A transcript of this podcast is easily available at lovethylawyer.com.
Go to https://www.lovethylawyer.com/blog for transcripts.
In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, Love Thy Lawyer presents an interview with:
Judge Carol Brosnahan served on the Alameda County Bench for over 30 years. She started in the Berkeley Municipal Court and was instrumental in setting up the Collaborative Courts Program.
Originally from New York City, she graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Law School.
The Alameda County Bar Association (ACBA) is a professional membership association for lawyers and other members of the legal profession. The ACBA provides access to ongoing legal education; and promotes diversity and civil rights in the Alameda County legal community. Our mission is to promote excellence in the legal profession and to facilitate equal access to justice.
Special thanks to ACBA staff and members: Cailin Dahlin, Saeed Randle, Hadassah Hayashi, Vincent Tong and Jason Leong. (https://www.acbanet.org/)
Musical theme by Joel Katz, Seaside Recording, Maui
Technical support: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
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Carol Brosnahan / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] 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.
She went to law school with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was instrumental in developing the Behavioral Court System in conjunction with the John George Psychiatric Pavilion for the Alameda County Superior Court. For years, she presided over the Berkeley Municipal Court and often knew the defendants from their prior appearances before her. Her husband, James is a senior partner at Morrison and Forrester and their daughter, Amy is a judge in Minnesota. Judge Carol Brosnahan welcome to the Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
Carol Brosnahan: Thank you very much. Now [00:01:00] you can ask me questions.
Louis Goodman: Well, it's so nice to see you, and it's so nice to be in a position of being able to ask you some questions, after all those years of you asking me questions. How long have you been retired from the Alameda County Bench now?
Carol Brosnahan: August, the first of last year, but basically before that because of the virus, because of COVID, nothing was happening for almost a year.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Carol Brosnahan: I'm originally from New York City.
I grew up in Queens and went to Jamaica High.
Louis Goodman: And what did you do in high school?
Carol Brosnahan: nobody will believe this, but I was very, very shy and very bookish. And all I did was read and not didn't do very much. They made me most likely to succeed, which I could not understand, but they did [00:02:00] Well, I guess they were right.
Louis Goodman: That was in high school. When you graduated from Jamaica High in Queens, where did you go to college? I
Carol Brosnahan: I went to Wellesley. And this is an interesting thing for a number of your younger people who may be watching that post podcast. I went on a quota. They had a quota of Jews. They would not let in more than 15% girls who were Jewish. And that was true. And I think a number of the seven sisters during those years, I went in 1951 to Wellesley.
Louis Goodman: It wasn't an all girls school at the time?
Carol Brosnahan: Oh, yes. And they had a motto, may or something like that, which was translated by many of the classmates to be, not to be ministers, but to be minister's wives. I majored in economics.[00:03:00] And after I graduated, I had wanted to go to the Harvard Law School or the Harvard Business School. And they didn't take women.
Louis Goodman: So you went to school Harvard Law?
Carol Brosnahan: Well, after a year.
Louis Goodman: What did you do in the intervening year?
Carol Brosnahan: I worked as an Assistant Investment Counselor at the Bank of New York. That was an interesting experience too, because they didn't really, I, handled the portfolios, a very wealthy people, but they didn't want the very wealthy people to know that there were actually women who were handling their portfolios. So we were kind of kept in the back room to do the investment counseling and they would have front men meeting with the clients.
Louis Goodman: So when did you apply to law school?
Carol Brosnahan: I applied to law school late. I had taken the [00:04:00] LSAT and sent in my partial application. And then I changed my mind about, I didn't think I was going to go, but I changed my mind. So about a month before classes started, I called the law school and I spoke to Dean and I said, I've changed my mind, can I come and he said, well, let me check your record and I'll call you back. And he called me back and said, okay, you're going to come to the Harvard Law School. And that's how I got to the Harvard Law School.
Louis Goodman: Well, what was that experience like? I mean, was it like the Paper Chase?
Carol Brosnahan: Oh yes. It was an interesting experience because as you mentioned now, I was in a class with not only Ruth Ginsburg, but there were only nine women all together.
In the class of 525.
Louis Goodman: Wow. [00:05:00]
Carol Brosnahan: So we were a little bit in an odd situation, but it was definitely Paper Chase in terms of some of the professors, others were a little bit more relaxed about it, but there were some professors who really liked the Dean did not want us there. The story that Ruth has told, and which is a true story is that the Dean had all of us over on when we were freshmen women and said, you are taking the place of a man who will do something with the profession.
And that was how our beginning experience at the Harvard Law School. But there were some professors who were very amenable to our being there. One of them was Professor Albert Sachs, who became the Dean of the Law School. And in fact, at one point offered me a job [00:06:00] heading the Continuing Legal Education in the State of Massachusetts.
Louis Goodman: Well, what prompted you to start thinking about law, about wanting to be a lawyer in the first place?
Carol Brosnahan: Well, I wanted a profession and I had really wanted to be in the business field, but my dad had a law degree, although he'd never practiced law. When I was growing up because he became a lawyer during the depression and really couldn't make a living hand, but he's always loved the law.
And I just became intrigued with what could be done by a woman as a lawyer. And decided I would do it.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Carol Brosnahan: My first was a semi-legal job because I was, we moved when Jim and I [00:07:00] got married, we moved to Arizona. And at that time, they weren't really hiring women. We were friendly actually with the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and she couldn't get a job either.
So I took a job as secretary to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Louis Goodman: Well, at some point you made your way to California.
Carol Brosnahan: Oh yes. Well, Jim got a job an Assistant US Attorney. He had been a USA and Phoenix and got a job in San Francisco. And at that time we had Amy who was two and Jimmy who was four months.
And that brought us to California. And then 21 months later we had Lisa. And so when we first came to California, I took [00:08:00] the California Bar. But I did not practice law until Lisa was one. And then I got a job working for Continuing Education of the Bar. And I started out as a fact checker and then began to edit books and then began to plan programs and then became, what they call Director of Local Bar Relations. And we met with the representatives of the local bars about CEB Programs.
Louis Goodman: Did you go directly from that job to the bench or did you
Carol Brosnahan: Yeah, and I had been on a State Commission. I was on the Fair Political Practices Commission when it first started. And I had also gotten to know a number of lawyers throughout the state, through my CEB [00:09:00] work.
And so some lawyers put in a good word for me and I was appointed by Jerry Brown, the first and to replace Welmont Sweeney on the Berkeley Municipal Court. And I was very, very lucky.
Louis Goodman: Now, if a young woman was just coming out of college, would you recommend the law as a career to her?
Carol Brosnahan: Absolutely because it's challenging and right now there are infinitely more opportunities.
Okay. For women in the law, then there were when I started out or when Ruth started out, there are talented women litigators who, a good friend of ours. His head was head of a Bota, the American Board of Trial Advocates and Women. Women can go anywhere now in the profession. And including [00:10:00] Legislatures, which, where we really need more, more lawyers.
Louis Goodman: What advice would you give to a young person, woman, or man coming out of law school and starting a career? What sort of advice?
Carol Brosnahan: Take any job that really will entrust you. Don't be in it for the money.
Louis Goodman: What about advice to an attorney who has an interest in being a Judge? What would you say to that individual?
Carol Brosnahan: I think about your temperament being a Judge is a very different role. And some people are suited for it. Some people are not, it's a great job and it's a very challenging job. Sometimes you get very cranky attorneys, which I think you know about.
Louis Goodman: Well, yeah. You know, as a matter of fact, before we started recording, I just mentioned that when I was a young lawyer and I'd only been practicing for a very short time, I didn't really think you were a very good Judge.
And then after I'd been practicing for a couple of [00:11:00] years, I was really amazed at how much you would learn to paraphrase Mark Twain.
Louis Goodman: You met Jim at Harvard Law School, didn't you?
Carol Brosnahan: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: You would know the story of how Jim and I met. Please tell it.
Carol Brosnahan: It was third year at law school and I was working my way through and I took a job, thanks to, I was secretary to the Law School, Public Defenders, and a guy by the name of Paul Renny, so there are six guys. We have a house on the corner of the law school, but none of us can cook. And I said, I would do the cooking and exchange for my mails, as long as I didn't have to do any of the dirty work, any of the dishes or anything.
And that was on the September the 29th, I started cooking and met a guy by the name of Jim Brosnahan. Three weeks later, we were engaged. And three [00:12:00] weeks after that, we got married. On November the eighth and we have celebrated now our 61st wedding anniversary and are moving on to hopefully many more.
Louis Goodman: Well, congratulations.
Carol Brosnahan: So another reason for young woman to go to law school is you can meet some really cool guys.
Louis Goodman: I don't think the ratio is as good anymore as it was when you were there.
Carol Brosnahan: Probably not.
Louis Goodman: Is there something that, you know now that you really wish you'd known before you became a Judge?
Carol Brosnahan: I wish I had known more about the troubles that people have that either maybe of their own making or may not be of their own making, in terms of poverty in terms of mental illness, in terms of the hardships that they have to face for one [00:13:00] reason or another.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Carol Brosnahan: I would have more emphasis on the Collaborative Court type of system. I don't believe that incarceration is always the best alternative.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair?
Carol Brosnahan: Totally. No. Let me just give you a stark example where child support a child custody case where one party has an attorney and the other does not. A landlord tenant case where the tenant does not have a lawyer and the landlord does. That's why there is such a great need for right to counsel in civil cases.
Louis Goodman: For many years, you and Jim were both very involved in the Inns of Court Program. [00:14:00] More knew if he could tell us a little bit about that. And for those people who are not familiar with it, give us a brief introduction to the court.
Carol Brosnahan: The Inns of Court is simply a wonderful experience, especially for young lawyers.
I think it's organization, which is intended for Judges, Lawyers of all different aspects of the profession to get together on a social basis and get to know each other outside of the courtrooms. And I just can't speak highly enough of the opportunities that you get from the Inns of Court.
Louis Goodman: This podcast is presented and supported by the Alameda County Bar Association. ACBA provides a wide range of Certified Continuing Legal Educational Programs, [00:15:00] networking opportunities, and social events if you're a member of ACBA. Thank you. If you are not yet a member, we hope you will consider joining this organization that is by far and in support of practicing attorneys. And now back to our interview. What kind of things keep you up at night? What do you worry about?
Carol Brosnahan: It keeps me up at night, worrying about what's going to happen to our country, but what's going to happen to our democracy. I really do worry about that.
We're on a precipice right now.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, let's say you and Jim came into $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything different would you do in your life?
Carol Brosnahan: Not much. We’d probably spend more time at Tahoe, but I don't think it would change us at all.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you had a magic wand. What was one thing you could change in the legal system or in the [00:16:00] world in general? is there one thing that you would like to wave that wand and change.
Carol Brosnahan: I'd like to change hatred. I'd like to make it disappear. The what's I was talking about now with the issue of our democracy, I would do away with a lot of the false information, the falsities that are being spread. The conspiracy theories that scare me.
Louis Goodman: Judge, we have a number of people on the zoom call here, and a few of people have already checked in to ask some questions that I would like to be able to have anyone who's on the call ask a question. So Noel, I see that you have a question. Can you unmute and ask your question?
Carol Brosnahan: I'm Judge Brosnahan.
I thank you so much for talking to us today. It's been such an interesting program so far. I was just wondering if it [00:17:00] would be rude to ask you how old you are.
Carol Brosnahan: I don't know anyone, I am 86 years old and sharp as a tack. Very sharp. I think that the fact that I'm married to somebody who keeps me sharp as a tack helps a lot.
And also the fact that I try to keep mentally active. My challenges, the New York Times crossword puzzles. My mom used to say, my mom was not died when she was in her nineties and she was quite sharp and she said she didn't want to live past when she could wouldn't come in first to duplicate bridge.
Well, I don't know if I want to leave live after I can't finish the Sunday Times crossword.
Nice. Nice. Thank you so much, Judge.
Louis Goodman: Okay, Maria, do you have a [00:18:00] question for Judge Brosnahan?
Yes. Thank you so much for being with us. My question was about your relationship with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and what it was like for you when she was placed on the Supreme Court?
Carol Brosnahan: I hadn't seen her after she went to the Supreme Court. Jim did, but when we were both young, we socialized because Jim was head of the Young Democrats for Kennedy and John O'Connor was the head of the Young Republicans and so we socialized with John and Sandra at that time. And when Jim went back to Washington, he actually saw Sandra who remembered him.
And she was a lovely person, just an absolutely delightful person. And she didn't change when she went on the bench.
Louis Goodman: Sharon Caesar, you have a question for the Judge.
Hi guys. So good to see you. Do you miss the Mrs. I [00:19:00] Behavioral Health Court.
Carol Brosnahan: I'm old enough. Of course I do. We miss you too.
What do you miss most about not being on the bench besides us at Behavioral Health Court?
Carol Brosnahan: The people and the fact that I can no longer make an impact.
Some like sometimes I was able to, I miss the people that I worked with who were an incredible team of people as you well know, but I also miss some of the defendants, you know, it was interesting. I had an interesting relationship with some of the defendants. The other day I was at a grocery store and this woman came running up to me and said, do you remember me? Do you remember me? And I didn't attain the truth, but I said, well, how are you? [00:20:00] She said, you were very nice to me when every time I was in court and she would have been in defendant in my court. And. I miss that.
Oh, we miss you too.
Louis Goodman: The Proudfoot I see you on the screen. I haven't seen you in a while and I'm wondering if you have a question or a comment for Judge Brosnahan.
Well, sure. Thanks for calling on me, Louis. I kind of suspected you might. It's so good to see you thriving. I'm very happy to see you. And I wanted to thank you for giving a shout out to the Earl Warren. Of course, I do have a question about judging. I think a lot of women lawyers are seeing that there is a very much a need to diversify the Judiciary. From your perspective, based on your experience, what is it about being a woman Judge is just so powerful for the bench. And what are the things that we should learn from you about that?
Carol Brosnahan:. I think it's like any other [00:21:00] person whose background is different, your experiences are different and everybody's technique of judging or ideas about what a judge should be depend on a lot on your own experiences. I think had I not experienced in my life discrimination based not only on being a woman, but on being a Jew, I would have probably been less understanding of people who are discriminated against for other reasons. And that's why I think it's very important that there be diversity on the bench.
Louis Goodman: Jason Leon, I see that you've got a question.
Sure. So thanks judge again for doing this and we really appreciate your time. I'm wondering what's next on the horizon for you and what kinds of things are you doing now that you enjoy doing that you couldn't do before you [00:22:00] retired.
Carol Brosnahan: I want to continue judging and I've signed up for the Assigned Judges Program, but right now I'm working, I'm writing a poetry book and I'm enjoying that. And I'm reading a lot.
Louis Goodman: I see that we have Judge Noel Wise on the call. I'm wondering if you have something you're out.
It's so nice to see you. And I apologize that I was late. I had a really long calendar this morning, and then I will say as much as you miss us, boy, do we miss you? And I hope that you will find all kinds of ways to continue to be part of the bench. In hindsight is there anything that you would have done kind of differently in the trajectory of your career on the bench?
Carol Brosnahan: I would have pushed earlier for the Collaborative Courts, because that's what I miss the most is the, the one-on-one aspects. We have so [00:23:00] few openings for people to participate in the Mental Health Court that it's really frustrating. So they end up either at John George or in custody and what they really need is treatment.
Do you mind if I follow up on that question, I'm sort of intrigued with this, is that okay? I've actually been doing some research on this very issue, and I'm thinking about trying to write a little bit more about this and, and Carol, your ability to see individuals for their unique humanity was just such a special gift that you had on this court.
And, and I'm curious from your expertise in all your years, doing this, what would be the kinds of services that we would enhance maybe at a time right now, where we're in an intersection with having more money on the horizon, to be able to do something with that. [00:24:00]
Carol Bronahan: What I would do is create housing units that included the addiction, the mental health, you may house fewer people, but if you have a unit, a house, which has not only apartments, which they may or may not be able to sustain, but the counselor, an addiction program, you know, if you look at what options recovery service has accomplished, they have now I think nine. Clean and sober houses for people who have gone through the options program.
So it can be done. It certainly can be done, but you can't just dump them into an apartment and say, okay, now you've got a bed good for you. And goodbye,
Louis Goodman: Richard [00:25:00] C Bolt. I see you're on the call.
Wondered whether Judge Brosnahan might have some specific advice for undergraduates, either o are interested in law schools and perhaps particularly for women undergraduates?
Carol Brosnahan: Take a class that on psychology, but I don't think any particular curriculum is important.
I think that you have to evaluate your ability to take tests. The LSAT does not. Determine who's going to be a good lawyer, but it sometimes does determine whether you can get to be a lawyer. But I would say start looking at the people who surround you every day in the coffee shop on the street, the homeless person who you might otherwise be tempted to avoid your, to divert your [00:26:00] eyes from.
And I would say, if you want to go to law school, think about what are your best, what are your best skills and what are the skills you need to work on? And the most important skill I believe for any Judge is the ability to empathize. And so work on your empathy.
Louis Goodman: Erica Dennings I see you're on the call.
Do you have a comment or a question for Judge Brosnahan?
Judge Brosnahan, this has been effective. I feel like you're an icon and I think that all of the things that you've said about really following your passion and doing something that you enjoy doing and bringing really your human side to the bench or to your job is really just spot on.
I have been really passionate about volunteer work. And so it's great to [00:27:00] see that you're a person that really cares about the community, and cares about humanity.
Carol Brosnahan: People are awfully nice to say that and good luck to you.
Thank you so much.
Louis Goodman: Lisa Simmons. I see you're with us today and I'm wondering if you have a comment or question for Judge Brosnahan.
Erica just had it. I just kept thinking. Wow. Your connection to humanity is inspirational. I understand that you're going to be involved in the community. And we all hope for a very long time. One day, what is the legacy that you hope to leave, both personally and professionally?
Carol Brosnahan: For all of us, I would like people to remember me as somebody who cared about them. And that's about it.
Louis Goodman: Judge Brosnahan, on that note, I will say that unfortunately, because of time, we really kind of have to wrap up this conversation.
Carol Brosnahan: Well, thank you all [00:28:00] for participating. I think that Louis’ Love Thy Lawyer is a good idea because the reputation that lawyers have is really, I believe, unfair. If anybody keeps our country together and keeps our democracy together and keeps our constitution together, it's not going to be anybody other than the lawyer.
Louis Goodman: Judge Brosnahan. Thank you so much for joining us today at the Alameda County Bar Association and on the Love Thy Lawyer Podcast. It's been a real privilege and honor to talk to you.
Carol Brosnahan: Bye.
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 [00:29:00] Association website at pay CBA.net.org, where you can find more information about our support of legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession and facilitating equal access to justice.
Special thanks to ACBA staff and members. Caitlin Dayli, Sahi Randall, DASA Hayashi. Vincent Tong and Jason Leon. Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Carol Brosnahan: Job was to tell Senator arms, stand up. It's time to introduce this bill and then pull on his coat. Tim, sit down. That was my job as the secretary to the Judiciary Committee.