Louis Goodman / Del Bahner – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to the Love Thy Lawyer podcast where we talk with attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today, we welcome Alameda County attorney, Del Bahner. Del is a criminal law practitioner based in Pleasanton. He represents indigent clients in a wide range of proceedings through the Alameda County Bar Association’s well regarded Court Appointed Attorney Program. He has extensive prior experience working and clerking on both the criminal defense and criminal prosecution sides of the courtroom, Del Bahner, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Del Bahner 00:45
Thank you. It’s good to be here, Louis.
Louis Goodman 00:48
Pleasure to have you. Where are you talking to us from right now?
Del Bahner 00:51
I’m at my office in Pleasanton located actually downtown Pleasanton.
Louis Goodman 00:57
How long have you been at that location?
Del Bahner 00:59
About two and a half years now.
Louis Goodman 01:02
I brought it up in the introduction but perhaps you could tell us a little more specifically about the kind of practice you have and the clients you represent.
Del Bahner 01:11
So I take both retain cases, as well as court appointed cases, everything from DUIs to murders, so it’s all criminal defense. And it ranges the gamut from the least serious to the most serious cases.
Louis Goodman 01:26
How long have you been doing that sort of work?
Del Bahner 01:29
A little over 10 years now.
Louis Goodman 01:31
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in the criminal world?
Del Bahner 01:36
Yeah, so I started in law school, interning at a couple DA’s Offices. When I was a first year law student at UC Hastings I applied to both the Public Defender’s Office as well as the District Attorney’s Office and didn’t hear back from the PD’s office, heard from the DA’s office and was excited to start going that route. I continued by clerking in the Sacramento DA’s office as well as San Mateo DA’s office through law school, and kind of had a change of heart towards the end of law school realize that prosecution wasn’t the route I wanted to go. Started looking into other areas of law, I briefly did a policy stint up in the Sacramento legislature and found my way back into criminal law doing criminal defense and haven’t looked back since.
Louis Goodman 02:29
Where are you from originally?
Del Bahner 02:30
I grew up in Pacifica, which is on the coast, a little bit south of San Francisco.
Louis Goodman 02:36
Is that where you went to high school?
Del Bahner 02:37
Yeah, I went to a public high school Terra Nova. It’s one of the two high schools in Pacifica.
Louis Goodman 02:43
So when you got out of Terra Nova, where did you go to college?
Del Bahner 02:45
UC Davis up near Sacramento.
Louis Goodman 02:49
I’ll bet that was a little bit warmer?
Del Bahner 02:50
Yeah, no surfing a little more of a rural environment. So it was a change for me.
Louis Goodman 02:57
Did you enjoy Davis?
Del Bahner 02:58
I did. I focused on my studies, focused on school, kind of hunkered down into that. But I also did a lot of extracurricular stuff, and I had a good time as well.
Louis Goodman 03:08
What sort of extracurriculars?
Del Bahner 03:11
I was on the triathlon team. So I was doing some swimming, running and biking. It was a club team, but it was competitive. We competed against other schools. And that was a fair amount of time training for that. I was also in a couple of plays at the school, I was thinking I was going to double major in drama and Political Science initially. So I was caught up in all of the extra preparation we needed to put on those plays. And then I also joined Student Government. I was in the judiciary committee, and eventually towards the end, I was the chief of the Supreme Court at UC Davis.
Louis Goodman 03:50
Well, all that sounds like a lot of excellent preparation for being a courtroom lawyer.
Del Bahner 03:56
Yeah. That was, I think what kind of compelled me into law school, was the courtroom, seeing television shows where people would jump up and say, objection, kind of always wanted to go around where I would be in the courtroom. I was not interested in doing transactional work and sitting behind the desk all day.
Louis Goodman 04:15
Now, you mentioned that you went to Hastings for law school. Did you go directly to Hastings after college or did you take some time off?
Del Bahner 04:22
I took some time off. I had one year between law school and college.
Louis Goodman 04:26
What did you do?
Del Bahner 04:27
I clerked or interned at the Department of Justice in the natural resources and Civil Rights Division. I also worked part time at Starbucks because it wasn’t paying very much. So I got some experience, got some idea what the law was like. But honestly, I don’t think it gave me a full understanding of what I was getting into. I saw certain areas of the law and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t exactly what I had anticipated.
Louis Goodman 04:58
What had you anticipated and what did you find once you actually got doing it?
Del Bahner 05:03
I think the thing that was most surprising to me was how much time was spent outside the courtroom doing preparation, and especially discovery. In the world of criminal defense and prosecution, there’s less haggling over discovery, but it’s still a big deal. And certainly in the civil world, discovery is so paramount and such a major portion of what everyone does. I didn’t really realize that going into law school, and I didn’t really see that in my internships that was so brief.
Louis Goodman 05:39
Do you think that having worked for a while in essentially in the legal world before going to law school helped you focus once you got to law school?
Del Bahner 05:51
Yes, it did. Although I saw people at Hastings, who were a few years older, had maybe worked in the legal field or legal-adjacent field for five to 10 years. And I think they had a better understanding of what they were getting into than I did. I felt like that first semester when I was taking civil procedure I hadn’t really encountered a lot of the concepts before and I saw that some of them had worked in large civil litigation firms, and seemed to know exactly what was going on. They could draw from their own experience and seemed to get it better. My experience is much more limited that but it did help. It definitely helped.
Louis Goodman 06:28
What did you think of being at Hastings and being in San Francisco after being in the rural environment of Davis?
Del Bahner 06:36
I liked it a lot. I really appreciate it being in the city. I liked going out and doing stuff you can only do in San Francisco meeting up with friends going to bars, generally having a time in my early 20s. I wasn’t thrilled about the location. It was in the tenderloin and you get what you get with the tenderloin. But overall, I had a great time. And I really enjoyed my experience at Hastings.
Louis Goodman 07:03
Yeah, I went to Hastings and similarly, I really enjoyed living in San Francisco and thought it was a whole thing was really a great experience. And I shared on occasion, some of your issues with hanging out with the neighborhood. When did you first start really thinking about being a lawyer? When did it occur to you, I want to be a lawyer?
Del Bahner 07:28
It’s probably the first year of college. Both my parents are actually attorneys. So you would think that I was being primed from the get, go to law school, but they actually boast that you don’t need to go to law school. There’s lots of other careers out there. They never were explicitly telling me to go to law school. But I think growing up there were arguments at the dinner table about politics and all kinds of stuff. And it became sort of a fun dinnertime activity to debate things. So I think maybe even subconsciously, I was already going in that direction. I liked having discussions and thinking analytically about things. But I didn’t really think concretely about law school until the first year of college. I was actually thinking I might do some drama, I might major in drama, tried to do some performances in plays. And after doing a couple of performances, I decided that wasn’t really the route for me, I wanted something that felt more meaningful to me personally, I could have more of a contribution to society. And I started thinking about law school as something where I could really have an impact and really do something that was meaningful to me.
Louis Goodman 08:39
What did the two lawyers who are your parents think about you going to law school?
Del Bahner 08:45
I think overall, they were excited, they were happy that I wanted to be a lawyer. But they said that I would have a lot of work to do. And they wanted me to realize what I was getting myself into.
Louis Goodman 08:57
You currently have a very successful law practice that you run, talk a little bit about your experience in terms of getting from graduating from law school to the point where you are in terms of your practice now. What’s your professional history?
Del Bahner 09:17
Absolutely. So as I was mentioning before, when I was in law school, I knew that I wanted to be in the courtroom, I was much more drawn towards criminal law than other subjects. But I interned at a couple DA’s offices thinking that might be my route. And I realized that I personally, was not thrilled about putting people into jail. I felt more emotionally connected to helping people stay out of jail. I had a couple experiences at DA’s office that repelled me from DA’s offices. I found that the work wasn’t what I wanted to do. And I ended up working right out of law school for a criminal defense practitioner, and I really liked it. I enjoyed the work, I found it really meaningful. I was much more drawn to it than I anticipated. But I realized that working for somebody else, I wasn’t going to be getting the kind of experience I wanted. I was mostly writing motions. I was outside the courtroom, I made a lot of routine court appearances, but I wasn’t going to be getting big trials. And so I started looking for a different position, I found an opening at the alternate Defender’s Office in Stanislaus County. I ended up moving out there, stayed there for a while working at the alternate Defender’s office and got a huge amount of experience. I was thrown in right off the deep end to major cases. The alternate Defender’s Office takes cases when the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest. And typically, that’s in multi defendant cases. There are usually aren’t too many conflicts in a DUI or a petty theft. Usually the conflicts occur on robberies and assaults and bigger level cases. And so I was thrown in to those types of cases, ended up getting a lot of major trial experience and a number of homicides under my belt, and then decided that I wanted to open up my own firm.
Louis Goodman 11:11
Probably also helped that you were co-counsel with experienced lawyers.
Del Bahner 11:15
Yeah. So I had my first murder trial with Tony Serra. There were four other attorneys on the case. So there were six of us, it was a six defendant murder case, and ironically, would have been a seven defendant murder case, but the actual shooter was not around. So the DA’s office charged everyone who was clearly not the shooter. And we all went to a three month trial, it was very long, very contentious, huge amount of motions to eliminate that lasted probably about a month, and then two months at the actual trial with the jury present, resulted in a hung jury. That was an amazing learning experience for me having someone like Tony Serra, who was older, more experienced, as well as the other four attorneys who were more experienced than me as well.
Louis Goodman 12:03
And who’s been interviewed for this podcast.
Del Bahner 12:06
Yeah, I listened to that one. I was curious to see what he would say.
Louis Goodman 12:10
What do you really like about practicing law?
Del Bahner 12:13
I like helping human beings. I like helping people in what’s typically the worst situation they’ve ever got themselves into, and having a really long, impactful, meaningful contribution to their life.
Louis Goodman 12:29
Would you recommend law to a young person who’s thinking about a career choice?
Del Bahner 12:33
I would. But I think it’s important to know why you’re getting into it and understand how much time it takes and how much money it takes to be an attorney. I think a lot of people see attorneys on TV, just think it’s glamorous, or just think they want to make a lot of money. They don’t think through what they’re passionate about and what they want to do. And I think working in the legal field, or something adjacent to it, and really seeing what entails is very helpful. I knew someone that started at Hastings was in their first year, had majored in creative writing before going to law school, and found out that first year they hated legal writing, wasn’t creative enough for them. And they ended up dropping out after taking out quite a bit of money in loans. So yes, I would absolutely recommend law school. But I think there’s a big caveat to that. And that’s that it helps to understand what you’re getting into.
Louis Goodman 13:27
Well, speaking of money, what about the business of practicing law, how’s that gone for you, and how’s that either met or different from your expectations about it? As attorneys running our own practices, whether we like it or not, we’re business people.
Del Bahner 13:44
I was fortunate in that the Alternate Defender’s Office allowed me to take retain cases, it was a private firm that had a contract with Stanislaus County. So I got some experience in that world before starting my own firm. But it certainly was a learning experience, because I was an employee at that firm, and I didn’t have to worry about cash flow and making sure the business ran. Now I have legal assistance, I have to pay the bills, support my family at home. So there is definitely that business side of it. I’m also fortunate in that I’m on the court appointed panel. And so there is a steady stream of cases that I have, in addition to the retain cases that I take. But the business side is huge. And I think that’s something that should be taught more of in law school. I don’t think there was enough of an emphasis on the business side when I was at Hastings.
Louis Goodman 14:37
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you started practicing law?
Del Bahner 14:42
The sort of cynical answer I have is, I wish I knew how much time was spent not doing the flashy courtroom stuff, right? The preparation and how much of a case is really won in that preparation. It’s exciting to see a TV show where somebody comes in and does a flashy cross examination and the witness is just crippled on the stand and they win the case. But so often the case is one in the discovery that you have in some of the pretrial motions and sort of behind the scenes type stuff. I think I wish I had known more of that ahead of time.
Louis Goodman 15:17
What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And then, let’s talk about the flip side of that a little bit. And what advice would you give to a young attorney just starting out?
Del Bahner 15:29
When I first started Hastings, one of the professors was introducing us to the school, and recommended that we chop the wood in front of us, what he meant by that was, you’re going to be overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you have going on. But if you focus on each task, and take that task seriously, and get through that task before you start the next one, it’s going to go much more smoothly. And I think that’s great advice. I find myself often in my practice getting overwhelmed. There’s clients that need attention. There’s dates coming up in court, there’s the business side of things. There’s new clients calling on the phone. And if I don’t focus on one task, the next thing in front of me, it can get overwhelming. But if I go back to that mantra, chop the wood in front of me, it helps.
Louis Goodman 16:18
Is that the advice you’d give to a young person starting out?
Del Bahner 16:22
Yes, absolutely. And that’s not to say that you can’t multitask, can’t do multiple things. But you take a deep breath, and each thing is surmountable on its own. Yes, I would.
Louis Goodman 16:35
What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Del Bahner 16:38
Certainly in the world of civil litigation, what’s frustrating to me in that small amount of time I have encountered it is how much of a fight there is over discovery. And I think if there was some way to make it more akin to the criminal world, it would help. I’ve had only a small amount of experience with civil litigators. But they were used to being very antagonistic to opposing counsel. And I think it might come from the fact that there’s more people in that community, they see each other less often, if there was more of an interest in basic collegiality with opposing counsel on some of the smaller issues, and less of a fight over some of the smaller things that may not be central to the case. It might go a long way in encouraging people to find better resolutions and ultimately get better outcomes for clients.
Louis Goodman 17:43
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Del Bahner 17:45
No. But I think it tries to be fair, and it’s the best system that we’ve got. It’s clearly not fair, as there’s DNA exonerations of people, there’s been upwards of almost 400 people who have been proven to be innocent. And I think any system that’s completely fair wouldn’t have that. But the system is trying to be fair and it’s always trying to improve itself.
Louis Goodman 18:12
I want to shift gears here a little bit, what’s your family life like and how has practicing law and your family life fit in with each other?
Del Bahner 18:22
It’s difficult, I have a 10 month old at home, got a little bit less sleep since he’s been born. And the fact that I have my own firm does allow me a lot more flexibility. In that way. It’s been a lot easier. I can calendar things in ways that I want. Spend more time with my family. But it’s still a difficult process. The law is not something that you can just dabble in and take lightly. It’s a pretty serious endeavor. And so there’s always a balancing act going on always a give and take and how much time I’m at home with my family and how much time I’m practicing.
Louis Goodman 18:56
Have you had any interesting travel experience in your life?
Del Bahner 19:00
Yeah, definitely. I like traveling a lot. I’ve been very fortunate. And then I got to travel growing up and continue doing that as an adult. I’ve been to Europe. I’ve been to South America, then to a number of countries on the Asian continent. I’ve never been to Africa. I would love to visit Africa. But I’m fortunate and I’ve traveled quite a bit.
Louis Goodman 19:21
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have to kind of get your mind and your body off of the law when you have a chance?
Del Bahner 19:30
I do like physical activity. I’ve been doing sports since high school as I was saying, I was triathlete in college. So I still run. I go swimming. There’s a pool here in Pleasanton that I swim at and go to the gym, like hiking as well. And then tried to do some traveling with my family. We just got back from a trip to Texas, visiting my brother-in-law, but we’re also big travelers terms of international travel. We haven’t done anything International in the last 10 months since my son was born. But that’s the goal is to kind of work up bigger trips. That trip to Texas was the first time he got on a plane. So in the future, we’re hoping to do some more international travel with him.
Louis Goodman 20:14
You do any surfing?
Del Bahner 20:15
Yeah, I do. Growing up in Pacifica, I did some surfing. But I was also fortunate, because I have family in Hawaii. And visiting them I got to surf there the waters a lot warmer, a lot easier environment to learn how to surf. My family members, my uncle, my cousins are incredible surfers they serve on giant waves. I surf on some smaller waves. I’m proficient but not quite as good as they are.
Louis Goodman 20:43
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?
Del Bahner 20:46
I think sometimes lawyers get too caught up in proving their point and forget what is in the best interest of the client. And I say that, because I do that. I try not to but I think we all do to some degree. It’s possibly ingrained in us. It’s possibly the teachings we have. But we want to win that fight. We want to be in the courtroom, we want to prove our point. And sometimes that’s not ultimately what the client is seeking or the thing that matters most to them.
Louis Goodman 21:16
So you think to some extent, it’s a matter of like really listening to the client and understanding what the client’s need is, as opposed to what we as lawyers sort of think the client’s needs?
Del Bahner 21:27
Yes. I think that’s a great restatement of what I’m saying. Absolutely. I think that listening to clients is paramount in any area of law, especially in criminal defense, it’s huge, because sometimes we assume that a client is going to have the same preference or same desire that a previous client did, it might seem like a similar fact pattern to us, we might be seeing a lot of the same types of things. But the client is very different in their preferences, and ultimately what they want the outcome of the case to be.
Louis Goodman 22:00
What sort of things keep you up at night?
Del Bahner 22:03
Certainly my case is do. I have some in particular where I feel particularly close to the client or bad for what’s going on in their life, others where the facts are difficult or contentious. So it could be a variety different reasons. But I’d say my cases primarily.
Louis Goodman 22:20
How do you define success?
Del Bahner 22:23
I think there’s two parts to it. One is an inner sense of happiness, and accomplishment. And the other is sort of an outward and that other people see you as doing well. And I think that sometimes people get focused on one or the other, but I think they both are a component of it. Certainly in American society, it’s very easy to look at other people and say they are or they aren’t successful based on their position or station in life. But we often don’t know what’s going on internally, we’ve seen celebrities that appear to be doing extremely well, somebody like Robin Williams, who was for all intents and purposes successful, and they are obviously not happy with what was going on in their life.
Louis Goodman 23:07
Is there somebody living or dead who you’d like to meet?
Del Bahner 23:11
Think I’d like to meet Barack Obama, personally was inspired by him. And I think a lot of politicians don’t inspire me very much. And I felt like for as divisive as politics is, he was a relatively unifying figure, still, broiled in politics, still very divisive, but it impressed me how much he brought people together from very different views and different ideological camps.
Louis Goodman 23:41
Let’s say you came into some real money, let’s say three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Del Bahner 23:50
Probably spend more time with my family, invest some of the money and probably work less, but I think I would still be doing this job at least in some capacity.
Louis Goodman 24:01
Let’s say you got 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, Super Bowl ad, you could say whatever you wanted, in an advertisement to this enormous audience. What would you like to put out there? What would you want to say?
Del Bahner 24:16
Our society tends to look away from people that are charged with crimes, they tend to ignore them or assume they’re the worst of the worst. And having been in this world for the last 10 years plus, I think that’s not a good way to view criminal defendants. And I think we’d be better off as a society if we had a little more compassion and a little more understanding for the position they’re in and weren’t so judgmental based simply on a charge that may or may not be true and might be indicative of the worst thing that’s ever happened to somebody and doesn’t represent them as an entire human being.
Louis Goodman 25:00
Have you ever given any thought to the notion that in the United States we incarcerate more people than any other country on Earth, including People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation?
Del Bahner 25:15
Yes, absolutely. So when I was in law school, I wrote a policy paper on prison overcrowding in California. And we tend to think of ourselves in California as more progressive and not as tough on crime as, say, the south. But the fact was that there were conditions the legislature had set up that found that the prison overcrowding was so abhorrent. Living Conditions were so bad, that it was a constitutional violation, and ended up mounting to cruel and unusual punishment, because people were living in such close quarters. So what you were saying, Louis, about how our incarceration rates are worse than these dictatorial regimes that we looked down on and we ascribe to be better than is heartbreaking. And I think that we can do better as a society.
Louis Goodman 26:05
If someone wants to get in touch with you, someone wants to retain you for a case or have a word with you or another attorney would like to get in touch with you. What’s the best way to do that?
Del Bahner 26:17
Can find me through my website. It’s bahnerlaw.com. And that’s spelled B-A-H-N-E-R-L-A-W.com.
Louis Goodman 26:31
Del, is there anything that you want to talk about that we haven’t touched on, that we haven’t discussed anything else you want like to say?
Del Bahner 26:39
I want to thank you for having me on this podcast. I have listened to a lot of your other podcasts. I really appreciate being able to hear about what’s going on in the legal community. Being somebody that’s only been in Alameda County for the last couple of years. It’s great to learn about a lot of the other lawyers in this community. And you’ve interviewed a lot of interesting people. I really appreciate you having me on the show.
Louis Goodman 27:02
Del Bahner, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Del Bahner 27:08
You too Louis. Thanks.
Louis Goodman 27:10
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Del Bahner 27:50
It would be preferable if there was less of a focus on attacking the other party.
Louis Goodman 27:58
We need to start that over.