Miki Tal – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice of law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She is an experienced former prosecutor who worked for the legendary Bronx County District Attorney’s Office in New York City. She has also served as a Prosecutor in Napa and Alameda counties in California, and as a Public Defender in Santa Cruz, she now practices criminal defense throughout the state of California, and in Federal District Court. She represents criminal defendants in the most difficult of circumstances. Miki Tal welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Miki Tal: Hi, great to be here. Thank you.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m very happy that you’ve joined me today for this. I’ve seen you in court on many occasions, and I’ve always [00:01:00] been very impressed by the level of preparation that you show and your poise in the courtroom. So I’ve wanted to talk to you for this podcast.
Miki Tal: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Miki Tal: I am originally from Israel.
Louis Goodman: Born there?
Miki Tal: Yes
Louis Goodman: Where were you born?
Miki Tal: I was born in a city called Ilaun, south of Tel Aviv, and I grew up in Israel and my family moved here when I was 10. So I was at the end of fourth grade.
Louis Goodman: So do you still speak fluent Hebrew?
Miki Tal: I do speak fluent Hebrew.
Louis Goodman: And do you get, I mean, before this pandemic, were you getting back to Israel very much.
Miki Tal: I love it there. Yes. It’s a wonderful place to visit. I was just there. We were all my whole family was there last summer, so yes, we like to visit.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Miki Tal: So I [00:02:00] went to high school in Orange County.
When my parents moved, we moved to Orange County, which is kind of an unexpected place for me, but that’s where I ended up living during my childhood in high school.
Louis Goodman: What was that transition like coming from Israel to Southern California?
Miki Tal: It was a huge transition, obviously, completely different cultures. Being an immigrant, coming into that environment of a very, you know, mostly white culture, very, mostly Christian culture, I would say at the time. I think Orange County and Southern California has become a lot more diverse in the last, probably 10, 15 years. But when I was growing up, it was pretty homogeneous culture. So it was obviously a new language, a lot of transition and adaptation had to take place.
Louis Goodman: So what high school did you go to?
Miki Tal: I went to high school in Orange County called Eldorado.
Louis Goodman: What [00:03:00] was that experience like?
Miki Tal: That experience was I’m a very social person, so I think I became very engaged in school as far as, not only the academics, but extracurricular activities, student government, things like that. Also other things that I was involved in to make the experience as sort of satisfying as possible, but when it was over, I think I was ready to go.
Louis Goodman: And where did you go from High School?
I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad, and that was a very, very satisfying and positive experience for me.
Louis Goodman: I imagine that was another transition going from Orange County to. Berkeley.
Miki Tal: Yes, it was a very good fit for me. It was a very diverse environment, very intellectually alive. And that was kind of my scene.
So I actually went to Berkeley summer school when I was in High School. So when I then started [00:04:00] college at Berkeley, it was sort of a natural sort of continuation. I met great friends that I still have today. And it was, I majored in philosophy and it just was a very intellectually and social leave. Very satisfying experience.
Overall. I loved it.
Louis Goodman: I don’t know too much about philosophy, but I have heard that it is a really brutal major.
Miki Tal: I’ve heard that too. It’s sort of considered that way. I found it to be very interesting. I think it’s a very good sort of transition to doing law as well, because there’s just that kind of, you know, you’re thinking you’re arguing, you’re thinking about different ways of looking at something.
So. You’re writing so about it to be a great experience. And Berkeley was very, had very renowned professors teaching philosophy. So it was a great experience.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking about going to Law School?
[00:05:00] Miki Tal: You know, already in high school I was doing mock trials and we competed statewide.
It was a very intense process. And so I, always liked the idea of being a Lawyer. I liked the thought of being in a courtroom, and I think that started probably in high school, the thought of going to law school.
Louis Goodman: Cool. Where did you go to law school?
Miki Tal: I went to law school in New York City. It’s called Cardoza Law School.
It’s the Law School for Yeshiva University and kind of interesting that I ended up there. I knew I wanted to go to somewhere in New York and it was the only school I applied to in New York City., For some reason that I’m not sure of at the moment, but it ended up being a very good experience just because of the specific involvement that I had.
I was already focused on Criminal Law at the time. It is a very good school. It’s in the Village in [00:06:00] Manhattan. One of the things that the school has is the Innocence, the original Innocence Project, which was run by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. So I was very involved in that and also in the Criminal Law Clinic where we actually went into court and represented clients. It was a Criminal Defense Clinic, so it was just a very good, you know, actual experience of practicing law already or having exposure to it.
Louis Goodman: While in law school, did you go directly from College to Law School or did you take any time and do something in between?
Miki Tal: Before I went to law school, I did take, I think it was a year or two off.
I lived in San Francisco. And I was actually thinking of going to school for fashion design.
Miki Tal: So I believe it, so that was sort of my other thought. And at some point, my mom and I went to check out some schools [00:07:00] in New York. Like Parsons and Fashion Institute of Technology it’s called, in Manhattan and I just kind of became, it became clear to me that I love fashion. I love design, but I didn’t want to do that for a profession. So that kind of sealed the deal for me as far as Law School.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that having taken a couple of years off and worked, you know, in industry, just out in the real world really better kind of prepared you for going to Law School and being focused on Law School?
Miki Tal: Possibly. I mean, I was still pretty young. I know a lot of people go directly from Undergrad to Law School and I did take that year or so. I wasn’t as ready for it as some of the people I think that you see who are maybe going into law school as a second career, or really have some kind of objective with it.
I think you see those people, older people in law school who are really just [00:08:00] focused. They go and they do it and they know what they’re there for. Right. For me law school was a bit of a surprise as far as just the process seemed very different, I think than what I was expecting. So, yeah, I don’t know that I was mentally as prepared for it as maybe someone else who kind of already knew what to expect, you know, the Socratic Method and the outlines in certain aspects about it. I was not ready for, or wasn’t aware of before I went into law school.
Louis Goodman: While you were in law school for three years and living in New York City, how was that?
Miki Tal: That was wonderful. Love New York City. Loved living there. Loved being a student there. It was a great experience. Very vibrant. Wonderful place on so many levels. Everything from the legal industry to culture and, you know, obviously New York City’s just one of a kind. So it was a great experience.
Louis Goodman: Hey, you said that while you were in law [00:09:00] school, you did some work for the Innocence Project and you worked with Barry Scheck, right?
Miki Tal: I did.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I’ve always, by the way, thought that Barry Scheck is the person who really won the OJ trial for better or for worse. I think that he’s the guy that really put that team together for all of the other people who may have had a little star power. I always thought Barry Scheck was the brains behind that.
Miki Tal: You know, he was, it was great. He was the Innocence Project was situated in the law school. So you know, him and Peter Neufeld were there, they were kind of mentors. They were kind of stars by that point. And, you know, there would be like taping of shows and things like that. That would happen occasionally.
Louis Goodman: What was your first real legal job?
Miki Tal: So I think it was sort of, as I was in law school, as I was saying, I was doing the Criminal Defense Clinic and Innocence Project. So I was already working on cases. And then [00:10:00] when I graduated, I took a position as a Deputy District Attorney in New York City, Bronx County. So that was my official, you know, first job as a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: How is it that you decided to start out as a prosecutor?
Miki Tal: Frankly, I’ve always been defense oriented and I think that’s always been my calling to be completely frank about it. I think I can do both sides. I have done both sides, but at the time the DA’s Office was hiring and the Public Defender’s Office, which is Legal Aid Society was not.
And I had this opportunity to be in the courtroom, really be in the mix of things. Bronx County was also headed by Robert Johnson at the time, which is one of the one and only African American Prosecutors, I think at that time. Certainly the first one in New York State. So I just thought it was going to be an interesting experience and something that I could, you know, professionally develop from, et cetera.
So I [00:11:00] decided to go that route.
Louis Goodman: Have you read Bonfire of the Vanities?
Miki Tal: Yes. And I’ve seen the movie.
Louis Goodman: The movie. I thought it was terrible, but the book is one of my favorites.
Miki Tal: Yes.
Louis Goodman: And of course that’s all about to the Bronx County Criminal Justice System.
Miki Tal: Yes, it was, it was quite a way to start your legal career.
I mean like the ultimate bootcamp or sort of like jump right in situation. We had night court, and weekends because in New York City, individuals have to be arraigned within 24 hours. So there was night court and it was just unbelievable. I mean, it was, it was during the time of Giuliani and it was really before things were done on the internet.
So the police officers would come in into the complaint room. We would be making charging decisions. It was a very intense experience. There [00:12:00] was a very high volume, Bronx County also happened to have jurisdiction over Rikers Island.
Louis Goodman: How long did you stay there?
Miki Tal: I stayed there about a year, little over a year.
Louis Goodman: Then what did you do?
Miki Tal: I was engaged and my husband was going to Law School at Berkeley, so we decided to come back to California. And at that time, I think you mentioned Alameda County DA’s Office. I was never a DA in Alameda County, but what I did is I was a, sort of like a law clerk in the Consumer Protection Division while I was studying for the bar, the California bar, because I had taken the New York Bar after law school and I had to take the California bar. So I was sort of a law clerk at the Alameda County Consumer Fraud Division. And then once I passed the bar, I went on to take a position as a DA in Napa County, which was very interesting. Very [00:13:00] different than the Bronx, obviously.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, no, you’ve had all these really juxtapositions, you know, going from Israel to Orange County and then Orange County to Berkeley, and then from the West Coast to New York City and the Bronx, and then going from being a prosecutor in the Bronx to being a Prosecutor in Napa County. And I imagine that was extremely different.
Miki Tal: The saying in Napa was, come on vacation, leave on probation.
Louis Goodman: I have heard that, but that is funny. Every time I hear it, it’s funny.
Miki Tal: It’s fun time. It’s absolutely pretty much sums it up because you know, it’s a lovely, pretty calm, safe environment overall, not urban at all. And the main sort of thing there or a lot of it is the DUIs. So I did have a bunch of DUI trials that were actually quite interesting and lasted for a [00:14:00] long time with experts and things like that. As far as doing a sort of beginning criminal law trials, I think those were really good for training purposes for me.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. When I was in the DA’s office and, you know, we were trying a lot of DUI cases that it was pointed out to me that really it’s only in DUIs and murders where you get to deal with as much scientific evidence as you do. And so I always thought DUI trials, especially from the point of view of prosecutor were really interesting case
Miki Tal: I agree.
Louis Goodman: At some point you ended up in Santa Cruz, how did that happen?
Miki Tal: So I think as I was saying, just based on my background and everything, I sort of lean towards, I’ve always been interested in Criminal Defense because of just the fact that you are representing the individual, you are holding the government to their standard of proof. And [00:15:00] I decided I really wanted to go into Criminal Defense and I applied and got the job at the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s Office. And that was definitely a good fit for me.
Never turned back.
Louis Goodman: What did you do there and what did you like about that?
Miki Tal: It was a great office. I had a lot of the heads of the office were very supportive. As far as mentorship. The cases were interesting. It’s kind of an almost a small city with big city crime. And so I started doing more serious felonies.
Louis Goodman: At some point you opened your own office.
Mike Tal: I did. So just gave birth to my daughter and moved back to Berkeley area and kind of went on my own at that point, sort of to try to balance having a family and also having a career. And so I kind of went out on my own around 2000.
Louis Goodman: How has that gone?
[00:16:00] Miki Tal:
Great. I initially felt sort of that I was missing the camaraderie that you have from being a part of the office, whether it’s, you know, mostly the criminal defense really environment, where you are strategizing, you are creatively thinking about things and you can kind of. Kickoff ideas with colleagues.
So that part of being on my own was definitely an adjustment. I think after you do this on your own for a while, you realize you’re not really on your own because you have colleagues and you develop relationships that provide that type of support. And I feel that at this point, I really do have that. I feel I have a network of smart colleagues that I kick off ideas and they kick off ideas with me on an ongoing basis. And so I’ve recreated that support system for myself, but I [00:17:00] think it took a while to do that.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I think that’s a really important part of practicing law, especially as a solo practitioner in a small firm, you know, having friends and colleagues who you can bounce things off of and get together and who have an understanding of what you’re going through.
Miki Tal: Absolutely.
Louis Goodman: If someone was coming out of college right now and was thinking about a career in law, would you recommend?
Miki Tal: I think it depends on the individual. I think law can be a great fit for someone. For instance, if I was doing it again, I would probably still be doing this because it’s really, I really enjoy a lot of parts about it.
There are, I think a lot of people who go into law because they don’t really know what else to do or, you know, they’re kind of like, okay, my parents want me to go law school or it’ll be a stable job or things like that. And I think in that case, those people can find themselves [00:18:00] unsatisfied or sort of not wanting to go through it because it is sort of a committed process you have to be in or out.
I think you can sort of do it, but it’s not going to be a very satisfying experience. So I think if you are a good fit for it, I would definitely recommend it.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law either met or different from your expectations about it as you were going into it?
Miki Tal: I definitely think there’s been different aspects of it.
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think you were on constantly learning new things. The reason I like to do it is because it’s constantly changing. I’m constantly learning about human nature, humans, whether it’s my clients or opposing counsel or the bench, or you’re constantly kind of finding out new ways of looking at things or new things to consider. And so I think in [00:19:00] that way, it’s constantly changing. And it’s interesting in that way, the being in the court is always interesting as well. I don’t know if it’s different. I think I just like the fact that it is kind of changing and different and interesting
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair.
Miki Tal: I don’t. I don’t think the Criminal Justice System is necessarily fair. I think it’s a reflection of our society. Our society obviously has a lot of bias built into it.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you would change about the way the legal system works?
Miki Tal: I think that there needs to be a lot more recognition and awareness of the disparities in resources and sort of power between the Defense and the Governor.
Louis Goodman: Well, besides practicing law, what other things do you like to do?
Miki Tal: I have two kids. One is nine and one is 13. I like to spend time with them, with my husband. I enjoy [00:20:00] Design and Art and, you know, traveling. There are many things that I like to do to sort of live life to the fullest.
Louis Goodman: So besides Israel, are there other places that you’ve traveled to that you’ve enjoyed?
Miki Tal: Yeah, I very much enjoy travel. Obviously that’s not happening at the moment other than kind of local traveling in California. But yeah, I’ve been to Europe. I’ve been to Mexico. There’re many other places that I’d like to go. I just think it’s wonderful when you travel and you just like the smells and the food and the oh, Japan. I’ve been to Japan and that was incredible.
So, yeah, many other places that I want to return to and go for the first time,
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Miki Tal: Sometimes my cases do for sure. Parenting definitely keeps me up at night, sometimes because there’s obviously so much effort and thought and contemplation about how to do [00:21:00] it the right way. Both in my cases and with parenting.
So those are definitely things that keep me up at night. And just thinking about the future for my kids, you know, the state of our country, the environment. I feel like those anxieties always come up in the middle of the night.
Louis Goodman: If you and your husband came into some real money, you know, a couple of billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Miki Tal: What would I do? I probably do some things like some crazy creative things that I probably wouldn’t do now, because I would just have time to devote to other projects and maybe some crazy amounts of money to do those projects. I would probably buy real estate in several places throughout the world, so that I would have my own place, let’s say, in Japan or in Manhattan. And you know, it’d be nice to actually have your own place versus go stay in a hotel. And I would probably spend some time on some issues that are [00:22:00] going to be facing our children, like the environment or like racial disparities in the system. I think I would probably just take on different projects that were interesting.
Louis Goodman: So if you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Miki Tal: Climate change.
Louis Goodman: So Mickey, we’ve talked a lot about where you’ve been in your career and things that you’ve done and things that you were doing, where do you see the system, the criminal justice world going next?
Miki Tal: I hope that the Criminal Justice System is headed in a direction that is more equitable to individuals, especially people of color in our country. You know, things like police brutality and abuses, racial disparities in the jury selection process. So many things are there that happen. I’ve been there for a long time, but we are now at a state where maybe we are now [00:23:00] ready to take a look, close look, and actually confront those issues and make progress with regards to that.
Louis Goodman: Miki Tal, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a really interesting conversation. You’ve had a very interesting career and life so far, and I’m sure that if anybody can put into place, some of the things that you’ve suggested, it’s probably you.
Miki Tal: Thank you so much, Louis. It was really great talking to you today.
Louis Goodman: 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, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.