Tara Flanagan / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman

In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, this is Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with members of the ACBA about their lives and legal careers. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the LTL podcast. And yes, I’m a member of the Alameda County Bar Association. For the last eight years, she has sat as a Judge in the Alameda County Superior Court. She has presided over Criminal, Family, Civil and Juvenile cases. Before taking the bench she specialized in Family Law and family violence matters. She has been a frequent speaker on domestic violence and LGBTQ issues. She is an outstanding athlete, and has competed at the college level in rugby and basketball. She also competes in outrigger canoeing and distance cycling. Very impressive to me is she completed the 1200 kilometer Paris Brest Paris ride in under 90 hours. And that’s 1200 kilometers. Judge Tara Flanagan, welcome to the Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.



Tara Flanagan

Thank you, Mr. Goodman. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.



Louis Goodman

I’m very happy to have you. We have known each other for a while. I think the first time that I really remember seeing you was in a Chinese restaurant when Stuart Hing introduced me to you and said you were running for Judge. And it’s just been going uphill ever since.



Tara Flanagan

That would have been 2012.



Louis Goodman

Yes. Where are you working right now?



Tara Flanagan

I presently sit in the Juvenile Dependency Court at the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, California. And Juvenile Dependency is so when Child Welfare gets involved in removing children from families due to allegations of abuse and neglect.



Louis Goodman

How long have you been on the bench?



Tara Flanagan

I took the bench on January 7, 2013. So over eight years, I’m at eight and a half years at this point.



Louis Goodman

And where are you from originally?







Tara Flanagan

I was born in San Francisco and I was raised primarily in the Bay Area. I graduated high school in Concord, California. So I am very proud of my native Northern California roots.



Louis Goodman

How was your high school experience?



Tara Flanagan

I enjoyed my public school education quite a bit. I enjoyed high school, although it was fraught with the usual teenage dramas and growing up and all that I guess, but I was involved in sports. And so that gave me a good foundation of being involved and having teachers and coaches look after me and keep me in line. And I was involved in student government. And so I recall very fondly my high school days and I’m still connected to my high school and I go to an Athletics Hall of Fame dinner every year.



Louis Goodman

When you graduated from high school where did you go to college?



Tara Flanagan

I went to college initially at Chico State University, part of the Cal State Northridge system. And I went there for two years and found it to be just an incredible college town and great academics. Really small enough where people kept it on you and you had a lot of communication and connection with your professors. But being an athlete, I didn’t find the university athletics was a good fit for me. And so I transferred to Cal State Northridge. I graduated from Cal State Northridge after playing my last two years of college basketball there.



Louis Goodman

What did you think of being a college athlete?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I loved it. And I took great pride and honor and wearing the University jersey and representing my University on the athletics court. I think it sort of prepared me a lot for my future professional work as a lawyer and certainly as a judge.



Louis Goodman

Yeah, I’m think that going to school as a varsity athlete, and being a scholarship athlete really is kind of a different experience than a lot of people have in college. I’m not saying that it’s not a good experience, but it’s a different experience.



Tara Flanagan

It is because, you know, I have to say I’ve always had some mild interest in joining a sorority, but those kind of extracurriculars you just don’t have time for it was very demanding. And you don’t get cut any slack, right? You’ve got to be in your classes, and you’ve got to be at your tests. And if you’re traveling, you have to make arrangements to take tests while you’re traveling. So it takes a lot of juggling.



Louis Goodman

When did you decide to go to law school and when did you start really thinking about being a lawyer?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I started think about going to law school actually when I was in seventh grade, and I don’t want to sound like I got a bit ahead of myself, but I did I really didn’t think of being a lawyer. I thought of being a judge. And I knew that you had to be a lawyer first.



Louis Goodman

Where did you decide to go to law school?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I went to law school in Los Angeles at Southwestern University. And I had graduated from Cal State Northridge and I wanted to go to law school, but I had other things in my life that took priority at that time. And I went to paralegal school at UCLA, and I got a paralegal certificate while working and playing rugby. That was really my focus at that time. I was playing rugby for the United States, I played on the US National team. And I think I had the bandwidth to understand you’re only young and healthy for a certain amount of time. So you can study later, you can go to law school later, but work on your athletic career. So when I got my paralegal certificate, I started working in a law firm, I realized I had love for the law, and I had an aptitude for it. And I decided I would go to law school at the end of my international rugby career, and I went to law school at Southwestern for four years.



Louis Goodman

How much time did you take off between college and law school?



Tara Flanagan

That’s a good question, Mr. Goodman. I think it was roughly about six or seven years. During that time, was the first Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991. And Cardiff, Wales, I played in that for the United States, which we won. Yay. And then the second World Cup was held in 1994, in Edinburgh, Scotland, which we came in second, we don’t talk about that one very much. And then after that was when I went to law school.



Louis Goodman

I do think that having taken that time off and worked in the legal profession, helps you focus on law school and helps you focus on being perhaps a better law student.



Tara Flanagan

To some degree, I think so. I think that anybody who has gotten a graduate degree, whether in law or otherwise will, and certainly educators will talk about the difference between traditional day students who come right out of undergrad versus people who have the mature educated students who have obligations or work experience, it’s different. So yes, I think it did. It helped me focus more when you go to law school.



Louis Goodman

You open your own practice, is that correct?



Tara Flanagan

No, actually, when I first got out of law school, I had a very good job offer and I took it at a clerk that I affirmed that I clerked at one summer. And that was in Orange County, California. So I was living in the Santa Monica area. But I took this job at this very prestigious law firm. And as a first year associate, you weren’t really getting a lot of court experience. So I got frustrated with that. And in particular, there was one appellate issue that went up that I did all the research and the writing and the briefing on and whatnot. And I remember the frustration of having to fight and I mean, fight to get my name on that brief. So that when it became a published opinion, that I would get the appropriate credit. So that led me to decide I should get some courtroom experience. I applied to the District Attorney’s Office in LA County, and I was hired as a Deputy DA.



Louis Goodman

So how long were you in the District Attorney’s in Los Angeles?



Tara Flanagan

I was there about two years. I was in trial on my first day after DA graduation. And while the jury was out, I was picking a jury for a new trial. And I’ve really found it very interesting work. And I had won an award in the LA District Attorney’s Office as an outstanding Domestic Violence Prosecutor in my first year.



Louis Goodman

When did you start thinking about being a judge? And what prompted that decision?



Tara Flanagan

So that whole scene, of course, began when I was in seventh grade. And I was thinking about it, and always in the back of my mind. And when I was in law school, I really paid attention to the courses that I could elect to choose. And I thought, what is one need to know to be a judge? What do you really need to know of course, I think you need to be a good lawyer and have a reputation for being a good lawyer and for excellence, and fairness, and being professional and whatnot. So I always tried to practice law in that realm. But in law school, I thought, what do you need to know to be a judge? You need to know Civil, Criminal and Family Law that seemed to me the trifecta of what you really need to know. And so when I fashioned my legal career as an attorney, I worked in complex civil litigation big firm, I was a prosecutor and I got my criminal law experience to some extent, and then I was a Legal Aid Family Law attorney. So I thought that I tried to build my CV to prepare me for taking the bench. I was working on my application to become a Judge and through the Geni application process in 2012, when I was at a legal event one night, and I was approached by some people, important people in our county, and at first when I saw them sort of coming towards me at this event, I sort of backed up, I thought, oh no, what have I done? I’m in trouble. Because I’m one of seven kids raised by a single mom. So when authority comes at me, I initially bristle so they wanted to talk to me. And what they wanted to talk to me about was to ask me to run for an open seat, Judge Carl Morris had not re upped his seat and there was therefore an open seat. And these people approached me and said, We want you to run. I said, Why? Why are you asking me and they said, and this I really value, they said, you know, Carl Morris is an African American man, and he’s held this seat for close to 30 years, I think, is what they said, it’s a seat of diversity. And we feel it should remain a diversity, and you’re an out lesbian. Everyone knows you want to become a Judge, we think you’ll get there. But it’s important, we think, to the community that the seat remain diverse. And they felt that the candidates that had already entered the race didn’t reflect the diversity that the county needed. So they asked me and I was very honored to be approached and asked in this way, once I realized I wasn’t in trouble. And I said, Okay, when’s the filing deadline, and they said tomorrow. What they didn’t know was I was having shoulder surgery the next morning at 11:30 for an old rugby injury. So I had to be at the hospital at 10:30 in the morning. So I had from the time I had that conversation, until the next morning around, to make up my mind whether I should accept this challenge and enter the race. And I went down at eight in the morning and pulled my papers, paid my filing fee and entered the race.



Louis Goodman

What did you think about running for office? How was that experience?



Tara Flanagan

To be candid, I enjoyed it quite a bit, because a lot of people will say, and as you look across our country, in different states, there are states that don’t have elections for Judges or their states, or once you’re elected, it’s only retention votes. I liked it because I got to listen to people and meet people in the community. And I feel very strongly that the justice system isn’t here for me or any of us to have a job. It’s not here for us, it’s here for the public redress of grievances. So if I asked the people in this county to support me and what I felt I had to offer as a judicial officer, and they supported me, I think that’s exactly how the system is meant to work.



Louis Goodman

How did you feel about, you know, having to raise money and go out and be someplace all the time, always being at some kind of lunch, dinner or breakfast and really selling yourself?



Tara Flanagan

Raising money is a hard thing. And in any aspect for anybody who’s ever done fundraising for like the AIDS ride or a marathon or a charity, but certainly for yourself and to run for office. It’s really a challenge. And in a judicial race in particular, I think it’s challenging because it’s not going to be a quid pro quo. Like if you’re running for Assembly or Congress spot or any other elected office. I think there’s some amount of giving that seems to be tied to some expectation, right? No Judge is going to do you any favors because you supported them. You can’t. It’s unethical. And so I think there’s some reticence in contributions because of that reality.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Tara Flanagan

Surround yourself with mentors, and the mentors don’t have to look like you. In fact, all different kinds of people can help guide you on your professional career or support you and your academics, whatever. And don’t be afraid to ask and don’t expect that the person has to be your own demographic. In fact, the best perspectives you will often get are from people who aren’t replicas of you. I think that is really good advice. And it has served me well.



Louis Goodman

Do you think the legal system is fair?



Tara Flanagan

No.



Louis Goodman

Why?



Tara Flanagan

No, I think it strives to be fair. And the principles that we seek to effectuate justice are ideal, but they’re somewhat mythical, because we are in a country with systemic racism and systemic bias that affects so many people socio economic bias. And I have real concerns about that. And it’s something that I, as a Judge, have to be mindful of every single day. And also anytime you have a system that is run by human beings, who, by nature are flawed and imperfect, that bleeds over into the system.



Louis Goodman

You’re still very involved with sports and recreational pursuits. And I assume what like me, you find those things to be head clearing and a way of separating some of the stress from your life. I’m wondering if you could tell us what specific things you participate in these days?



Tara Flanagan

Sure. So I presently ride my bike a lot and long distance. I used to just ride my bike in what’s called century rides or metric century 60 mile rides, 100 mile rides, and then I always would finish a ride. And I think, you know, I still feel okay, I wonder how much further I could go. And what do I have left in the tank. And that’s always an assessment that I’ve always done in my whole sports career. So I started riding longer and longer. And I got into the sport called randonneuring, which is a French origin and it’s long distance bicycling, while you’re racing, not the other people, but you’re racing the clock. So certain distances have certain time limits that you have to complete them by. So a 200 kilometer, which is roughly 127 miles must be completed in 13.5 hours, you’re given a course, the clock starts off you go, the clock is always running, if your bike breaks down, you fix it, you get a flat tire, you fix it, the clock is always running, you need to eat, if something happens, you get injured, you figure it out, and you make your way along the course. So there’s 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K. And then, of course, 1200K.



Louis Goodman

And let’s just talk about that 1200k, Paris Brest Paris, because that’s just super impressive for anybody.



Tara Flanagan

The Paris Brest Paris bike ride is the oldest bike race in the world. It’s been in existence, since I want to say sometime in the 1880s. And the name reflects the race start on the outskirts of Paris, you race to the Atlantic seaport post, it’s a town called Brasstobrest. And then you return to Paris. And as I indicated, the clock is always ticking, the clock starts, you have 90 hours to finish. And so that’s 1200 kilometers, roughly 770 miles. And so you ride and you have to go to certain checkpoints, you have this little thing like a passport and they stamp it at certain checkpoints, you have to show that you were there. And you’re riding all day and all night through the countryside, and sometimes through cities. And yeah, it’s very hard. And over the last 100 plus years that the race has been in effect, there’s only about 500 women that have ever finished it. It’s hard. And it’s not just that you’re riding your bike for 90 hours straight. But you know, you have to manage yourself, you get tired, are you going to be able to take a nap for an hour or maybe longer? Are you ahead of the clock, you can nap. Are you behind? So you can’t, you got to eat. You’ve got to, you know, something breaks on your bike. So I did that the first time in August of 2019. It was very, a very hard race. But I finished in 89 hours and three minutes. And so I tell my friends, I said I could have stopped for another espresso. I had 57 minutes extra, I should have stopped should have stopped and eat again.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came into some real money $3 or $4 billion. Yeah, what if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Tara Flanagan

Oh, I pay off my mortgage on a house. And I would set up some trusts and charitable entities typically a shelters and transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence and in particular LGBTQ plus survivors of domestic violence. I use a lot of money. I think like that for the greater good. I don’t think my life would change that much. You know, everyone says that, I guess but I’d still be putting on my robe at 8:30 every morning, I’d still be here. And hopefully serving the people of the county.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand. That was one thing in the world you could change, what would you do?







Tara Flanagan

I’d eliminate racism and bias. Wipe that out of everybody’s mind were taught as children. So this is America, this is equal. Everybody has the same opportunities. We can all be President, we can all do this. And that’s not true. I would magic wand away racism and this nation’s shameful history of slavery and oppression.



Louis Goodman

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Tara Flanagan

I think about LGBTQ justice and the backlash in our country against transgender persons right now. That seems to be epidemis. Since a couple of weeks ago, I think about abortion rights and access to health care and autonomy for women in this country and in certain states. So that’s why I need to exhaust myself so that I can sleep. So these things are, I think present on all of our minds. We care all of us deeply about justice and fairness and all these issues that you’re asking me about.



Louis Goodman

Well, I’m gonna stop asking you about anything. I’m going to turn this over now to the people who were with us on the call. Let me start Jason Leong, do you have a question or a comment for Judge Flanagan?



Jason Leong

Sure. Thank you, Louis. And thank you Judge. Judge, it sounds like you’ve had quite a number of achievements and accomplishments. I’m wondering, what do you think was the most challenging experience of your life or your career?



Tara Flanagan

That’s a really good question, Jason. First of all, I have been extraordinarily lucky and fortunate I am, I’ve had some hardships. But like all of us, I’ve always had people there to help me like are angels for practically. But I’d say one thing that was challenging was being one of seven kids raised by a single mom, and not having another parent in the picture. And we really struggled my family financially, for example. And when I was a child, having only one parent wasn’t that common. And so I remember having to navigate that at school, I don’t know if any of you are old enough to remember sort of like, Father/Daughter Day, or Parent Day or whatever. And that, you know, made me feel on the outside. And that was hard when you’re a little kid. You don’t really understand that, and how if I wanted certain things, as a child, we all want toys or clothes or whatever, you know, to learn that my mother did the best she could, but she wasn’t going to be able to provide that. So I’d have to find a way. So things I think were my biggest challenges. And I don’t begrudge them though, because I think they contribute to who I am. As a Judge, I have that understanding of disparities. And so I guess that would be my answer, Jason.





Louis Goodman

Lisa Simmons do have a question or a comment for Judge Flanagan.



Lisa Simmons

Sure. Thanks, Louis. Thank you, Judge. First of all, you are an amazing human being just physically, it seems mental fortitude and everything. And it’s astounding. I think that when I’m listening to you, I can’t help but think how much sports really played a huge part in your life, and how much that kept you on track for a lot. As you progress through life, you have a very special position with a Juvenile Dependency Court. And I know you see a lot of bias, probably a lot of socio economic bias with the children there. And I know from personal experiences, as well as seeing a lot of that around us that is not accessible to a lot of the children out there because of socio economic status, sports cost money, they require parents that will transport and things like that. I was just wondering, with all of you with your position, and the contacts you must have in the athletic field and the dependency and justice. Have you ever been involved in any programs that help kind of bridge this gap? Or the youth that is disadvantaged? Or are you considering anything like that?



Tara Flanagan

Yeah, that’s a good question. I agree with what you said about sports having a major impact in my life. It’s formed everything I do, and how I see the world in large part. And as a Judge, you know, as an athlete, I say nobody ever outworked me, nobody ever in the world. And that was a goal of mine, I would never the fastest person, never the biggest or the strongest, but I found a way to get it done. And so that’s how I come to the bench. That’s how I was as a lawyer, and so on, so forth. And so I see that a lot of youth that need support and need that kind of structure are floundering in our Juvenile Dependency System. But one project that I’m really involved in developing right now. It’s the Major Taylor Project. So Major Taylor was a cyclist in the 1800s, late 1800s. Louis nodding, you know, who I’m talking about? Yeah, he was a first World Champion for the United States Cycling. And little known to many, and most people in our society. He’s an African American man, he was elevated praised idolized in, everywhere, everywhere around the world, except the United States. And it’s we don’t really know his history. So the idea of the Major Taylor Project is to provide bicycles and coaching to school kids, and create little teams and create Major Taylor events so that kids in particular kids who might also identify, but not exclusively, but might also identify as African American can realize the greatness of this historical person, Major Taylor, and that how cycling opened a lot of doors for him and taught him some real life lessons and to create a project like that so that we could have that in our counties.





Louis Goodman

Taylor Moudy



Taylor Moudy

Thank you, Louis. And thank you Judge for being here. It’s an amazing story you have to share and I appreciate hearing some very fine details of it. When I first signed up to register for this event, there was mentioned in the bio, that sort of introduction on your background. Because that you’d have served or do serve on the Alameda County Superior Courts, Jury and Criminal Committee, and I was curious of your experiences on that. What’s the mission of that committee? What issues are involved? But perhaps inputs do you provide and I’m sort of issues are resolved or ongoing. In that especially like to committee?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I’m no longer on the Criminal Committee because I’m in a Juvenile Dependency assignment. The Jury Committee, I’m still involved with, and I’ve been involved in that from the get go. And what we do is explore our jury summons process, our access to justice, or access to jury service, and work to ensure that we have community members answering the call to jury service, and look at our systems and our assignments where people are drawn from where they are assigned to report for service, so that we have a fair jury sampling.



Louis Goodman

Erica Demmings, I see that you raised your hand.



Erica Demmings

This has actually been very fascinating. Again, I think you’ve got an incredible story. I think that we are grateful that you’re on the bench. I had a question as a follow up for something that you talked about before, I think when you’re asked about waving a magic wand, of course, we’re all aware of the issues of inequity and racism, and things that have happened or are present in our society. My question is what let’s see measures if that’s the right word does the Judiciary or Alameda County and in particular take to either train Judges in the issue of on unconscious bias, combat it, just whatever that means? You know, whatever is done, it’s wondering, is there anything there?



Tara Flanagan

Right, well, as Judicial Officers we are required statutorily, to receive a certain amount of training in every three year period. We have to report on it and document it, if you were to fail your obligations, there would be consequences, and so on and so forth. Not unlike when we were all lawyers, and you are all lawyers, to have your MCLE and whatnot and maintain ongoing education. So that’s a foundational response. I think this county in particular recognizes the importance of judicial education on implicit bias and explicit bias. And last year, when I was the rising President, I was in charge of setting up all the trainings, and I quickly pivoted after Mr. Floyd was murdered and organized a panel on basically we call it the world is on fire and what does it mean to be part of a biased and racist system? And what’s our role in it? It’s something I take very seriously.



Louis Goodman

Thank you, Judge. Mary Rupp.



Mary Rupp

I remember when you were practicing as a solo for a few years before you ran for judge focusing on family law issues, and then you received your first judicial assignment in a busy Family Law courtroom. How does that family law experience influence or impact your current position?



Tara Flanagan

Well, I was put in family law. So I really had to be mindful of my own ethical duties and say, Okay, if someone says on this case, can I be fair? Or would there be an appearance of unfairness, for example, if someone I shared an office space with was representing a party came in front of me, these are the kinds of concerns I had. But one issue that I want to point out to everybody, when I became a Judge and was assigned in family law, there was no marriage equality in this country. I myself had wanted to get married, and God forbid, I didn’t. At that time, I couldn’t even have a marriage. Yeah, I was entrusted by the State of California and by this county to decide cases regarding marriage, division of property, custody of kids support spousal and otherwise, the whole Gestalt of the detritus of marriage, but I myself was legally banned from participating in that institution. That was ironic to say the least. You know, wow, I couldn’t participate. So when marriage equality happened by that time, I was in criminal law, but I think that was a hard thing, in a way and being in family law. I think that they think about becoming a judge and why I was interested, when I I did run, there came a point in my career where I was less interested in winning, ie what my client wanted. I was more interested or an or posing vehemently. But what was the right answer? What was the right answer under the law? What was the Justin fair answer? So that middle ground my perspective, and I’m extremely competitive person, but my perspective in law started to change more towards what is fair and what is right. I hope I answered your question.



Mary Rupp

Yes, you did. And thanks very much. Hope to see you soon.



Louis Goodman

Judge Tara Flanagan, thank you so much for joining us today at Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Tara Flanagan

Thanks for having me. It’s great to see everybody and keep up the good work at the ACBA and of course Love Thy Lawyers. We talked about it all the time as Judges.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s edition of Love Thy Lawyer in collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, please visit the LoveThyLawyer.com website, where you can find links to all of our episodes. Also, please visit the Alameda County Bar Association website at pay ACBA.org where you can find more information about our support of the legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession and facilitating equal access to justice. Special thanks to ACBA staff and members, Caitlin Dahlin, Saeed Randall, Hadassah Hayashi, Vincent Tong, and Jason Leong. Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Tara Flanagan

Then I said does everybody remember their senior year of high school? You ruled the school



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