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Attorney at Law
John Fricke / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. 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 has served as an elected official for the City of Emeryville.
He served as an Associate Deputy Public Defender in Alameda County. He oversaw and directed the Alameda County Bar Associations Court Appointed Attorneys Program. He has run a private practice handling civil litigation and transactional work for small and medium sized businesses. He swims, skis, cycles, hikes and bakes bread.
He has lived in Seoul, Rotterdam, and Paris. And [00:01:00] in addition to the King's English, he speaks French and Lithuanian. John Fricke welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
John Fricke: Thank you for having me Louis. I'm really flattered that you invited me.
Louis Goodman: Well, it's a pleasure having you on. I've always been interested in you ever since Hal Friedman, who at that time was, I think second in command in the Public Defender's Office told me about this really promising, great lawyer that he knew. And he was talking about you.
John Fricke: Very fortunate to have Hal Friedman recommend me for various jobs and others like Mike Ballacci and Greg Syren. It's really been great.
Louis Goodman: What sort of practice are you involved in right now? I know you've done lots of things over your career.
John Fricke: Well, since about a year ago, I have been actively engaged in the practice of taking care of a toddler, which has been a great joy.
Louis Goodman: And I suppose that's [00:02:00] sort of different.
John Fricke: It's very different. Although, you know, my toddler son, Dean sometimes can exhibit similar temper feds to opposing counsel. I'm just thrilled to be able to spend time with him.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
John Fricke: I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. I lived with my grandparents who were from Lithuania as was my mother. So I learned Lithuanian as a first language. My father was the son of German immigrants.
And so he, my father talked English to my grandparents and I spoke English with my father and Lithuanian with my grandparents. So there were a lot of different languages going on in my childhood.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to high school in Chicago?
John Fricke: I went to high school. So before high school, I walked to the local public [00:03:00] school, but then for high school, I attended Lab School, which is a private K through 12 school affiliated with the University of Chicago.
Really great. I have to say that it, I really benefited tremendously from that experience. I learned critical thinking skills. I began to learn how to write, how to do research. The, teachers at Lab School fostered in the intellectual curiosity. I came to love learning at Lab School. And I also, that's where I learned to swim competitively.
I was on the high school swim team. I went directly to college. I started at Northwestern as an Engineering major. But I switched to Liberal Arts after one year. It was great. I focused [00:04:00] on my major was in Sociology and I focused on Urban Studies and I was very much, I'm very much a product of the environment in Chicago where I grew up.
So studying the City from more of an academic perspective, I really enjoyed that. So it was a great experience.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about becoming a lawyer?
John Fricke: I started thinking about law school because I was learning about various things that affected cities. There was a landmark US Supreme Court case that dealt with red lining the also restrictive covenants.
There was a Supreme Court case on restrictive covenants, which essentially prohibited a residential property from being sold to a black family. So this piqued my interest in the law. I then [00:05:00] had an opportunity to spend a summer working in the Public Defender's office in Cook County. And so it was a great opportunity to see up close of Public Defender's Office in a very large criminal court.
Did you go directly to law school after you graduated from Northwestern?
John Fricke: I decided to take a year off. And so what I did was I got a job as a paralegal at mofo in San Francisco. And during that time I applied to law school and the job that mofo was eyeopening. I worked on complex of alliterative litigation cases and it was enough for me to know that I certainly wanted to go to law school. Maybe not work in a large corporate law firm, but I still was interested in law school. So I went to Madison, I went back to the Midwest for law school [00:06:00] and that was, you know, the first semester was daunting. The amount of work was much more obviously than college, but I managed that by swimming regularly, that helped the stress level.
And I enjoyed the classes by and large. It was a good experience.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that having worked for a year in law, at a firm helped you in terms of dealing with law school and focusing in law school?
John Fricke: Well, so obviously there were certain classes that like the civil procedure class, I had come across quite a bit of what was covered in civil procedure when working on cases at mofo. But it didn't it so the mofo experience is still, it doesn't really cover quite a bit of what [00:07:00] the broad range of what lawyers do.
Louis Goodman: When you finished law school, what was your first legal job? What sort of practice were you drawn to?
John Fricke: Well, so the, I came, you know, directly from Madison and I took the bar exam, but it turned out that my first job was in a small bankruptcy firm.
Louis Goodman: What drew you to California in the Bay Area?
John Fricke: My father grew up in San Francisco and we had visited family members here. And on one occasion he brought me to this community center in Chinatown where he had spent a good deal of time. And he said, you know, this is something you may want to consider working as a day camp leader for one summer. So I did that during college and I fell in love with San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: Now you've done some work in politics, in addition to law, I mean, you worked for a time, Oakland Mayor Elihu [00:08:00] Harris.
John Fricke: Yeah. So I had, I've basically, I have had law jobs where I was practicing as a lawyer. And then I had jobs where I was doing either public policy work or some sort of administrative.
Responsibility, which was not practicing law, but the law training was extremely valuable. So I worked for a number of years for Elihu during his second term live in Emeryville. And so I got involved in local issues in Emeryville, and that led to my running for the City Council. And then there was, you mentioned that the job running the Court Appointed Program and then the other thing that I did, that was fascinating, was I was working in the courts and I was responsible for two aspects of the Criminal Courts, Pre-trial Services and Collaborative Courts.
Louis Goodman: Let's just look into those things a [00:09:00] little bit. So City of Emeryville, the position as a Council Member, what prompted you to run for office in Emeryville?
John Fricke: I got involved in a number of issues that were happening at the time. I guess it was just, I kind of got incensed. There was definitely emotional investment on my part. I got incensed at various things that the City Council was doing. And I knew from, you know, just from my experience in Chicago, go and reading Saul Alinsky, my training in college and Urban Studies that too really affect change I needed to organize. So I organize my neighbors. I collected email addresses and got them to go to City Council meetings. And so one thing I, you know, once one issue came up after another. And so, I just got sucked into it and, you know, [00:10:00] happily voluntarily. And then I'd finally decided, well, you know, I think I would enjoy being on the City Council.
Louis Goodman: So how has running, how, you know, I mean, did you have to raise money and that sort of thing?
John Fricke: It’s, you know, Emeryville is really pretty small. I think it's about 10,000 people. The scale of a campaign, it's just not the same as if it would be in Oakland or even Berkeley. So it's kind of, I sometimes would equate it to Mayberry.
Louis Goodman: Did you run again or did you decide that?
John Fricke: So when I got onto the City Council, the other four council members were, they kind of embraced, I mean, I'm going to generalize now, but they kind of embraced this ethos of a rising tide, lifts all boats and very pro developer. And I was agitating for more neighborhood friendly policies.
And I think [00:11:00] that the, my council member colleagues, they were kind of expecting me to be quiet and learn the ropes free for let's say a year, that idea, I forgot who it was that communicated that to me. And I had no interest in that. I came out swinging and I had an email list. Now it was in the thousands and I just was very clear what I, the direction I wanted to go and I kept rabble rousing. And so it was confrontational.
Louis Goodman: When you left the City Council in Emeryville, where did you go?
John Fricke: So I was trying to get things done in Emeryville. And two years after I was elected, it was kind of payback time for me. I was stripped of a committee assignment. And then my wife at the time, she had an opportunity to do a sabbatical in Paris. And so I [00:12:00] was deciding between a second term on the city council or a year living abroad in Paris. And so that was an easy choice for me. And so I chose to live in Paris. I was living in Paris.
It was great. Improve my French. And I did, you know, I was taking care of my daughters who were in middle school and I was swimming at the local pool. So it was fun. It was fun to explore Paris.
Louis Goodman: Now you had lived in Rotterdam at some point too. Was that before or after Paris?
John Fricke: Yeah. So the Rotterdam was another sabbatical opportunity for my wife at the time.
And it was when my daughters were four years old. And so that was, um, a great experience because I was pretty much taking care of them. Most of the time, exploring all the playgrounds of Rotterdam and I really [00:13:00] enjoyed being an observer of how the city was organized. Various things are as a city functions.
And that really was it. Really informed the policy proposals that I'm, that I was fronting when I was on the Emeryville City Council. Unfortunately, a lot of the ideas that I proposed that didn't go very far. I really enjoyed seeing Rotterdam riding my bicycle and Rotterdam on the separated bike paths.
We had a bicycle trailer. So I was bringing my daughters to various places in the bicycle trailer. It was great.
Louis Goodman: The thing that I think that a lot of people who are listening to this podcast might have some interest in was your experience as the Director of the Alameda County Court Appointed.
John Fricke: Yeah, that was, that was a great experience.
So I came back from Paris and I was looking for a job. I forgot how long was between [00:14:00] coming back and getting this job. But I was one of the people that, that I had been in touch with since even before my Public Defender days was Mike Ballacci. So I heard about this opportunity and they wanted a list of references.
So I called Mike and he gladly was a reference and asked me to tell him how the interview went. So I got an interview and one of the people that interviewed me was, was Darryl Stallworth. And so I called Michael and I said, yeah, you know, I met Darryl Stallworth. I had known him before. And yeah. And so sometime later, Mike Balaji called me back and he had called Darryl.
And in his own, his own inimitable way, he basically said, he told Darrell, you must hire John Fricke. And so it just, so it was so nice to have Mike in my corner. It was [00:15:00] just great. So I got the job and what I quickly realized was that the things that needed to be improved in the Court Appointed programs that I had observed 15 years before still hadn't really been addressed adequately. So the main issues were that the hourly rates that the court appointed lawyers, that the County was paying the court appointed lawyers. The hourly rates were too far below where they should be, uncertainly below what other counties, comparable counties were paying.
I also observed that there wasn't really a good way to evaluate lawyers, their performance, and figure out and to kind of evaluate them and to figure out who should be given more senior. Kay and, you know, the heavier cases. And, also [00:16:00] it was the whole project or the program was very paper driven. And, that would, that was something that needed to be dragged into the computer age.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I remember I was on the advisory committee at the time when you were there, and I always thought you had done a really, really good job with that. And you really did manage to drag the program into the computer age.
John Fricke: Yeah, so I really enjoyed working with the committee that oversaw it there, there were nine lawyers and it, you know, it was Daryl Stallworth and yourself and Susan Sawyer, Jared Winter and Paul Wellenkamp. And it was just a great exchange of ideas I would share with you all my ideas.
And there was a very [00:17:00] robust debate about which way the program should go. And it just was, it was really a fun job. I really enjoyed it.
Louis Goodman: You've also done a substantial amount of work with seniors. At Contra Costa Senior Legal Services and also with Legal Assistance for Seniors. I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that experience?
The next job I had was the, basically it was Legal Aid for the elderly. I was working in Concord and it was for Contra Costa and it was a great change because I suddenly went, you know, the Public Defender job is sometimes would feel like I was wearing the black hat. And going from that it's representing seniors. It was now, I was, I felt like I had the white hat because there was a lot of Goodwill towards the elderly. And so I had cases involving eviction, you know, the unlawful detainer cases and a bunch of different cases, you know, it [00:18:00] was just whatever would come up in Concord. The clients all were just extremely appreciative and all, you know, risk repeatedly thanking me something that did not always happen when I was in the Public Defender's Office.
And so that was a breath of fresh air. That was a great job. And I, you know, I really enjoyed that. But then I got a call out of the blue from Morris Jacobson to work for the courts. And so that was what I did.
Louis Goodman: What did you do for the courts?
John Fricke: So at the time the Alameda County Superior Court had been given a grant from the Judicial Council to implement a different approach to pre-trial services. And so that, that grant marred money started flowing and the person that was running it left and it was kind of cast [00:19:00] adrift. And at the time Morris Jacobson was the Presiding Judge. And so he thought of me because I had interacted with him as part of the Court Appointed Program.
He was at that time, he was the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Courts. And so I met with him in connection with that, and I guess he remembered me. And so it was very flattering that he thought of me for this job. And so I started there and right before I started, I was told that I would be responsible, not just for Pretrial Services, but for Collaborative Courts.
And so that was great. I really enjoyed working with Greg Saran because I knew him from the Public Defender's Office. And so I just enjoyed working with Greg and the person who runs a Collaborative Courts, the staff members of the courts, Gavin O'Neill was a great person to work with. I nominally [00:20:00] supervised Gavin, but I quickly learned that he really was doing a great job. So I just tried to stay out of his way. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: That's always a good idea as a supervisor. I want to shift gears here a little bit. What sort of things do you do and have you done as a lawyer to, you know, keep your head together? Recreational sorts of things, family sorts of things.
John Fricke: Ever since high school, when I was on the swim team, I've always found swimming regularly to be a great way to clear my head. And so for many years, I swam at the local public pool in Oakland, Thomas Gal Pool and did so up until they closed because of the pandemic. And, and so over the past year, I've been swimming at the Thomas Gal and the timescale at the Emeryville Pool, and that's been great.
[00:21:00] So that's been kind of my release in terms of physical activity. And you asked about my family life. It’s, I'm extremely blessed. I am married to an Environmental Lawyer, Andrea is sawn. She works for the Sierra Club and she is great. She listens to all of my ramblings and is willing to go with me to the dark and depressing movies where nothing happens.
She's really kind of like Tigger to my ear.
Louis Goodman: If a young person was thinking about a career choice, would you recommend going into law?
John Fricke: Yeah, I would recommend it. I find that people that are considering law school, they realize that they're [00:22:00] predisposed to law school. There's that famous scene in Paperchase where John Houseman plays the Contracts Professor. And he says something like, you come to law school and your head is full of mush and you leave thinking like a lawyer. Well, I think that actually lawyers exist before law school. They know they're lawyers and that's why they go to law school.
And law school doesn't make them lawyers. It just works on, honing their innate lawyer qualities.
Louis Goodman: What do you thinks the best advice that you've ever received?
John Fricke: The best advice I got was from Hal Friedman, who said that I would just start it as a Public Defender. And he said that you start, and from one to 10, your score for, in terms of trust is [00:23:00] a five and you then need to work on improving that score and doing so by, you know, not misleading, being candid and whatnot. And that if you failed to do that, your trust score will plummet very quickly, but it takes a very long time. So to cause your trust score to work up from five up to where it could be, and where it should be and where it's done becomes more pleasant to be practicing with colleagues.
Louis Goodman: I think that is good advice. Do you think the legal system is fair? You've seen it from a lot of different aspects, a lot of different vantage points. Do you think it's fair?
John Fricke: So I, when you say fair, I think that it is getting at whether similarly situated people are treated the same. And I think the answer is pretty clearly, no, there are many variables [00:24:00] that, you know, the who the judge is and what his or her disposition towards the cases in the criminal realm, who the DA is, the defense lawyer. All of these variables can affect how a person is treated by the system.
And so I don't think that similarly situated people are treated the same. I think what is lacking is a focus on when people are get the short end of the stick, how are they treated? Well, clearly the system deals with that with direct appeals and with habeas Corpus. But there are a lot of cases, a lot of people that really don't have those remedies either because they've taken a plea bargain.
And so I think that the legal system does not do a great job at figuring out how to make sure that the [00:25:00] cases that get the short end of the stick are not dealt with.
Louis Goodman: Well, let's say you came into some real money. If you had a billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
John Fricke: Well, thankfully we are blessed with having enough money. So I don't think I would do anything differently. It would just add more money would just be a burden. I would have to figure out where to donate it.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you had a magic wand. That was one thing in the world that you could change in the legal world or the outside world. If anything, what one thing would you change?
John Fricke: I think the one thing I would change is I would address with my swish of my magic wand. I would make sure that girls in the world were educated. And the reason I focus on girls specifically is that in a lot of places in the world, the girls are denied education.
Specifically either because of [00:26:00] various factors or very intentionally, like, for example, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and a lot of research has found that when a society educates girls specifically, there are a lot of improvements that occur with in terms of poverty levels and whatnot. So that would be the one thing I would do is, is to make sure that girls good education, you know, until the age of 18 and any more education that they would like to have.
Louis Goodman: Just have a comment about a couple of things that you've said. One is about lawyers being born, not made. And I really agree with that. And in talking to people for this podcast, that point of view, gets confirmed over and over again.
Yeah. And with respect to your comment about if you came into several billion dollars, you know, what you would do with it? [00:27:00] I think your answer really lines up very closely with mine. There's not much that I would really do differently in my life if I really came into it into big money, not that that's going to happen.
And I'm really grateful for being in a, you know, sort of comfortable financial position.
John Fricke: Right.
Louis Goodman: Without billions of dollars. And I think the things, at least in my own life that I want, and maybe you're like this too, are things that, you know, money can't really buy, you know, I mean, health recreation, satisfaction with work, those sorts of things.
Yeah. I really am thankful for what I have. It's really important to sort of remind myself of that. My daughters are 20 now, and they're in college and I sometimes see photos of them when they were toddlers. And I see those photos and I think, Oh, wouldn't it be great to go back in time? [00:28:00] To talk to them and interact with them when they were that age to go to the playground in Rotterdam that we would go to. And then I realized that my wish has been granted. I have a toddler and it's just a joy to spend time with him. I mean, it can be taxing at times. He is, you know, certainly not immune to meltdowns and temper fits and, you know, accidents.
But it's really great to have him.
Louis Goodman: Interesting. Two middle-aged guys talking to each other about girls' education, but I agree with you 100% about educating girls. And I think that when you look at societies that educate girls, they are so far ahead of societies that don't educate girls.
And when I think about my own, you know, scholastic upbringing. I think of the kids I was in school with. And I [00:29:00] just remember the girls being really, really talented students.
John Fricke: Yeah. I mean, I think that it's important to focus on treating people well and treating people equally, but I think it's also important to recognize differences and see that there is value in the differences that different groups bring to society. And I think that there are values that girls and women bring to society that is informed by their perspective on it. And you know how they're raised. I think in terms of the nature nurture debate, I fall more on the nurture side.
So I don't think that it's necessarily in neat aspects of [00:30:00] either mean a man or a woman or a particular group, ethnic group, racial group, but still those things need to be recognized and celebrate.
Louis Goodman: John Fricke, thanks so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
John Fricke: Thank you for having me Louis and thank you for doing these podcasts. I realized that it takes a lot of time from the time that you interviewed to the editing process. And so I just wanted to acknowledge, so the time that you put into it, and I really appreciate it. Thank you.
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 at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. [00:31:00] Thanks as always to guests who share their wisdom and to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
John Fricke: So I was a bankruptcy lawyer for a time. But then I got laid off from that job and I was then, you know, looking for other jobs.