carolina Asheville.
So I grew up in college towns, my entire life, and now I live in Berkeley. So, you know, it’s come full circle.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Matt Dalton: I went to a couple of different high schools. I went to Chapel High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and then I went to Lafayette. Which is in Lafayette, Indiana.
Louis Goodman: How was your high school experience?
Matt Dalton: Those are very interested. They’re very, very different. Chapel Hill was a, you know, it’s a university town, it’s a fairly wealthy area. The research triangle park is there. So there’s a lot of different types of kids, mostly, you know, pretty academically inclined kids and Lafayette, you know, last year out of Westlock Theater, two towns next to each other West [00:03:00] Lafayette’s the University, a town Lafayette is more of a blue collar working class town. So my junior and senior year I went there and it was very, it was a great experience at eight, really taught me a lot about different avenues in life. And I thought it was a great experience. And I still have friends from both of those places to, you know, to the state for sure.
Louis Goodman: So you were both kind of town and gown.
Matt Dalton: Exactly, exactly. And my parents, because I spent most of my years until I was probably 14 or 15 years old, they were in school. They were students and they, so they were living a student lifestyle with two kids who were, you know, either preteen or teenagers. So, you know, we didn’t have a lot.
We definitely did not live particularly well. And in many ways at the same time, it was a great, totally great experience.
Louis Goodman: Well, when you graduated from high school, where’d you go to college?
Matt Dalton: So I graduated from Lafayette, and then I went to [00:04:00] Indiana University, which is a Bloomington, which was a fantastic experience.
It’s a great place.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I’ve been there. It’s a phenomenal campus. Just absolutely classic big Midwestern University. Isn’t it.
Matt Dalton: Yeah, it is. And they, when I was there as well, Bobby Knight was still there. So the basketball scene was raging. And so all of that was super fun and yeah, it’s a big 10, large school sports were big.
And again, I met some friends that I still have to this day, so it was another really good experience. I enjoyed it all.
Louis Goodman: And they also have a really great music program there don’t they.
Matt Dalton: They have a great music program. One of my roommates when I was in college was in the music program and he played saxophone and he was incredibly good.
So he would sit around at night, you know, listen to him play. And that was quite good. It was fun. And you know, my best man in my wedding was a roommate there, so I stayed in touch with him. I’m actually going back to even further, my wife, I met in high school. So we [00:05:00] went to the prom together. So that was another reason why I really enjoyed Lafayette.
Louis Goodman: So were you involved in any sort of activities in college? Anything that you want to share?
Matt Dalton: You know, I played tennis in high school and I was pretty competitive at it. I took it seriously. It wasn’t necessarily great, but I played a lot of tennis and not for the universities is too big and way too many talented people there for, for that type of thing.
But I played a lot of tennis there and I played a lot of basketball because again, I grew up in Chapel Hill and Indiana in both of those places. And you know, if there was a ball in a basket, everyone was going over and playing. So I played a ton of those two sports. When I was in that age group, I still play both of those things.
Louis Goodman: What did you take up academically there?
Matt Dalton: Political Science major. I think I also majored in History. My stepfather’s a Political Science Professor. So he, in [00:06:00] many ways, influenced me a great deal and kind of my professional and kind of that growth into being a lawyer. So by the time I got into college, I was very interested in politics.
Louis Goodman: You must’ve done something right at Bloomington because you graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Matt Dalton: I studied, I had one great year of, I studied all the time and it was really diligent about it. And then I had, you know, three relatively solid years. Yeah, I took it seriously. I mean, I was from an academic family that took school seriously. High School I did not take particularly seriously. I was kind of unfocused, but by the time I got into college, I got to get fearful of, you know, what would happen if I didn’t do well. So I really buckled down and tried really hard.
Louis Goodman: When did you decide you wanted to go to law school?
Matt Dalton: It’s funny because as I said, my stepfather was a Lawyer and so growing up around him and I, he, he came in our lives. I was quite young. [00:07:00] I was like eight or nine years old. So he definitely impressed upon me a lot of skillsets that lawyers have. I didn’t necessarily know I was going to become a lawyer until maybe I was a sophomore and junior in college where I was just starting to kind of game out what the possibilities were.
And one was going to academics. That seemed a little bit boring. Even though now it sounds great, but so it was kind of that’s when I started figuring out what avenues were open to me being a lawyer seemed like something I should pursue.
Louis Goodman: So after you graduated from Indiana, did you go directly to Law School or did you take a little time off?
Matt Dalton: I took some time off and I moved back down to where my father was living down in North Carolina and I basically worked lousy jobs. I worked in a factory. I worked in a couple of warehouses, you know, over the course of about a year, to save money to go travel. And [00:08:00] I did, I traveled some as well.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that that experience that working and doing some traveling kind of made you a more serious, dedicated law student when you finally did get to law school?
Matt Dalton: I think that helps, you know, I think taking a year off and experiencing things.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I kind of came to Law School sort of a similar route.
And I just found that I hadn’t been that focused in college, but when I got to Law School, I really knew what I didn’t want to do. So it made me, you know, pretty clear on the notion of yeah, you know, go to law school. This is a good idea.
Matt Dalton: Yeah. You realize it’d be how pampered you are in many ways.
When you have options.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to Law School?
Matt Dalton: I went to UC Hastings in San Francisco, which was like completely random. I’d never been in [00:09:00] California and in my life before I actually failed here, I felt like San Francisco seemed like a really interesting place to move.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I went to Hastings too, and in a lot of ways, that was kind of my experience too. What kind of triggered your move here? Likewhat sealed the deal in order for you to do it?
Matt Dalton: Well, I knew I wanted to go to law school and, and I’d applied to several places and that Hastings was really the best school that I got into and it was in San Francisco. So, you know, it was really wasn’t much of an issue for me when it really came down to it.
Louis Goodman: So what was your experience at Hastings like?
Matt Dalton: You know, Hastings at the time, I guess I would kind of put it in two different places. One is like my first year experience, which was quite rigorous academically. I studied very hard. I took it really seriously. Like most of my classmates and at the [00:10:00] same time I met some cool people that I, again, still remain friends with.
And then after the first year, I suddenly realized that all the effort I put into it, which meant a lot and I did fine, but I also realized that there’s a lot of other things going on in the Bay Area, which I had no idea I had never been in here before. And so after the first year, I really spent more time getting to know the area.
I still worked hard and in law school and I started plugging into what turned out to be, you know, what my profession was going to be, which is a Public Defender. So overall, yeah, I think Hastings has a reputation for being kind of difficult socially, potentially. It’s kind of in a weird area of San Francisco and it’s pretty competitive at the same time.
My experience was all at all. Extremely positive.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, mine too. I really enjoyed Hastings. You know, I’ve said that before on this podcast, but for me, [00:11:00] the time I spent at Hastings was in general a good time.
Matt Dalton: Yeah. I mean, law school has got a really bad reputation for being unpleasant and there are moments of unpleasantness, but Hastings, I’m also curious what you think.
I mean, I liked the fact that it was quite sizeable. I mean, there’s a lot of kids there, so you can always find people that you fit in with. Yeah. And that’s sometimes it’s not easy, you know, in other places I imagine to a really small school.
Louis Goodman: I mean, I went to the University of Rochester, which isn’t, you know, nearly the size of Indiana, but it’s not really a small school either.
Well, after you got out of Law School, what was your first legal job?
Matt Dalton: I had worked in Law School at a couple of Public Defender’s Offices. One was in CoCo, Contra Costa County summered there. And I worked in Marin County, Public Defender’s Office when I was a third year. And that really cemented very quickly.
I realized this is where I [00:12:00] want to be. And so I got a job at Georgetown University as a what they call the Prettyman Fellowship, which is a kind of a criminal defense slash. Clinical instructor to your position in Washington, DC, which is a and Georgetown University Law Center. I was like right on Capitol Hill.
So I went there for two years.
Louis Goodman: Right. And the Federal Courthouse there is named after Pr. Prettyman as well?
Matt Dalton: Yes. In courthouse. Yeah. And I was there, it was funny. I was there starting in 1990, which was the Grand Jury and of the, you know, Monica Lewinsky Clinton thing. So everyday I would drive by the Prettyman Courthouse and there would be a row of journalists who had essentially slept out outside overnight to wait for the perp walks in the morning.
I remember heard Jordan going through there. I mean, all of these people who came and testified during those hearings, and it was a crazy time of day in Washington.
Louis Goodman: I’m not sure there’s ever been a time [00:13:00] to be in Washington. It isn’t kind of crazy.
Matt Dalton: That’s probably true. That’s probably true.
Louis Goodman: So after you left Georgetown and Washington DC, you came back to the Bay Area.
Matt Dalton: Yeah. So, you know, I’ve really liked DC. My wife had lived in DC for a year or so before she came out to live in California when I was in law school. But you know, when I left the Bay Area, I just was so smitten with it that I had, you know, I got that job at Georgetown and really could not turn it down. So I just committed myself to coming back out here no matter what.
So after two years at Georgetown, I immediately came back out here and had to take the Bar, you know, cause I had taken the DC Bar the first time around. So I’d take the bar and start practice again.
Louis Goodman: How long was it between the first time you took a Bar Exam and the second time you took a Bar Exam.
Matt Dalton: So it was two years.
I took the DC Bar and then did the fellowship [00:14:00] and then took it, you know, take the California Bar, which is a lot harder, a lot longer. It was three days back then. I think it’s no longer that, but I took the two year difference, which was a lot, actually, it didn’t sound like that much, but over that two year period, I lost a lot of memory of what’s on the department’s hands.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I I’ve taken two bar exams as well. I took California and then seven or eight years later, I took Hawaii. I had to restudy completely right from the beginning. And it was kind of this weird experience because it brought me right back to first year of Law School, as I’m going through Contracts Torts Property, you know, Criminal Procedure.
It was like, Whoa. And I, you know, so yeah.
Matt Dalton: I mean, it’s the first time everyone’s doing it. You’re with it generally the same crew of people you went to law school with, or people like situations the second time you take it. You know, you’re all, we [00:15:00] usually have a life by then, so you’re all alone and you’re, I mean, that’s my experience less.
It is like, Oh boy, get up and study for the bar again, like you’re saying it was like the first year of law school all over again.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. My experience was that I was studying for it and I was living in Maui at the time. And well, everybody else who was taking the bar was living in Honolulu. And so I was literally all by myself with the outlines and the tapes.
Matt Dalton: I’d have to have like, no window. I was in Maui. I just go down in the basement and cave and try to do it. Yeah, I know. And it’s just not as when you take it the first time, there’s like this adrenaline rush and you’re like, yeah. Have to get this thing over with and the second time, you’re like, Oh no.
Cause he remember it’s actually kind of a painful, I still remember it being painful and stressful even though, you know, I pass both times, but it’s still unpleasant.
Louis Goodman: Right. So, okay. So you take the California Bar, you pass. [00:16:00] What do you go do for work?
Matt Dalton: So that, you know, I had a wait cause I essentially didn’t have a Bar Card in California for several months.
And I got very fortunate to an old friend of mine from law school who’s a Public Defender, still a stay in San Francisco had just left a position in a small firm. You know, two guys in San Francisco and I ended up at Criminal Defense. I ended up going to work for these guys as Chris Cannon and Scott Sugarman, who I’m still in contact with today.
There they were, they were super kind to me and really, really good to learn from.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Scott, he’s a University of Rochester guy.
Matt Dalton: No. Is he writing for you? I forgot. He went there. I mean, Scott is hilarious. I adore Scott. Yeah. Great lawyer. You know, character, total character.
Louis Goodman: Now, how did you get over to Alameda County Public Defender’s Office?
Matt Dalton: So, you know, I think I got a job first in Marin County Public Defenders. So as soon as I was got the bar passage [00:17:00] and I had to wait because you know, how Public Defenders hire kind of, you know, based on financial situations, it’s usually like in December or something. So I had to wait and then I got a job.
There was an opening in Marin County Public Defenders. And I got hired there at the same time. I had an application in Alameda County and ended up getting hired in Alameda County as well after I’d been in Marin for maybe three or four months, maybe it’s five months, something like less than a year and then came over to Alameda County.
Louis Goodman: So tell me about an early experience in the Alameda County Public Defender’s office, early case you tried or some little nugget from there.
Matt Dalton: It’s a good question. In Alameda County, right when I got there, I realized I had hit the jackpot both in the sense of the office itself and the people in the office.
But also I think that is surrounding community of the Judges and the DA’s [00:18:00] office and everywhere, everyone else, I felt like this is a good place to have a lengthy career because, you know, while there’s a lot of conflict and all those kinds of things, there’s opportunities to do good work and be rewarded for that.
I guess, you know, it’s funny. The cases I remember the most from early in my career were cases oddly enough, that I lost. But I felt like I did extremely good or solid work. And that is, you know, I think that doesn’t surprise me on some level because I get into this type of work.
I realized pretty early on that if you’re looking, if you’re coming here for the glory of victory as a Public Defender, you’re probably going to be left somewhat disappointed because it’s difficult. But I think the case I remember the most early on, which is not necessarily a great, you know, happy memory was a case of the felony case where the client, I really [00:19:00] liked a lot for a variety of different reasons. He was just a total character and I couldn’t convince him that the case should not go to trial. And he went to trial and he got walloped and the case was a terrible defense, but, the happy part of that, which is, you know, you have to dig in there a little bit sometimes was that the client and I were very tight. I felt for him that this had all happened and it happened on my watch, but I stayed in touch with him. He contacts me every couple months and asked me how I’m doing.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You remember Randy Hooper from DA’s Office?
Matt Dalton: Yes.
Louis Goodman: Well, Randy and I were very friendly. We were DA’s together and you know, Randy had come pretty close to playing pro baseball. And I remember one time we were working some cases together and we lost it. Randy and I were walking back upstairs and he says, you know, it’s just like playing sports. You always learn a whole lot more from your [00:20:00] losses than your wins.
Matt Dalton: That’s true.
Louis Goodman: And I’ve always remembered that.
Matt Dalton: Really true. And this was early on in my career. It was like the first real beat down because I had come through Oakland initially and done a bunch of misdemeanor trials there and I didn’t lose any, I lost no misdemeanor trials, my first stint. And I, you know, I thought, well, this is great. I’ve been found fantastic.
And that was my first time of really getting walloped. And the funny thing is I said, you know, not to repeat myself, but I took away from that more value than all the other stuff that I had done up to that point.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law? You know, you’ve been doing it for a while now.
Matt Dalton: You know, I think it’s people, I like people, you know, and I knew very early on in law schools, they said that I was going to be, I was going to be a Public Defender or a Criminal Defense Attorney. And part of that was the people that are in that practice there, you know. The public defender’s officer kind of filled [00:21:00] with misfits and kind of odd, sometimes very extreme personalities. I mean that in a good way. And I realized right away that I was going to sit into that crowd, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily, you know, rant and rave and act like a nut all the time, I was very comfortable there.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend law as a career choice for a young person who was coming out of college?
Matt Dalton: I think, you know, it’s funny, back to my stepfather. My stepfather tried to talk me out of law school many, many times. I remember. And I always tell him he was like 20%, right. For me. I think it really depends on the person. I think if you’re going to go to law school or that’s kind of the direction you’re headed, you should have a good reason why you want to do that.
You may not know what you want to be, what type of law you want to practice, but you should probably have some idea why you’re doing it. Some vague sense of where, what position you want to play in the legal world. And if you have that, then I think that gets you a long way. The other [00:22:00] thing I would say is you have to understand what you’re getting yourself into.
I remember a Professor of mine. I think it was the first year Property who apropos of nothing about property said to us, you know, you’re getting ready to enter into a profession where someone is bringing you their most important problem they have in their entire life. At that moment, potentially the most important problem they’re going to have, you know, in their whole lives.
And it’s an awesome responsibility. And I remember thinking to myself, like, of course, that is kind of what it can be, whether it’s a, you know, a divorce or whether it’s, you know, a contract or a financial transaction or it’s criminal defense or prosecution, whatever it is. So I would, tell people who asked me is if you have to understand that the gravity of the job, you’re getting ready to do it and really respect that.
And if you do that and you have an idea why you want to go there, I think you’re going to do really well [00:23:00] if we’re going there, just because you see, you kind of look at the dollars and cents that you can make. You know, I have a lot of friends from law school who did that probably, and made a lot of money very quickly when they got out.
But didn’t last very long because it’s a hard job to do if you don’t love it. So you got a light yet another reason to be doing it. I mean, what do you think Louis? I mean, I’m curious.
Louis Goodman: Oh yeah. I agree completely. I was, you know, my dad was a Lawyer and so I kind of saw, you know, a certain kind of practice up close.
He didn’t do any criminal work, but I was sort of aware of what I was getting into. But I think that what that Property Professor said is really spot on. I mean, people come to lawyers and like you say, regardless of what kind of case it is, not because they’re having their best time in life. And it really is an awesome responsibility that we take on.
[00:24:00] And it’s even true for prosecutors, you know, when you’re dealing with victims of crime and these people are just in a terrible place for something terrible that happened to them. And I think sometimes from the defense side, we kind of lose sight of that. But having been over there, I realize it’s really no different.
Matt Dalton: No, I think you’re totally right.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Matt Dalton: I mean, I think that the legal system is like America generally in that it strives to be fair, but it comes up short quite a bit.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change if you could?
Matt Dalton: That’s a very good question.
I think if it, as far as structurally, I think that some changes are being made. I think that jurors, the jury system has to be much more representative of the client base and in a given population, I think that we’ve all seen, had experiences where there’s a certain demographic judging our clients that don’t have a appreciation for what our [00:25:00] clients go through on a daily basis.
I think that sentences have to come down on some level. The percentage of Americans locked up in prison compared. I mean, when you compare that to in almost any other country in the world, especially so-called developed countries, we’re way out in front and there’s something deeply wrong in any system.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law fit into your family life, you know, you’ve been married for a long time. You have a family. How’s being a lawyer and being a family person gone together?
Matt Dalton: I think that was one of the reasons I left the Public Defender’s Office. I was very happy there in many, many ways.
I thought I knew when I left that I was leaving the best job I’d ever have, but I had two kids that were, you know, under 10 years old and I felt quite a bit of stress. Considering that I just couldn’t make my own schedule. Like, you know, I basically had to be where I was supposed to be, do what I needed to do on a [00:26:00] daily basis.
And I had very little flexibility. So once I went into private practice and I just had more opportunities to schedule things and work around my kids and my wife and all of those things, it really helped out. So the short of it is to say, you know, once I went Marin and I left the Public Defender’s Office, things became much, much easier.
And I was much, much better family person.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things do you like to do recreationally?
Matt Dalton: I mean, I live in California. It’s a lot of outdoor stuff. You know, if I can, both my kids really enjoy backpacking.
Louis Goodman: Right. If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some job that you think you would like to have?
Matt Dalton: And if I couldn’t be a lawyer, I would teach.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things keep you up at night?
Matt Dalton: I think the things that keep me up most of the night are my kids. And just worrying, you know, non-specifically. About what they’re doing and how they’re going to navigate things.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some [00:27:00] real money, a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Matt Dalton: If I came up with a bunch of money, I probably would more or less retire criminal practice other than maybe have one case at a time, like a really significant one. That was interesting. And I spent a lot of time with my wife. Trying to travel once the kids were gone, you know, on their own, I would travel.
Louis Goodman: I have this question. One thing that I always associate with you is this really cool little move that you do with a pen. I would like to know what that’s about and where you learned it.
Matt Dalton: So that is, I learned that in 10th grade Chapel High School Debate Club, there was a kid who knew how to do that. And taught me how to do it.
And I spent the next six months dropping my pen in every class I was in until I got it down.
Louis Goodman: Matt [00:28:00] Dalton. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. I appreciate your sharing your career experience and you’re flipping a pen experience. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Matt Dalton: Thanks a lot, Louis.
I really appreciate it was very fun to talk
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests, contributing their time and wisdom and making the show possible. Thanks as always. Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Matt Dalton: We were both morons in the kind of the safety areas. We both got caught up on it. Uh, mountain and Rockies without proper clothes or, and [00:29:00] long story short, we did a number of different things that definitely should have killed one or both of us.
Susan Torrence / 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 has an academic background in the hard sciences.
Between college and law school she worked at the rape crisis center in New Mexico. Since 1987 she has served in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Now a Senior Deputy DA. Her background includes numerous felony jury trials, motions, calendar assignments, and charging duties. She is an expert in sexual assault investigations and prosecutions, as well as matters involving [00:01:00] environmental protection.
Susan Torrence. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. It’s great to have you. Where in the DA’s office are you working right now?
Susan Torrence: Right now I’m at Wiley Manuel, which is the Oakland Branch of our many courthouses. And I am back there for my second time charging,
Susan Torrence: I charge a variety of departments. Some of the smaller departments, Emeryville, Alameda, let’s see Piedmont, UC Berkeley PD, East Bay Regional Parks, but the most serious stuff I do is with the OPD SUV unit involving sex crimes, child abuse, child physical abuse.
And also, uh, what we call heat cases, which are human trafficking cases.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Susan Torrence: I’m from a town in Illinois, Galesburg, Illinois, out in the middle of the cornfield.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school?
[00:02:00] Susan Torrence: That is where I went to high school.
Louis Goodman: What was that like?
Susan Torrence: Well, it was very interesting.
Galesburg was a very small town, very railroad employment base. There also is a small college there called Knox college. And my father taught there. He was a college professor as was my mother, but it was a very small town, only 35,000 people. So it was a very close knit. Yeah. I thought it was great. Our house was located at a very nice place.
We were the house on the edge of town. So behind my house, I had fields with cows and a Creek and a lot of the big forest. So I spent a lot of time growing up, catching frogs and climbing trees and picking berries. It was wonderful. Later, if you’re talking about high school, that was also great. I wasn’t very involved in high school, but it was a great place to go.
Louis Goodman: So when you got out of high school, where did you go to college?
Susan Torrence: I went to college at [00:03:00] a place called Lawrence University, which is in Appleton Wisconsin. That’s 30 miles South of Green Bay. It was a very small. Still is a very small liberal arts college in the same conference with some probably better-known school Carlton and Grinnell and Beloit and some other good schools.
Louis Goodman: So what did you take up at Lawrence College?
Susan Torrence: Well, I was actually intending to be pre-med. Uh, but then, yeah, but then organic chemistry just washed me out, boggled my mind. I couldn’t handle it. So I took my Science is to date my science studies to date there. And I designed my own major, which you could do a self-designed major.
And I did a very interdisciplinary major in biology, chemistry, and economics and government. And I called it environmental study. They didn’t have an environmental studies major back in those days. So I designed my own and I [00:04:00] thought it was very successful. I had a great time. Crossing a bunch of departments and focusing on those kinds of issues.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about going to law school?
Susan Torrence: Well, that started when I left college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And so I had this grand scheme and my grand scheme was to pack up my little Toyota Corolla and tour the West Coast. And I was going to stay for three to six months in each city.
And I had people in a lot of cities. I had people in Denver. I had people in Boulder. I had people in Albuquerque, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and Seattle. And so I was going to just take a big tour and just get odd jobs and do this and that, and the other thing, and march my way around the country and see where I wanted to live.
But then I got stuck in New Mexico for about five [00:05:00] years, which was great, how that happened. Uh, actually what happened was I fell in love with hot air ballooning and the particular balloon pilot, actually. And that’s what got me stuck for quite a while, but I also did something great there, which was, I started to work in with the rape crisis center in Santa Fe, which I had done before.
I had worked in Chicago for a bit for the Chicago Rape Crisis Service and did that again. I ended up in Santa Fe doing that for quite a few years. So to get around to your question, I often went to court with victim as in my job at the rape crisis center. And I would often sit in the audience and watch the Defense Attorney and the Prosecutor and knowing the case fairly intimately.
A thought dawned on me that, you know, as I was sitting there watching that. I could stand up right then and do a better [00:06:00] job than they were doing. So I guess that’s when it started. I also got to know the District Attorneys in Santa Fe fairly well, and they were very encouraging of me going to law school.
I think the other impetus was my parents. I had an absolutely fabulous relationship with my parents. I was very lucky to have the two of them. They were both caught, as I said before, they were both college professors. So, yes, I applied to Law School out in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and wanted to move at that point because Santa Fe was a very small town.
I got into a number of places and settled on University of San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: And how was the USF experience compared to living in Santa Fe?
Susan Torrence: Well, it was moving from, again a kind of a small town. Although filled with tourists, small town and into the big city, which was very exciting and fun. I lived in Chicago for a while, but this was really kind of [00:07:00] the first time I came to the big city.
Loved it. Enjoyed it. USF was, I think a very good school. I think I got a very good education there. It was interesting in that I was late coming to law school, having been out for a number of years and very early on in my law school career, we had a group of, I guess I want to call them elders back then.
I mean, most of the people that I hung out with in law school had also been out for a while and had a career. So we had a little different perspective than, you know, the 22-year-old coming up straight from college.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that having worked in a court related field gave you a certain focus that was advantageous in law?
Susan Torrence: No, I don’t think so because you know as well as I do, and it’s you probably your lawyers, listen, there’s no law school has nothing to do with taking the bar and taking the bar has nothing to do with practicing law. So I don’t [00:08:00] think there was anything having to do with my had been in a courtroom before that really.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Susan Torrence: First legal job was, well, actually I did work a lot in law school. I worked for the City Attorney in San Francisco, had a great time there. Clerked for the law and motion Judge, which at that point was Lucy McCabe. And she was an absolute delight. She used to absolutely shock the attorneys coming in because every once in a while, when they wanted to hand her papers, she would pull out one of those grabby stick with an alligator’s mouth and she would tell them to put the papers in the alligator’s mouth.
And, you know, these uptight lawyers were just gas. It was quite entertaining. And she was very, very smart. She spent most of her time [00:09:00] in criminal actually. And she was also very encouraging of me pursuing a criminal career. So that was one job. Another job I had so Clerking for her and then I worked in the City Attorney’s Office as a Law Clerk, which was very interesting because we did a lot of Civil Rights Actions and viewing. That was very interesting. And let’s see, Oh, I worked for one of my professors got me a job. My first job, my first legal job in Alameda County, actually this was during law school. I actually worked for a Defense Attorney and that would be Al Gorelick. And I worked on a case in which a stepfather had molested his stepdaughter and she was in her mid-teens and she took the shotgun out of his, out of the closet one day and shot him. So she was being prosecuted for shooting the stepfather.
And so I [00:10:00] worked for the defense on that case. He got on the stand and took the fifth. So she got released, which was a good ending. Other than that, my first job was with the District Attorney’s Office. Remember I went to law school to be a DA, so I got very lucky in that a number of people guided me to the Alameda District Attorney’s Office.
And I was lucky enough to get hired.
Louis Goodman: So, what was your first assignment in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office?
Susan Torrence: My first assignment was doing DUI at Wiley Manuel. We had a Department 8 back then and it was an absolute zoo. There were two of us doing calendar and we would rotate one week doing calendar and one week doing the jury trial.
And we often had a lot of proper. Please. And it was [00:11:00] very interesting experience. It was a good introduction to dealing with defendants and managing a calendar and all that. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I remember when I worked in the old Department 8. I used to feel like I was the lawyer for the defendants. Cause you know, I’d sit there. I’d go explain things to them. I’d go over the plea forms and it was, yeah, you’re right. It was a real intro to client relations. In my sort of following your career in the DA’s Office and looking at the resume that you very kindly provided to me, it seems that there’s really two areas of focus that you’ve had in your, I don’t know, sort of mature years and the DA’s Office, which is, well, I mean, you know, we all kind of circle through the different assignments. And then I think people sort of alight in some sort of specialty area. And it seems to me that [00:12:00] you’ve really focused in, on the Sexual Assault area and the Environmental areas. Is that accurate?
Susan Torrence: Yeah. I spent, I think about seven years in our Environmental Division. One of the things I was thinking about after law school was Environmental Law.
So once I found out the District Attorney’s Office had an Environmental Unit, it was a no-brainer. So I spent seven years out at the Environmental Division, which again was totally fascinating. I got to dust off my brain for the chemistry and biology kind of stuff, which I really loved.
And in addition, it was also, well, it was a huge learning curve in a lot of different areas, which of course is always challenging and invigorating, but it was Civil as well as Criminal Cases. So I dipped my foot, probably up to the ankle, in Civil Cases. And I had a very good time out there.
It was a great mix of not very many court [00:13:00] appearances, but a lot of work and a lot of very intense and sometimes very, very large cases. We had one extremely large case where myself and two other District Attorney’s offices were lead counsel, but we had probably, I think, seven District Attorney’s Offices on the lead litigation team and another six or 10 District Attorney’s Office, kind of in the second tier.
And we ended up doing what was then named SBC, Southern Bell Corporation. As soon as we were done with our lawsuit, they renamed themselves back to AT & T. But we’ve got a $25 million judgment. It has to do with underground storage tanks. They had the law required any phone company to have underground diesel storage tanks, diesel fuel to fuel generators.
In case of an emergency [00:14:00] to keep the dial tone going. So they had, at that time, SBC now A T & T had over 500 underground storage tanks for diesel fuel in the state of California. Think about gas stations, those are also underground storage tanks, and there are lots and lots of regulations having to do with that.
And all those regulations are pollution and groundwater protection motivated. And so, you know, you’ve seen all the local non chain gas stations essentially go out of business and a big reason for that is all these regulations having to do with protecting the environment from the pollution, from the gas.
And it was especially ramped up when they’re still with letting gas anyway. So they had these 500 underground storage tanks for their backup generators. They were grossly out of compliance with the laws [00:15:00] and regulations having to do with the integrity of those texts. The statute says that it’s up to a $5,000 per day per tank penalty.
Yes. So that was a lot of work. That case probably took two or three years.
Louis Goodman: You start moving into the Sexual Assault area, because that seems to me to be like a pretty natural fit for you, seeing that you would, you know, come out of the Rape Crisis world.
Susan Torrence: Yeah. And, you know, I came to law school to be a DA and I became a DA to do Sexual Assault.
So it was, it was kind of already decided once I got there that I was going to be doing that or wanting to do that. And yeah, I did five tours at the courthouse at RCD doing felony trials and four of those were, is it five or six, I can’t remember. Anyway, about 15 years of my 32 year [00:16:00] career have been on Felony Trial staff and the majority of that time.
Well, all that time with the exception of my first rotation was on sex crimes.
Louis Goodman: Feel that kind of rotation takes an emotional toll on yourself.
Susan Torrence: Having done it repeatedly. And with a lot of individuals, it has a variety of effects and some are worse on some people and some are not so bad on some people. I personally, obviously am very, I withstand that very well. Because there’s a lot of social worker in me and I got a whole lot of satisfaction and a whole lot of juice from taking somebody to court and having them walk out after their court appearance and after cross-examination and looking at them and them telling me, Yeah, that wasn’t so bad. That’s kind of what I lived for.
Louis Goodman: So you’ve[00:17:00] done some teaching presenting about Sex Crimes Prosecution.
Susan Torrence: Yeah. Yes. Mostly through the California District Attorneys Association. We had a grant that was great for about three or four years, maybe where we taught four classes a year to Prosecutors throughout the State of California. I was a Technical Advisor and presented two or three sections in a weeklong course, four times a year. So that was a lot for those four years. I really enjoyed it. I enjoy it a lot. I mean, it’s a lot like closing argument in that you’re getting up and trying to get your points across. At the time I was doing that, I had been doing Sex Crimes for probably 10 years.
So, I had a lot of experience and I had run across a lot of issues and things had happened and so could share a lot. And I think that’s probably one of the most valuable things in teaching a skill such as [00:18:00] Courtroom Strategies and so forth is to have that experience-base to be able to, well, one time that happened and one time the other thing happened, and this is how I dealt with its kind of approach.
Louis Goodman: You’ve been in the DA’s office for quite a while.
Now, what do you really like about being an Alameda County District Attorney?
Susan Torrence: Well I can tell you right now, one of the things I really miss in charging is contact with the public. It is just wonderful to interact with people that you would not be friends with, but certainly in being their advocate in court, you get very, as you know, from being a Defense Attorney, you get very close to people.
You get to know them on a very intimate basis. It’s a very intense relationship that you, I mean, I’ve had more intense relationships with witnesses and victims than I have had with, you know, a lot of people I consider to be friends and my coworkers. I mean, [00:19:00] I know, you know, Lou that the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is very highly regarded in that for, I was lucky to join that office.
The people in that office, and I hear this from Defense Attorneys who travel many counties all over the Bay Area and beyond, that the Alameda District Attorney’s Office and the District Attorneys will doing the day-to-day work in that office are extremely fair and I’ve been very pleased to work with all of them.
It’s been just, and continues to be just a very, very wonderful place to work.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law, criminal prosecution met or differed from your expectations of it.
Susan Torrence: I would say that it is probably met again. Remember I was in a courtroom and hanging out with DAs before I went to law school. So I had a pretty intimate view of the nitty gritty of the courtroom. So I, I think I really knew what I was getting into.
[00:20:00] Louis Goodman: What do you think is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever got ?
Susan Torrence: For my life or for my profession? Well, for my profession, it’s got to be one of my very dear mentors Buzz DaVega who you knew.
Well, I’m sure. It’s a little flippant, but he always used to say never let the crook ruin your day. And you know, I would expand that a little bit to say, never let the crook ruin your day or a Judge ruin your day or yeah, et cetera, et cetera. But it was an attitude.
I can only speak to my personal experience and my personal experience in the Alameda County DA’s Office is, my answer would be yes. I often hear and always have heard from my office that our job, this was the mantra when I was hired and continued for many, [00:21:00] many years is to do the right thing.
Louis Goodman: Let me shift gears here a little bit.
What’s your family life like and how has practicing law affected that?
Susan Torrence: I have two children. They are now 30 and 25. Wow. I am married. I have been married for 32 years. And I must say that probably the best thing about my family life and my professional life merged together has been the supportiveness of my husband.
He knows that when I’m in trial, he doesn’t expect anything out of me. I am off the table as far as getting anything done or doing anything.
Louis Goodman: What other sorts of things do you like to do? What sort of recreational activities do you participate in?
Susan Torrence: I kayak a little bit, go for a lot of walks, especially having recently moved back to San Francisco.
[00:22:00] That’s about it. I’ve got a big garden. Yeah. That’s about it.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, billion dollars, what, if anything, would you change in your life?
Susan Torrence: In my life? I would buy three houses, one in France, one in Manhattan and one in the tropics somewhere. I would give my kids some money and then I’d start doing charity giving and travel.
Louis Goodman: Where would you travel to?
Susan Torrence: I travel anywhere I haven’t been.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about some places that you have been.
Susan Torrence: I went to Africa. Yeah, I actually, I got over there through teaching about Sexual Assault. I taught the Prosecutors in the country of Zambia a week-long conference. It was a couple of years ago.
And it was held at a conference center where everybody lived there for the week. And I helped develop the curriculum and taught a number of classes over the [00:23:00] course of that week. And these were all of the Regional Prosecutors for the country of Zambia. It was an absolutely wonderful experience.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand, you could wave it over one thing, the legal world, society in general, the world. I mean, anything? What, one thing would you change?
Susan Torrence: Stop the abuse of females in all manner, physical & sexual. There needs to be much more feminine in the world.
Louis Goodman: Susan, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you as I usually enjoy talking to you. Thanks so much for being here.
Susan Torrence: Well, Lou. Thank you very much. I enjoyed talking to you as well. And then have fun with it. This project of yours.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests, [00:24:00] who’ve 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.
Susan Torrence: no, I didn’t really have an answer to that because there’s so much, there’s so many things and so many aspects it’s harder to know. I don’t like that. I don’t like that question so much.
Roz Silvaggio / Louis Goodman 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 is a rising star in the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office.
She is equally at home with a busy pretrial calendar, a jury trial or preliminary exam. She exudes confidence in the courtroom. She’s been known to relax with a good glass of fine wine, and she is the mother of two children. Roz. Silvaggio welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Roz Silvaggio: Thank you so much. I love that intro.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s true. Isn’t it?
Roz Silvaggio: A hundred percent. I mean, the part about the wine and the kids, definitely everything else. I don’t know.
[00:01:00] Louis Goodman: Find out. Are you going to the office these days? Are you strictly working from home?
Roz Silvaggio: I’m actually not working at all at the moment. I’m home with my two kiddos, Brooklyn and Rocco.
And Mr. Rocco, as we call him is just nine months old. Yeah. I’m changing a lot of diapers. And I got to tell you, it’s a lot harder being home than being anywhere in the courtroom.
Louis Goodman: You live, where in San Francisco? And where are you from originally?
Roz Silvaggio: I’m from San Luis Obispo. Originally.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to High School?
Roz Silvaggio: I did. I went to high school at SLO High, but I actually did my last year of high school, on the East Coast at Cushing Academy, which is a co-ed boarding school outside of Boston.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience for you?
Roz Silvaggio: It was good. I think I needed it. I needed to be away from my small town and have a little bit of independence and it definitely changed my perspective on things.
It really was a life [00:02:00] changing experience for me. And I kind of regret that I wasn’t there all four years of high school.
Louis Goodman: Did you notice like a real difference in terms of being on the East Coast versus being on the West Coast.
Roz Silvaggio: And, you know, I’m married to a New Yorker and people always think that I’m the New Yorker, which I think is a huge compliment, but really I’m from small town, San Luis Obispo, California.
So yeah, there’s definitely a different vibe and a different way of life.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to college?
Roz Silvaggio: I went to UC Santa Barbara back home. I mean, I miss California in a lot of ways. I’d like to the weather no more, you know, frosty, freak days as I called them on the East coast, because that those winters are super brutal, especially, you know, outside of Boston.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I Like California, you know, I grew up on the East Coast, but once I got to California, I didn’t develop a lot of interest in going back. How was UC [00:03:00] Santa Barbara?
Roz Silvaggio: That’s great. I mean, it’s a fun school. I still have dear friends who I’ve known since college and the beautiful places. I mean, it’s really, probably one of the most idyllic campuses in the country in terms of being right there on the beach and just riding your bikes through IV and through the campus.
Yeah. How could it get any better than that?
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I’m not sure that it can, at some point you made some decision to apply to law school. When did you first start thinking about being,
Roz Silvaggio: You know, it’s funny. I kinda thought I would. I always thought I’d be a lawyer when I did, you know, I think the people in my town who I thought were really smart were the lawyers that it seems interesting.
I always liked television dramas around the law. One of my favorites is, this will definitely Reveal my age, but when I was again, [00:04:00] kiddo, my mom would let me stay up and watch LA Law, which I thought was very exciting. And there was always kind of an issue, you know, that came up. That was interesting.
And it kind of would weave it into the story. So I tried to, I didn’t know really what it meant to be a Lawyer, and I certainly didn’t know what it meant to be a Public Defender. But I thought maybe I would be a trial lawyer of some sort. I grew up in a very outgoing, artistic family. So, you know, my mom was dance teacher and she had a ballet company.
She put on all kinds of productions. We were all as a family on a part of that. So. I was never really shy and I kind of thought some sort of performance would be how I spend my life.
Louis Goodman: So you see practicing law as some kind of performance?
Roz Silvaggio: I mean, there is some, there’s definitely an aspect of performance [00:05:00] in trial work isn’t there.
Louis Goodman: Oh, I agree. Completely. Yeah. And I think that I also would say that judges who have a sense of performance feel really comfortable being judges because they’re sitting there facing that audience and judges who are really uncomfortable performing, I think are very uncomfortable as judges.
Roz Silvaggio: Yeah. And there are certain judges that can really turn it on, you know, who are just so charismatic.
I hate being in front of those judges for trial, because I want to be the one getting all the attention. I don’t want the attention.
No, gosh, no only in Christ. I want them, the jury to adopt my version of what’s happening, the jury, stop, how I, the lens through which I see the case. And in order to do that, I think they have to be with me, you know? So sometimes when a [00:06:00] judge is super charismatic and you know, when the judge really draws in the jury, I feel like the jury kind of look for the judge’s thoughts about the case.
Louis Goodman: You go directly from Santa Barbara to Law School? Did you take a little time off? You went directly? Yes. Okay. Where did you go to Law School?
Roz Silvaggio: University of San Francisco, right up the street from where I live.
Louis Goodman: Were you excited to make the transition from Southern California to Northern California?
Roz Silvaggio: Yeah. I always loved San Francisco. San Francisco is the place that I would visit as a teenager.
Louis Goodman: How did you find USF as Law School? Did you enjoy going to Law School?
Roz Silvaggio: I really enjoyed it. I probably enjoyed it too much. For me it was fun socially. You know the things that I like are still the things that I liked. I really enjoyed, you know, the Criminal Law Clinic that I did. I enjoyed Moot Court. [00:07:00] I enjoyed, you know, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence, all of that was super interesting to me.
Louis Goodman: So what was your first legal job?
Roz Silvaggio: So my first legal job was a summer at the State Public Defender’s Office.
Louis Goodman: Now that deals more with Appellate work, is that correct?
Roz Silvaggio: Yeah. Yeah. Direct appeal and, you know, really was not my thing at all. It was very isolated. It was very, the people there were brilliant. But, it was a different personality type than you see in the Public Defender’s Office. Interestingly, while I was there, I had an assignment and I can’t remember what the assignment was now.
It was related to Alameda County, but I had to contact a few different lawyers who had worked on death cases. And I ended up calling a lawyer by the name of Michael Fox. He at the time was at [00:08:00] the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. And he literally said, and of course this is not probably the most appropriate language these days I would be very turned off, but he said, well, you seem like a smart girl. Why don’t you come work for me? And that was how I got my first internship at a Public Defender’s Office.
Louis Goodman: First job, where you were actually a Deputy Public Defender was in Los Angeles? How did you decide to go in California?
Roz Silvaggio: Well, so when I graduated Law School, there was a pretty significant hiring freeze.
I mean, nothing compared to the economic distress, we’re all in now, but their offices weren’t hiring. And San Francisco, when I had worked for Michael Fox, he was a Kimiko Burton hire. And Jeff Adachi came in shortly thereafter. Then out of nowhere, I got a phone [00:09:00] call from LA and I had applied to LA, but kind of forgot about it.
I didn’t have any connections to the office. I didn’t know anything about it. And they said, yeah, we’d like for you to come in for a second interview. And the first interview I had was like a performance exam. It was sometime in the past, I really kind of put it out of my head. So I show up for the second interview. And if you know anything about LA, which I didn’t, you know, the second interview is just to sit down with the Public Defender where he offers you the job. So I flew down to LA, I had like my questions prepared, including, is there any concern you have that would prevent you from offering me a position that was like going to be my closer?
And he just like looked at me when I asked that question, but no, I’m offering you the job. I was like, okay. So [00:10:00] I had to make the decision basically on the spot. And I lived in San Francisco, worked in Contra Costa. But I also felt like I needed to get my career going.
Louis Goodman: How was the experience in Los Angeles?
Roz Silvaggio: Well, Oh, LA’s an incredible place to practice, you know, when you come, when you leave LA and go to another jurisdiction, it feels like you’re in the city. Like even in Alameda County, But the sheer volume size of the buildings that you’re in it, you know, the energy, the number of cases going on, you know, the 19 floor courthouse that you started, you know, in downtown LA it feels heavy and it is heavy they’re heavy cases.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Do you have one, one good story from your early years in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office?
Roz Silvaggio: My God, I have a million stories. One of my favorite stories is this trial I did [00:11:00] in East LA and it was called, we called it the Best in case the Best back then was a really, really not so nice motel where a lot of parolees would live, when they got released from prison and believe it or not in these small jurisdictions outside of, you know, LA proper.
They have a lot of volunteer police officers. They did at the time, these very small police agencies outside of LA proper, and these cops would go to the back end and they would just literally just see what they can see, find something to happen. They did this Monday night with my client who was super sweet and they beat the living daylights out of him. And I got the case, the client had tattoo across his head. I mean, he was a scary looking dude, but very, [00:12:00] very sweet. And he was in potentially on a parole based on that. So the case was set for trial and I walked into the hallway and there are these four police officers who were involved in my client’s case.
And they were literally reenacting, beating the ever loving crap out of my client right there in the hallway, right there in the hallway. So I walked up and I introduced myself and I said, hello, I’m Ms. Silvaggio. I represent Mr. Saucedo, if you’ll excuse me, I got to go downstairs. And I looked and I pointed to the video cameras that were above the doors the courtroom. So I went downstairs and the search for like, no, so those don’t record, but no matters. And this will also date me. So during the trial on every cross examination of every cop, [00:13:00] I held in my hand, a VHS tape and I had the clerk like wheel in a TV and VCR. And of course I had nothing. But those cops all had to basically admit what they had done to my clients.
They’re way more twists and turns, but that’s a short version of a nice, not guilty with a really scary looking client from really dirty cops. So it was fun to, you know, it was, it’s always fun to win and it’s really fun when you know you’re on the right side.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system is fair?
Roz Silvaggio: Of course not. I don’t think this is fair.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything about it would you change?
Roz Silvaggio: Oh, it’s hard to even to boil that down. I mean, look, we know that more black and brown people get wrapped up in the system. It’s impossible to boil down. What about the system is [00:14:00] unfair, because there are just so many aspects of it and it’s bigger than that.
Of course, it has to do with our whole society. It has to do with education. It has to do with opportunity.
Louis Goodman: Before this whole COVID thing hit, you would travel quite a bit. You and your husband and one of your children.
Roz Silvaggio: Yeah, my daughter. Yeah. We’d love to travel well to go, to do at least one big international trip every other year, but we spend a lot of time in the airplane.
Now, if you asked my now five-year-old daughter, she would say her favorite place is Las Vegas.
Louis Goodman: All right. Good for her. What about your favorite place?
Roz Silvaggio: Oh, my favorite place to visit is probably Mexico. I love the people and that the food I love how close it is. I love how it makes you feel like you are on the other side of the globe in just a couple hours, margaritas. So, Hey, what can I say? [00:15:00] That’s probably my favorite place.
Louis Goodman: Well, what about recreational pursuits? Like, you know, now that you’re pretty much limited to being in really the Bay Area, I guess, do you and your family like to get out and do anything?
Roz Silvaggio: Definitely. We visit lots of parks, so I mean, literally this is what we’ve been doing the last several months.
It’s just being outside. And someone said, Oh, you look really tan. It’s like, I’m outside all day with these kiddos. And there’s so much beauty here and the parks are so incredible. And now that the playgrounds are starting to open up, of course, that is wonderful to put my, you know, on a swing, but just get outside.
Louis Goodman: Interesting. If you couldn’t be a Lawyer, there’s some other job or profession that you think that you would like to do?
Roz Silvaggio: I would love to sell real estate? I love real estate. Thank you. My husband says that too. I think he wants to stop working so [00:16:00] hard. I love real estate. I think it’s super interesting.
I like to look at properties all the time and all different places. Imagine myself, living there imagine, you know, renovation, construction that would make it interesting or more livable what the neighborhood would be like, what it would be like to live in New Britain. You know, San Francisco is unique.
And I think if I weren’t a public defender, I think I would sell real estate. It would be such a strange thing to make that change, but I think I would enjoy it.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things keep you up at night lately?
Roz Silvaggio: I’ve had a real, you know, I think a lot of people I’ve read articles about this or having a really hard time sleeping with this COVID stuff.
And I’m no exception.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, a couple of billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life, your real money? So that, that money was just not [00:17:00] an issue in terms of making any decisions about anything that you did.
Roz Silvaggio: I would make my husband stop working. That’d be the first thing I would do.
He says that he’s legal officer for a wine company eventually, maybe sooner than I would otherwise. I really liked what I do.
Louis Goodman: I get that sense that you like what you do.
Roz Silvaggio: Yeah. Yeah, I really do. I think I would still work. I would still work. At least for a little while longer while I still love it.
You know, I want to work while I love it. Well, I’m good at it when it stops being joyful. You know, when it stops being fun, I’m not going to work anymore. That’s for sure. I will find something else to do with my time. And maybe it will be so real estate. So stay tuned.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you wish you had known before you became a Lawyer or before you became a Public Defender that you know now.
Roz Silvaggio: You know, I [00:18:00] frankly wish I had known how much I was at like the work. And I think I would have focused the focus in a little bit better on preparing myself
Louis Goodman: Roz Silvaggio, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you about your life and your career.
Roz Silvaggio: Louis, Thank you so much for having me and letting me be the first Public Defender currently employed Public Defender on your podcast. Was really fun as usual talking to you. And I’m really honored that you picked me.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you when we all get back to court.
Roz Silvaggio: At a better in-person time.
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 the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. [00:19:00] I’m Louis Goodman.
Roz Silvaggio: I would, you know, come up here and cause trouble. So I, I grew up coming to San Francisco all the time. This is, you know, I mean, you could either go to LA or go to San Francisco.
Sergio Benavides / Louis Goodman – 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.
He served as a Public Defender in Fresno County representing the indigenous in every sort of criminal accusation from misdemeanor drug possessions to felony sexual assault and attempted murder.
He has tried numerous cases to successful jury verdicts. He speaks fluent Spanish, and also handles immigration cases. Sergio Benavides welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Sergio Benavides: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m really pleased that you are joining us today. Where’s your office now Sergio?
Sergio Benavides: So I have an office in Hayward right in the middle of the Southland mall.
Louis Goodman: And where are you from originally?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I [00:01:00] was born in Orange County, not too far from Disneyland, but I was raised in the East Bay, San Jose, Hayward, San Leandro.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Sergio Benavides: San Leandro High School.
Louis Goodman: How was that for you?
Sergio Benavides: It was a really difficult time for me.
Louis Goodman: In what way?
Sergio Benavides: Well I am an out gay American and in the mid-eighties it was illegal for me to sleep with whoever wanted to, or date whoever I wanted to.
So it was a very difficult time for me.
Louis Goodman: And were you out in high school?
Sergio Benavides: Oh, no God, no. That didn’t come till many years later when I felt a lot more safe to come out.
Louis Goodman: When you got out of San Leandro High School, where did you go to college?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I started by going to Chabot College because I knew at that age that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career.
And I thought, well, I can start exploring my interests at a place where I wouldn’t go into heavy debt. So I explored for three years at Chabot College.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience [00:02:00] like any better than high school?
Sergio Benavides: Oh, it was a world better. I found people that had many things in common with me. I found political activism.
I joined the local newspaper and started getting into journalism. It was a wonderful thing.
Louis Goodman: So after Chabot, where did you go?
Sergio Benavides: After I started leaning towards, I went to San Francisco State. And I majored in English Literature.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you got your degree from?
Sergio Benavides: Yes. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I loved reading and that I was good at it.
And talking about books, I just had no idea that it wasn’t going to be a very marketable degree. I found out the hard way.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think a lot of us who ended up in Law School found out the hard way that our Social Sciences degrees weren’t as valuable perhaps as we had hoped they’d be.
Sergio Benavides: Yeah. So I got my English degree and I didn’t know what to do with it.
And someone mentioned, oh, you can teach with that. So I started substitute teaching for a few years after college and found that I enjoyed [00:03:00] it and I enjoyed being around kids. And so that led to me going to Seattle actually. And I studied for a Teacher Certification Program and I got a Master’s in education that was in Seattle, Antioch Unified Seattle.
Louis Goodman: Okay.
Sergio Benavides: The late nineties, I got my degree and the country was in the middle of a recession. I ended up moving back to the Bay area and got my first teaching job, doing a bilingual elementary school teaching.
Louis Goodman: Where did you learn to speak Spanish?
Sergio Benavides: From my parents, they’re both native Costa Ricans. They met in high school and they started a family in California with me and my brothers.
I have two brothers. We were born and raised here, but luckily they only spoke Spanish to us at home. So we were able to learn two languages fully at the same time.
Louis Goodman: Well, that’s great. I mean, that’s just a, in my view, it’s just a phenomenal skill. Cause it’s one that I certainly don’t have.
So how long did you teach for?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I taught full time [00:04:00] as an elementary school teacher for approximately five years. I taught second grade, first grade, third grade in bilingual programs. And at the end of that career, I ended up having sort of a power struggle with one of the principals at one of my schools.
And that led me to get out of teaching and into law.
Louis Goodman: So you were out of school for what, five years before you started thinking about going to Law School?
Sergio Benavides: Yeah, I taught for five years and then I said, I need to get out of this profession. I can’t have someone lording over me like this. So I landed on the idea of Law School.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family say when you said, Hey, I want to go to law school now?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I was 32. And everyone thought I was an old goat for going back to school again. And I had relatives telling me you’re crazy. Why are you going back to school? You’re too old. And I thought, well, I don’t care what you think.
This is what I want to do. And that was that.
Louis Goodman: No it’s been my experience. I took a year off between college and law school, but it was my experience in law school [00:05:00] that the most successful law students were those who had had several years of experience in the work world before going to law school. I think those people were so much more focused and clear about why they wanted to be there.
I mean, did you, do you feel that way for yourself?
Sergio Benavides: Oh yeah. I was extremely determined to succeed in law school. I said, there’s no going backwards. There’s only going forward. This is how I saw it.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Sergio Benavides: I went to University of San Francisco School of Law.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to decide to go there?
Sergio Benavides: I applied to five schools in the Bay area.
I didn’t want to leave the Bay Area and it was one of two that accepted me. And I don’t know, I just had heard good things about USF and, you know, I liked the idea of the Jesuit tradition being a really strong intellectual and liberal. You know
Louis Goodman: Let me ask you this. How was the law school experience?
Sergio Benavides: The law school experience was the most challenging thing I’ve ever gone through in my [00:06:00] life, but after the first semester I really got my bearings and I figured it out and I started doing really, really well. And then I loved it after that.
Louis Goodman: What did you find so difficult and challenging at first?
Sergio Benavides: Well, the most difficult and challenging thing was trying to figure out how to tackle this monster called Law School and how to think and study and write and talk about the law like a lawyer. I’m the first lawyer in my family. And so I didn’t have anyone to turn to, to give me some tips or guidance or anything. So I had to kind of figure it out on my own. That was really hard.
Louis Goodman: Yeah I understand that. And my dad was a lawyer and I can’t say that really helped me very much in terms of, you know, kind of looking at the whole thing to begin with.
And it is kind of intimidating and difficult to figure out at first.
Sergio Benavides: I’m first to admit, you know, I skated through college. I skated through high school. I skated relatively through graduate school. I mean, I never really applied [00:07:00] myself until I got to law school.
Louis Goodman: How did that feel?
Sergio Benevides: It was a shock.
It was a slap to the face. I thought I could just act like I’d always done and just do a half ass job and do well. And that doesn’t happen. You have to actually really, they work hard.
Louis Goodman: Is there somebody, when you were in law school, who you met, who kind of said, okay, Sergio, this is what you got to do. This is how you work this thing.
Sergio Benavides: Well, I did, fortunately I did enter law school into this special program that was geared towards trying to help, you know, not the typical law student, either socially or economically diverse students or people that didn’t always have the best grades. And I was in that program that was supposed to guide us and help us.
But that first semester I largely ignored a lot of that advice. And I had to just learn the hard way and take my lumps.
Louis Goodman: So did you ever start listening to what he said?
Sergio Benevides: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I got it. Eventually I realized, you know, you can’t succeed in law school and go out drinking every single week with all your buddies [00:08:00] for bar night and you can’t go out dancing every night and you can’t waste hours on the internet, reading gossip and news just can’t be done.
Louis Goodman: Well then good advice.
Sergio Benavides: I got myself into a different mindset. And I told myself, this is something I’m serious about. This isn’t a joke. I’m not going to fail. That’s not an option. And once I kind of redirected my thinking, it was all a breeze after that, I just worked hard and, you know, geared down, buckle down.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of law school, what was your first legal job?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I guess I’ve always been kind of hardheaded. And I said, well, I don’t want to work for anyone else. I want to work for me. So I opened a law practice right out of law school in downtown San Francisco, real clear Bacco. It didn’t really go.
I didn’t have mentoring. I didn’t have experience. I just had, read some books. I had gone to some workshops and I’d taken some classes and I had a kind of like an idea of what it would work like, but the reality, yeah. You know, it was tough. I didn’t have that many clients and I didn’t know [00:09:00] marketing. So then I said, okay, this isn’t working.
I shut that down. And I had to go back and re-initiate my substitute teaching license and do that to pay off student loans while I tried to figure out what my next step was. And luckily I went and did some informational interviews with some more established attorneys. And one very kind gentleman gave me some of his time and said, look, what you need to do is go get a government job.
Let the government invest in teaching you how to be a lawyer, how to argue and write motions, how to do trials. They will invest the resources in you, you get your experience, then you quit, then you open your law practice. So I took that advice and I ran with it.
Louis Goodman: What government did you take advantage of?
Sergio Benavides: So the Fresno County government,
Louis Goodman: How did you get that job?
Sergio Benavides: I applied to every government job I could think of after that interview with that gentleman and Fresno was the first major city that made an offer. And so I said, okay, I can do that.
Louis Goodman: And what did you do in Fresno?
[00:10:00] Sergio Benavides: So they really liked the fact that I was bilingual, cause there’s a big need for that in the Central Valley.
So I went there and immediately they threw me into a misdemeanor courtroom.
Louis Goodman: And this was where the public defender’s office?
Sergio Benavides: Yeah, it was like, I don’t know, like being thrown into the ocean and being told to swim, like they expect you to just figure it out and not be afraid and get rid of the butterflies and just speak confidently in front of the judge.
But there was a lot of support and a lot of training and I was really appreciative.
Louis Goodman: What kinds of cases did you handle as a Public Defender?
Sergio Benavides: Well, every single misdemeanor under the sun, you know, Fresno has a very high population of indigent people, people that are just really desperately poor. And so we saw a lot of shoplifting, soliciting prostitutes, hundreds of DUIs, hundreds of domestic violence cases.
That was the bulk of it. And then, you know, driving on a suspended license cases, which I hated, but [00:11:00] there were so many of them.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. So how long did you spend at the Public Defender’s Office?
Sergio Benavides: I was there for a total of six years. By the time I left, I was desperate to get out.
Louis Goodman: Why?
Sergio Benavides: Because the great recession hit in late 2008 and the whole office was transformed by 60 access of budget cuts and really excessive, I would say inhuman case loads. Yeah, it became really, it became just an awful place to work. I was to do well, but the first thing I did is I talked to some of my mentors and they said, get yourself a legal specialization, which I did as a criminal specialist.
And that forced the County to give me, I think it was a 3% or 5% pay increase because they were refusing to pay anybody any more money. And actually I had a promotion taken away from me because of budget cuts. So that was the first thing I did is I got a specialization. And once I got that, I. [00:12:00] well, even before I got it, I made a promise myself that I was going to get out of Fresno and move back to the Bay Area and start my career where I wanted to be.
So in 2013, I just started, you know, putting in all that effort to find a job or do something out here in the Bay Area. And so, yeah.
Louis Goodman: So you left the Public Defender in Fresno and you came back to the Bay Area?
Sergio Benavides: I came back to the Bay Area
Louis Goodman: And did what?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I got a job as another Public Defender in Solano County, and I ended up working for them for a total of three months before they gave me the boot.
And when that happened, you know, that was a shock, but I took it as a sign from the heavens. Okay. Sergio, this is your time. You need to go and open your own office again. So I did.
Louis Goodman: And is that when you opened the office in Hayward?
Sergio Benavides: Yeah, that’s when I opened the office in Hayward and that’s when I said, you know, I’ve been doing so many years of criminal defense work and I enjoy it, but every single time I represented [00:13:00] some farm worker on a DUI. They would always ask in Spanish, Hey, what’s going on with my paperwork? Meaning what’s going on? How’s this going to affect my immigration situation? And I would always tell him, I’d always tell the client, I don’t know, go see an immigration lawyer.
So when I opened the office, I said, okay, I have to do immigration. The clients are always asking for it. And that was a really smart move on my behalf because as much as I love criminal defense work, It’s now an 80 or 90% immigration office at this point, really it’s taken over the practice.
Louis Goodman: You know, just out of curiosity, I’m a Hayward Lawyer had been here for a long time.
What prompted you to decide to open an office in Hayward as opposed to anywhere else?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I lived part of my childhood in Hayward, so I knew it and I knew that there was a big Latino community here. So that was something that I kind of felt would be a good spot to open. And as you know, I like the population and the culture in Hayward, but also I have to admit my parents live a few blocks away from [00:14:00] the office and I wanted to be close to them to check in on them.
They’re really old.
Louis Goodman: So how long have you been a practicing out of your office in Hayward now?
Sergio Benavides: So I am at the six and a half year mark. So closing in on almost seven years.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Sergio Benevides: That’s a tough question. I think practicing law is ultimately it’s helping people.
I mean, most of my professional career, I’ve been a public servant. Whether it was a public school teacher or a public defender, and this is new to me being a private defender, but ultimately I just love helping people. You know, people come to you with their most desperate situations and they want help and, you’re able to do it with the power of the law.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s say a young person was coming out of college and they were thinking about a career. Would you recommend the law?
Sergio Benavides: I do, but I always try to give people the advice and the information [00:15:00] that I never got when I was, you know, a budding young law student. So I tried to full of picture. Well, you know, I warned them that it’s not like the movies it’s not as easy or glamorous as you might think. it’s hard work.
Louis Goodman: That’s for sure.
Sergio Benavides: And I also want people to, as much as I can to try to stay away from student debt because I was saddled with it for decades.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. That’s brutal these days. Isn’t it.
Sergio Benavides: Yeah, I didn’t get out of that debt until a couple of years ago.
Louis Goodman: Well, you know, Eric Swalwell, our congressmen, who I interviewed for this program a few weeks ago.
I mean, that’s what prompted him to run for Congress was the fact of his student debt. I mean, it really is a terrible thing.
Sergio Benavides: Yeah. And the cost of, you know, higher education, it just keeps skyrocketing way past, you know, the increases in inflation. So there’s that.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law either met or differed from your [00:16:00] expectation of practicing law when you went into it?
Sergio Benavides: Well, when I went into it, I had no idea really what it would actually look like. I think may be the best advice I’d give young people is before you go to law school and make that commitment go work as an intern, go work. Volunteer, if you need to, but see what the day to day work is like before you commit your whole future to it.
You know, I had no idea how much of my life would be devoted to marketing, for example.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, what about that? Let’s move into that though. Kind of the business of practicing law. How has that gone for you and how has that either met or different from some expectations?
Sergio Benavides: Well, it’s always the most challenging part of the practices to get people to continue to call or come through the door.
It’s always a challenge. It’s really hard. It’s probably in some ways my least favorite part of the job, but it’s required and I get it and I accept it.
Louis Goodman: What sort of marketing tools have you used?
[00:17:00] Sergio Beaevides: Oh, I have everything under the sun, except for maybe holding out a placard on the street and spinning it.
Like one of those guys in front of the tattoo,
Louis Goodman: What seems to work for you?
Sergio Benavides: What works the best is doing good work for someone and having that person refer their friends and family later on. That’s the best.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. There’s nothing like referred business. That’s certainly a good thing.
Sergio Benavides: I’ve continued to grow and build based on word of mouth. I have a good client base that trusts, likes and respects me and they refer me, their friends and their family. I’ve got a couple of cases where I’d represent two or three generations of the same family. So that’s, you know, that’s a real testament to trust.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, it is. I also, you know, took a look at your website and it’s really good. It’s impressive. Did you do that yourself or did you have some help with that?
Sergio Benavides: I did. I wanted to update it and have a professional look at it, but I [00:18:00] haven’t done it yet. I did do it myself.
Louis Goodman: It really looks good.
Sergio Benavides: Thanks.
I’ve also done yellow pages, which is laughable. I’ve done online through Google ads, I’ve done Yelp. I’ve done a lot of different things and I’ve done marketing groups where you join these professional networking groups like BNI, or Provisors where you go once a week or once a month. And you have breakfast with others and talk about your business and try and trade leads.
All of it works to a certain extent, but really it always comes down to just doing a good job for others. And then they’ll pass the word along.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Sergio Benavides: I don’t know. I think. I’m always disappointed by judges. I have to say.
Louis Goodman: In what way?
Sergio Benavides: I think that, I don’t know.
I don’t think that they answer enough to the community. I think that there should be more, I think there should be some other kind of mechanism for accountability is [00:19:00] for judges misbehavior or their misuse of law. I think there’s too much power in their hands sometimes. Really. And I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m just thinking out loud.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system is fair?
Sergio Benavides: I don’t think it’s fair. I mean, it’s not fair that, you know, someone like O J Simpson can throw millions of dollars at his defense and get out of a murder conviction. Whereas someone else doesn’t have the money and can’t afford, you know, just as good a representation. I mean that isn’t fair.
And you do see oftentimes people of color being treated disproportionately different than, you know, Caucasians in the law. And so I do see that as a big problem is the, the racial problems in our system of law. That’s why the whole country has been taken over by protests and the black lives matter movements kind of exploded.
I mean, that’s just a symptom of something that has been going on for decades.
Louis Goodman: It seems to me, [00:20:00] and I just sort of wonder what your thought or comment about this is that in the last, let’s say 10, 15 years, we’ve had a significant number of Judges appointed or who have run. And we now have a significant number of judges that make the bench look a lot more diverse. In terms of, in terms of gender identity, in terms of racial identity and that kind of thing. But sometimes it seems to me that despite the diversity of background that oftentimes I don’t see a lot of diversity of thinking, do you?
Sergio Benavides: Yeah. And I would agree with that. And I think the diversity of the bench, shouldn’t just be the way people look or their gender or their identity, but it should also be a diversity of training and experience. Like we don’t have enough judges out there who don’t come from Ivy League schools or who [00:21:00] don’t come from big firms. It would be great to have more judges who’ve actually, I don’t know, worked as maids or worked as car washers or something that, you know, where they can relate to the same people that they’re going to be sentencing day in and day out.
So the diversity of experience I think would help too.
Louis Goodman: When you’re not practicing law, what sorts of things do you enjoy doing? And who do you enjoy doing it with?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I enjoy nature. I know hiking and I go with some of my friends and occasionally I’ll go with my spouse. My husband, I love traveling.
Of course, that is kind of shut down right now because of the pandemic. But travel is wonderful. I love being around other cultures and other languages and experiencing different kinds of foods and everything else. That’s different from what we grew up with here.
Louis Goodman: Where, where do you like to travel? Where specifically, have you gone that you think has been a really good place to go?
Sergio Benavides: Well, I never get tired of going to Mexico, even though, you know, [00:22:00] all my clients tell me that it’s a horrible crime ridden and corrupt place, but I think it’s just such a culturally rich landscape. I never get tired of it. I’ve been to various States of Mexico and every little region is so different. It’s like a different country.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what do you think that you might choose to do? I know you’ve done some teaching.
Sergio Benavides: Well, if I had to choose, I would probably rather be a writer, but I don’t have the, I don’t think I have the discipline to be a good writer and then being able to just get up every morning and sit down at that desk and do the writing.
Sergio Beaevides: Yeah. I know it takes discipline and, I think I’m too undisciplined to do it. I have good ideas. I used to write for fun a lot more when I was younger, but I don’t know. I used to really enjoy writing poetry, specially.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, like billions of dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life.
Sergio Benavides: I’ve thought about that. And I think one of the things I would love to do, I run into this sometimes in my work [00:23:00] because of the client base, you know, these are immigrants who come from sometimes poor villages and they’re too poor even to attend school. I think one of the things I would do is I’d love to set up schools and teach people to read that don’t know how to read.
Louis Goodman: One of the real areas of expertise that you have is Immigration Law. And that’s a really big thing going on in the country right now. I’m wondering if you could share some of your thoughts about what’s happening in the immigration world?
Sergio Benavides: Well, it’s definitely become more difficult, more challenging since, you know, the current resident of the white house took over it’s in the news all the time. And it feels almost like, you know, you’re trying to walk across land that’s made of quicksand. So it’s really hard to stay on top of all the changes and what the law is and what are the latest proclamations from the White House.
But I feel deep down in [00:24:00] my heart that there’s always going to be a need for immigration lawyers. And there will always be a need for people to find a way to legalize their status and to unite their families and to seek a safe Harbor in this country, no matter what they’re fleeing from and other parts of the world. I think that’s always going to be a part of what our countries is and what it’s about.
And I hope people don’t give up on the United States. It’s being a place where you can pursue happiness in all its shapes and forms.
Louis Goodman: Sergio Benavidez. Thank you so much for joining us today on Love Thy Lawyer. I appreciate all of your comments and your insights, and I’ve learned something about the immigration world.
So thank you so much for being here and it’s really. We’ll talk to you.
Sergio Benavides: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Thanks to my guests for sharing their experience and wisdom. Thanks to Joel Katz, Brian Matheson and Tracey Harvey. Please [00:25:00] subscribe to Love Thy Lawyer wherever you listen and check out the website for episodes, transcripts and photos.
I’m Louis Goodman.
No one ever plans for the day when they are pulled over by an officer and then placed into handcuffs on accusation of being under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or another impairing substance. After the arrest, you may be wondering what your options are in protecting yourself from the very worst of the potential consequences. It is strongly advised that you talk with a reputable criminal defense lawyer in your town to find out how they can be of help to your case. Trust us when we say that representing yourself during a criminal defense case can prove detrimental to your life now, and future opportunities.
Is a DUI and a DWI the same thing?
Not exactly. You can be charged with either a DWI or DUI, but the one you receive will depend on the circumstances of the arrest and what state you live in. For example, you may be charged with a DWI specifically if you have a BAC of more than 0.07%, but less than 0.08% and your driving was impaired. A DUI charge is more severe than a DWI and is given when the driver’s blood alcohol content is greater than 0.08%.
What are the repercussions for a DUI?
Facing a DUI conviction is scary. The person arrested and his or her family members may be apprehensive about how this conviction may affect freedom now and opportunities in the future. That is why consulting with a lawyer can be so beneficial, as you have someone to advocate for the arrestee and can negotiate with the prosecution and/or judge to reduce penalties. The most costly and long-term consequences from a DUI include the following:
● Spending up to 12 months in jail
● Fines and fees upwards of $1,000
● Mandatory order to put an interlock device into the ignition of your vehicle
● Decreased employment opportunities
If you have already been charged with a DUI or DWI and want to try and get it hidden from your record, your lawyer can evaluate whether you are eligible for expungement. A petition is filed to the court and can take around six weeks for processing. Felony DUIs may take longer, and by comparison, a misdemeanor DUI may be approved/denied in only a couple weeks.
What can a lawyer provide for me that I would not be able to do myself?
Lawyers are knowledgeable and experienced in legalities. So unless you have studied criminal law yourself and are a practicing lawyer for defense cases, chances are you will find it difficult to understand the legal process and advocate for yourself properly. To stand alone without dependable legal representation may result in you enduring the very worst of the DUI/DWI punishments. Your lawyer can create defense strategies, advocate for your character, and bring forward evidence to help you avoid jail time and a tarnished reputation. In addition to a criminal lawyer, if you were the victim of a DUI, you may want to speak to a personal injury lawyer as well.
If you need guidance after a recent arrest for a DUI or DWI, speak with a reputable law office in your area about a free consultation and case assessment.
Otis Landerholm / 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.
Founding attorney of a successful immigration law firm based in Oakland, California. He wants to change the world by defending the rights of immigrants. He speaks both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, in addition to the King’s English. He is the author of several books. And of great interest to me, he hosts the empowered immigrant podcast, Otis Landerholm, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Otis Landerholm: Louis, thank you so much.
Louis Goodman: Well, [00:01:00] I’ll tell you, it’s really interesting having you on because not only are you an attorney, but you’re also a podcaster. So I want to talk about all of those things as we go forward this afternoon.
Otis Landerholm: Yeah. Thank you. And it’s a real pleasure to be doing this with you. I love that you also are a podcaster and a lawyer.
I don’t think that there’s that many of us, so yeah, this is an absolute pleasure.
Louis Goodman: I don’t know, you do some internet Googling. You might be surprised.
Otis Landerholm: Probably more by the day, right?
Louis Goodman: I think so. Yeah. Well, when you’re not podcasting, what kind of Law Practice do you have?
Otis Landerholm: Right. So we are an Immigration Law Firm based in Oakland, as you said there, and thank you for that introduction.
And we specifically within Immigration Law, we focus on Deportation Defense. And so we love the complex immigration cases where, nobody else [00:02:00] wants to take them. And there’s deportation proceedings involved and immigration is coming at four in the morning and knocking on our client’s door and looking to enforce immigrant laws.
And we like to fight for people and like to fight so that people can stay in the U S
Louis Goodman: How big is your firm in terms of employees?
Otis Landerholm: We have 19 employees.
Louis Goodman: Wow.
Otis Landerholm: And so, yeah, so quite a few staff. Of those three or three aside from myself are Attorneys. So I guess, including me, there’s four total attorneys.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Otis Landerholm: I was born in Washington state. Just North of Seattle. And I had quite a, I would say a diverse childhood. So my father was the pastor of a church. He was the pastor of the United Methodist church where I grew up. And then [00:03:00] when I was three years old, we as a family moved up to Alaska.
Louis Goodman: Where in Alaska, did you move to?
Otis Landerholm: We lived in a little town that hardly shows up. It might show up on maps nowadays, but it’s called Kiski, Alaska and it’s on, what’s called the Kenai Peninsula, just South of Anchorage. Sure yeah, I’ve since gone back to visit a few times, I have a lot of very fond memories from when I was a young child. I was there from what I was three to when I was 11. And so, yeah, I’ve gone back a few times. I took my wife back a few years ago and had great fun to visit kind of the old stomping grounds there in Alaska. But one of the things that I think that that meant for me was a, it got me comfortable meeting with and speaking to, and getting to know people from other cultural backgrounds.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Otis Landerholm: Oh yeah. So after Alaska, [00:04:00] we moved back down to a place in Washington State and I lived in a town called Vancouver, Washington.
Louis Goodman: Right by Portland?
Otis Landerholm: Right. Exactly. So yeah, not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia, but yeah, Vancouver, Washington, and that’s where I went to high school. That’s also, I went to middle school. Had a great time there as well.
Louis Goodman: So how was your experience at the high school in Vancouver?
Otis Landerholm: Oh, I loved it. Yeah. I was very involved in all kinds of things. So I played football, basketball and track. And my best athletic event was at the Triple Jump.
I actually set our high school’s, freshman record in the Triple Jump So I was interested in athletics. What I was also interested in lots of other things. I was in a high school government. I was actually the senior class president [00:05:00] and I did a program that was a very rigorous academic program also. So I was sort of like a nerd and a jock and a, you know, school government person all melted into one.
Louis Goodman: What’s the Triple Jump?
Otis Landerholm: The Triple Jump is an event in track.
Louis Goodman: And what position did you play on the football team?
Otis Landerholm: I was a tight end and did a little bit of various positions on defense linebacker, things like that. But I really liked offense. I liked to score touchdowns.
Louis Goodman: I guess. So after you got done scoring touchdowns and jumping in high school, where did you go to college?
Otis Landerholm: Right. So I ended up going to Washington State University. Which is in Pullman, Washington. It’s in Eastern Washington.
Louis Goodman: Right. And they’re the Cougars, right?
Otis Landerholm: The cougars. Yeah. That’s right. Go Cougs. If there’s any Cougar fans out there, I’m sure they’re around. Every once in a [00:06:00] while you run into one.
Right. But yeah, so I graduated from Washington State University. I ended up getting two degrees there, one in what they call Foreign Languages and Cultures. It’s basically their Linguistics Degree. And the other degree I have is in Philosophy.
Louis Goodman: Well, yeah, philosophy that’s, I’m always impressed by people who are philosophers.
Otis Landerholm: I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m much of a philosopher really, but I did get a degree in it.
Louis Goodman: Now after college, did you take some time off before you went to law school or did you go right into law school after you graduated?
Otis Landerholm: Yeah. Well, when I was in college, you know, my freshman year of college actually was when 911 happened.
And so I remember being there and I remember, you know, the twin towers falling. And I remember I was like, I was studying philosophy. I was like, gosh, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this. I’ve gotta like, figure out what are [00:07:00] all the problems in the world? Right. And so part of that was like, okay, I started really getting the travel bug.
And when I was in college, I decided to study abroad. I studied abroad twice in my Undergraduate Degree, first in Spain and then in Argentina and really I was going, I wanted to really get good at Spanish. And so, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I did. And then after graduating then I, I still had the travel bug in me.
And so yes, I took time off in between College and Law School. But what I did with that time off is first I went to Japan for one year, cause I had, you know, I’d been in Europe when I was in Spain and I traveled quite a bit in Europe and then I’d been in Argentina to study Spanish, but I traveled all through South America, you know, through Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, I went all over the place and so I [00:08:00] hadn’t ever been to Asia and I was like, well man, you gotta go check out Asia.
And so I went to Japan for one year and I was teaching English and studying some Japanese. I was playing guitar and doing some other fun stuff. And then I went to China for two years and I really, I really fell in love with China and decided to really go for learning Mandarin. Before figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life, which back then, I wasn’t sure what that would be, but I did decide to apply for Law School and then got in.
I didn’t do as well as maybe I would have loved to have done on the LSATs, but I got into Golden Gate University in San Francisco. And started there in 2007, I think it was. And I had an outstanding [00:09:00] experience in Law School.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about that outstanding experience.
Otis Landerholm: You know, I, I didn’t know whether or not Law School would be for me, and I can tell you the backstory there. My grandfather was a lawyer. And actually, if you want to know the cool truth about my history, my grandmother was a lawyer. Wow. So she was one of the first women to graduate from a University Oregon Law School. Okay. And I think she was, I think she was the second woman to graduate from U of O School of Law. And so that was pretty cool. Well, so I had a lot of lawyers in my family. In fact, my Aunt is a Judge. My brother’s an attorney. I’ve got cousins who are lawyers. And my grandfather was the founding attorney of the largest law firm in Vancouver, Washington.
Louis Goodman: Graduated from college. You’ve spent a year working [00:10:00] in teaching in Japan. You’ve spent a couple of years in China. You’ve learned Mandarin. I mean, what is it that kind of got you to say, Hey, you know, I want to go back to the United States and be a Lawyer.
Otis Landerholm: Well, so the truth is, I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to be a lawyer or not, but I did have this burning question.
It wasn’t whether or not to practice law. The question that I had was, Hey, you know, something I have now traveled in over 25 different countries. I have lived in five different countries, Spain, Argentina, Japan, China, and then Ecuador. I was actually in Law School. I did a legal internship in Ecuador and I’ve traveled to all these places and it was very simple.
For me to be able to travel to each of these places, you know, get a visa, [00:11:00] get it in my passport, get on an airplane, fly there in China, it took a couple of days is for them to switch my visa to a work visa in Japan. It was a little bit more of a process. All right. But not really a big deal, not really a big deal.
And at the same time, there are thousands, thousands, thousands of people who die trying to enter the United States. And it’s like, so insanely difficult to get a visa or to get a permit or to get some kind of access to the United States. And it just had me wondering this big question, like, why is it so simple?
For some people like you or I to travel pretty much wherever we want to on planet earth and yet, why is it so insanely difficult [00:12:00] for the vast majority of people on planet earth to do the same thing? And that was like the question that I was like, okay, I should go to law school if for no other reason, maybe I don’t want to be a lawyer, but I want to figure out the answer to that question.
Louis Goodman: Interesting.
Otis Landerholm: And I found out the answer.
Louis Goodman: Alright. And what is it?
Otis Landerholm: I mean, the answer is simple, right? And you do learn about it in Law School. And it’s like, look, the reason that there’s this difference where it’s so easy for some people to travel so hard for so many other people to travel is because we’ve got a legal system that creates that difference.
Louis Goodman: Well, what was your first legal job actually?
Otis Landerholm: So during Law School, I did a lot of different internships. All right. With the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office with a couple of small Immigration firms locally, you know, even with a [00:13:00] PI Attorney, I did an internship, but if you want to know my real first job, I’m in it right now, right out of law school, you know?
So. I took the bar exam whenever that was in July. We were getting bar results in November, but by the end of July, and, you know, as I was studying for bar exam, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. And so then it was like, okay, awesome. So then we’re waiting for bar results, but I was applying for different jobs and things like that, but really what it was is I was working as like a Law Clerk for an Immigration firm.
I’m just a solo practitioner here in the Bay Area. And I was like, you know, I can do this.
Louis Goodman: What do you like about practicing law? I mean, you’re someone who, you know, just seems to really have a lot of enthusiasm about it.
Otis Landerholm: You know, I didn’t [00:14:00] know how much I would love it. I love it. I love being a lawyer.
I loved law school even. I really enjoy rational debate kind of back and forth of how are we going to argue this? How are we going to present that? How are we going to, you know, how are we going to convince this judge? Right. How are we going to, you know, negotiate a way, these couple of issues with the Department of Homeland Security, how, you know, I love strategy and immigration lies.
No, it’s no simple, lots of being up against the Department of Homeland Security is no easy adversary, but I have learned to love it. Part of it also is we make such an impact on our client’s lives that, you know, when we win in court, it’s like, we’re the [00:15:00] hero. And it really makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our clients.
And it’s such a great feeling.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend it as a career to a young person?
Otis Landerholm: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that globally, there is still a huge interest in coming to the United States. Like we have something in the United States that is uncommon in the rest of the world.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, I think right now, you know, there’s, you know, there’s so much going on and there’s so much negativity and, you know, the whole thing with COVID and the politics and everything, but really America is, I mean, I think it’s a very special place.
And I mean, , you know, I hear you saying it, but I consider myself a real Patriot and, because of it, it is a place of opportunity and a place where you know, really great things happen for people.
[00:16:00] Otis Landerholm: You know, and I see it. I see it when we win a case, for example, for an immigrant family, who’s been trying to make a go of it in the U S and then finally they like have a green card and now they’re able to open a business.
Or now they’re able to study, like they’ve wanted to study forever, or, you know, really do something with their lives. It’s like the opportunity door opens. And it’s a country. Our country that we live in is a country full of opportunities that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily, I mean, some countries yet, but it’s uncommon.
It’s uncommon. And we are blessed. We are fortunate. We are lucky, whatever language you want to use to live in the U.S.
Louis Goodman: You know, I’m sitting here with a copy of the Empowered Immigrant by Otis Landerholm in my hand. [00:17:00] Okay. And, you know, I haven’t read every word of it yet, but I’ve certainly skimmed a good deal of it.
And you’re a cheerleader and you are a power of positive thinking person. And you’re someone who I don’t know, is almost evangelical in terms of his approach to the practice of law and yourself and your clients. And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.
Otis Landerholm: I love the first word that you used. I do feel like a cheerleader. I am like, yeah. I’m naturally, I think a positive person. I love to smile. I play the guitar. I love to sing songs. But you know, now that I have staff, I do feel like I’m the cheerleader. Like I’m rooting my team on. Right. And I love that we’ve created in my firm a culture that really, [00:18:00] we share our wins and we love to look to the good yeah. And all of our clients. And so, gosh, if you start to address somebody. Somebody’s feelings of self worth or their feelings of self confidence. If you start to address that. And if you fix that issue, then it’s like, Oh my God, their case becomes their cases simple compared to addressing that piece.
Louis Goodman: What do you do to address that piece?
Otis Landerholm: Well so I’m constantly looking for more part of it is our podcast. Part of it is our new book, which thank you for referencing that. But one thing that we’ve started doing for our clients, and this is just, you have to be a client of our firm to receive this, but we do a quarterly, we call it our Client Success Summit.
And this is something that we’ve started to do during Covid, and it’s a [00:19:00] quarterly event. And so we’ve done two, we’ve got our next one coming up here and yeah but we’re going to be doing it and we’ve been getting more and more people in it. And so our Client Success Summit is basically a meeting for our clients where we talk about things that are not their immigration case.
And we talk about how can we succeed? How can we achieve really any goal that we set for ourselves regarding financing, regarding, you know, any area of our lives. And how can we really go for it?
Louis Goodman: I know that goal setting is an important part of your way of looking at the world. And I’ve heard it said that if you said your goal is nothing, you’re going to be bound to hit it.
And so I mean, I agree that setting goals and figuring out how to get there is important. You know, kind of to that end maybe you could talk a [00:20:00] little bit about the business of practicing law. I mean, you’re someone who runs a firm of 20 employees and there’s a payroll to be made every couple of weeks.
And I wonder if you’d talk a little bit about that and how you go about meeting the goal of making that payroll next week.
Otis Landerholm: Right? Yeah, exactly. You know, and I had to grow up in regards to that, and it was not pretty. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows to quote, I think Rocky said that, right?
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, you know. In 2013, two years into opening my firm, I almost lost everything. And I’ll never forget it. I mean, it was like staring bankruptcy, right in the right in the eyes. Cause we were out of credit and I had an attorney at that point and I had an attorney, a paralegal [00:21:00] and an intern and, but I wasn’t managing it.
And really what I wasn’t doing is I wasn’t pricing our services correctly. And I was very much undercharging. I wasn’t valuing myself for the work that we do. And so I was super scared cause I thought I was going to lose it all. And what I did is I took the very last bit of money that I had and I hired a consultant who is like a bit business consultant because obviously they don’t really teach you how to run a business in Law School. And I know a lot of people say that, right, it’s not just a saying it is like, it’s true.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I know.
Otis Landerholm: And so, yeah, anyway, I ended up hiring a consulting firm to start the process of training me [00:22:00] in growing up and becoming a business owner and being like, if I’m going to stand for empowering our clients, if I’m going to encourage our clients to charge what they’re worth, then I’ve got to charge what I’m worth.
Louis Goodman: With respect to the legal system, do you think that it’s fair?
Otis Landerholm: Oh no.
Louis Goodman: Somehow I thought that would be your answer.
And I asked, I really do ask the question neutrally, but in your case, I sort of suspected that that would be the answer.
Otis Landerholm: The law is so stacked against the majority of people. Yeah, no, there’s, you know, fairness I think was thrown out the window a long time ago, but it’s an interesting question.
Louis Goodman: You are also a podcaster. And how did you decide to start thinking about doing a podcast?
Otis Landerholm: Great. Yeah. Thank you for asking that. My initial [00:23:00] reaction to COVID-19 was calls from clients who are anxious. We’re getting a lot of phone calls from clients who were worried about, okay, immigration is already delayed their cases already taking years and years and years to get an answer.
All right, how is this pandemic going to affect their immigration case? And so what I did is I started having a weekly call. All right. And I did 12 weekly calls for our clients and I did, it was 9:00 AM on Wednesdays. I would do it at 9:00 AM in English, and I would do 9:30 in Spanish. All right. And I would talk about the Corona Virus and I would talk about how it’s affecting the world of immigration.
And I would share one thing that was positive. Share one thing that was happy [00:24:00] that was going on in my life. Or I would interview one client or something like that. Like I would try to do something that wasn’t just doom and gloom, try to keep people relating to each other and communicating with each other and stay active and stay engaged.
Right. And so that’s what I did. I did it for 12 weeks and as I was doing it, clients were responding so well to it. And we were recording them. Right. And you know, and with people’s permission and all of this, we uploaded them to YouTube. I love that we’ve got a YouTube channel. I love putting things on there.
And then we ended up, I ended up being like, Hey, if these are going so well, Why can’t we do this in a different context where it’s potentially beneficial for all immigrants throughout the country or anywhere, not just for clients of our firm. And so that’s why it was really, you know, that [00:25:00] was the lemonade that I squeezed out of the lemons.
Right. Of COVID-19. And we launched our podcast. I want to say the end of June, June 29th. I think it was. And, and it’s been going strong and, we just had our 200th download, so I like that. And then if anybody’s out there listening and you want to check it out, look for the Empowered Immigrants and on any platform and check it out. See what you think.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I’ll put it in the show notes too. So it’ll be there. Cool. What’s your family life like? What do you,
Otis Landerholm: yeah, so my wife, Wendy is how can I describe Wendy? She was born in Taiwan. She’s an immigrant herself. She immigrated to the U S when she was four years old. And I would describe her as the rock of our family and the PRI would call her the [00:26:00] rock of the whole firm.
Louis Goodman: I ask you this, if you came into some real money, a couple of billion dollars, what would you do with it? Or what would you do? Would you change your life at all? Would it change the way you live?
Otis Landerholm: Yeah. Cool. I would explode our operations. Like you know, my vision, like my 20 years goal in this firm is to have a headquarters and then have 20 satellite offices throughout the Western United States fighting immigration cases. I want to open a branch of my firm outside of every single immigration detention facility.
Louis Goodman: Otis, that’s been a real pleasure talking to you. You’re a fascinating interview. You’ve had so many really interesting experiences in your life, and you obviously have a lot of interesting experiences ahead of you. So I appreciate your coming on the pod. And I [00:27:00] look forward to listening to your podcast as well.
Otis Landerholm: Louis, thank you so much. And thank you for not only the invitation to be here with you today, but thank you for what you are doing. You know, connecting the legal community, connecting us lawyers. I love, you know, we lawyers sometimes we feel like we’re alone in our own battles in our own offices, whatever, but we are a stand that lawyers are not alone.
And you’re really building something generous and something amazing for our community. So thank you for your work.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests contributed their time and wisdom and making this show possible. Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for the technical support and Tracey Harvey, I’m Louis Goodman.
[00:28:00] Otis Landerholm: ask your employer for a raise. You know, even if you don’t have immigration status, go ask your employer for a raise. Why? Because you’re a human being and you’re worth it.
In California, drunk driving could result in an officer suspending your driver’s license immediately upon arrest. This is due to the Admin Per Se Law adopted by the California State Legislature in 1990. This law allows a law enforcement officer to suspend your driver’s license if the officer believes your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds .08 percent. This means that, contrary to the norm, you are considered guilty until proven innocent. Thus, your license is immediately suspended until your innocence is later proven. To prove your innocence, your case will go to a DMV admin per se hearing (APS hearing). Our experienced Alameda County DUI lawyer discusses Admin Per Se Law and what it means for California drivers in the following article.
How Does Admin Per Se Affect California Drivers?
In an Admin Per Se suspension, an officer will confiscate your driver’s license and send it to the DMV. You will then receive a temporary driver’s license that is valid for 30 days. At this point, you will want to schedule a DMV admin per se hearing within 10 calendar days of your suspension. You must schedule this hearing with the Driver Safety Office (DSO) closest to your home. Failing to do so translates to an automatic suspension of your driving privileges without a hearing.
While scheduling your hearing, you should also request a “Stay of Suspension.” Because the DMV is often overworked, your hearing may not occur until after your temporary license expires. However, a “Stay of Suspension” will extend your temporary license until after your APS hearing.
What Happens During a DMV Admin Per Se Hearing?
The DMV will conduct a hearing to determine whether they will reinstate your driving privileges or penalize you. To do this, the DMV will consider three main elements of your case:
- Whether the arresting officer had reason to believe you were in violation of the Vehicle Code
- Whether you were lawfully detained or arrested
- Whether you were driving while at or above the .08 percent BAC legal limit
The DMV can automatically presume the accuracy and honesty of the evidence it presents. This means that it is quite easy to lose your driving privileges. The penalties in this situation can include:
- Prolonged suspension or revocation of your driver’s license
- Prohibition of a commercial driver to operate a commercial vehicle
- Mandatory attendance and completion of a DUI school
- Mandatory IID breath devices for your car
- Filing a “high-risk” SR-22 insurance form
Importantly, penalties imposed by the DMV are separate from penalties you may incur for a DUI conviction. For this reason, it is ideal to work with a trained attorney to fight your legal cases.
Questions About Your DMV Admin Per Se Hearing? Contact an Alameda County DUI Lawyer to Learn More
If you are facing APS and DUI charges, then contact the Law Office of Louis J. Goodman today. We have more than 30 years of experience litigating a wide range of criminal justice cases. To schedule a free consultation, contact us online or by phone at (510) 582-9090.
Tamara Zivot – Louis Goodman, 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.
Rising quickly through the ranks at the Riverside Public Defender’s Office, she litigated numerous jury trials, court trials, probation violation hearings, and prelims. She now provides a wide variety of legal services through her practice here in the Alameda County and through the Alameda County Court Appointed Attorneys Program. She handles cases from misdemeanors to serious felonies in the criminal area.
Tamara Zivot, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
[00:01:00] Tamara Zivot: Thank you, Louis. Happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office now?
Tamara Zivot: My physical office is in San Ramon.
Louis Goodman: And do you practice in Alameda County as well as in Contra Costa County?
Tamara Zivot: Yes. And actually in practice, technically in all counties. But primarily in Alameda and Contra Costa.
Louis Goodman: And how long have you been practicing?
Tamara Zivot: For about 20 years.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Tamara Zivot: Well, I was raised in Las Vegas, born in Denver, Colorado.
Louis Goodman: Really? That’s interesting. What was it like growing up in Las Vegas?
Tamara Zivot: It was definitely a different kind of lifestyle.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific?
Tamara Zivot: Well, it was like a little cow town for a while.
And very much mob run and then corporate. And then there was a housing boom at that point. But I left that’s when I left. I liked it when it was smaller.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to high school in Las [00:02:00] Vegas?
Tamara Zivot: Yes.
Louis Goodman: What high school was it?
Tamara Zivot: It was Clark High School. It’s funny. Say that?
Louis Goodman: Well it’s Clark County, isn’t it?
Tamara Zivot: Yes. It was actually the same high school that Jimmy Kimmel went to.
Louis Goodman: Oh really? Well how was that experience? How did you like go to high school?
Tamara Zivot: I think pretty much like everybody else. I didn’t really like it. I graduated early so I could get out and wanted to go to college. I wanted to move.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to college?
Tamara Zivot: I went to UCLA. Well, I’ll tell you an interesting story though. I was going to go; my original trajectory was supposed to be medicine. My dad was a doctor, and so I, you know, I graduated high school when I was 15. And I wrote that in, in New South Wales, Australia at all that some of the British run, some of the old British colony run places like England and Canada.
And Australia, they have these [00:03:00] programs where you can go into medical school, you get right accepted from high school. You do a couple of years of undergrad. Then you go right into medical school. So I wrote to the prime minister of New South Wales. I think the college was, I can’t remember, I think it was just the medical school of New South Wales.
If I remember correct is a long time ago and said, you know, I know that you’re, it’s only open to your local regional citizens, but if you make an exception, I was, I’m an exceptional science student, I think that’d be an asset to your society, et cetera, to your school. And they accepted me. So I was accepted to medical school at that age.
Louis Goodman:15, 16.
Tamara Zivot: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: So did you make some effort to go there?
Tamara Zivot: No. Um, there was other things going on in my life at the time and I ended up just going to UCLA instead, a four-year college route.
Louis Goodman: What did you think of UCLA? Did you enjoy that?
Tamara Zivot: I loved it. I loved [00:04:00] being in LA. I loved it. I did. I loved UCLA. It was very different being very huge.
Like my undergraduate classes, there was like 500 students and I was just like way back in an auditorium. And so that was, that was pretty crazy. I mean, later on you get to take the smaller classes, but yeah, I loved the whole experience. UCLA was fun. Just picking out my classes. I enjoyed it.
I’ve always liked school. And so I’ve always liked being a student.
Louis Goodman: Did you continue with the science education at UCLA?
Tamara Zivot: No. That’s when I switched and went into, Political Science.
Louis Goodman: And when you graduated from UCLA, at some point you went to Law School, is that correct? And did you go directly to law school from UCLA? Did you take a little time off?
Tamara Zivot: I took time off.
Louis Goodman: What’d you do?
Tamara Zivot: I took time off cause I was joining punk bands at the time and that’s what I wanted to do. This is when I had a [00:05:00] falling out with my family. Cause I was pursuing, they wanted me to go to law school at this point, they gave up like their dreams of me being a doctor. So I went to, so they were pursuing, they wanted me to be a lawyer at that point. I did have a brother who was a clerk who pursued a line. It became a corporate tax, but so they weren’t able to do that. They figured that was not a good profession.
Louis Goodman: What was the name of the punk band?
Tamara Zivot: Oh, I joined several punk bands back then. I don’t really want people looking that up. I don’t want to divulge those names because I really don’t want people looking at it.
Louis Goodman: How long did you spend in the punk scene?
Tamara Zivot: Well, it wasn’t punk rock scene. It was more so punk. I mean, I sort of had my own music.
It was like a punk funk because I grew up playing the piano, you know, Russian Jewish mom. And I would play the piano since I was like two. Okay. If I was a product it’s very tiny. I used to play and people thought I was a prodigy. I learned how to play every [00:06:00] instrument. So it was and just straight up punk, it was, there was a funk to it.
We call it punk funk. And so that’s what we used to do. I have a lot of, did I do that for, I think I wait, uh, I didn’t go right into law school about five years, maybe.
Louis Goodman: And were you able to support yourself playing punk music?
Tamara Zivot: No. I don’t think we did. We make them make money doing that. We used to live in our studios on the studio floor.
So I went from a doctor’s family where, you know, I didn’t have to worry about money to just living in a studio floor, but you know, it was cool. I was like, Oh, we’re pursuing art. I don’t know where we did. I know we had to take odd jobs and stuff. I don’t remember exactly what we would do,
Louis Goodman: When did you decide to go to law school?
Tamara Zivot: I never really decided that it was sort of decided for me. The dude I was with was like, that was in the band was like, why don’t you go to law school? Like he saw that could make money and buy [00:07:00] instruments and buy stuff. Right. Buy things. It’s like, I don’t like. Okay. You know, might as well have everybody that I was around would always say that I cross examine them.
I didn’t know I was doing that, but that’s what they say. When I meet them, then I start asking him a million questions. I was cross examined and everybody was sort of encouraging me to be a lawyer. And so I said, okay, I’ll do it. I mean, my attitude was, it’s a really good education. You know, that’s what my dad, I was, it’s a good education.
You can’t go wrong. And it is, it’s a great education. It teaches you how to think. And I thought, I’ll just get a law related of job. I don’t necessarily have to be a lawyer, you know, at that point. So I still wasn’t really thinking I’m going to be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: So you were getting encouragement from both your punk rock friends and from your family to go to law school.
Tamara Zivot: Yeah. Well my family at this point had like really [00:08:00] almost disowned me because you know, I wasn’t pursuing what they wanted me to.
Louis Goodman: You went to Michigan. How did you decide to go there?
Tamara Zivot: Yeah. And I’m glad I chose it. It was different. Different than anything it was a different college experience.
First of all, didn’t, you know, that I’ve ever been to. It was like, I don’t know. I wasn’t that into the whole thing at UCLA, but I don’t know, Michigan is very interesting. I liked it.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific about that.
Tamara Zivot: Okay. Well, I mean, first I didn’t even really know about it. I didn’t know about law school and I did not grow up in a law environment. It was medical and I just really had no clue what was going on. And just, I heard scuttlebutt going around Michigan. You get to go to mission, like you just sounded. Wow. And it just sounded really interesting to me. And I started looking at it and said, wow, this school is like, very well regarded.
And like they had a good band. Their band is like a really good band and a lot of athletes train there. They’ve got good sports [00:09:00] teams. And I was like, this is like a real college type thing. Like you see in those old movies and stuff, that’s right. I’m going to go. And I want to set different. I’ve been on the West coast, my whole life, you know.
Louis Goodman: It was colder there than it was in Las Vegas or UCLA?
Tamara Zivot: I was, but I adapted pretty quickly to the cold. It was weird kind of no, because you know, even in Las Vegas it did snow and once in a while for snow was pretty decent. Cause it was over there by that Reno snow, which is really good. And there’s no as like ice and then, you know, we would get a car and you just start sliding, you know, woo. Hope that you don’t hit anything. I wasn’t used to that. I used to business and scraping your windows and all that. That was wild for me.
Louis Goodman: Well, aside from the icy driving experiences, what did you think of law school?
Tamara Zivot: I really liked it. It was what I liked the form of the Socratic Method, where you’re [00:10:00] talking and you could just argue, start arguing.
You can, and as you had to read the cases, I felt like you, you had to kind of my thing, cause you kind of be a good student. I think to be a law in law school. It’s cause you got to read stuff. Like I think medical school would have been easy. Cause it’s like memory. I can memorize stuff. That’s not a problem.
It’s like with law schools, like you had to analyze, you know, you had to, I remember someone saying, can I bring this book? And he goes, you can bring it, whatever. Yeah. It’s not going to help you. You know, you’re going to have to look at the facts and analyze it and the book’s not going to help you.
So go ahead, run whatever you want. So I liked that aspect and you had to read the cases or some people sat in the back or read newspapers the entire time? And there were several really, really, I’d never been around brilliant students like that. I mean, where I just, I mean, I used to be like the top of my class, even at UCLA.
And it was like easy for me, but I got to Michigan. It was like [00:11:00] hard and it was like, oh it was hard work. And there was very, very brilliant people in my class that would get up and they would start talking, like oh my God. You know? So I was just blown away by some of the people in there that are brilliant.
Louis Goodman: I thought that in law school that there were some really brilliant people there. I mean, I thought that it was that there were really smart people around much smarter than. I really ever been around before all grouped in one place. So what was your first legal job?
Tamara Zivot: Really? The Public Defender’s Office.
Louis Goodman: Well, how did you end up going to Riverside Public Defenders Office.
Tamara Zivot: It was like,
Louis Goodman: Why there, as opposed to everywhere?
Tamara Zivot:. I said, I just couldn’t apply. You know? And I went on a lot of interviews. I had to travel. Where was I living at that time? It was San Diego area, I think. And I had to take like a bus over.
I didn’t have [00:12:00] any money and I had to take a bus to Riverside, for my interview. I remember that. And, and I didn’t even really have a clue about what they did. I told you I’m still not seasoned. And I think I watched some law stuff on television, but, you know, it was just the stories that compelled me.
I wasn’t even still really, I mean, some of the, you know, you watch them do trials. It’s exciting, you know, and we watched them do live court stuff. That’s exciting to watch, watch some cross examining and talking to juries. So, you know, it’s not like I didn’t see that stuff, but I just wasn’t, I don’t think I was imagining myself ever doing that at that point.
I didn’t have hope, clue exactly what they did well. Yeah. I figured it out pretty quickly. And it was like, wow. I just loved it. I was like, you know, first starting up getting paid that much money, put it with like so cool to me. I was like, you know, I was full of kind of anger and rage at this point.
Punk music does [00:13:00] that to you. And, and it was like, I channeled it. It was like, this is so cool. I was going to trial and doing motion straight up. I’m like I did my first motion. It was a DUI suppression motion for one of those DUI stops where they stop you at a DUI checkpoint, you know? And I was like, I remember they were, so we were doing the calendar and you know, didn’t do deputies and they go, to our head’s emotion.
And they started moving all the tables away. Like I was just sitting there. I was like, Oh my God. Well, it’s like, at that moment, it hit me in my eye. I could see my heart. I was like, I don’t even know if I could, I’ve never done this. I’ve not even done mock trial. I’d never done any cross examination. I went home.
Nobody really helped me. I went home. I said, I guess I got to ask this guy questions, but I just figured out what questions. To get the most, the best answers right. That I needed to get. And I just sort of figured it out. I never had any training in this. I didn’t even know criminal procedures. So I was just like trying to figure it out.
I get there, [00:14:00] the heart’s beating out of my chest. I said, I don’t even know if I could do this. I didn’t ask anybody. I don’t know what I’m doing. I said, okay, just calm down either you can do it or you don’t, if you totally screw up, the guy can appeal. I’m sure he’ll be fine. And you just find something else to do.
Right. I said, no one’s going to remember you. So I calmed down. I, one of the motion, I just started asking questions. I just fell into it. And it was like, Okay. This is pretty natural. And I started going to trial. They were telling me this is what the deputies would say, bring your toothbrush tomorrow to finish tomorrow.
I was like, what? I didn’t understand what that meant. Cause I was like challenging the judges and they thought I was going to get taken in. That’s what that meant. So finally I just stayed with that lip and I was like full of faith and it was like, I was digging, going to trial. I just go to trial, you know?
They would handle your stuff downstairs, continuing your matters that could go to trial. All I wanted; it was just great.
Louis Goodman: Some point you ended up coming up to the Bay [00:15:00] Area. How did you make that decision?
Tamara Zivot: Quite honestly, I liked it, cooler weather. I was moving a lot. I tended to, I don’t know if it’s because how, like, what would happen when I was going to college.
And that was sort of weird from, you know, having a lot of abundance then going to nothing. And then, you know, I started working at the Public Defender’s Office. I became a three pretty quickly yesterday making some money and then like, so I started making some money and it was like, I don’t know if I’m addicted to the struggle or what, but I tended to just sort of give everything away and we’ll sort of like do coming up again. I did that a lot and then I wanted to go, I went to the Bay Area. I goes, why am I not living here? So nice out here. Is that going to live here? So I got up and I moved to the Bay Area and I was doing appeals at that time. And funny enough, one of my colleagues from the Riverside Public Defender’s Office was also up here doing appeals.
It’s happened to me at one of [00:16:00] their little seminars. And that was just, that was a really a nice reunion. And so, yeah, so I came up here and then I started, then I applied to panels. I wanted to get back into trial work.
Louis Goodman: So that’s when you got on the Alameda County Court Appointed Panel. What do you really like about practicing law?
Tamara Zivot: What do I really like? I like beating the DA’s. I like beating the Government. It gives me a really good satisfaction. When they read a verdict, they say not guilty. It’s just like the best high in the whole world. It just feels so, so good. It’s like rethought, whatever you had to go through to get to that point. It’s worth it.
Louis Goodman: If a young person with an interest in punk rock and other things, you know, I mean, seriously, if someone were, you know, coming out of college and thinking about a career, do you think you’d recommend going into law?
Tamara Zivot: Well, yeah. I mean, because people will ask me to say, how might we want to go live guys? So you should, you know, you’ll never [00:17:00] regret the education. You don’t go. Damn. I wish I just got that great education. What am I going to do with it? You always have that. You always have a great education. It’s great. Follow that degree, you know, it’s great. You might pursue something else and say, you know what, I’m going to go ahead and pick that degree up again.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations about it?
Tamara Zivot: Well, like I said, I didn’t have any expectations because I didn’t really think I was going to practice law, but I guess when I started, my whole training has been in Court Appointed. I did Court Appointed, you know, from the beginning and I’ve always been on panels.
It was Court Appointed for Appeals. Court Appointed now. And so, you know, now I’m starting to get into private. So that’s the expectation. I have a little bit leery on, but so like the Court Appointed stuff and the Public Defender stuff that was comfortable, I was comfortable with that. I had no expectations of that, and that was comfortable with that.
Now I’m transitioning from some Court [00:18:00] Appointed to private and that’s very difficult. I’m saying how that’s working and that’s a little more difficult.
Louis Goodman: Why was it more difficult?
Tamara Zivot: You have to do, it’s hard to be a lawyer. You have a lot of work to do you really work for your money. And then now that you have to like hustle work, you have to get work.
You have to be a diplomat and you have to have goodwill and you have to be able to advertise yourself, however you do it. And it’s just, to me, that’s harder.
Louis Goodman: Can you think of a case that went really well for you? Wow. I really did a good job for a client.
Tamara Zivot: Yes. Well, I like to think I do a good job for all my cases.
I have handled many, many thousands of cases. I was at the Riverside Public Defender’s Office when they stopped declaring conflicts. And I was on a calendar the entire time. Yeah. I said a lot of trials believe me, but yeah. Okay. So I do remember misdemeanor trial and it was, the guy was going to have serious [00:19:00] consequences.
The guy was going to have to register. As it 290 register is going to get deported. It was like the tribal last statute. And, and yeah, it was like maybe my sixth trial. And then the, my supervisor, Brett. The new, this misdemeanor deputies in to watch me. So I was very, very honored and flattered by that.
And the guy cried, he needed an interpreter and the guy cried. And so it was like, that was like a big moment for me. And then also the Judge bless him. I love this Judge, because he was fair. And the DA, there was a charge, another charge, like a stupid. A licensed charge, some other little charge. Okay.
Your car wasn’t parked, right. Or it might not have been the auto, but it was there some other little charge that I, I guess I had offered early on. I said, let him plead to this. It doesn’t have all that serious immigration consequences and other consequences. And the guy said, no, we did it in front of the judge.
And [00:20:00] then, so at this point, ———-,. So that charge came up because it was sort of, the DA was pissed that I have just one, he goes, what about this other charge, your honor, we still have that to contend with. And the judge goes, no, I was there when she offered to settle it. And you said, no. So I’m dismissing that dismissed in the interest of justice.
And that was probably the brightest win for me at that level. Cause this guy couldn’t beat me. This DA couldn’t beat me. He didn’t know what I was doing. He said, what are you doing? What’s your defense? He was like, it just wanted to beat me. And at that moment I was very, very happy. So that was a good trial.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system’s fair?
Tamara Zivot: Well, I can tell you that I can only comment on the criminal justice system from what I’ve seen and how I’ve been in courtrooms and my own personal involvement in the criminal justice system. It’s not fair to anybody. It is, I think the idea that it’s possibly fair, it’s just not fair.
I mean, you know, to the people that call themselves the victims, I don’t see how they’re any better off, you know, [00:21:00] they’re just mired all this anger and retribution because that’s what the system is going to do to you. That you’re going to go to court every game, be angry. And you know, then of course the defendants, you know, I see how I Veritas to the defendants.
We can get into that more deeply, but so it’s not fair to anybody. And then they put the person into prison for ridiculous amounts of time that they shouldn’t even be in prison at all. And it’s just the whole system just doesn’t seem the right way to deal with other humans.
Louis Goodman: Have you had any mentors along the way, people who’ve kind of helped you out, giving you some ideas?
Tamara Zivot: Well, you know, like I said, I’ve been lucky enough to shadow a lot of attorneys that are seasoned. Like there’s people like you, I could watch you in court. I’ve always watched how other people handle their matters in court. I’ve gone to, I’ve always sat, you know, what’s he getting, educating myself, like when I was at Public Defenders Office, you know, like my first trial, I said, I got to do good.
So I would go and watch others. Oh my God, the best [00:22:00] education is reading other, other attorney’s transcripts. So reading the transcripts at the Public Defender’s Office, I spent a lot of time. I would get up at two in the morning, go to the gym, go to the Public Defender’s Office. Start reading books, transcripts.
I would sit after hours. I used to go visit my clients and I would sit after hours and watch trials.
Louis Goodman: Well, you’ve mentioned going to the gym. What other sorts of recreational things do you enjoy?
Tamara Zivot: I like doing anything outdoors, outdoor sports. I like doing at the gym. I like to lift weights outdoors.
That’s where I would get like cardio. Like I love to cycle. I love to, I don’t really like to jog and listen going uphill. I like that kind of stuff. And I like music. I’m very, you know, of course I told you I was at piano player and I was in a lot of different bands, you know, both formalized at school as well as later on.
So I like, I love music. I love listening to music.
Louis Goodman: What sort of music do you listen to these days?
[00:23:00] Tamara Zivot: Same music. I’ve always listened to. I’ve always been into jazz. I love jazz. Okay. It’s complete amalgamation of everybody and everything is American made. I love old jazz, new jazz. It said there was a funk to my punk.
I love punk. I love country. I love heavy metal. I love jazz, I love hip hop. I love just about everything. I love classical.
Louis Goodman: You say you have children?
Tamara Zivot: Yeah. I’ve got two, two boys.
Louis Goodman: Really how old are they?
Tamara Zivot: They’re in their twenties, early twenties,
Louis Goodman: When you were raising your children. How did that work into your practice of law?
Tamara Zivot: It was a little bit difficult to try to, that’s why it’s good. I, you know, I have a public defender experience that because you know, they sort of did the business part. I just had to do my law, but you know, I was also learning all the time. So I would go there. I spend a lot of my hours [00:24:00] there, so I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them.
So that was hard. But you know what, when I was doing appeals work, that was better. Cause I could be home with my kids.
Louis Goodman: What kind of things keep you up at night?
Tamara Zivot: I got to tell you about something, but my parents thought I was going to do, but I’ll tell you about that later. What keeps me up at night? I just, I can’t sleep.
I have insomnia. I have a weird energy going through with it. That I can’t shut down.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, you know, you fell into a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently?
Tamara Zivot: Nothing really. I mean, I’ve had money and you know, I’ve made money. I bought houses and I made money and I don’t have a weird relationship with money.
I don’t like the habit or something. I just started spending it and I just don’t really, like I said, I liked the struggle. I liked the idea of trying to make money better. I like that feeling better. I wouldn’t do anything. I think they’re just, [00:25:00] I don’t know, give it to my kids. Yeah. Give it to my kid.
I think that’s the only thing I would do different. Give it to my kids.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you had a magic wand; you could change one thing in the world and the legal world or otherwise. What would that be?
Tamara Zivot: Love, just love.
Louis Goodman: Tamara Zivot, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I appreciate your interesting stories about your life and your practice of law.
Good talking to you. And I hope to see you again soon.
Tamara Zivot: Back at you.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed Joel Katz for music, Brian Mathison and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
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.