Nancy O’Malley – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. Nancy is the chief law enforcement officer in Alameda County. First appointed in 2009. She has been elected and reelected in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
The 2018 race being one that was hotly contested, but which she won by an overwhelming margin. She is a nationally recognized expert and advocate for victims of crime, and she has made juvenile victims, women, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, a professional priority. She has prosecuted hundreds of felony cases and personally tried numerous serious violent felony cases to jury verdict.
She has won and been presented with numerous awards and recognitions, as a matter of fact, too numerous to really mention, but I would urge you to simply Google her name and see what comes up. Nancy. O’Malley welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Nancy O’Malley: Thank you, Louis. I’m very happy to be here with you today.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m really honored that you’re participating in this program.
We’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve always admired you and your professionalism.
Nancy O’Malley: You’re very, very kind. I met you before you even before I joined the office. And when I met you and other people, I think you had a party at your house, which I was invited to. And that made me realize that this was a, not just a profession, but comradery and people who supported each other and people who were there to do justice.
And that was exactly what I was looking for in my career.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m certainly glad you found it in Alameda County. Right now you have the corner office on the ninth floor of the Alameda County courthouse, which as I mentioned in the intro, you are the chief law enforcement officer in Alameda County.
Is that that’s right?
Nancy O’Malley: That’s right. As you know, the building was built when Earl Warren was the District Attorney. And I’m so proud to sit at the desk that Earl Warren actually sat at when he was the DA.
Louis Goodman: Before you were in quite that elaborative a setting. You grew up in Contra Costa County.
Nancy O’Malley: I did.
Louis Goodman: And as I understand it, you were involved in some law enforcement and protection of victims at a very early age. And I understand that one of the things that you used in those days in order to enforce law in Contra Costa County was a garden hose.
Nancy O’Malley: That’s a funny story. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.
Louis Goodman: I wonder if you could tell us that story.
Nancy O’Malley: After I graduated from college, I was diagnosed with cancer and I needed to move back home to my parents’ house. So while I was having chemotherapy and one night I came home and the cars were parked in the driveway and I heard someone by the car and it was probably 11 o’clock.
So I said something like who’s there. And then I heard rustling and I ran and got the garden hose turned on the water. I’ve got it. I’ve got a hose, I’m going to hose you, if you don’t get away from our cars. And somebody jumped up and ran down the street.
Louis Goodman: Now I understand that when you were 12 years old, you used the garden hose on a prior occasion involving the Connors and the Wards.
Nancy O’Malley: Oh my gosh. How do you know this? So I grew up being a protector and I’m one of nine kids and I was the third oldest and I have a younger brother. So I came around the corner on our little street and we lived in Concord. And these two kids in the neighborhood were trying to beat up my younger brother.
And so I grabbed the hose and I went after them like a crazy woman, even though I was only one [person] and I was swinging the hose, they were swinging the hose, but I grabbed it and I started swinging at them. And then I chased them. They started running and I chased them. They literally jumped through their screen door to get away from me because they knew that if I caught them, I was going to beat them up.
And my mother forced me to go apologize to the mother of these two boys. So I went over to apologize and I said, I’m sorry that I, you know, beat up or hit your kids and that they jumped through your screen door. But if there weren’t such jerks and I wouldn’t have had to do it. And my mother, that’s not exactly an apology.
Louis Goodman: No. Are you originally from Concord?
Nancy O’Malley: Yes, I was born there. My parents are from Boston and they moved out here when my mom was pregnant with me. And so I was born in Concord and we lived there for my part of my childhood. And then we moved to Danville for the rest of it.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Carondelet High School, the girls’ Catholic school in Concord.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience like?
Nancy O’Malley: It was awesome. It’s right across the street from De La Salle High School, which one will know that school, you know, I really loved being in a school where it was all girls, the boys were across the street, but at that time we didn’t share classes with them, but, you know, there was not the kind of posturing and boy and girl energy in the classroom. So it was just a bunch of girls that were learning and having fun. And we had our own territory and I really appreciated that learning environment. And it was also a new and a progressive school, which I also liked very much. And then after school, you know, everybody would mingle the boys and the girls, boys from De La Salle, girls from Carondelet.
But when it came time to studying people were, you know, everybody got down to business in the classroom and that’s great.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to college?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Cal State. Then it was called Hayward now Cal State East Bay. And you know, an interesting story, which I share with a lot of young people who feel like, you know, maybe I’m not the best person.
Maybe I’m not the smartest, whatever, which is all untrue. But I remember there was one nun who was in Carondelet. And she told me, and a bunch of other young women that we weren’t smart enough to go to college. So we should look at secretarial school and things like that. So I had a little pause before I went to college in my adult life.
Louis Goodman: And what did you do during that gap time?
Nancy O’Malley: I had a full-time job and I was, you know, moving quickly in this company. I was the area trainer for all of these people. I was 20 years old and I was training much older people. And one of my friends said to me, you know, why aren’t you in college? Like, you’re smart.
What’s the deal here? And I said, nah, I’m not really college material. And she said, who told you that? And I told her the story. And she said, no, no, you need to go to college. So I did. And I always remind people, especially young people don’t ever let anyone define you. You know who you are and you do what you feel is best for you.
And don’t let teachers or other people pull you down. When you know in your heart that you have a lot of worth and a lot to give.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that that experience of working between high school and college made you more focused or a better college student?
Nancy O’Malley: I think that it did. It certainly opened my eyes up to a much broader population of people.
And the friends that I met at in college were friends that were, that are still, some of them are still my friends. And it also gave me a broader understanding of what adult life looks like. And I appreciated that because when I, in those two years that I was working full time, I didn’t really have an appreciation of the academics, but when I got to college, I realized that there’s a lot more than just having a job.
And I think that that was probably one of the most important lessons from those two years is, you know, you don’t have to just have a job with your education. You can do so much. Your choices are so much greater.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about being a lawyer?
Nancy O’Malley: Well, I when I was growing up, my parents would always say, particularly my mother, oh my God, you should be a lawyer.
Or my dad would say that and they say, Oh, you’re never going to be a lawyer. And when I got to,
Louis Goodman: I don’t mean to interrupt Nancy, but you come from a family of lawyers and, I mean, I come from a family of lawyers. And so I’m just sort of wondering if that affected things in the way you looked at it?
Well, I think that when I was younger and I was declaring to everybody who used to say, you should be a lawyer because of the way I handled myself. And I say, I’m never going to be a lawyer. What happened to me is that I, when I was in college, I became a rape crisis volunteer. And it was when rape crisis centers were first starting.
My father was the District Attorney of Contra Costa County at the time. And he funded those Rape Crisis Centers out of his DA budget. And he came home and told us what he was doing. And I volunteered and I walked into was system that to me was so unjust and so horrible for victims of crime. That I just knew whatever it was I was going to do in my life. I was going to work to change that paradigm of primarily women, but not just women who are the victims of sexual assault are victims of domestic violence were being treated. Like they were making it up or that they weren’t worthy of the system’s support or the justice. And so that really got me on my mind, I mean, I was really there to challenge the system.
I made complaints. I wrote letters to my father’s office, complaining about the way his lawyers were handling cases and I, made complaints to the police departments. About how they were working in interacting with victims of these horrible crimes. And so that was really what started my mind about justice.
And then when I graduated from college, like I said, I was diagnosed with cancer and it was pretty rare form. And nobody quite knew if I was going to live or die. And my doctor, my oncologist, who was at Stanford, the first couple of sessions, he would tell me what we were going to do. And I’d say, well, I don’t really want to do that.
I take the class on Monday. I want to do my chemotherapy on Tuesday. And he’d say, God, you should be a lawyer. And I said, God, you sound like my father. And that year I was applying to law school and thankfully, you know, entered.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Golden Gate in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: How was that?
Nancy O’Malley: It was great. First of all, it was 50% women. When most of the other law schools were like five or 10% women. So I liked that there was a strong, equitable environment.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Nancy O’Malley: I worked for a woman who had a small practice in Danville. I was actually a law clerk for her in the summer.
And then when I graduated, and passed the bar, I started working for her as a lawyer and it was a small firm. It was mostly real estate and business law. Our big client was Ken Behring and the whole Blackhawk environment. And so I used to review the contracts for the cars that they were buying, the old cars and the antique ones.
And I realized they were paying more for those cars and they were paying me as a lawyer. And also what I found was that it was just, it was boring. And, you know, the law was interesting, the practice was boring and I thought, this is what you retired to. It’s not where you start your profession.
And so I was very fortunate to have met Dick Iglehart along the way and called up and asked him if I could talk to him.
Louis Goodman: And I guess you did.
Nancy O’Malley: I did. I actually went to him and said, I think I should be a public defender, but I don’t know anyone in the public defender’s office. Can you help me out? And we talked for quite a bit and he said, you know, the way you think you should be a DA, because we need people that think about justice and think about fairness and think about victims and think about, you know, equities to be on the side where the district attorney, where a lot of authority exists.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You know, I, I just so agree with that. I think that Dick was really a pioneer in that sort of thinking and how way ahead of his time, he was in that kind of thinking of how way ahead of your time you were, in recognizing that kind of thinking. I mean, just now I start reading in the papers about how we need more people who have sort of a humanitarian bent involved in law enforcement and, and this was years ago.
Nancy O’Malley: Yeah. You know, I think that when you see, when you’ve experienced people and, you know, we can look at not only victims of crime. Of course, that was an important focus. Our office, your former office, my office was the first office in the country to have a division just dedicated to helping victims through the process.
Who thought that? Nobody but Lowell Jensen, the former DA, who I think was DA when you were hired,
Louis Goodman: I was the last person that Lowell hired.
Nancy O’Malley: Wow, that’s a distinction. But you know, his theory was I’m sick of victims being treated like evidence, they are people, and we need to start treating people like that.
I mean, that was incredibly progressive. Making sure victims were treated fairly and respectfully and things like that. But also at the same time, how we’ve evolved as we recognize that somebody could be a victim today and potentially a perpetrator the next day, or someone who’s charged with a crime, people come from very unique backgrounds and very different backgrounds.
And you know, that humanitarian component that you talk about, I think is really critical as we recognize all the different dynamics that people experience in their lifetime.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I was listening to somebody, a lot brighter than I am say. The people who are doing the hurting are people who are hurt themselves.
Nancy O’Malley: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: And I think we see that every day.
Nancy O’Malley: I agree. I mean, the fact that we recognize what psychologists have known for years or mental health professional, that people are a product of their childhood.
Louis Goodman: If someone were graduating from college and thinking about a career choice, would you recommend going into law?
Nancy O’Malley: I would. I would. It comes from me who declared many times I would never do it. You know, I think that the law is really about the concrete structure of our society. The law brings order. It brings to some extent, predictability, it brings stability for society.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law as a District Attorney, and then of course, as the elected District Attorney, how has that met or differed from your expectations of what being a lawyer would be like?
Well, that’s a good question. So I think that my expectations were that you could go in and just work as hard as you wanted and do good. What surprised me was that there was, you know, there was a structure in place that was hard to break in, particularly for a woman. You know, in those days, primarily it was the men who were attorneys and for sure, and District Attorneys, there was kind of this law and order rough and tumble attitude.
And, you know, a lot of when I first joined the office, that the women were often times relegated to the soft crimes, like family support or child abuse. And what surprised me was that you couldn’t just go and be all, although I say that, but then I want to say the caveat to that, I saw that happen and I saw people be held back.
Because they didn’t fit into the norm of this, you know, rough and tumble type attitude. But then I also saw our bosses at the time, you know, Jack Meehan was the DA after Lowell and Jack was really focused on that on order and law and motion and things like that. But he didn’t really interfere with people’s ability to excel and Tom Orloff.
And for sure, Dick Iglehart and then Tom Orloff, the DA, the person who became DA after Jack. You know, they, I think that they understood that they could benefit from the energy and the ingenuity that people like me and people like you were bringing to the office and that we were part of the evolution of the office to be modernized and to be continued to be as effective as it had been.
Louis Goodman: You know, in my intro remarks, I mentioned that you ran for District Attorney and that you got quite the challenge last time out. And I don’t want to relitigate that campaign. And fortunately you were successful in it, in my view, but I’m just wondering if you could just talk a little bit about what it feels like running for office.
You know I did it myself, not as successfully as you have, and I found it to be a very different experience than anything else that I’ve ever had in my life. And that it’s hard to explain to someone who’s never done it. So I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about your experience.
Nancy O’Malley: Sure. So, you know, I mean I look at my career and I do my job. The purity of heart, I’ll say, and I don’t mean to say so, you know, goody two shoes about it, but I come to work to make sure that all the things that I value in life, helping people. Running for election is has almost nothing to do with that.
You know, there are accusations that can be made that are false and there’s almost no way to correct it or to respond to it. You know, they say if you’re denying, you’re lying or something like that, it’s frustrating experience because if you could just get up and have a solid debate about philosophy or about practice and it was respectful and dignified, then it would be very exhilarating, but it’s not like that at all.
The campaigns now are ugly and they’re aggressive. I never took the low road. I kept reminding myself, Michelle Obama said, when they go low, we go high. And I did my best to stay above the fray and the personal attacks. And so that’s the first thing is that you just think, God, people like me, but out here, I feel like I’m the enemy of the people.
If you listen to my opponent, the other part of it is that it’s just so money driven. That of course, you know, you have to campaign, you have to get put information out, you know, things like that, but there’s a lot of outside money that infiltrates into these races.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, that’s what really shocked me about that campaign was how much outside money came, flowing into it.
Nancy O’Malley: It was insane. And I mean, I stayed on the path because I never looked at some of the flyers that were being put out, because I knew if I did, I would either feel upset and feel defeated or I’d want to go fight. And I mean, fight as in like beat the heck out of someone. Exactly. But I wanted to stay my one foot in front of the other, such that I kept telling myself one foot in front of the other state on your path.
But there was so much money and so much distortion and such you know, just a lack of recognition of the things that we’ve done. I mean, Alameda County DA’s office has always been progressive for its time.
Louis Goodman: What sort of mentors have you had over the course of your career?
Nancy O’Malley: I will say my first major mentor was my dad who, you know, even when he did not have his career in the DA’s office, he was in and out.
He loved doing trials. But he had eight kids. And so our nine kids and my mother said, you can’t make $300 a month. You need to go get a job. As a real lawyer, he always was brought back to the DA’s office. He started the Public Defender’s Office in Contra Costa. And yeah, and I used to go with them just, you know, when there’s that many kids, you find your time.
So I would say to him, he’d go to work on Saturdays, and I’d hang out with him. And you know, I’d read books, read, talk about the law, or you talk about circumstances. And so watching him, how he ran his office, how he worked and did a lot in the community also was my first real mentor.
The other mentors I’ve had, I have to say Tom Orloff was probably one of the best mentors I had in terms of leadership and guidance. And, you know, I’m probably more, definitely more animated than he is. But he’s very thoughtful and very strategic and very calculated in a healthy way, in a good way.
And it taught me a lot about when you’re sitting in the chair of the DA, the District Attorney, you know, you can’t be the hot head and run down and try every case, which I love trying cases. So he was a great mentor. And then I’ve had other really strong women that have guided me, Carol Corrigan was just amazing to watch a strong woman, good sense of humor at the same time balance in her life and not afraid to go for it and, you know, put herself out there. And so, you know, there were a lot of people, Buzz De Davega was a great mentor. He was a great friend. He was a wonderful guy, but he was so smart and so sophisticated in strategies, trial strategy. That I learned a lot from too, about trying cases. And, you know, I think that being, having friends like that, and you know, you, you were a little bit ahead of me, but we were in the same crowd, having these people that had that kind of experience and they were successful and smart, and they understood the law.
We got like a college degree in our first couple of years in the DA’s office, because we were friends with them and we got to sit at their feet, so to speak and listen to them, talk about how to do things and how to make an argument and how to try cases and stuff. And I was really, really blessed that I had those relationships.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, me too. I mean, Buzz was, as you well know, one of my great mentors.
Nancy O’Malley: And a great friend to you.
Louis Goodman: Great friend. Yeah, absolutely. How’s your family life been? How does that work in terms of being an elected official and being very, very busy and active in the community?
Nancy O’Malley: Well, my husband, is now retired, I was single for a very long time, was married when I was younger and that didn’t work out. I was single for a long time. And that was really when my career was my highest priority. then I met this wonderful guy who was perfect for me. And I think I for him, we’re a little bit older when we met and got to know each other and eventually got married, he was working in the banking industry and so he worked nights and when I would come home he would be gone for work to work. And when I got up in the morning, he would be, I go work out. And when I came back, he’d already be asleep. So I used to say, when I was younger, I need to marry an athlete. Who’s gone a lot of the times so I cannot have the distraction.
I can just, yeah, my career. And then when I got to a certain age, I said, well, I can’t have an athlete. Yeah. Now I need a coach. Like one of those professional coaches who’s gone all the time. And then I ended up marrying a guy who worked nights.
Louis Goodman: What other things do you like to do? Recreational pursuits travel, that sort of thing.
Nancy O’Malley: I do travel a lot. When I was in the DA’s office, someone gave me good advice, which was trying to take, to be gone, like go really, go away from the office for your vacation. And so I started going to Paris and I rented the same apartment for 20 years and I went the same time of year. And it was so invigorating first I loved Paris.
I mean, who wouldn’t, but I became very comfortable and very familiar. And it’s a place where you could walk everywhere.
Louis Goodman: Do you speak some French?
Nancy O’Malley: I do speak French. I mean, I’m better when I’m there, but when I was going there every year, I was very good. I used to tell people I can have a conversation, but I might not be able to get out of jail.
Louis Goodman: Well it’s a good thing you didn’t get arrested.
Nancy O’Malley: And then, I’ve traveled to Europe a lot and I’ve been to South Korea. I’ve been, but you know, just different places like that. I, I really liked to, be able to get that separation. Though I never really separated. I check my emails at night or something, but also during, just in my regular life, I mean, we both swim.
So we swim. I don’t swim during the week, but I swim on the weekends and we like to take walks and we have dogs. I have two dogs that, you know, are just great. Animals are great companions. They actually, the older one, he’s three now, but I had him when I was running for election and I would come home at night, sit on a chair, just, you know, kind of spent and he’d come over and just put his head on my knee and just sit there.
And I thought, okay, these dogs, these are great dogs. They’re great.
Louis Goodman: Yeah We have dogs too, and, and we have a little, little embroidered pillow and it says your dog loves you even when no one else does.
Nancy O’Malley: I’ll attest to that. Absolutely
Louis Goodman: Say you came into some real money, like $3 or $4 billion just dropped into your lap.
What, if anything, would you change about your life?
Nancy O’Malley: I would fund foundations for one thing. We have a family justice center, , which I created 15 years ago, and I would fund that thing so that there was money for anybody who needed help, that we would be very highly in doubt. I would, there’s a hotel in Oakland that I would love to acquire too.
It’s an old historical landmark right on Harrison Street. And when I first looked at this hotel on the outside, it’s inscribed dedicated to the nobler womanhood in 1926. And it was a hotel built for women, has 93 rooms, and I would buy that and I would fund, I would pour money into places like that, so that women and children don’t have to be on the street or they don’t have to stay in a violent environment kind of thing.
I mean, that’s what I would do with my money. I would travel. I would probably buy houses for all my nieces and nephews, but, you know, I think that’s the kind of stuff I would want to endow these programs that I focus on so that when I’m done, when I’m not doing this anymore, when I’m too old to do it, or I die that they don’t have to hope a new leader comes along and has the same values or, or wants to protect the same programs that I protect.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise, what do you think that would be?
Nancy O’Malley: What would that be? If I had a magic wand I’d end this COVID pandemic right now.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that would be greatly appreciated by everyone.
Nancy O’Malley: I mean, I think that I was at a funeral this morning for a Deputy Sheriff who died from COVID. At the courthouse, we all know him, wonderful guy. And you know, I now know a couple people who have died from COVID and more people who have thank God survived, but, you know, I would, that’s one thing I would do is try to get rid of the health issues. I was at a dinner one night on a foundation board that I sit on and there was a doctor who’s doing a lot of research in breast cancer, and we raised money for his research and he declared that he, with the work they’re doing that, they would find a cure of breast for breast cancer within 10 years.
And he was very confident in his declaration. And I think that, you know, those types of illnesses that they’re so close from a research perspective to making no longer be a death sentence when someone gets it, you know, that’s my magic wand.
Louis Goodman: Nancy, I know that you have lots of things going on in your office.
Can you give us a specific of one project that you’re really interested in right now?
Nancy O’Malley: Yes, I, four years ago, I created a working group in the office. It’s called the fair and equitable policing and prosecution working group. And we’ve spent the last couple of years really tearing ourselves apart to expose or uncover any implicit bias, to look at ways in which we are eradicating racism or race based decisions. Really making our office be a race neutral and fair and equitable to everybody with whom we deal with. The new part of that project is to create an advisory committee from the community and bring people in from the community to look at what we’re doing around those issues, and advise us. That’s a project that I’m very active, excited about. And we, the rules for the people that were serving on that, my working group was that you had to tell the truth, you had to speak up. It was nobody repeated what went outside the room. So people felt like they could talk honestly.
And we had to, we had to continue moving forward. That there was no complacency in this working group. And that’s what I’m looking for with people from our community who bring diversity to us and help to educate us and influence us in our, in the way we manage the important work that we do.
Louis Goodman: Nancy O’Malley. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been really fun talking to you. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we see each other from time to time. And this has been a real experience in being able to talk to you on the pod.
Nancy O’Malley: Thank you, Louis. Thank you so much for inviting me.
And I’ll just say that. You know you were one of the people I knew when I joined the office and I watched you and I learned from you and I’m so glad that we still have a relationship and a friendship. And it’s a pleasure when you come into court, it’s a pleasure to deal with you. And it’s great talking to you.
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer, many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make this show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman
Nancy O’Malley: It takes a lot of fortitude to hang in there when all of this craziness and bad stuff happens.
Nancy O’Malley – Podcast Transcript