Charly Weissenbach – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:05
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 serves as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County. She prosecutes child sexual assault cases as a member of a special team. Previously, she prosecuted and has tried numerous felony and misdemeanor cases, including animal cruelty, domestic violence and murder. She has a compelling courtroom presence and has established her reputation for excellence. Charlie Weissenbach, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Charly Weissenbach 00:56
Thanks for having me, Lou.
Louis Goodman 00:57
It’s a pleasure to have you. Where is your office located right now?
Charly Weissenbach 01:02
I am sitting in my office in Dublin, California right now.
Louis Goodman 01:06
And that’s part of the Alameda County District Attorney’s office correct?
Charly Weissenbach 01:11
It is. Our Dublin office is in the East County Hall of Justice, which we refer to as ECHOJ, and Alameda County DA’s office has offices all over the county, so this is the furthest east.
Louis Goodman 01:21
What kind of practice do you have right now? What sort of assignment do you have?
Charly Weissenbach 01:27
I’m currently signed to our sexual assault unit, which includes prosecution of child sexual assault as well as some adult sexual assault depending on the circumstances. The goal of the team is to have specially assigned prosecutors to handle it from charging all the way through to a jury trial, so that the particularly vulnerable victims won’t have to get to know more than one prosecutor as they navigate the justice system, preliminary hearing trial, etc.
Louis Goodman 01:51
How long have you been in that assignment?
Charly Weissenbach 01:53
I’ve been in this assignment since March of 2020. So I had the great pleasure of getting familiar with child sex cases while also being quarantined in my own house.
Louis Goodman 02:07
And how long have you been in the DA’s office?
Charly Weissenbach 02:11
So I was a law clerk in this office in 2012, the summer of 2012. I started as a post bar September 16, of 2013. And then after I got my bar results in November of 2013, then I started as a deputy DA.
Louis Goodman 02:25
Charly Weissenbach 02:27
Louis Goodman 02:28
Where are you from? Originally?
Charly Weissenbach 02:30
Originally, I’m born and raised in Lancaster, California, which is part of the Mojave Desert including Roseman, Palmdale, etc. So I am from the desert, basically.
Louis Goodman 02:44
Is that where you went to high school?
Charly Weissenbach 02:46
Yes, I graduated from Lancaster High School, and then I got out as quickly as possible and went to San Diego for college. I did not want to be in the high desert any longer than I needed to.
Louis Goodman 02:58
There’s a lot of air force in Lancaster, isn’t there?
Charly Weissenbach 03:02
There is. My grandfather actually retired from the Air Force and that’s what brought my dad’s side of the family to the area.
Louis Goodman 03:07
I see. What did you do in high school? Anything interesting besides studying practical math and American history?
Charly Weissenbach 03:17
Not really. You know, sometimes I joke that my high school just didn’t really have a whole lot of options. I coach mock trial now and I didn’t even know mock trial existed back then. So nothing super interesting, honestly.
Louis Goodman 03:30
Now, when you graduated from high school in Lancaster, where’d you go to college?
Charly Weissenbach 03:34
I went to SDSU, San Diego State University for college here, also in California.
Louis Goodman 03:39
What was that experience like?
Charly Weissenbach 03:41
It was fine. I did not love college. I don’t think I did it the same way a lot of people do college, especially SDSU. I was supporting myself, I put myself through college and I was working usually two and during the summers three jobs. So I wasn’t partying or kind of exploring or even really going to the beach as much as most people in San Diego. I worked a lot.
Louis Goodman 04:06
What sort of work did you do?
Charly Weissenbach 04:08
So, I worked full time for a savings and loan company and I worked part time for an investment firm and then I worked nights and weekends at 24 Hour Fitness.
Louis Goodman 04:19
Wow! That’s quite a schedule.
Charly Weissenbach 04:23
Yeah, it was. It was a lot. I worked 40 hours at the loan and savings, so I fit in other jobs where I could.
Louis Goodman 04:31
And what sort of academics did you study while you were there?
Charly Weissenbach 04:36
I majored in Political Science, I got a minor in sociology as well. And it’s funny because I already knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. So when I went there for admitted students day I said, “What do people who want to be lawyers major in?” and they said “Polisci.” and I said, “Okay! That’s my major.” I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, I regret that!
Louis Goodman 04:54
So you knew you wanted to be a lawyer even before you went to college.
Charly Weissenbach 04:58
I knew I wanted to be a lawyer in fourth grade.
Louis Goodman 05:01
Really? What prompted that?
Charly Weissenbach 05:04
So I was seven, when I started fourth grade turned eight, in fourth grade, I believe. No, the other way around. I was eight and turned nine. I was pretty young and I remember that we had a career day in fourth grade and I distinctly remember the teacher in the school, because I moved around a lot, so that’s how I categorize my life in my mind. The teacher was talking about different careers and she said that if you work as a lawyer you can make $600 an hour. I remember, wouldn’t that be nice, right? We’re both sitting here like, okay, you got lied to, that’s cool, though. But I remember sitting there and even at eight, right, I didn’t really have a great appreciation for how much money that was. But I knew that if I made that much money we could pay rent and get groceries with the same paycheck. And I was intimately familiar with my kind of parental monetary situation. And I knew that we couldn’t get groceries and rent with the same paycheck. And so the idea of not getting evicted, and not getting bills in the mail that were pink, because they’re about to turn off the gas or electric. And the idea that I didn’t have to wait for a certain time of the month to actually be able to buy groceries was just so compelling that I decided to be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman 06:16
When you graduated from San Diego State did you go directly to law school? Or did you take some time off?
Charly Weissenbach 06:24
I went directly to law school. I knew that law school was what I wanted to do, although for different reasons by that point in college and I also appreciated my personality and thought that if I took a break, then I wouldn’t go back, I wouldn’t restart it. If I sat down and caught my breath then that was, I’d lose my momentum, if you will.
Louis Goodman 06:43
So where did you carry your momentum to? What law school?
Charly Weissenbach 06:47
At the time, it was still called Boalt Hall, but now it’s Berkeley School of Law.
Louis Goodman 06:52
So you must have really had a very impressive academic credentials in order to get into Boalt, Berkeley.
Charly Weissenbach 07:01
We’re on the podcast, so I won’t use the phrase that I would like to but I worked very hard!
Louis Goodman 07:06
I’m sure you did. So what was it like being in Berkeley after coming out of really much warmer climates and Southern California, and then all of a sudden you’re in Berkeley, which really is kind of a different environment from San Diego or Lancaster, I would imagine?
Charly Weissenbach 07:27
To say the least. Berkeley was a very different environment. The climate didn’t affect me, one way or the other to be quite honest, it was more the people, the environment itself. Law school felt very abrasive for me. I mean, I put myself through college and I put myself through law school, but I didn’t know any lawyers my whole life. We didn’t have any attorneys in the family, I was the first person in my family to go to college and one of the first women in my family to graduate high school without getting pregnant. So it was very, very different from what I’m used to and where I came from. I remember feeling like the people around me were speaking a different language that I quite literally could not understand and I remember sitting there looking at one of my classmates, like boat shoes, you know, those like Sperry shoes that they just slip on and off? And I remember sitting there thinking, this guy has boat shoes, because he literally has a boat. I do not belong here! So I really felt like I did not belong in a lot of ways, so it was just different, really different.
Louis Goodman 08:33
At some point you must have acclimated a bit to the law school experience. What was that like?
Charly Weissenbach 08:41
I did, I acclimated. I actually joined La Raza, which is a group of law school students and a lot of other students, traditionally from Latino or Hispanic heritages, but not exclusively. And I found my kind of friends, at least initially, in that group. I felt like I fit in more and then as time went by I found kind of my friends within my group of 1Ls, that I became much closer to who weren’t the generic law student, I guess, which is why I felt like I could be comfortable and kind of hang out with them. But it was interesting because I would tell a story sometimes about my childhood or my family or whatever and one friend in particular, sometimes would just interrupt me and say, hashtag sad desert stories. Like you’re telling another sad desert story, please be quiet. And I didn’t realize like, “Oh, that’s weird. You guys didn’t have CPS like coming to the house to like, make sure you had food? No? Okay, cool. Got it. Noted.” Whoops!
Louis Goodman 09:39
Do you speak Spanish?
Charly Weissenbach 09:41
I do not. I do not speak Spanish. I understand a little bit of Spanish but I think it would be tooting my own horn to say that I speak it.
Louis Goodman 09:49
When you graduated from Berkeley. What was your first legal job?
Charly Weissenbach 09:55
My first real legal job was this.
Louis Goodman 09:57
In the District Attorney’s office? How did you get it into the District Attorney’s office, how did you find your way there?
Charly Weissenbach 10:03
During law school, I worked as a 1L the summer after my first year in law school, at the US Attorney’s office down in San Diego for their criminal division. And my direct supervisor was someone who used to be a DA. And so I spoke with him quite a bit about kind of what I wanted to do and where I would go. I didn’t know. I tried a bunch of different clinics, and some of them were really rewarding, but they weren’t exactly the right fit and then when I talked to the AUSA, the Assistant US Attorney who talked about being a DA, I got a feel for how much of his job now was really focused on the investigation and preparation of cases and how he felt like when he was a DA, he was in the trenches, and he was throwing punches, and he was doing murder cases. And I was like, yeah, that feels like that fits my personality better than this. I think that’s what I want to do. I applied to Alameda, I applied to San Francisco and I talked to a lot of folks and had some good mentors to try and guide me into what might be best. Alameda County had such an amazing reputation that it was my first choice, hands down. And when I got it, I was elated.
Louis Goodman 11:10
Charly Weissenbach 11:12
Louis Goodman 11:12
What is it that you really like about practicing law as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney?
Charly Weissenbach 11:21
I love that I get to do what’s right. Every day.
Louis Goodman 11:24
If a young person was coming out of college and thinking about a career, would you recommend the law? And specifically, would you recommend criminal prosecution as a career choice?
Charly Weissenbach 11:37
Yes, but it’s a hard road. It’s a stressful road. And it’s one that quite frankly, took me $200,000 into debt to be able to do. So I think that people’s financial situation should be considered. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I feel blessed to be able to have taken out loans to fund my education. I don’t think a long time ago, that would have been possible, right? You just had to pay for it or you couldn’t do it. So I feel blessed that I was able to do that. But it is, I mean, it’s a lot to know that I need to make that student loan payment, to know that it’s more difficult to buy a house too. Law schools have only gotten more expensive even since I went. So I think it’s a big undertaking. I think for the person with the right drive and demeanor and part, that it’s a great place to be, especially prosecution, but I don’t think it’s something that should be done lightly.
Louis Goodman 12:27
How has practicing met or differed from your expectations about it?
Charly Weissenbach 12:33
Hmm, good question. I don’t know that I went into it with too many expectations, mostly because I was just so, uninformed is probably strong, but unfamiliar with what that looked like. But I will say that I do find the day to day to be much more different than the in courtroom, the in courtroom, I think is maybe what our expectations become just being in trial and making the arguments and doing opening statements and calling witnesses, and that’s a huge part of it, my favorite part of it, quite honestly. But even just the day to day can just be very different because you’re not in every day. So there’s days where I play Legos with little kids, like that’s what, I get paid DA salary to build some Legos, to at least make sure they’re comfortable. Or I get paid a DA salary to transcribe my own recordings, because we can’t, as an office, afford to send them out. I work a lot more nights and weekends than I thought it would, but on the whole, I think it’s more or less what I expected. Especially you know, as law clerks, we got a good feel for it, so then we could really make an informed choice before we applied as DAs.
Louis Goodman 13:38
What do you think’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Charly Weissenbach 13:42
Hmm, that’s a hard one.
Louis Goodman 13:45
Well, let me ask you this. What advice would you give to someone who was just starting out in their practice?
Charly Weissenbach 13:52
I’d tell them to do what feels right. Whether it’s choosing prosecution, or defense, or private, whether it’s federal, whether it’s state, whether it’s something different. But really to follow your heart and to do what feels right. I had a law school friend once, when I said that I really loved my job here he was like, “Okay, but what are you going to do next?” I was like, “I think this is like, this is where I want to be.” He was like, “That’s it? That’s all you’re going to do? Is just work for the County of Alameda?” And I remember thinking, that’s, that’s your, you get to have that, but I don’t feel like that about what we do and about what I’m doing. But he’s making way more money than me now, but we took very different paths.
Louis Goodman 14:31
Money isn’t everything, is it?
Charly Weissenbach 14:33
No, it’s really not. And it’s funny, because even now, like I’m making more than both my parents did combined, growing up. And I mean, they were divorced. They were in different households, so it was a different thing but I’m still doing much better than they are even though money is not why I chose this. If I was doing it for the money, I wouldn’t be doing this. So yeah, no, it’s not everything.
Louis Goodman 14:55
What if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Charly Weissenbach 15:00
No matter how much we try and fix it, that justice can be different depending on where you’re from and who you are. And that’s often the color of your skin, sometimes your income, but I think that I would want it to be fair. The system, even as it is, isn’t fair and I know that.
Louis Goodman 15:21
That leads to my question of, you know, do you think the system is fair? And you said that you don’t think it’s fair, so why not?
Charly Weissenbach 15:34
I don’t think that everybody’s treated equally. I think that’s the goal and I think that when sometimes we boil it down, right, each individual DA, maybe they treat everyone the same, each DA’s Office, maybe they treat everyone the same. But if we’re looking wider than that, I think that there’s a lot that isn’t fair, and hasn’t been fair, and there’s systemic racism that is still here and we see it every day. And in order to address it, we need to first recognize it, and I think most people are afraid of doing that. But I think we need to recognize it, and then do everything we can, in at least every case that we have, to make sure that it’s fair every single time. Because that’s the only way to fight the bigger injustice.
Louis Goodman 16:24
Let me shift gears here a little bit. How about your personal life, your family life, and how has practicing law, being a Deputy District Attorney, affected that or fit into it?
Charly Weissenbach 16:35
It’s affected in a lot of ways. Even just with my family, I have family members who are still very upset that I chose prosecution over defense, because they need criminal defense attorneys on the regular. So they resent that I chose this side instead of that side. So I mean, even just every Thanksgiving, every Christmas it’s pretty, entertaining, if you will, to get the grief that I get about picking this. Other than that, I mean, this job isn’t a job. I mean. It’s a lifestyle and I feel that way about most attorneys, if not all, in the same way that I think it’s true for nurses and doctors and other professions where you’ve chosen a lifestyle. And so because of that, it’s hard. It’s hard to explain to someone why I’m not available because I’m picking a jury if they’ve never picked a jury and they don’t get it.
Louis Goodman 17:21
What sort of things do you do recreationally to clear your head a little bit after a day in court, a day in your office, a day dealing with victims of serious crime?
Charly Weissenbach 17:35
I love the outdoors. So if I can do something, and literally breathe in fresh air, while also hopefully getting my heart rate up and just be able to kind of sweat out that frustration and that tension and that sadness, sometimes it really helps. Especially if I can do with my dogs who I love or even just by myself, go for a hike, go for a run, go for a bike ride.
Louis Goodman 17:58
Yeah, you’re a pretty avid bike rider, aren’t you?
Charly Weissenbach 18:01
I try. I ride every year for Bike MS Waves to Wine. And so I have a good friend in the office who inspired me to do that. And does that for her own reasons too. And so I started riding with her, and I try and do that as often as I can. And some of the other people in the office ride as well, as well as some of the defense bar. So it’s nice to be able to do that activity, you know, and get out of the four walls and out of your own head.
Louis Goodman 18:30
Yeah, I’ve found my bicycle has helped me keep my sanity, especially through the whole COVID period that we’ve all been experiencing.
Charly Weissenbach 18:40
Exactly. Everyone was locked down, they’re like, what am I gonna do? I can’t go to the gym. I was like, there’s a whole list would you like, Let’s go bike riding. Let’s go hiking. Let’s go run. It was still very hard, especially when the fires and COVID happened at the same time. That was rough.
Louis Goodman 18:55
Yeah, because you can go outside but you can’t breathe.
Charly Weissenbach 18:57
Louis Goodman 18:59
How about travel experience? Have you traveled anywhere that’s interesting?
Charly Weissenbach 19:04
I left the country for the first time in college and now it’s all I want to do sometimes.
Louis Goodman 19:09
Where’d you go?
Charly Weissenbach 19:10
Initially, I went to Mexico, which was really fun. And then during college, I studied abroad at Oxford and then while I was there I traveled to Scotland and then also Dublin, Paris, Rome, Berlin and then after I took the bar, I traveled to Southeast Asia and I traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, is really beautiful.
Louis Goodman 19:33
Any place really stand out as someplace that you really liked?
Charly Weissenbach 19:37
I loved it all. It’s so different. I remember thinking that I really enjoyed the hiking in Northern Thailand, which I also did alone, which was very empowering, as a young woman traveling alone. It was scary, but very empowering, you know, and I just adjusted my travel tendencies and made sure I was only out during the daylight, that sort of stuff. But that was the most beautiful kind of nature wise. I remember feeling like Paris was very romantic, even though I was just there with my best friend, but it just felt romantic and beautiful. I remember Dublin being just like the most fun. I remember having the most fun. I remember Berlin feeling the most historical, it’s hard, because like all these different places just have such a different feel that it’s hard to pick a favorite.
Louis Goodman 20:20
If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what sort of job do you think you would like to have?
Charly Weissenbach 20:23
That is a perfect question to follow up on what I just said, actually. So I decided when I was waiting for bar results, I was very stressed out about what I would do if I failed. And so I decided that if I failed the bar, or if I didn’t become a lawyer, then what I wanted to do is, I thought of it as like a travel book, I guess now it’d be like a blog, but I’m just not that hip, or podcast, like your hip podcast, I wanted to do basically like travel advice for a single woman traveling alone with her dog. Because that’s such a unique niche, but I think a lot of women would really enjoy being able to travel.
Louis Goodman 20:58
How do you define success?
Charly Weissenbach 21:01
I honestly define success as happiness. I went to a different school for every grade. I remember meeting kids and telling them not to become my friend, because I wouldn’t be around long. So now that I’m here, what feels successful is feeling comfortable that I can have my dogs and I can take care of my brother and I can come to work every day. And I can do what I love most days, and feel happy in each of those parts of my life. That feels like success.
Louis Goodman 21:36
Let’s say you came into some real money, 3 or 4 billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Charly Weissenbach 21:44
I mean, I do. I think I would do some things differently, but not a lot. So for example, I’d pay off my house, but I wouldn’t move. I wouldn’t plan to move. I love, it’s fine, two bedrooms has enough. I’d still work here, and probably take more vacations, but it’s still work here. I know that I would want to at least provide a safe environment for my sister and my nephews and my parents to live in, and my extended family too. But I think what I’d really want to do is some sort of philanthropy dedicated to making sure people don’t go hungry. I sometimes felt hungry as a kid. I remember eating only popcorn for dinner, because that’s all we had. And when I was a kid, that was kind of fun, that was cool. But now looking back on it, I just don’t want anyone to have to feel that way and I don’t just mean in the United States, I mean, kind of generally.
Louis Goodman 22:39
Let’s say somebody gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl. A 60 second ad on the Super Bowl, have a big platform, big microphone, to put a message out to the world. What would you like to say?
Charly Weissenbach 22:54
You know, I think a lot of people struggle with not feeling perfect, and not being born into the body they feel like they should have or not being wealthy enough to be able to do X, Y, or Z. And I think that if we could all just accept and love who we are, that the world would be a lot better place for anyone. Black, white, brown, transgender, male, female. I just think that it could be a lot better if we all just accepted that instead of having all this angst and anguish over that, and what that looks like and what we have to prove and who we should be, as opposed to just who we are.
Louis Goodman 23:33
Is there anything that you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed? Anything that you’d like to say?
Charly Weissenbach 23:39
This will probably be the only time I’m ever on the radio or the internet, so this is my moment to thank the people who have made me me. I used to resent where I was from and my upbringing, not my parents necessarily, but just the hardships that that took. And as I sit here now, I’m just so thankful to my mom, and my dad and my siblings, and my friends and my mentors who have got me here, in a place where someone like you even wants to talk to me on a podcast, but in a place where I feel just really happy to be loved and supported all along the way from everyone who helped me and I don’t think any of us can do it alone. So I want to say thank you,
Louis Goodman 24:17
Charlie Weissenbach, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a delight to talk to you.
Charly Weissenbach 24:26
Thank you so much for having me.
Louis Goodman 24:30
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email, I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Charly Weissenbach 25:13
That’s hard. That’s a hard one. That’s a good one, but it’s hard. Okay, let me think. You know, for somebody who gets paid to talk, I feel like I got nothing.