A transcript of this podcast is easily available at lovethylawyer.com.
In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, Love Thy Lawyer presents an interview with: Jo-Anna Nieves.
Jo-Anna Nieves graduated from The Florida State University in 2005 with two Bachelor of Science degrees in Multinational Business and Finance. Thereafter, she attended Florida State University College of Law where she earned her Juris Doctorate in May 2009.
Ms. Nieves passed the California Bar in 2009 and went to work at the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, where she prepared misdemeanor cases for trial, negotiated plea offers, argued suppression motions, built a rapport with members of the legal community, and further developed her trial advocacy skills. Two years later, she accepted a position as a trial attorney at Mandarich Law Group, LLP, a creditor’s rights law practice, where she effectively litigated over 400 cases by reaching favorable resolutions for her client by way of settlement prior to trial and maintaining a success rate of 95% for over 100 cases that were decided at trial. She then formed The Nieves Law Firm.
Ms. Nieves has successfully represented defendants charged with crimes such as assault and battery, DUI, contempt, drug offenses, sexual assault, theft, and domestic violence. She also has an impressive track record in civil litigation matters such as civil harassment, domestic violence, and elder abuse restraining orders.
She volunteers as a mock trial coach for El Centro Legal de la Raza’s Youth Law Academy and is a member of the Earl Warren Inns of Court. She is admitted to practice before all courts of the State of California and the United States District Courts for the Northern and Central Districts of California as well as the State of Florida and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
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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Attorney at Law
Jo-Anna Nieves / Louis Goodman – ACBA 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.
Caitlin: All right, well, welcome everybody to today's ACBA and the criminal section event. So we're going to have an interview today with our interviewer Louis Goodman, and then our interviewee today, Jo Anna Nieves. I'd like to thank our sponsor today for this event. So this program is sponsored by Premier Bail Bonds, and they're helping to make this program and others happen.
So I'll hand it over to Louis to get us started.
Louis Goodman: Can you give us the sponsors information?
Caitlin: Yeah. Sure. So the sponsor contact information is [00:01:00] Brian Leary. So his number is (408) 482-7822. And you can email him at Ryan that's RYAN@ bail.com
Louis Goodman: My name is Louis Goodman. I'm the host of the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
And we are doing this podcast in conjunction with the Alameda County Bar Association, as part of the ongoing Barristers Club, get to meet the attorneys and judges program today. We're very happy to have one of our attorneys in Alameda County. She is admitted in both California and Florida.
She started her career in the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office. She prosecuted hundreds of misdemeanor and felony offenses. Then she moved into the world of civil litigation. Where she tried cases as a Creditors' Rights Attorney, more recently, she formed and now [00:02:00] heads her own firm helping clients navigate the difficulties of the criminal justice system.
She passionately and tenaciously fights for fairness, Jo anna Nieves. Welcome.
Jo-Anna Nieves: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Louis Goodman: It really is a privilege to have you. You are certainly, in my view, one of the real up and coming stars of the private practice in Alameda County. Where is your office located right now?
Jo-Anna Nieves: It's at 160 Franklin Street, Suite 210, which is in Jack London Square right across from where Kincade's used to be.
So we have a really good view of the Marina.
Louis Goodman: Now, if someone wants to find you online, how would they go about doing that?
Jo-Anna Nieves: You can find us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louis Goodman: And we'll make sure we get that in the show notes as well. How long have you been practicing?
Jo-Anna Nieves: About a decade? So 2011, June, 2011.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I'm originally [00:03:00] from Miami. I'm from Florida. I grew up there. I did my undergrad there. I went to law school in Florida. And then now I'm a transplant.
Louis Goodman: So where did you go to high school in Miami?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yeah, I went to a school, it's called School for Advanced Studies. They basically take all the top performers, invite them to a school where you do dual enrollment.
So I did high school in the afternoon, college in the day and graduated with pretty much an Associates Degree by the time I went to college.
Louis Goodman: So you've been a top performer for a long time. Competitive. What sort of activities did you enjoy doing in high school?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Wow, I did karate and I played piano.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from high school, where did you go to college?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Florida state.
Louis Goodman: And where's that located?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Tallahassee, Florida.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience like for you?
Jo-Anna Nieves: It was one of the best times of my life. It was so good. I went back, I went back again. I did two undergraduate degrees. I did a [00:04:00] dual degree program while I was there, one in Multinational Business and my second degree was in Finance. And then after I graduated, I took a year off and I went back for law school.
Louis Goodman: What sort of activities were you involved in when you were an undergrad?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Oh a lot. I was President of the Multicultural Greek Council. I was Parliamentarian and Social Chair for my sorority.
They knew XY Multicultural Sorority incorporated. I was involved in the Hispanic Student Union. I was working, I worked three jobs at all times. I was constantly doing something. And then I went to class.
Louis Goodman: And you went to class too, somehow that happens. So you graduated and then you took a year off?
What did you do during that year?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I was really young when I graduated, so I got my first degree at 19. I got my second degree at 20. I was just really unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. And I [00:05:00] didn't know I was going to go to law school. So I worked, I had a job at a bank and I was working there and I had two sorority sisters who were studying for the LSAT.
And I was like, you know what? I'll just take this with you guys. And I registered the day before the LSAT, I like cracked the book open and it was like, all right, let me see what this test is all about. And then I went and took it and it turned out of the three of us, I was the one who ended up going to law school and becoming a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: So when was the first time that you really started thinking about going to law school or becoming a lawyer?
Jo-Anna Nieves: It was after that, I thought I was going to go to the military.
Louis Goodman: Then you went back to Florida State for law school?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I did I did. And the funny story with that is I actually applied to University of Florida, which at the time was ranked just a little bit higher than Florida State.
And I applied, I tell people I applied just to turn them down because I got accepted what were such fierce price rivals. And I'm a double Nole sells like, yeah, I got into [00:06:00] U F and I said, no.
Louis Goodman: Compare being in law school at Florida State versus being an Undergraduate at Florida State
Jo-Anna Nieves: It became far more regimented.
I needed to read, I needed to study. I needed to retain this information because it was all based on your scores and your passing grades were all based on one exam at the end of the semester. You know, it wasn't these like midterms, or you write a paper and you get a grade. It was just like, no, retain this knowledge, regurgitate it and pass/fail. It was different.
Louis Goodman: Once you got out of Law School, what was your first legal job?
Jo-Anna Nieves: My first legal job was at the SAC DA’s Office. So my second year of law school, I interviewed via video conference for an internship at the Sacramento County DA's Office. And then got that as a summer internship. My two, well year at the end of that internship, I was offered a full-time position upon the completion [00:07:00] of law school.
So I went back to Florida, finished my third year.
Louis Goodman: You became focused on the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office from Tallahassee, Florida?
Jo-Anna Nieves: For some reason, they were doing OCI at Florida State and, my intern class. So my LRA class, they were from all over. We had people from Notre Dame, we had somebody from Hofstra.
So it seemed like Sacramento was just actively recruiting out of state for some reason. Interesting. And to me, it seemed like a fun experience. That's really what got it started. I was like, Oh, somewhere in California, never been, let me go. And then it turned out that this is now my home for about 11 years.
Louis Goodman: After you were in Sacramento County District Attorney's Office, you tried some cases there, I take it.
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yeah. So most of my cases, like my jury trials, I did in the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida. I did. [00:08:00] four jury trials and a bench trial while I was there. And in Sacramento, mostly what I did, I didn't do any jury trials in SAC that I can recall. They were, I prepped a lot of jury trials and did a number of like 1538.5 and preliminary hearings, and then ran a calendar department or assisted in running a calendar department because of course I was still a newbie.
And then I did a stint in the Consumer Environmental Protection Department, working on a big case at the time.
Louis Goodman: At some point you left the District Attorney's Office and you went into a Civil Practice. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jo-Anna Nieves: Well, we all got laid off, so yeah, it was huge budget cuts again. That was 2011. So we all know, it was budget cuts for several years. First, they started with admin. Then it became, the legal staff and it was a last in first out type selection. And I was still on the misdemeanor team. We were let go. I moved down to San Diego and honestly just took the first job I could get, which [00:09:00] was in, I had never thought I was going to do a Civil work ever, but that's the job that I got and I was going to be able to be their trial attorney.
And so I said, Hey, let's do it. And I did that for about two and a half years.
Louis Goodman: What sort of trials did you do?
Jo-Anna Nieves: So they were all Creditors' Rights Bench Trials. It kept me fresh and helped me learn really a new area of law. And then I got to a point where I was like, okay, I've done all that I can do here.
And this is not where my passion is.
Louis Goodman: So in following your passion, what did you do?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Well, the only way for me to get back into criminal law is to create my own thing. And I was also having a lot of conversations with a family member who has their own medical practice. She's an OB GYN. And she said, you know, the one thing I regret about opening up my own practice was not doing it three years earlier.
And I knew that the only way that I could be the master of my own domain was to create it. So I left and I [00:10:00] did that.
Louis Goodman: And you came to the Bay Area to do that?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yeah, well, actually shortly before coming to the Bay Area, I was sent to the Bay Area by the firm to run the satellite office. And so then this is just where I ended up laying roots.
And also I met my husband here, so then I decided to stick around.
Louis Goodman: So you decided at some point to open your own firm. Okay. Tell us about the beginnings of that.
Jo-Anna Nieves: You know, at first it was just a thing to one, get me back into criminal law and I thought to myself, look, I'll just be happy if I'm making the same thing I was making at this civil firm.
And it wasn't much, you know, I just want to have a salary and see where it goes and kind of treating my business more like a hobby than a business. And then eventually that turned into a systematize plan to grow the business.
Louis Goodman: How did you develop that system [00:11:00] to grow the business?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I wrote it all down.
Wrote everything down. So, in terms of like establishing my pricing on cases, well, what do I do on a case from beginning to end? And like every single step that I take on a case is written down. How much time does it take to do that? So I made a business plan that covers all areas, marketing sales, measuring, you know, how do I measure my success, my metrics and finances and my factory. Like, what am I, where am I, setting up and what kind of staff do I need? What kind of furnishing and supplies do I need? I mean, everything is written down on paper.
Louis Goodman: Did you develop that skill for writing things down as part of growing up in a military family and being very academically oriented?
Jo-Anna Nieves: No, it was definitely, I invested a lot of time in attending various business [00:12:00] conferences and, getting business coaching, talking to people who had grown their business because there was a switch, at one point. It came for me, it was like, okay, I want to grow my business.
Louis Goodman: Is all of your business Criminal Law?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yes.
Louis Goodman: It strikes me that you really give a lot of thought to what you do, how you do it and how you practice law. I'm wondering what you really like about practicing law?
Jo-Anna Nieves: So I think at first, what I really well not, I think it's changed. Things have changed over the years. At first, I loved being in court.
I mean, it was all about like, okay, if you don't give me, what do I want, I want to go to trial and I'm going to try this case. You know, that's just what I was used to doing. And I got like this rush out of it. Now the focus has really been on less about me getting that rush and more about like, what's the best outcome for the people around me.
And I think in [00:13:00] terms of what I love about practicing law right now is post-conviction. I love anything that has to do with me being able to undo the, essentially the mistakes or the judgements that have been passed on people from their past and help them get benefits for the future.
Louis Goodman: Now, one of the things you do is you give back to the community and since this is an Alameda County Bar Association event, tell us a little bit about your activities with the Alameda County Bar Association
Jo-Anna Nieves: You know, interacting with the Alameda County Bar Association, I think back in 2013, when I first moved up here and then I started thinking about going out on my own because my entire network from, you know, childhood friends to college friends, law school friends, everything was back in Florida.
And I figured the only way that I can get to know people is to join the Bar Association and become involved. So I started with the Barrister Section, just attending the meetings and then becoming an executive committee [00:14:00] member. Becoming the chair and then eventually serving on the Board of Directors for the organization as a whole, I'm still on the Board of Directors now.
And I also participate in some other activities with the Bar Association, like the Judicial Appointments Evaluation Committee and the Past Chair of that committee as well.
Louis Goodman: Do you have some judicial aspirations of your own?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Not at all. I have been asked that over and over again. I like what I do too much, and I have a hard time hiding what's on my face.
And I think, I don't think I'll pass muster when it comes to the judicial temperament.
Louis Goodman: You've really taken a real leadership role when it comes to women in law and women in business. I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yeah, absolutely. I think that it's empowered, for everybody. I really believe knowledge is power and it's empowering to empower others.
And I think that when I look back to what I had or, or what I didn't [00:15:00] have access to when I was growing up and it wasn't that I wasn't raised in like a low social economic area or household. It was just that my parents were very focused on go to school, do good, go to school, do good. But there wasn't anything after that high school, there wasn't anything about like, where should you apply to college?
What do you do? And so now I'm really invested in. You know, I get invited to speak on women in leadership calls. I just did one about two weeks ago. I've spoken with the ABA Women in Criminal Justice Task Force saying, I think it's important to invest in those areas where you could have benefited from if you had the opportunity.
Young person was thinking about law as a career choice, would you recommend it?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I think it depends on what they want to do. I think you really, I personally only believe that being a lawyer is fun if you go to trial [00:16:00] or when you're litigating and you're in core and you've got these substantive motions and it's just like something really good to chew on.
I wouldn't want to be a lawyer if all I was going to do is sit behind a desk and draft contracts, but to each their own.
Louis Goodman: Has practicing law met or different from your expectations about it?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I think I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything, the thing that now that you wished you knew before you started practicing, open your business sooner, it's the best advice that you've ever received?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Obviously the one that I mentioned in terms of starting a business three years earlier, because I wholeheartedly agree with that. And I would say that it really just comes from a lot of reading that I do. I believe that, well maybe this first part is the advice that has translated to the rest leaders are readers.
So for me, I invest so much [00:17:00] time and energy in reading books about business and reading books about marketing and sales and rainmaking and all of this stuff, because it's like, I think it's important to understand it.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal systems fair? You won't get elaborate a little bit?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yeah. Yeah, sure.
No. I think that maybe some things are well-intentioned, but it's not fair.
Louis Goodman: I'm going to shift gears here a little bit. What's your family life like and how has practicing law affected that?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Sure. Family life is good. I think that now, because I focused on building the business side of what I'm doing.
It has given me the opportunity to do things that I didn't, I hadn't even imagined, the amount of travel that I do and the time that I can take away from work and spend with my family. I just had a baby in the pandemic. And so that's really been a blessing. And I think my family life in general has been great, and has benefited from me, focusing on taking [00:18:00] my business from the hobby.
Louis Goodman: Well, taking my practice from a hobby to a business, this podcast is presented and supported by the Alameda County Bar Association. ACBA provides a wide range of Certified Continuing Legal Educational Programs, 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.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you came into some real money, say $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Sell my business and I would, I don't know if I do anything differently except yeah, it wouldn't be different. It just probably be more like I travel more, probably on a private jet, so I don't have to worry about [00:19:00] anybody else. And I would buy more property. And right now we have three houses. I would buy more and I plan on buying a house in Cambridge because my daughter's going to Harvard and I would, yeah, I probably donate more, you know, because I do a lot of charitable contributions and yeah support sponsor more. I think it would just be a more thing. Take the things that I'm doing in and magnify it.
Louis Goodman: If you hada magic wand that we could wave it over the legal system or the world in general, and change one thing with that magic wand, what would that be?
Jo-Anna Nieves: I think it would be people's hearts because I think a lot can be done with softening of people's hearts. And it doesn't mean that you're a soft person or a pushover. I think I'm a very assertive and aggressive litigator when I need to be. But I also think that there is room for understanding people for who they are. Recognizing that everybody makes mistakes, whether [00:20:00] you're on a DAS and the DA's office or PDs office or private practice, whatever it is, everybody's made mistakes. So just softened hearts.
Louis Goodman: I’d like to open this up to have people who were on the call, ask a question or make a comment. How about Mike Spencer? You've been here for awhile. Have anything you would like to ask Jo-anna?
Mike Spencer: I work in Criminal Defense as a Private Investigator. And if it's a very complicated question who needs to serve time in prison. Right. And you know, if we were talking about a different thing about like whether or not prison should exist and if we should just do away with all of that, that's it.
I think that's a different answer. But do I think like long sentences are necessary? No.
Louis Goodman: Lisa Simmons, are you there, Lisa?
Lisa Simmons: Hi, I have two questions for you, Joanna. The first one is what's the highest degree belt you got in karate? [00:21:00] And I think one is where are you going to be in five years? Where do you see yourself personally and professionally?
Jo-Anna Nieves: Yeah, so I stopped karate when I was in high school and I think I was like a green belt if I remember. And my five years, I definitely see myself expanding in five years. I contemplate, I know I'm going to expand further throughout the State of California. I contemplate whether or not by then I'll be in Florida as well.
I am barred in Florida. I've never actively taking cases there. I just did it for the sake of that's where I grew up in if ever I needed to go back. So that is something that's on my radar, but I think expansion. Is the easy answer.
Louis Goodman: Richard Gallardo, you have a question for Joanna
Richard Gallardo: I don't think we've actually met, but I have seen you in court from time to time.
I work with options and Premiere Bail. What do you see with the pandemic and how that affects Alameda County in particular on [00:22:00] the out of custody situation? What are they, what changes do you see down the road and how can add out of custody programs like EMP played part in the future?
Jo-Anna Nieves: You know, I wish that I'll start with this.
I wish that it was utilized more. I think, for instance, on gun cases, right DA's Office has always wanted 120 days minimum in custody time, on their gun cases. For what reason? I don't know why they came to this 120 day number. That's ridiculous. But I think that, you know, when you think about, Hey, we're in the middle of a pandemic now is as good a time as any to give somebody electronic home detention or, you know, have them on monitoring.
It should be used more. I do think Alameda is doing a really good job compared to some other counties that I practice in, in terms of the availability of information there newly developed app that they have, you know, the way that they have utilized Blue Jeans to keep cases moving. I think [00:23:00] that the County is doing well, and I hope that that is something that they continue to leverage in the future.
Louis Goodman: Taylor. Yeah. Yeah, I am good.
Taylor Moudy: Good afternoon.
Jo-Anna Nieves: Hi Taylor
Louis Goodman: Hi Taylor.
I'm curious to know, based on what I hear as an experience, extensive experience, on being a business owner, being a sole proprietor, or at least a sole practitioner in building your own law business. And so to even your humanitarian objectives and those sort of qualities to you as a person, what would be a good alternative or not alternative as in the terms of this or that, but in addition to practicing criminal defense, In wanting to achieve the humanitarian objective. What other areas of law would you see a sole practitioner expanding into.
Jo-Anna Nieves: for me, if I was to ever expand into an area and I don't see myself [00:24:00] doing it, my doing it, but I have definitely contemplated immigration law because I do think that there's so much crossover with what I do already, the underlying goals of, you know, helping people achieve like a brighter future and, and achieve their goals is something that I'm like really focused on. I mean, every single client I have, I asked them like, what are your goals? Not just with this case, but with the future.
Right? And so I think that that is something that I could accomplish with immigration as well. Joanna.
Louis Goodman: Jo-Anna Nieves. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon on the podcast for the Alameda County Bar Association in conjunction with Love Thy Lawyer. We are unfortunately out of time, but thank you very much for being here.
It's really been a fun discussion and thanks to the other individuals who have been on the call. [00:25:00] Thank you.
Jo-Anna Nieves: Thanksfor having me.
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 acbanet.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 Daylin, 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.
[00:26:00] Jo-Anna Nieves: I started my, my counseling back when I was a bartender.