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Deputy District Attorney - Alameda County
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Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman 0:04
Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we 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. L.D. is an Assistant Alameda County District Attorney. She has tried numerous felony, misdemeanor and civil jury trials. She has supervised prosecuting attorneys, testified in front of legislative bodies and represented the District Attorney's Office involving the intersection of criminal prosecution and mental health. She has conducted numerous training sessions for attorneys lectured at the University of California and appeared in training videos. She has received honors and awards from the Charles Houston Bar Association, The American Inns of Court, and the California District Attorneys Association. She enjoys running, yoga and scuba diving. L.D. Louis, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Louis, thank you for having me.
It's a pleasure to have you. We've known each other for a while and I just indicate for the record that that introduction is just the tip of the L.D. Louis iceberg.
L.D. Louis 1:27
So I do think you covered a lot of bases. It was a pretty comprehensive intro.
Where are you working right now?
I'm stationed at the Renee C. Davidson courthouse 1225 Fallon Street in Oakland.
Louis Goodman 1:43
And that's in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.
How long have you been with the DA?
It is officially 21 years. Go figure.
Wow, that's fantastic. Where are you from originally?
L.D. Louis 1:58
I was born and mostly raised until about the age of 14 in Detroit, Michigan. I went to high school in Southern California in the Inland Empire Chino High, which, interestingly, is about to be torn down. I just read on Facebook, they're gonna bulldoze it and put a new state of the art High School in its place.
Louis Goodman 2:18
Wow. How was your high school experience in Chino?
L.D. Louis 2:22
It was very interesting. I was in high school there during the Rodney King riots. And we had a surprising number of skinheads on campus. So we had riots in the high school. There was some interesting racial dynamics. Very few African American students at my high school, which was a culture shock for me. Because where I went to elementary school, there were absolutely no white students or teachers. As many folks may know, Detroit is an extremely segregated city. It remains the most segregated city in the United States. It's 78% African American and so the move from Detroit to Southern California was a culture shock.
Louis Goodman 3:07
In a lot of ways, I would imagine.
L.D. Louis 3:09
Yeah, you know, but I adjusted and had some great experiences. But I also was kind of blasted with a lot of race related issues that I just was not accustomed to.
Louis Goodman 3:24
When you graduated from Chino, where did you go to college?
L.D. Louis 3:28
I went to Howard University in Washington, DC.
Louis Goodman 3:32
Well, that's really one of the great schools of the United States of America. So I'm wondering how you chose to go to Howard?
L.D. Louis 3:40
Well, it's an interesting story, one of the neighbors in my neighborhood in Detroit, their daughter went to Howard and one year when I was in middle school, she came home and she raved about it and her experience and what she shared about going to Howard stuck with me, believe it or not, through those years of high school, so I was kind of set on attending a historically black college or university. So I applied to Howard and Spelman. And I basically put my foot down and told my parents, if I don't get into one of those, I'm not going to college. Luckily, I got into both.
Louis Goodman 4:22
Well, congratulations. What did you think about going back to Washington, DC? How is that compared to Southern California? Again, another big culture change?
L.D. Louis 4:35
Yeah, it really was. So I absolutely loved DC. I felt like if I wasn't living here, that's literally the only other place I'd want to be. Washington DC is just a really amazing cosmopolitan town with there's always something happening and going on. I was there, you know, in the Clinton years, when he ran he came and visited our campus and spoke to the student body. There was just so much going on with our School of Fine Arts. And so I just, I was left with a strong appreciation for the city.
Louis Goodman 5:12
Washington is one of those places where you really do feel like you're at the center of the universe in some ways.
L.D. Louis 5:19
I would agree with that. And that everything that matters is happening there is the sense that you have, you know, with all the politics, and just the policy, and yeah, it's an epicenter, and a lot of interesting things seem to be happening there all the time.
Louis Goodman 5:37
What specifically did you get involved with at Howard?
L.D. Louis 5:41
So I realized, even though I love sports, that I was too short, and not good enough to get a scholarship for athletics. And so I actually got a scholarship for nerd activities. I was on our mock trial debate team in college, and I was on a academic scholarship for that I basically paid my way through school on my trial, and my grades. And so I am a huge supporter of my trial programs. Here in California, we have some of the best in the country. And I always love to tell young people that you know, there's a way to pay your way through school and nerd sports like my trial or debate. I also worked for the Department of Justice as a paralegal. I did information at compliance, which was super interesting. So I was falling in love with the law, even while I was in college. I studied abroad and I went to Mexico. It was amazing. I came back and got another degree in Spanish. So I have a dual degree in Political science and Spanish because I was really into Spanish language and culture. And I'd taken enough classes that I was able to double major. So yeah, I really enjoyed my time and Mexico's it's a beautiful country, amazing people.
Louis Goodman 7:07
Where in Mexico?
L.D. Louis 7:10
I was in Guadalajara. Stayed with a really cool host family. Traveled around Tijuana, Watteau, and sort of down into that, like Acapulco Peninsula a little bit to Puerto Vallarta and went to Mexico City and saw the pyramids there.
Louis Goodman 7:25
I've done a fair amount of traveling. I gotta say that Mexico City is really one of the most impressive cities that I've ever been in. I was surprised, I had no idea that it was a true huge capital city that rivals and in many ways surpasses anything in Europe for the rest of North America.
L.D. Louis 7:48
And that was, you know, there's I think, sometimes a certain image of Mexico that tends to be portrayed in popular media outlets and things like that. But when you travel to the country, and you see some of the other cities outside of border towns and things like that, it's just, there's so much culture, it's very cosmopolitan. I really enjoyed my time in Mexico. And I've been back several times since just because of bad experience I had studying abroad at Howard,
Louis Goodman 8:22
When you graduated from Howard, you ultimately went to law school, did you go directly to law school or did you take some time off?
L.D. Louis 8:32
I went directly to law school. I wish I'd taken a gap year, but I did not. I went straight to law school.
Louis Goodman 8:40
When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer? Was it at the Justice Department? Or was it before?
L.D. Louis 8:46
You know, to be honest, it was before then, but my mom was, you know, big on guiding me and my brothers in directions. So you know, to my mom, like you're good, you like to read, you're good at writing. That means you're a lawyer, you know, you like to draw, that means you're an architect, like she turned legs or the artsy outlets into professional pursuits. And so my mom started talking about like, maybe a lawyer might be a good fit for you when I was young. And then when I started getting serious about what am I going to do with my life more so in high school, it seemed like a sensible path. And then yeah, I started getting really serious about it when I worked for the Department of Justice work for a lobbyist stuff like that and in college and started getting really serious about it. Okay, I can do this. This looks like a fun way to spin my life. So I got serious about getting into law school, probably around my sophomore into my junior year.
Louis Goodman 9:54
So where did you go to law school?
L.D. Louis 9:56
I went to Berkeley. When I went there it was Boalt Hall.
Louis Goodman 10:00
And what prompted you to go to Boalt as opposed to staying on the East Coast or going down in Southern California?
L.D. Louis 10:09
At Howard I actually had two professors that were kind of instrumental. One who was from the Berkeley area and kind of basically a part of the Black Panther movement. And he really thought Berkeley would be a great landing place and really advocated a lot with me to apply and take a serious look at Berkeley. And then one of my other professors in the Classics Department, her sister was a Professor at Berkeley in the law school. And so between the two of them, they really sort of navigated me towards that school. And so then my mom drove me up for a visit. And it was so beautiful in the Bay Area. I was like, Okay, I need to spend some part of my life living in Northern California, like this place is gorgeous.
Louis Goodman 10:52
Well, having landed in beautiful Berkeley, California, again, another change from Southern California in the Inland Empire or Washington, DC at Howard University. What was the feeling like? And what was the experience like of being in Berkeley?
L.D. Louis 11:13
Well, it was another culture shock. Berkeley, you know, I've been in this great space of intellectual debate, but not necessarily having to deal again with a lot of racial politics. And so it was just a very intense time.
Louis Goodman 11:31
How did you happen to get interested in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office as a career move?
L.D. Louis 11:36
So my mom was a police officer when I was a kid. And so I have been, I was basically brought up very law enforcement friendly, still had an open mind initially about, you know, maybe being defense or being a prosecutor just because of some of the socialization I had in college and in it during my Berkeley years. So I was in the sort of exploring, but I was leaning towards criminal practice. You know, from my mock trial days, I wanted to try lots and lots of cases. And so folks started talking about the options, our meeting days office interviews during on campus interviews at Berkeley, has did at that time, a few other days offices, and I interned in San Francisco during a semester and basically everybody under the sun, including, interestingly, Kamala Harris, who was working in San Francisco at the time, and as a Howard alum, reached out to me and took me out to lunch. She, amongst other people recommended Alameda County, if I could get in, they said, I should do the summer program. And it would be excellent training. And so again, I listened to, you know, advisors and law professors and mentors. And then I did get an offer from Alameda and summered here and kind of fell in love with the place and the people. And I was lucky enough to get an offer. And so I joined the office in 2000.
And you've been there ever since.
And I've been here ever since.
Louis Goodman 13:13
Well, obviously, you're someone who could pretty much do sort of whatever you want in your career, but you've stayed in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, and I'm curious, what is it that you really like about practicing law as a criminal prosecutor?
L.D. Louis 13:31
So to be honest, you know, Lou, I never thought I was going to be a career prosecutor. I've thought I'd rack up sort of trial experience, and then take that and market it to other places. But what has kept me here so long, is the helping people making change case by case and then now in my career, having an opportunity to work more on policy and programs and system change has become a passion to be honest with you. And I really can't imagine doing anything else. I'd like it. There's no describing the feeling of being able to help someone solve a problem or help them make life change. I mean, it's just there's limitless opportunity within the work of a prosecutor.
Louis Goodman 14:26
If a young person who's just coming out of college and thinking about a career would you recommend the law, would you recommend going to law school and would you recommend heading towards criminal prosecution as a career?
L.D. Louis 14:37
So I would 100% hands down, recommend becoming a lawyer. You know, criminal prosecution is not for everyone though. There's some very unique challenges to this work. And so I would definitely yes, encourage young person to become a lawyer. I would caution them however, about choosing a word not just as a prosecutor, but in the criminal law in general, either defense or prosecution, because there's very high expectations, very high demands, you know, the rules are different for prosecutors than for other lawyers in terms of ethical rules. I mean, they write special ethical rules just for prosecutors.
Louis Goodman 15:23
How is actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations about it?
L.D. Louis 15:30
So to be quite honest, it's been a lot harder not in terms of understanding the law, but in terms of the decisions and choices I've had to make about cases about how to proceed. It's just really tested me and my character in a way that I wasn't really appreciating.
Louis Goodman 15:56
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you'd started practicing, before you started being a prosecutor?
L.D. Louis 16:04
You know, I wish I had known that law school was, you know, like, the things you learn in law school aren't necessarily all that related to the practice itself. You know, I took law school very seriously, but I wasn't appreciating that I was being taught how to think and how to approach problem solving. You're not going to know the answers from anything you learned in law school, you're going to know how to find the answers, and how to approach finding the solutions to the problems.
Louis Goodman 16:39
What do you think's the best advice that you've ever gotten?
L.D. Louis 16:42
Guard your reputation with your life? Yeah, that's the best. Right? I was told that as a new lawyer, by a couple of very, very senior prosecutors, and I didn't completely get what they meant at the time. But now that I've been in this practice for a couple of decades, reputation is of vital importance.
Louis Goodman 17:12
What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
L.D. Louis 17:15
I would say we need to do a better job of addressing the underlying, and root causes of criminal misconduct. And so we do a very poor job of that, you know, redirecting these folks before they get into more violent and more severe crime. And I think there's opportunities along the individuals criminal offending, where we could intervene, and move them away from the system.
Louis Goodman 17:52
Do you think the criminal justice system is fair?
L.D. Louis 17:54
No, but probably not in the way that most people consider it to not be fair?
Louis Goodman 18:01
Well, how do you consider it to not be fair?
L.D. Louis 18:04
So the thing that stood out to me most, and it continues to reverberate with me, 20 years later, is that victims of crime are treated horribly by our system. And what we know from the data and the research is that the outcome of a criminal case is more correlated to the race of the victim. And so it's an uphill battle, in my own anecdotal experience, but also in the data that's been captured across the country. It's an uphill battle for victims of color to obtain just for wrongs committed against them in our system. And so I thought, as a new lawyer, I'd be seeing what I felt like were a lot of wrongly accused defendants trumped up charges. What I saw was a lot of victims who had no voice, who had no face, and we're not in any way made whole or any attempt to make them whole those a tendency to just completely dehumanized victims of crime. And that was a shock to me. And, you know, it's something that I struggle with right now what I see happening in particular to victims of color, but victims of crime in general.
Louis Goodman 19:28
I'm going to shift gears here a little bit, what's your family life been like and how has practicing law affected that?
L.D. Louis 19:35
Well, I am a little bit of a workaholic. And so that's not so good for good, strong, you know, partner relationships, for lack of a better phrase, but I am and I kind of waited late to have a family so I have five year old now and then firmly middle aged. So you know, I'll be like 60 when he's 18. But I would say my son has been life changing. And he's changed me and my priorities a great deal since he came into my life. So, you know, I've not been great at work life balance, but my son has helped me to be better.
Louis Goodman 20:21
You said earlier that you went to Mexico. Besides Mexico, have you had any other travel experiences that you've enjoyed?
L.D. Louis 20:27
Yeah, I mean, I'm huge on travels, I've been a lot of places to Peru, to tons of places in the Caribbean, to Europe more than once, to Spain, Italy a couple of times, Paris. I've have been lucky and friends and I have some friends in my law school friends and stuff like that, that have allowed for me to couch surf to their places overseas. So yeah, I've done a fair amount of traveling internationally. There's more travel that I want to do, but I do travel a bit.
Louis Goodman 21:04
One of the things that I'm interested in that you mentioned is that you've become certified as a scuba diver.
L.D. Louis 21:09
Where did you do that?
So because I'm a crazy person, I decided to cold water certify here in Northern California. Actually, my first certification, which was just a general open water certification I did out of Monterey. And then I came back and did my advanced diver certification. So I can go deeper within the rules. I love diving the Channel Islands, which are amazing. I've done some diving along the California coast and then diving in the Caribbean when off the coast of Mexico.
Louis Goodman 21:43
You also do some creative writing. Did you talk about that a little bit?
L.D. Louis 21:47
Yeah, you know, I have a good friend who started a writing group. And I started spending time with her and her writing group and writing some science fiction. And, you know, I took some writing courses in my spare time at the Laney College has some good classes to get you, you know, doing writing exercises and stuff like that. I just do some writing for me to enjoy.
Louis Goodman 22:17
Yeah, you know, I do a lot of writing for myself, too. And it's nothing that I have any interest in publishing or for that matter, even have anybody else read. But yeah, there's something kind of very cathartic or something about writing, don't you think?
L.D. Louis 22:33
Yeah, you know, and it just feels like, you know, that creative release, I guess, for lack of a better phrase. I mean, so much of what we do as lawyers is very, like, rigid. But when you start, you know, writing out, painting outside the lines, for lack of a better phrase, it can just bring a lot of pleasure and enjoyment.
What keeps you up at night?
You know, I got to tell you, the current politics with our last president, with what happened on January 6, and the direction this country is going for my son has been keeping me up. My anxiety about if we're moving in some type of, you know, direction towards an autocracy, or an authoritarian regime, how sound is our democracy? And what that means for the young people in my life, my son, my nieces and nephew, things like that I am, that keeps me up.
Louis Goodman 23:33
Let's say you came into some real money, $3/$4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
L.D. Louis 23:40
In my life, I would work less and travel more. For me personally, you know, and then if it's that astounding amount of money, I would love to be able to, you know, do some things that are sort of big things socially. I mean, I think we really need to overhaul our educational system.
Louis Goodman 24:05
Let's say I had a magic wand. That was one thing you could change in the legal world or the world in general, you could wave that magic wand, what would that be?
L.D. Louis 24:16
So, you know, in the legal world, in the world in general, like right now, what we really need is to resolve our homeless issue, right? I mean, poverty needs to be managed, and I feel like it's something it would just be amazing to have everyone live at a higher quality of life. So you know, for me, poverty and homelessness would be my magic wand, wave.
Louis Goodman 24:50
L.D., I know you've done a lot of things in the District Attorney's Office and right now you're working in something that's known as the Cares Navigation Center. I was hoping you could explain to us what that is and what it does?
L.D. Louis 25:03
So I'm super excited about this program, it just started earlier this year, it's pre charging diversion for folks who have experienced mental health or substance use disorder episode that caused them to have contact with law enforcement. And it might be because they are stealing food, or they are disturbing the peace or vandalizing things, or it might be that they've been a chronic law enforcement contact, you know, getting in the treatment and getting housed and employed working on that. It's, you know, it's been wonderful. And so I'm super excited about this program and, you know, hoping to see it grow and expand in our county, to pilot right now. But, you know, I think it has a lot of potential for system change, where we're, you know, not even bringing people into the courts in the first place, but pushing them back into, you know, our public health system and services in lieu of the criminal cases.
Louis Goodman 26:12
How do people get referred into that?
L.D. Louis 26:16
We're starting to really get folks from all kinds of sources, the main pieces, you know, if they're coming into contact with the justice system, or with police officers, we really want to make a push to, you know, break that cycle and get them connected to housing and public health assistance.
Louis Goodman 26:37
L.D. Louis thank you so much for joining me on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast today. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Louis, it's really been a pleasure talking to you as well. Thank you for having me.
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. Thanks as always, to my guests to share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
L.D. Louis 27:30
I would love to go to aerospace. I put this I've played this game with my son would you rather like go to the bottom of the ocean and go to Mars. And you know, we both always say we'd go to Mars.