Matt Dalton / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He spent his entire legal career representing people, charged with crimes.
He’s represented the indigent in every type of criminal proceeding, including murder. He zealously fights for his clients. He has tried numerous misdemeanor and felony cases to jury verdict. Matt Dalton. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Matt Dalton: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s a pleasure talking to you.
We’ve known each other for quite some time. You know, you were in the Public Defender’s Office and around Alameda County and I’ve [00:01:00] been around Alameda County for a while. And I’ve always, you know, I’ve just always kind of admired the way you present yourself in court. It seemed to be very comfortable there and prepared and competent.
Matt Dalton: Thanks a lot. You know, I tried really hard over many years to pretend at least that I know what the heck I’m talking about.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office now?
Matt Dalton: I have an office in Berkeley.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Matt Dalton: That’s a complicated answer. My parents are from Lincoln, Nebraska. I lived there for a very short period of time when I was really young.
And then they moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they both went to college and then they split up and I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with my father for a number of years, and then ended up in West Lafayette, Indiana with my mother who had married a guy. Became a professor, my stepfather, who became a professor at Purdue.
So I bounced around a lot over the course of, you know, between zero and 18.
[00:02:00] Louis Goodman: And it seems like you were in kind of academic environments.
Matt Dalton: Yes. My father is a pharmacologist and he started teaching at University of North Carolina. And my stepfather again is a Professor. So he was teaching at Purdue and now teaches at the University of North Carolina Asheville.
So I grew up in college towns, my entire life, and now I live in Berkeley. So, you know, it’s come full circle.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Matt Dalton: I went to a couple of different high schools. I went to Chapel High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and then I went to Lafayette. Which is in Lafayette, Indiana.
Louis Goodman: How was your high school experience?
Matt Dalton: Those are very interested. They’re very, very different. Chapel Hill was a, you know, it’s a university town, it’s a fairly wealthy area. The research triangle park is there. So there’s a lot of different types of kids, mostly, you know, pretty academically inclined kids and Lafayette, you know, last year out of Westlock Theater, two towns next to each other West [00:03:00] Lafayette’s the University, a town Lafayette is more of a blue collar working class town. So my junior and senior year I went there and it was very, it was a great experience at eight, really taught me a lot about different avenues in life. And I thought it was a great experience. And I still have friends from both of those places to, you know, to the state for sure.
Louis Goodman: So you were both kind of town and gown.
Matt Dalton: Exactly, exactly. And my parents, because I spent most of my years until I was probably 14 or 15 years old, they were in school. They were students and they, so they were living a student lifestyle with two kids who were, you know, either preteen or teenagers. So, you know, we didn’t have a lot.
We definitely did not live particularly well. And in many ways at the same time, it was a great, totally great experience.
Louis Goodman: Well, when you graduated from high school, where’d you go to college?
Matt Dalton: So I graduated from Lafayette, and then I went to [00:04:00] Indiana University, which is a Bloomington, which was a fantastic experience.
It’s a great place.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I’ve been there. It’s a phenomenal campus. Just absolutely classic big Midwestern University. Isn’t it.
Matt Dalton: Yeah, it is. And they, when I was there as well, Bobby Knight was still there. So the basketball scene was raging. And so all of that was super fun and yeah, it’s a big 10, large school sports were big.
And again, I met some friends that I still have to this day, so it was another really good experience. I enjoyed it all.
Louis Goodman: And they also have a really great music program there don’t they.
Matt Dalton: They have a great music program. One of my roommates when I was in college was in the music program and he played saxophone and he was incredibly good.
So he would sit around at night, you know, listen to him play. And that was quite good. It was fun. And you know, my best man in my wedding was a roommate there, so I stayed in touch with him. I’m actually going back to even further, my wife, I met in high school. So we [00:05:00] went to the prom together. So that was another reason why I really enjoyed Lafayette.
Louis Goodman: So were you involved in any sort of activities in college? Anything that you want to share?
Matt Dalton: You know, I played tennis in high school and I was pretty competitive at it. I took it seriously. It wasn’t necessarily great, but I played a lot of tennis and not for the universities is too big and way too many talented people there for, for that type of thing.
But I played a lot of tennis there and I played a lot of basketball because again, I grew up in Chapel Hill and Indiana in both of those places. And you know, if there was a ball in a basket, everyone was going over and playing. So I played a ton of those two sports. When I was in that age group, I still play both of those things.
Louis Goodman: What did you take up academically there?
Matt Dalton: Political Science major. I think I also majored in History. My stepfather’s a Political Science Professor. So he, in [00:06:00] many ways, influenced me a great deal and kind of my professional and kind of that growth into being a lawyer. So by the time I got into college, I was very interested in politics.
Louis Goodman: You must’ve done something right at Bloomington because you graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Matt Dalton: I studied, I had one great year of, I studied all the time and it was really diligent about it. And then I had, you know, three relatively solid years. Yeah, I took it seriously. I mean, I was from an academic family that took school seriously. High School I did not take particularly seriously. I was kind of unfocused, but by the time I got into college, I got to get fearful of, you know, what would happen if I didn’t do well. So I really buckled down and tried really hard.
Louis Goodman: When did you decide you wanted to go to law school?
Matt Dalton: It’s funny because as I said, my stepfather was a Lawyer and so growing up around him and I, he, he came in our lives. I was quite young. [00:07:00] I was like eight or nine years old. So he definitely impressed upon me a lot of skillsets that lawyers have. I didn’t necessarily know I was going to become a lawyer until maybe I was a sophomore and junior in college where I was just starting to kind of game out what the possibilities were.
And one was going to academics. That seemed a little bit boring. Even though now it sounds great, but so it was kind of that’s when I started figuring out what avenues were open to me being a lawyer seemed like something I should pursue.
Louis Goodman: So after you graduated from Indiana, did you go directly to Law School or did you take a little time off?
Matt Dalton: I took some time off and I moved back down to where my father was living down in North Carolina and I basically worked lousy jobs. I worked in a factory. I worked in a couple of warehouses, you know, over the course of about a year, to save money to go travel. And [00:08:00] I did, I traveled some as well.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that that experience that working and doing some traveling kind of made you a more serious, dedicated law student when you finally did get to law school?
Matt Dalton: I think that helps, you know, I think taking a year off and experiencing things.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I kind of came to Law School sort of a similar route.
And I just found that I hadn’t been that focused in college, but when I got to Law School, I really knew what I didn’t want to do. So it made me, you know, pretty clear on the notion of yeah, you know, go to law school. This is a good idea.
Matt Dalton: Yeah. You realize it’d be how pampered you are in many ways.
When you have options.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to Law School?
Matt Dalton: I went to UC Hastings in San Francisco, which was like completely random. I’d never been in [00:09:00] California and in my life before I actually failed here, I felt like San Francisco seemed like a really interesting place to move.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I went to Hastings too, and in a lot of ways, that was kind of my experience too. What kind of triggered your move here? Likewhat sealed the deal in order for you to do it?
Matt Dalton: Well, I knew I wanted to go to law school and, and I’d applied to several places and that Hastings was really the best school that I got into and it was in San Francisco. So, you know, it was really wasn’t much of an issue for me when it really came down to it.
Louis Goodman: So what was your experience at Hastings like?
Matt Dalton: You know, Hastings at the time, I guess I would kind of put it in two different places. One is like my first year experience, which was quite rigorous academically. I studied very hard. I took it really seriously. Like most of my classmates and at the [00:10:00] same time I met some cool people that I, again, still remain friends with.
And then after the first year, I suddenly realized that all the effort I put into it, which meant a lot and I did fine, but I also realized that there’s a lot of other things going on in the Bay Area, which I had no idea I had never been in here before. And so after the first year, I really spent more time getting to know the area.
I still worked hard and in law school and I started plugging into what turned out to be, you know, what my profession was going to be, which is a Public Defender. So overall, yeah, I think Hastings has a reputation for being kind of difficult socially, potentially. It’s kind of in a weird area of San Francisco and it’s pretty competitive at the same time.
My experience was all at all. Extremely positive.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, mine too. I really enjoyed Hastings. You know, I’ve said that before on this podcast, but for me, [00:11:00] the time I spent at Hastings was in general a good time.
Matt Dalton: Yeah. I mean, law school has got a really bad reputation for being unpleasant and there are moments of unpleasantness, but Hastings, I’m also curious what you think.
I mean, I liked the fact that it was quite sizeable. I mean, there’s a lot of kids there, so you can always find people that you fit in with. Yeah. And that’s sometimes it’s not easy, you know, in other places I imagine to a really small school.
Louis Goodman: I mean, I went to the University of Rochester, which isn’t, you know, nearly the size of Indiana, but it’s not really a small school either.
Well, after you got out of Law School, what was your first legal job?
Matt Dalton: I had worked in Law School at a couple of Public Defender’s Offices. One was in CoCo, Contra Costa County summered there. And I worked in Marin County, Public Defender’s Office when I was a third year. And that really cemented very quickly.
I realized this is where I [00:12:00] want to be. And so I got a job at Georgetown University as a what they call the Prettyman Fellowship, which is a kind of a criminal defense slash. Clinical instructor to your position in Washington, DC, which is a and Georgetown University Law Center. I was like right on Capitol Hill.
So I went there for two years.
Louis Goodman: Right. And the Federal Courthouse there is named after Pr. Prettyman as well?
Matt Dalton: Yes. In courthouse. Yeah. And I was there, it was funny. I was there starting in 1990, which was the Grand Jury and of the, you know, Monica Lewinsky Clinton thing. So everyday I would drive by the Prettyman Courthouse and there would be a row of journalists who had essentially slept out outside overnight to wait for the perp walks in the morning.
I remember heard Jordan going through there. I mean, all of these people who came and testified during those hearings, and it was a crazy time of day in Washington.
Louis Goodman: I’m not sure there’s ever been a time [00:13:00] to be in Washington. It isn’t kind of crazy.
Matt Dalton: That’s probably true. That’s probably true.
Louis Goodman: So after you left Georgetown and Washington DC, you came back to the Bay Area.
Matt Dalton: Yeah. So, you know, I’ve really liked DC. My wife had lived in DC for a year or so before she came out to live in California when I was in law school. But you know, when I left the Bay Area, I just was so smitten with it that I had, you know, I got that job at Georgetown and really could not turn it down. So I just committed myself to coming back out here no matter what.
So after two years at Georgetown, I immediately came back out here and had to take the Bar, you know, cause I had taken the DC Bar the first time around. So I’d take the bar and start practice again.
Louis Goodman: How long was it between the first time you took a Bar Exam and the second time you took a Bar Exam.
Matt Dalton: So it was two years.
I took the DC Bar and then did the fellowship [00:14:00] and then took it, you know, take the California Bar, which is a lot harder, a lot longer. It was three days back then. I think it’s no longer that, but I took the two year difference, which was a lot, actually, it didn’t sound like that much, but over that two year period, I lost a lot of memory of what’s on the department’s hands.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I I’ve taken two bar exams as well. I took California and then seven or eight years later, I took Hawaii. I had to restudy completely right from the beginning. And it was kind of this weird experience because it brought me right back to first year of Law School, as I’m going through Contracts Torts Property, you know, Criminal Procedure.
It was like, Whoa. And I, you know, so yeah.
Matt Dalton: I mean, it’s the first time everyone’s doing it. You’re with it generally the same crew of people you went to law school with, or people like situations the second time you take it. You know, you’re all, we [00:15:00] usually have a life by then, so you’re all alone and you’re, I mean, that’s my experience less.
It is like, Oh boy, get up and study for the bar again, like you’re saying it was like the first year of law school all over again.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. My experience was that I was studying for it and I was living in Maui at the time. And well, everybody else who was taking the bar was living in Honolulu. And so I was literally all by myself with the outlines and the tapes.
Matt Dalton: I’d have to have like, no window. I was in Maui. I just go down in the basement and cave and try to do it. Yeah, I know. And it’s just not as when you take it the first time, there’s like this adrenaline rush and you’re like, yeah. Have to get this thing over with and the second time, you’re like, Oh no.
Cause he remember it’s actually kind of a painful, I still remember it being painful and stressful even though, you know, I pass both times, but it’s still unpleasant.
Louis Goodman: Right. So, okay. So you take the California Bar, you pass. [00:16:00] What do you go do for work?
Matt Dalton: So that, you know, I had a wait cause I essentially didn’t have a Bar Card in California for several months.
And I got very fortunate to an old friend of mine from law school who’s a Public Defender, still a stay in San Francisco had just left a position in a small firm. You know, two guys in San Francisco and I ended up at Criminal Defense. I ended up going to work for these guys as Chris Cannon and Scott Sugarman, who I’m still in contact with today.
There they were, they were super kind to me and really, really good to learn from.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Scott, he’s a University of Rochester guy.
Matt Dalton: No. Is he writing for you? I forgot. He went there. I mean, Scott is hilarious. I adore Scott. Yeah. Great lawyer. You know, character, total character.
Louis Goodman: Now, how did you get over to Alameda County Public Defender’s Office?
Matt Dalton: So, you know, I think I got a job first in Marin County Public Defenders. So as soon as I was got the bar passage [00:17:00] and I had to wait because you know, how Public Defenders hire kind of, you know, based on financial situations, it’s usually like in December or something. So I had to wait and then I got a job.
There was an opening in Marin County Public Defenders. And I got hired there at the same time. I had an application in Alameda County and ended up getting hired in Alameda County as well after I’d been in Marin for maybe three or four months, maybe it’s five months, something like less than a year and then came over to Alameda County.
Louis Goodman: So tell me about an early experience in the Alameda County Public Defender’s office, early case you tried or some little nugget from there.
Matt Dalton: It’s a good question. In Alameda County, right when I got there, I realized I had hit the jackpot both in the sense of the office itself and the people in the office.
But also I think that is surrounding community of the Judges and the DA’s [00:18:00] office and everywhere, everyone else, I felt like this is a good place to have a lengthy career because, you know, while there’s a lot of conflict and all those kinds of things, there’s opportunities to do good work and be rewarded for that.
I guess, you know, it’s funny. The cases I remember the most from early in my career were cases oddly enough, that I lost. But I felt like I did extremely good or solid work. And that is, you know, I think that doesn’t surprise me on some level because I get into this type of work.
I realized pretty early on that if you’re looking, if you’re coming here for the glory of victory as a Public Defender, you’re probably going to be left somewhat disappointed because it’s difficult. But I think the case I remember the most early on, which is not necessarily a great, you know, happy memory was a case of the felony case where the client, I really [00:19:00] liked a lot for a variety of different reasons. He was just a total character and I couldn’t convince him that the case should not go to trial. And he went to trial and he got walloped and the case was a terrible defense, but, the happy part of that, which is, you know, you have to dig in there a little bit sometimes was that the client and I were very tight. I felt for him that this had all happened and it happened on my watch, but I stayed in touch with him. He contacts me every couple months and asked me how I’m doing.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You remember Randy Hooper from DA’s Office?
Matt Dalton: Yes.
Louis Goodman: Well, Randy and I were very friendly. We were DA’s together and you know, Randy had come pretty close to playing pro baseball. And I remember one time we were working some cases together and we lost it. Randy and I were walking back upstairs and he says, you know, it’s just like playing sports. You always learn a whole lot more from your [00:20:00] losses than your wins.
Matt Dalton: That’s true.
Louis Goodman: And I’ve always remembered that.
Matt Dalton: Really true. And this was early on in my career. It was like the first real beat down because I had come through Oakland initially and done a bunch of misdemeanor trials there and I didn’t lose any, I lost no misdemeanor trials, my first stint. And I, you know, I thought, well, this is great. I’ve been found fantastic.
And that was my first time of really getting walloped. And the funny thing is I said, you know, not to repeat myself, but I took away from that more value than all the other stuff that I had done up to that point.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law? You know, you’ve been doing it for a while now.
Matt Dalton: You know, I think it’s people, I like people, you know, and I knew very early on in law schools, they said that I was going to be, I was going to be a Public Defender or a Criminal Defense Attorney. And part of that was the people that are in that practice there, you know. The public defender’s officer kind of filled [00:21:00] with misfits and kind of odd, sometimes very extreme personalities. I mean that in a good way. And I realized right away that I was going to sit into that crowd, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily, you know, rant and rave and act like a nut all the time, I was very comfortable there.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend law as a career choice for a young person who was coming out of college?
Matt Dalton: I think, you know, it’s funny, back to my stepfather. My stepfather tried to talk me out of law school many, many times. I remember. And I always tell him he was like 20%, right. For me. I think it really depends on the person. I think if you’re going to go to law school or that’s kind of the direction you’re headed, you should have a good reason why you want to do that.
You may not know what you want to be, what type of law you want to practice, but you should probably have some idea why you’re doing it. Some vague sense of where, what position you want to play in the legal world. And if you have that, then I think that gets you a long way. The other [00:22:00] thing I would say is you have to understand what you’re getting yourself into.
I remember a Professor of mine. I think it was the first year Property who apropos of nothing about property said to us, you know, you’re getting ready to enter into a profession where someone is bringing you their most important problem they have in their entire life. At that moment, potentially the most important problem they’re going to have, you know, in their whole lives.
And it’s an awesome responsibility. And I remember thinking to myself, like, of course, that is kind of what it can be, whether it’s a, you know, a divorce or whether it’s, you know, a contract or a financial transaction or it’s criminal defense or prosecution, whatever it is. So I would, tell people who asked me is if you have to understand that the gravity of the job, you’re getting ready to do it and really respect that.
And if you do that and you have an idea why you want to go there, I think you’re going to do really well [00:23:00] if we’re going there, just because you see, you kind of look at the dollars and cents that you can make. You know, I have a lot of friends from law school who did that probably, and made a lot of money very quickly when they got out.
But didn’t last very long because it’s a hard job to do if you don’t love it. So you got a light yet another reason to be doing it. I mean, what do you think Louis? I mean, I’m curious.
Louis Goodman: Oh yeah. I agree completely. I was, you know, my dad was a Lawyer and so I kind of saw, you know, a certain kind of practice up close.
He didn’t do any criminal work, but I was sort of aware of what I was getting into. But I think that what that Property Professor said is really spot on. I mean, people come to lawyers and like you say, regardless of what kind of case it is, not because they’re having their best time in life. And it really is an awesome responsibility that we take on.
[00:24:00] And it’s even true for prosecutors, you know, when you’re dealing with victims of crime and these people are just in a terrible place for something terrible that happened to them. And I think sometimes from the defense side, we kind of lose sight of that. But having been over there, I realize it’s really no different.
Matt Dalton: No, I think you’re totally right.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Matt Dalton: I mean, I think that the legal system is like America generally in that it strives to be fair, but it comes up short quite a bit.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change if you could?
Matt Dalton: That’s a very good question.
I think if it, as far as structurally, I think that some changes are being made. I think that jurors, the jury system has to be much more representative of the client base and in a given population, I think that we’ve all seen, had experiences where there’s a certain demographic judging our clients that don’t have a appreciation for what our [00:25:00] clients go through on a daily basis.
I think that sentences have to come down on some level. The percentage of Americans locked up in prison compared. I mean, when you compare that to in almost any other country in the world, especially so-called developed countries, we’re way out in front and there’s something deeply wrong in any system.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law fit into your family life, you know, you’ve been married for a long time. You have a family. How’s being a lawyer and being a family person gone together?
Matt Dalton: I think that was one of the reasons I left the Public Defender’s Office. I was very happy there in many, many ways.
I thought I knew when I left that I was leaving the best job I’d ever have, but I had two kids that were, you know, under 10 years old and I felt quite a bit of stress. Considering that I just couldn’t make my own schedule. Like, you know, I basically had to be where I was supposed to be, do what I needed to do on a [00:26:00] daily basis.
And I had very little flexibility. So once I went into private practice and I just had more opportunities to schedule things and work around my kids and my wife and all of those things, it really helped out. So the short of it is to say, you know, once I went Marin and I left the Public Defender’s Office, things became much, much easier.
And I was much, much better family person.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things do you like to do recreationally?
Matt Dalton: I mean, I live in California. It’s a lot of outdoor stuff. You know, if I can, both my kids really enjoy backpacking.
Louis Goodman: Right. If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some job that you think you would like to have?
Matt Dalton: And if I couldn’t be a lawyer, I would teach.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things keep you up at night?
Matt Dalton: I think the things that keep me up most of the night are my kids. And just worrying, you know, non-specifically. About what they’re doing and how they’re going to navigate things.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some [00:27:00] real money, a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Matt Dalton: If I came up with a bunch of money, I probably would more or less retire criminal practice other than maybe have one case at a time, like a really significant one. That was interesting. And I spent a lot of time with my wife. Trying to travel once the kids were gone, you know, on their own, I would travel.
Louis Goodman: I have this question. One thing that I always associate with you is this really cool little move that you do with a pen. I would like to know what that’s about and where you learned it.
Matt Dalton: So that is, I learned that in 10th grade Chapel High School Debate Club, there was a kid who knew how to do that. And taught me how to do it.
And I spent the next six months dropping my pen in every class I was in until I got it down.
Louis Goodman: Matt [00:28:00] Dalton. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. I appreciate your sharing your career experience and you’re flipping a pen experience. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Matt Dalton: Thanks a lot, Louis.
I really appreciate it was very fun to talk
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests, contributing their time and wisdom and making the show possible. Thanks as always. Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Matt Dalton: We were both morons in the kind of the safety areas. We both got caught up on it. Uh, mountain and Rockies without proper clothes or, and [00:29:00] long story short, we did a number of different things that definitely should have killed one or both of us.
Matt Dalton / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript