George Wood Deputy DA / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
George Wood / 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 has served as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney for more than 30 years. He is currently assigned to the Alameda County Narcotics Task Force. In that capacity he works closely with frontline police officers from a variety of agencies. He also has extensive experience prosecuting and managing every type of criminal matter known to the court system. We have litigated numerous matters against each other.
And it is my privilege to know him, George Wood, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
George Wood: Great. Thanks Lou. It’s nice to be here.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about the [00:01:00] assignment that you have right now.
George Wood: Well, you know, I love it actually. So I’m going to have right now, I’m assigned to the Alameda County Narcotics Task Force, as you said, and it is a team of detectives that have been put together by various agencies. Each agency, such as CHP, Oakland Police Department, Alameda PD, Bart, our Probation Department and the Sheriff’s Office, along with several other agencies will assign an officer to the task force for maybe a two-year period. As part of that task force, it’s their job to try and focus on narcotics cases that are higher level in terms of quantity of narcotics being the traffic to and the sophistication of the types of cases.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office located?
George Wood: Which building? So my actual office that I spend the most time at is at what we call ECHO J. It’s the East County [00:02:00] Hall of Justice or the DA’s Office. They are on Gleason Drive here in Dublin, but the task force itself operates out of a location off of East 12th off of 23rd Avenue in Oakland.
So I do spend time out there as well. I kind of bounce back and forth between the two.
Louis Goodman: Has COVID affected the way that either you work or they work or the way you work,
George Wood: It’s affected the way I work a little bit in the sense that it’s slowed things down inside the courtroom for me.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally from?
I was actually born in Oakland at Peralta Hospital, which my grandfather was the head of actually, and grew up in Orinda.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school?
George Wood: Yeah. I attended Miramonte High School. As you know, it’s funny because when we first moved, we were on kind of the poorer side of town by over closer to the high school.
And then as we got older, my grandparents had some property [00:03:00] over by the country club. So we built the house over there and moved over there. And that’s where I finished my years in Orinda at.
Louis Goodman: Miramonte?
George Wood: Yes.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience for you?
George Wood: You know, I think it was a really, it was a good experience.
I really felt like we grew up at a good time. I mean, you know, there were various serious things going on actually in those days, part of the reason I think why we were living in Orinda because at least my mom grew up in Oakland and, you know, you had the Vietnam War that was going on and you had a lot of social unrest at the time, but Orinda was a world away from a lot of that.
And I’m sure my parents were definitely afraid that we were going to run off to Haight-Ashbury, which was only really, you know, 40 minutes away from where we were at. But those were, those fears were absolutely groundless. We lived in an area where there was open space. So when we could just, as kids run up into the Hills all day long and come down for lunch and come down for dinner [00:04:00] and then go back up the next day.
So, you know, those were great summers. The schooling in Orinda was very good.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of high school, where’d you go to college?
George Wood: I went to UC Santa Barbara. I thought about going to UC Berkeley, but I probably would have lived at home my first year. You know, part of the whole college experience is getting away from home and kind of trying to dip your toes in the water of establishing your independence and finding out what it’s like to be away from home at all.
So I wanted to go to the UC school and Santa Barbara was far enough away that, you know, if it was a holiday weekend, like Thanksgiving, or something like that, I could actually drive back. And it was not like I was going to be coming home on a nightly basis. And yeah, the studying was wonderful.
You couldn’t ask for more, you have the beach right there and the campus is beautiful. So I spent four years there, but I know a lot of people that were on the five or six year plan because it’s such a nice place.
Louis Goodman: Well, what was your experience like there?
[00:05:00] George Wood: You know it was good. Let’s see. So on the study side, you know, I had done very early on that. I wanted to pursue a career as an attorney. There was no real pre-law major if you will. And so I started off polystyrene maker and I ended up hating it because it just seemed like it was people trying to force their opinions and ideas on other people.
And so I switched to history and I loved history. It was fantastic. You know, not just because I could just go to the beach and read a book on the beach about history and get a decent grade in class. But I just, I just love history, period. It’s a wonderful subject.
There’s so much to learn. And so much to learn from in that area.
Louis Goodman: You said that you knew kind of early on that you wanted to be a lawyer. When did you first start thinking about that?
George Wood: You know, probably when I was like nine years old. And [00:06:00] that sounds kind of funny but let me just comment on that.
I don’t think it sounds funny at all. Cause I’ve talked to a lot of lawyers in the process of doing this podcast and I can tell you that most of them say something along those lines. And so I’m curious as to what your experience was, as far as kind of coming to some understanding that you wanted to be a lawyer at a very early age.
And I put myself in that category as well.
George Wood: Right. Yeah. You know it’s funny. I think I was exposed, I guess, to kind of the high-level executive stuff very early on. Like I said, like my grandfather was, President of Peralta Hospital in Oakland and in fact he traveled the role. He was really a pioneer in hospital administration from him.
I had a lot of exposure to stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t have growing up, especially in the urban area. Its kind of seems like, and I don’t want to stereotype it, but it just seemed like everybody was either going to be a doctor or a lawyer. Law was much better [00:07:00] fit for me than medicine was.
I’ll just put it like that. So I knew early on and you know, it wasn’t because my mom loved pier nation or anything like that. I just knew from an early stage.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of college, did you go to law school directly or did you take some time off?
George Wood: No, I went to law school directly. You know, it’s funny cause having said that, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was very lackadaisical about actually taking the LSAT and in studying for it. But I went in at the last minute, I purchased one of those study books and thumb through it and ended up doing really well on the LSAT and that plus having a decent grade in my major got me into law school.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to law school?
George Wood: I went, well, I started out at Southwestern. Which was in downtown LA. I went directly from college to law school and [00:08:00] it was culture shock. It’s funny. Cause you know, I went from this beautiful campus, right on the beach with, you know all the accessories to this building, this ugly building in downtown LA. And I was, I landed amongst students. It all seemed like it had, I’d watched the movie, the paper chase one too many times ended up transferring. I moved because I was living in Westwood, a family moved down to Newport Beach. And when I went to a Western State College of Law and that’s where I ended up graduating from.
Louis Goodman: What did you think of Western state?
George Wood: Yeah, it was okay. I mean, obviously not a big name at the time. I think it was only California accredited. Although I think since then it’s gotten it’s ABA accreditation and I liked there was a certain amount of informality at the school, which I really liked there.
There were some really good teachers there. There was a person, one of our teachers, I can’t remember, but he had read [00:09:00] a book on remedies and he was excellent. And we had some other good teachers. There are very good contracts teacher and the atmosphere was more congenial and it was through there that I had my first taste of actually being in a courtroom doing an internship with the Orange County DA’s Office.
Louis Goodman: So in preparation for this interview, I looked up Western State College of Law, and I was really very impressed with at least their philosophy of having smaller classes and having some, you know, real professors, student contact and mentorship.
Was that your experience?
George Wood: Yeah, it wasn’t, I mean the instructors were very approachable.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family say or think when you told them that you wanted to become a lawyer and you were going to law school.
George Wood: Well, you know, I think they were, well, my parents were really happy because you know, it’s a profession where you have lots of opportunity in that sense.
I think they were overjoyed. [00:10:00]
Louis Goodman: So you mentioned that you had experience at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. What was your first real legal job?
George Wood: So I don’t know if that qualifies.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s start there. What was that?
George Wood: So what the internship, but we were basically doing a Traffic Trials, you know, I had to know some bits and pieces of Evidence and Procedure. And I was in a courtroom and I was in front of a Judge, you know, and as a student, not having done this before you walk in with not a lot of confidence and try the best you can to accomplish what you’re there to do and just soak up as much as you can around you and that’s what I did.
And I really enjoyed it. It was my first experience with law outside the classroom. And I thought it was fantastic. And that really turned me on to actually wanting to work for a DA’s Office at some point in my career.
Louis Goodman: So what was your first paying legal job?
George Wood: Well my first [00:11:00] paid legal job.
It’s funny cause like I said, so I graduated from Western State and I decided that either I was going to stay down in Southern California and beach bum, or I was going to come back up here and actually get a job. And who knows if I made the right decision or not, but I came back up here. Yeah, graduated from a very small school down there you come up here and you’re competing against people that have gone to Bolt.
They’ve gone to Hastings, you’ve got Ivy league people, Stanford, you know, you name it, Santa Clara, Golden Gate. And, and so, you know, you put your resume out and out of the 300 resumes that you send that you might get three responses. And you know, it’s funny at the time I thought that I would, I wanted to go into tax law. It was interesting to me, still is although, well, I’m glad that my career took a different turn, but so the IRS had some openings in it. It wasn’t in their legal department, but it was in collections. So I became a revenue agent for two years, hoping that at [00:12:00] some point a position in their legal department to open up and I could apply for it.
So that was my first paying job. And so I worked out of the Golden Gate Office in San Francisco and it was an interesting experience. There were, it’s funny cause you had in the government, I mean, I learned a few things about the IRS, but one is that it takes almost a monumental effort to get anything moving at the IRS.
But once it starts moving it’s almost impossible for it to stop, right or wrong. What the original decision was and all decisions were really made back in Washington. I stayed two years. It was a job that didn’t have a lot of discretion. And I felt like I was bumping up against the ceiling of opportunity.
So, and at the right time, my next job came along. Is that what then that was with the Alameda County DA’s Office.
Louis Goodman: So how’d that come about?
George Wood: So it was funny. I had an uncle on my mom’s [00:13:00] side, my uncle Alec, and he ran the concessions out at the element at the horse races. And years earlier, he had contracts with all the County fairs.
And so he, you know, he would work three weeks out of the summer, make a ton of money. And then I think, you know, contributed to judges’ campaigns and things like that. So he got some people at the legal system and I don’t know how I came about, but he became friends with Bud mellowing, who was a DA Deputy District Attorney and our office, fantastic attorney and, and anybody who’s been around.
Some of the older people in our office, you know, you’ll immediately recognize his name. And so my uncle arranged a lunch and it was my uncle, you know, it’s funny. It’s kind of like my uncle is Greek. My mom’s side of the family is Greek. So it was kind of like the Greek Mafia, because you had my uncle who ran the concessions that the horse races, you had guy there from the meatpacking company, you had a guy there from the cement, Tiffany, and then you had Bud Meloling. But he was nice enough to inquire about me and ask me if I was interested in a career with the DA’s Office, to which I nodded my head.
And so eventually I was called in and got interviewed by Chris Carpenter. A few months passed and I hadn’t heard anything. And then just as I was, I had decided to resign from my job with the IRS. So I get a call from Chris saying, would you like to come and be a Deputy DA? So I had my interview with Jack and Tom Orloff and I think Iglehart who were the three.
And that started my career in the DA’s Office.
Louis Goodman: When you started out in the DA’s office, what did you first do there?
George Wood: It’s funny because in those days, you know, you get hired and you’re handed a file and told here, go try this case. So you walk off and do the best you can.
Fortunately, I did. I didn’t go out on my [00:15:00] very first day. I had a few weeks, so I got a chance to watch, you know, some misdemeanor trials that were going on.
Louis Goodman: So in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for more than 30 years now. So obviously there must be something about that you like. So what is it that you really like about being a lawyer? And more specifically, what do you like about being an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney?
George Wood: I love the culture of our office, you know? Right from the beginning you could walk up to anybody. I mean, there’s, you know, there’s essentially no such thing as a stupid question or office and your people are very nonjudgmental.
They are very supportive and they’re always trying to get behind you and essentially make you a better attorney. And I like the idea that we’re kind of part of a team in that sense. I guess it’s a little bit akin to team sports, but you know, like being a Judge, it’s very lonely occupation, you’ve got to kind of keep your distance from the [00:16:00] parties and your back alone in your chambers and this is just the opposite.
There’s a lot of camaraderie here. I sleep well at night. And I really enjoy the work. I enjoy the people that I work with and that working with the people is a big part. I think of the practice of law.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend law to a young person as a career?
George Wood: Yeah, I think so. The system is changing a little bit. The legislature keeps on, they won’t leave us alone. They keep tweaking the laws. Unfortunately, so, I’m getting up in age, I’m 60 now, so change, it becomes harder and harder, but I think it’s still a good occupation. I think it will always be a good occupation.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing met or differed from your expectations about it?
George Wood: It’s funny because it’s not just a legal job that we do. There’s a [00:17:00] lot of handholding and that’s probably the wrong term to use, because it sounds a little bit de minimis, but you know, we deal with a lot of victims, so we have to sit down and we have to talk to them.
We have to educate them about the system. We have to educate them perhaps about their expectations, about what is going to happen.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think that’s true from the defense side to. You know, where we really spent an awful lot of time being social workers rather than really attorneys and that, and, you know, I found that when I was a prosecutor as well, like you say, you know, dealing with the victims and dealing with the witnesses, it’s a very people-oriented practice and it involves things that, you know, no one ever really talked about in law school.
it’s, you know, the evidence code or
George Wood: You just can’t say no to helping people. That’s the nice thing about working for the DA’s Office is that we’re really there to try and [00:18:00] help the community, not just from a safety standpoint. And this is, I think something that our DA Nancy O’Malley has emphasized.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
George Wood: Oh, that’s a hard question, you know, it’s funny cause there’s so much we do and that’s some of what we do. Is really a roll the dice, you know, trials can be a roll the dice. You never know what’s going to happen once the jury gets picked.
And in that sense, you know, there is a certain amount of skill involved in what we do. I would love to see uniformity in the system and there isn’t, because sometimes the skill of attorney can make a difference. And that’s good for that attorney, but not always good for the client who doesn’t have that attorney representing them.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the system is fair?
George Wood: Yeah, I do. You know what I mean? Some people might want to draw [00:19:00] the borders of fairness, much narrower and say that the system is not fair, but by and large, my experience is that it’s been very fair. You know it’s fair as long as everybody is responsible about what it is that their job is, you know, and that starts, you know, from the Charging Deputy in the considerations that go into whether or not a case should be charged or whether or not a case shouldn’t be charged to the Pretrial Deputy making an offer.
Louis Goodman: Let’s change gears here just a little bit.
What’s your family life like, and how has practicing law affected that?
George Wood: Yeah, it’s funny. So my wife, Tracy, she was a court reporter and I met her in Fremont. So I guess I have my career as a DA to thank for my family. And then she recently retired. She goes back to work part-time over in San Mateo County.
So we got married in 93. So it’s 27 years ago if I’m counting them correctly, [00:20:00] but we have two children, although I can’t really call them children now because I have a daughter that’s 22 and son that’s 19 going on 20, so they’re not children anymore, but to me, they are always will be. It was a bit difficult from a time perspective.
You know, we were always juggling, trying to pick up the kids, drop them off from daycare and things like that because we were to work or family as so many families are. So that was a bit difficult, although it wasn’t necessarily anything about the law. I think that made that difficult. Although there were, you know, sometimes some long hours that I would put in or I would have to go away.
Louis Goodman: What sort of recreational pursuits do you have?
George Wood: Oh, let’s see. I was involved for a long time, I really liked was into cars for a while. You just wanted it to, at one point in our marriage, early in our marriage, my wife was on me to get something a little bit nicer than the car I was driving.
So that’s why I went on and got a used Aston Martin and well that’s nice. Yeah. So it was funny because it was just when the internet was [00:21:00] started up and we had, I think, taken out a second to do some work on the house. So I was able to smuggle a little bit of that money away. And so I bought an older Aston and got involved with the Aston Martin owner’s club and eventually became its chair for the Western United States for several years, had a really good time with that.
Lots of people, famous race car drivers, such as Stirling Moss, Charles Shelby, and you know, some of the older race car drivers and then just made a ton of friends through that. new peer who was the drummer for Rush, Derek bell who won them all five times, Derek Daly, who was a Grand Prix driver in the seventies and early eighties, you know that there were so many people that I met and that I became friends with. And it was just a, I don’t know, I guess there was just something about car people and that clicked with me. Always had a wonderful time. I’m still involved in it a little bit. I’ve always loved traveling, [00:22:00] internationally especially, I’m not well traveled at all within the U S but outside of them, a fair amount of international traveling.
And I love it.
Louis Goodman: So, and what are you looking forward to that aspect?
You mentioned International travel. Where have you been?
George Wood: I’ve been to Europe a number of times. I love the UK England. I have a really good friend that lives up in York and you know, York is beautiful. It still has the old Roman walls around the outside and a beautiful cathedral called the minister inside.
And it’s got the cobblestone streets and parts of the city and stuff like that. So there’s just something about being in the UK that, I don’t know it just feels very familiar to me. I don’t know if that’s because my dad’s side of the family was from there or what, I’ve been there, Switzerland, I don’t think there’s a speck of litter in the whole country.
It’s everything is just like a postcard there. It’s amazing.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, few billion dollars, is there anything that you would do differently in your life?
George Wood: Oh yeah. I mean, [00:23:00] absolutely. I, without question would try and help more people, maybe both family and friends, but maybe just as a donor to good causes out there.
I mean, you know, it’s funny cause, I had actually at one of my [cars] that I had actually went way up in price and sold it to my friend, Neil. And then it went up to over a million dollars when he had it. And I thought to myself, wow, well, I don’t regret selling it because if, if I still had it, I couldn’t justify having a car worth that much. not being like a gazillionaire. So I always felt like, you know, if I had that was worth that material. I really had a responsibility, not just to myself, but to those around me. And to make sure that I’m using my finances in a way that benefits the most people
Louis Goodman: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we haven’t discussed something that you wanted to say?
George Wood: Oh, gosh, no, I hate [00:24:00] open-ended questions. Although I like, I love asking I’ve spent 31 years here as a DA. It’s been, I don’t want to do this as a fun is the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind. It’s been such an enjoyable career. I’ve had a wonderful people that I’ve worked with. Some people who have now left the office, retired.
I’ve just had a really good experience with this as a career. I mean, if I had to do it all over again, I don’t think there’s anything that I do different career choices anyway. It’s really been fantastic.
Louis Goodman: George Wood. Thank you so much for joining me this afternoon on Love Thy Lawyer.
I really enjoyed talking to you.
George Wood: Oh, great. Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.
Louis Goodman: 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 an email. I promise I’ll respond.
Louis Goodman: Take a look at our website at Love Thy Lawyer.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, Brian Madison, for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
George Wood: One of the first questions I would have asked you is why the heck are you interviewing me?