A transcript of this podcast is easily available at lovethylawyer.com.
Growing up in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, a historically under-served community in San Francisco’s south bay, I have seen firsthand the way that crime - particularly violent crime - can harm families and communities. Too many people in my neighborhood did not trust that the police or prosecutors would help. I was personally the victim of racial profiling, and so too were a majority of the people of color I grew up with. I saw friends and neighbors join gangs, get mixed up with drugs and end up in jail or prison. Without the support of a strong family, organized sports, mentors and some good fortune along the way, I may have suffered the same fate.
I came into the legal profession late in life. For over a decade, I worked as a union plumber with the Local 38 Plumbers and Pipe-Fitter’s Union after a season-ending football injury at San Jose State University caused me to leave school early. A second back injury on the job led me to night school at Laney College and ultimately a scholarship to UC Berkeley in 1998 to finish my undergraduate studies as a father of three. I graduated with honors in 2000, and earned my juris doctorate from UC Hastings College of the Law in 2004.
I studied criminal justice at Berkeley and served on five criminal juries before I sat for my first law school class. This service to my community led me to the realization that the District Attorney's Office in general, and the District Attorney specifically, had the power to dictate how the criminal justice system worked in a community.
I am a long-time resident of Oakland, having moved to Alameda County from my native San Francisco in 1985. I married my wife Trish over 25 years ago and together we have raised three children.
Outside of the courtroom, I sit on the executive board of the NAACP Hayward-South Alameda County branch; sat on the board of directors of the Elizabeth House in Oakland, a transitional residential program for women with children who have experienced homelessness, domestic violence, addiction or poverty; oversaw our office’s involvement in the Ceasefire program at the Oakland Police Department, a nationally recognized violence intervention initiative that seeks to stop violent crimes before they occur through targeted community outreach; and served as a member of the office’s Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) team, responding to the scene of officer involved shootings, interrogating officers and conducting independent investigations.
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Technical support: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
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Jimmie Wilson – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we'll 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 grew up in the Bayview Hunters Point section of San Francisco.
He played Division One College Football at San Jose State University. He worked as a union plumber and pipe fitter. He ultimately graduated with honors from UC Berkeley. He served as a juror on five criminal cases before becoming a lawyer, he sits on the local executive board of the NAACP. He currently serves as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney [00:01:00] and is running to be the next elected District Attorney of Alameda County.
Jimmy Wilson. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Jimmie Wilson: Thank you, Louis. Happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: I've always enjoyed talking to you. I recall many times sitting down and pretrial cases in department, 501 in Hayward, and it was always fun talking to you.
Jimmie Wilson: You also.
Louis Goodman: And it was always good getting a little plumbing advice from you.
Jimmie Wilson: Yeah. You know, I give advice out to a lot of people. I think once a plumber, always a plumber. I mean, my wife, even once we do plumbing around the house, which I tell her I'm getting too old and my skills are starting to diminish and I couldn't do it anymore. She's not invited though. I usually have to do it anyway.
Louis Goodman: Where are you working right now?
Jimmie WIlson: I'm working out of Dublin. The South County.
Louis Goodman: And what’s your assignment right this minute?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, my assignment is [00:02:00] I've just transitioned from doing gang crimes to now I'm back doing preliminary hearings.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been in the District Attorney's office?
Jimmie Wilson: Around 16 years.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Where are you from originally?
Jimmie Wilson: I grew up in San Francisco. As you mentioned in the introduction. I lived there. I mean, I lived in the Sunnydale area from the ages of about one to about six years old, the Sunnydale projects. And then I moved to Bayview Hunters Point and I lived there until I was like 18 years old and went off to college.
Louis Goodman: Balboa High School. What was that experience like for you?
Jimmie Wilson: You know, when you're in it, you don't realize the level of education you're receiving. I mean, even if I go back to when I was in, where we used to call it junior high school and elementary school, to say that school was challenging would be an [00:03:00] understatement.
I realized when I got to college that growing up in an underprivileged inner city school doesn't really prepare you for the real world scholastically. So I knew when I got out of Balboa that I had to kind of reinvent myself and kind of re establish myself educationally. So it was a challenge. It really was, it was a challenge going to college.
It was a challenge, you know, trying to support yourself as a challenge, trying to. Buying yourself in the world is sometimes I tell people that, especially when I'm talking to young people, that I look at myself now, and I wonder like, who was that kid back there in the in the sixties and seventies who had holes in his shoes and his pants and was, you know, fighting and struggling just to survive.
Louis Goodman: Did you graduate from high school and then go directly to college? Or did you do [00:04:00] anything in between.
Jimmie Wilson: Well, I was a football player. So when I graduated from Balboa, I went to College of Marin for a year and a half and played football at College of Marin. I was most valuable player on my team. And then from College of Marin, I went to San Jose State and I was at San Jose State for two years.
And I injured my back and realize that my football career had come to an end and I needed to go out in the real world and get a job. And I think that's what led me into plumbing.
Louis Goodman: Just out of curiosity, what position did you play?
Jimmie Wilson: I was a wide receiver, tight end.
Louis Goodman: So you graduatedfrom San Jose State and you then immediately went into the plumbing world.
No, I didn't graduate from San Jose State. I took a leave of absence and actually it's a long story, but I thought I was going to work. For six [00:05:00] months and I ended up coming in a plumber at that point and I was a plumber for 16 years.
Louis Goodman: And you were in the union?
Jimmie Wilson: I was a Local 38 Union Plumber.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about becoming a lawyer?
Jimmie Wilson: I served on five juries, everything from drug possession to my final case, I sat on was a murder trial, a co-defendant murder trial. And I mean, I had never seen a lawyer other than on TV. I'd never been in a courtroom. I knew nothing about the criminal justice system.
And as I was sitting there on my fifth trial and I was watching these three experienced lawyers, the two defense attorneys and the prosecutor. I came to the realization that it was something that I could do. And it's something that I could work towards. That's what I really wanted to do. And that's it, it took just being a juror, took away the mystique of the law.
I was like, wow, I [00:06:00]I think I could do that.
Louis Goodman:. So what did you need to do in order to go to law school?
Jimmie Wilson: So I was already going to school at night. I was working on getting my contractor's license. I was going to open my own company. And I started to think, Oh, maybe that's not what I want to do. I started thinking about the law and I applied to UC Berkeley.
And I ended up getting a full scholarship and graduating with honors and I was a legal studies major.
Louis Goodman: What did yourfriends and family think or say when you told them that you wanted to be a lawyer and you were headed in that direction?
Jimmie Wilson: Most people were supportive. Most of my friends, is the tragic part about growing up in the Bayview, is that a lot of your friends end up in jail or homeless.
Are sometimes you don't know but they pass away. And the hard part of life, when you go back and you talk to your friends, is that it's hard to talk to them about the things [00:07:00] that you're going to do when the prospect of their lives are, you know, not as great. You want to like, you know, keep your same friends, but you also want them to know that you know, that there's something else out there.
Cool. Did you apply to and go to
Jimmie Wilson: I applied to UC Hastings and got in, and I thought it would be great to go to school downtown San Francisco around the Civic Center area. So that's where I decided to go.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Jimmie WIlson: It was here. I was a law clerk. It was after my second year. I was a law clerk is when I tried my first case. It was that first, you know how it is Louis? You try that first case and you do that first closing argument. And I knew I was hooked. It was amazing.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to be attracted to the Alameda County DA's Office?
Jimmie Wilson: I applied to three places.
I applied to the. [00:08:00] Public defender's office in San Francisco. I applied to the Alameda County DA's Office and I applied to a firm that did Construction Law. I went on the visit to the construction law firm and a visit to the DA's office. And when I went to the DA's office, I knew that's where I needed to be.
What do you really like about practicing law? You've been doing it for a while and obviously you have all kinds of potential career moves that you could make, but you've stayed in the DA's Office.
Jimmie Wilson: I think it's the people. And when I say the people, I don't just mean prosecutors in my office. I also mean the Defense Bar. As you know, we have an incredible Defense Bar. I think is the Public Defender's Office.
I think that there are some good people in our business, and I love interacting with them. I love talking to them. I love the fact that although [00:09:00] our work is serious that we don't take it out on each other, that we treat each other with respect. I don't think I'd want to do anything else.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend the law to a young person thinking about a career choice?
Jimmie Wilson: Oh, yeah. I mean, as you know, Louis it’s hard work, it's late nights. It's weekends. Sometimes, especially if you're in trial, it takes a lot of stamina. It takes a lot of intelligence, a lot of perseverance. But I think it's worth it.
I think whether you're on the defense side or on the prosecution side, or if you do civil work, are you doing some other kind of work? You're always working to help other people. You're always doing something to benefit others and it's never about you. It's always about the case. And I love that part of it.
I love the fact that it's funny because I never thought I could do this. Public speaking. I never thought that I would feel comfortable in front of a jury. And I [00:10:00] realized early on that I was comfortable because I wasn't talking about myself. I was talking about whatever case I was doing.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing met or differed from your expectations?
Jimmie Wilson: I mean, I don't think I really came into this business with any expectations of what it was going to do. Like I knew it wasn't Perry Mason. I knew it was difficult. All the things I talked about, I knew it was hard work. I mean, that's the times away from your family as you know, Louis it's like, those are the hard parts, you know, those are the difficult times.
So I knew it was going to be hard work. I think that what I tell young people, especially when I'm like going to like a junior college or a high school to talk to people and I say, if you really want to be a lawyer, you gotta really want it. Do things with no one else is watching. You got to put in the work when you're by yourself.
That's the most difficult part of this job. And I knew that it's no different than, [00:11:00] when you're studying anything. You just have to put in the work.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, there is sort of a lonely aspect to it. A student like aspect to it always. Don't you think?
Jimmie Wilson: Yeah, I think so.
Louis Goodman: You currently are running for District Attorney.
When did you start thinking about that as a career move and have you always wanted to be an elected official as opposed to someone working for the government?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, I can honestly tell you, I really seriously start thinking about it in 2019. As soon as I realized this was something I wanted to do, I went to my boss, Nancy O'Malley because I believe that when you're going, when you're even thinking about doing something or contemplating doing something, you have to be honest with someone and tell them what you're thinking and tell him why you're doing it. And that's what I did. I went to her and I told her, this is something that I want to do. And I think the reason why I want to do it is it has a lot to do with [00:12:00] my background that has a lot to do with the way I see the criminal justice system.
I grew up poor. I grew up in a neighborhood where most of my neighbors were poor and as you know, lose the most. And we see a lot in our jobs, the defendants who are indigent, you know, who have problems like drug problems or other kinds of problems or mental illness. And those were kind of the people I grew up with.
And I've always thought that, and I've looked around the country and I looked at all of these DA's and I didn't see one person that had my background in my experience, who actually had seen the law. From Pittsburgh foundation, that's seen the floor has seen people at their worst. And I thought that I could bring a unique perspective to the law.
Louis Goodman: I think in some ways, you're really talking about a national consciousness around prosecution. That [00:13:00] there's been a move to get people with more progressive thinking into elected District Attorneys positions. Do you see yourself as part of that movement?
Jimmie Wilson: No. I'm a different kind of progressive. I don't like what I'm seeing when I look around the country. I see some progressive prosecutors who are ignoring serious violent crime. And I don't think you can do that. I don't think you can ignore any type of crime at all. I think you have to hold people accountable, but holding people accountable that doesn't mean you're sending people to prison.
Louis Goodman: How is your campaign going and what do you think of campaigning and raising money and going out there and putting yourself out there?
Jimmie Wilson: It's hard. It's really difficult because it doesn't come natural to me. I mean, you know, Louis asking people for money is like, it's hard.
Louis Goodman: Do you have a 30 second elevator speech?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, okay. A couple of our [00:14:00] friends said I should and I always tell them, I don't want to sound like a politician.
That's the difference between myself and my opponent and anyone else that is running for this job. If anyone talks to me, they're going to get the truth. They're going to get honesty. I think as you know, Louis, the one thing that if you talk to people who know me, they will tell you I'm a nice guy who they usually trust.
And I try to keep that trust. And one way of keeping their trust is always being yourself.
Louis Goodman: You mentioned an opponent. Who do you anticipate your opponent is going to be?
Jimmie Wilson: I'm not sure. Now I know Pamela Price has announced that she's running. I don't know what Nancy is doing and I don't know if there will be any other candidates.
I suspect that there will be at least one more.
Louis Goodman: Do you think thelegal systems fair?
Jimmie Wilson: No. Not at all. I think [00:15:00] the one thing I noticed when I got here is money trumps everything and sometimes your skin color can be a detriment and that's never going to be fair. I think our communities aren't fair society.
It isn't fair, but, you have to find a way to counteract that. You have to find a way to address that. One way of addressing that is through leadership. I'm in the process now of working through the NAACP, talking to police officers and talk about community policing and talking about how we can create strategies to reduce the adverse interactions between police and people in the community.
Louis Goodman: One thing that I always sort of wanted to do when I was in the District Attorney's Office was having an exchange program with a Public Defender's Office in another County. I thought it would be a really interesting thing to work as a [00:16:00] Defense Atorney being in the DA's office.
And I would assume that people who are in the Public Defender's Office doing defense work would find it interesting to be a Prosecutor for a while. And I'm wondering if that's something that if elected, you might be open to.
Jimmie Wilson: I actually, I like that idea, actually. I never thought about it. I would totally be open to that.
As I told you, I applied to the PDs office and to the DA's office. I realized I mean, being a prosecutor is really important, but I also think learning the defense side would be even more valuable.
Louis Goodman: How haveissues facing prosecutors changed in the time that you've been practicing?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, I would say that there is a negative kind of a negative slant to being a prosecutor that wasn't there when I started. [00:17:00] When I started, I remember Tom Orloff telling me that we always wear the white hat and no case is more important than justice itself. And I've always followed that. And I don't know when, and I always thought that was the public perception of prosecutors that they always wore the white hat that they always did the right thing. Somehow. I don't know how that has changed. And I'm sure it's because one or two prosecutors out there in the world did something that they shouldn't do, but I've never lost that joy and that feeling that I had from the very start of being a prosecutor, I've always felt like it's the best job in the world.
Louis Goodman: What's your sense of what the cost of running for District Attorney in Alameda County is?
Jimmie Wilson: I know it's somewhere in the mid, you know, maybe $300,000/400,000, [00:18:00] somewhere in that area, depending on who runs and depending on what kind of money is brought in, it should never be that high. It should never do that, but I have a feeling that's where it's going to be.
Louis Goodman: You think there's any chance of getting some funding from George Soros or some other national organization that's interested in changing the way prosecution is handled on a local basis?
Jimmie Wilson: I don't know. I mean, he was involved and I think he back Ms. Price in the election against Nancy in 2018. I don't know if he's going to get involved in this race. I have no idea.
Louis Goodman: Well, money is important in the sense that there's really no way to get your message out without it. And I'm wondering how fundraising has been going for you.
Jimmie Wilson: It's the beginning. It's the started, but it's going well. It's, you know, let's see what it's like in June.
Louis Goodman: Has announcing that you're running for District Attorney, [00:19:00] possibly against your boss, in any way changed your perception of how you are viewed in the office?
Jimmie Wilson: Oh, wow. I think there's some positives and there's some negatives. I don't think I've changed at all, but maybe the perception of other people may have changed. I always wanted the reasons why, and the biggest reason why I'm doing this is that I love this office and I love the people in this office and I want this office to thrive and survive, and I want every single person in his office to reach their full potential.
Louis Goodman: I'm going to shift gears here a little bit. What's your family life been like? And how has being a prosecutor affected that? And then how has running for office affected your family life?
Jimmie Wilson: Well, it's, I think it goes in phases. When my kids were really young, it was difficult because, and my entire time in the [00:20:00] office, 16 years, I think almost 14 of it, I've been in a trial assignment. And, and as you know, Louis, it is, it can be draining on your family, especially when you've tried as many cases as I tried. So that part was really, it was difficult at first and especially hard on my wife because she had to pick up a lot of the slack, I think now because our kids are a lot older, it's more manageable.
Louis Goodman: What other sort of things do you like to do, any travel recreational pursuits?
Jimmie Wilson: Yes. I love to travel. Just before the pandemic, I just been to Costa Rica. Good to Spain. I mean, I'm a kid from the Bayview. I didn't get my passport until I was like 40 and I'll try to make up for lost time. I love to read. I love old movies.
That is like my passion.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Jimmie Wilson: My, you know, what's going on in our County. [00:21:00] You know what the high homicide rate that I'm seeing, the number of shootings that I'm seeing, the fact that most of these young people are people of color or killing each other.
Louis Goodman: If you came in to some real money, few billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Jimmie Wilson: I mean, I think that the, my journey, how I got here, I would never change that. I think I would keep that the way it is, but being able to help other people, being able to change the lives of people who don't have the same benefits that I have. Like, I feel lucky.
To make my way out of my own situation as a child. And I think the only reason why I was able to make it was because my parents were there for me. You know, we didn't have a lot of money, but they [00:22:00] kept me straight and I would love to, if I had money, help other people find their way to make this society better, to educate more kids too.
You know, changed the lives of more people. I feel lucky. And I know I'm lucky.
Louis Goodman: Say you had a magic wand, what one thing in the world that you could change in the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Jimmie Wilson: I think it would be the relationship between the police and the black community.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven't covered?
Jimmie Wilson: Not that I can think of Louis. I just wanted to say that I appreciate you reaching out to me to do this.
Louis Goodman: Jimmie Wilson, thank you so much for talking to me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast
Jimmie Wilson: It's been an honor and a privilege to have this
discussion, Louis, I, any time anywhere, you know that I enjoy this hour.
[00:23:00] Louis Goodman: That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer.
If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I'll respond. Take a look our our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information. Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom and to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey.
I'm Louis Goodman.
You know, uh, Louis it's the concepts of the law. It's like thinking about what the law is all about when the legalees, that is like a mystery to most people, when they hear it.