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Alameda County Assistant Public Defender
Mark heads a homicide defense team in the Public Defenders Office. He has substantial experience as an attorney and an extraordinary backstory. He has lead and continues to lead an extremely active life while overcoming physical disabilities. Among other things he has rafted through the Grand Canyon seven times. (Once is considered the experience of a lifetime.) His smart and dogged investigation in a recent case resulted in the DA dismissing murder charges against one of his clients.
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Mark Mcgoldrick - Harvard
[00:00:00] 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 currently serves as an Alameda County Public Defender. In that capacity, he has represented criminal defendants in all stages of proceedings.
He is an effective trial advocate. He recently gained press notoriety when his investigation showed that his client charged with murder actually acted in self-defense. He has numerous personal and professional successes in and out of the courtroom. And an amazing backstory. Mark McGoldrick, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
[00:01:00] Thanks Louis. I'm glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Louis Goodman: Well, it's really a privilege to have you on. I guess, really the catalyst for getting you on was your recent big success in court. And we'll get there in a minute, but first I'd like to ask you what's the Golden Hammer.
Mark McGoldrick: The Golden Hammer was a show that I created about, I don't know, dozen years ago. It was a solo performance that I wrote and then performed at a local theater in San Francisco called The Marsh.
Louis Goodman: What's it about? What's the Golden Hammer about?
Mark McGoldrick: You know, we've some stuff from my past with some of my more present advocacy, so it's kind of three main storylines that weave back and forth and then crash into each other at the end with certain revolutions, certain revelations.
Louis Goodman: So in addition to your courtroom theatrically, you actually get on stage and involve yourself in a theater, your production.
[00:02:00] Mark McGoldrick: Yeah, it's been kind of a side interest of mine for a bunch of years. Now it's something that I've picked up and put down over the years.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Mark McGoldrick: I'm from Arizona. We were from a suburb of Phoenix, a little town called Paradise Valley, and now it has been subsumed by the enormous Phoenix. And it's become quite a Paradise Valley. Now it is a very rich place. The corner of it that I'm from, wasn't quite that when I was growing up.
Louis Goodman: You're currently an Alameda County Public Defender.
Mark McGoldrick: I am. Yeah, I'm an Assistant Public Defender. I'm on our homicide unit and I've been supervising that for, I don't know, a year or two.
Louis Goodman: Are you actually going into the office these days or are you working from home?
Mark McGoldrick: Mainly, seldom I go into the office just because of the COVID pandemic.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been an Alameda County Public Defender?
Mark McGoldrick: Something over 26 years. I [00:03:00] I think this fall might be 27.
Louis Goodman: Now you say you grew up in Arizona. Is that where you went to high school?
Mark McGoldrick: I did. I went to the local public school for grade school that you could, you know, probably ride your bike to and I went to downtown Phoenix for the kind of fancy Jesuit High School for a couple of years. And then I kind of washed out.
Louis Goodman: How was that high school experience?
Mark McGoldrick: You know, it's a really good school for me. It was a problem for me. It was hard to get to because it was downtown. And I had a problem where in my little, in my little neighborhood setting and in my school, I got in a lot of trouble.
And when I went to Phoenix, all of a sudden, my peer group were some fellows who had been in kind of much bigger league problems than I was used to. And I kind of ran with them for awhile to my detriment.
Louis Goodman: At some point you were in a very serious automobile accident that injured you very seriously. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah, sure. After a couple of years at the [00:04:00] Jesuit school, I was not invited back. So I went to the local public high school. Where in my junior year, they invited me to not come back. And then I went back to school my senior year and halfway through my senior year, we were out partying and we had a very big car crash and I just got really hurt badly in that. I fractured my skull, broke my neck and a couple of places broke my face my jaw, my arm, my feet just got cut up all over. So then I spent a few months in a, kind of an intensive, critical care hospital before I could transfer to a spinal rehabilitation hospital for a few more months. So then I kind of went back into the world and trying to figure out what it's like to live with a serious disability.
Louis Goodman: And you've been in a wheelchair for most of your life now, is that correct?
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah, it'll be in a year or two, it'll be [00:05:00] 40 years. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: I just have to say to you that, you know, when I've seen you in court and I've seen your effect of this in court, and I've seen how you deal with clients and I've seen the way you deal with the court personnel and judges and knowing that you're doing that from a wheelchair and that you have overcome so much and had to really change so much over the course of your life from the time you were in high school. And you went through this injury, I mean, I just have a great deal of admiration for you for that. And I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what the sort of intellectual and emotional process was in terms of transitioning from someone who was a very active high school student into someone who really recognized at some point that he was going to be living in the wheelchair.
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah. You know, it's not an easy answer, but I'll tell you some of it.
What is it [00:06:00] when I was injured, you know, included, smashing in my head. So. It took awhile for me to understand what had occurred. And it was, you know, I was in a lot of pain early on. I kind of made this decision to choose living right. And to try to get better as fast as possible. And then I was kind of in my way, very competitive in my lab.
I've always been a very competitive person with whatever. Sports, you know, fighting or getting in trouble, you know, I was going to dammit. I was going to do it well. And so I endeavored to do that as better as possible, as quickly as possible in part. So I could just get the hell out of those institutions and have autonomy and have control over my life again.
And then kind of what happened was that sent me on, but in retrospect is a few years of kind of a seeking, kind of behavior and conduct and exploration of life. I was trying to figure out what is [00:07:00] this thing that is life. Just like any kind of young person kind of going on that transitioned in early adulthood.
But on top of that, what does it mean to live with a serious disability? Does it matter? How much does it matter? You know, is it disqualifying one from, you know, certain realms of living and I kind of refuse to take no for an answer on a lot of doors that were shut in front of me. And I was kind of a, sometimes very fearless and combative with what I was encountering in the world.
You know, it's an interesting thing to suddenly acquire a serious disability when you hadn't had one, it's not a light switch, but it's an immediate change in one status that a lot of people who live with other statuses that are, they don't have like that immediate shift. So what I mean by that is I went from being a white guy with some academic ability.
[00:08:00] And I carried myself in the world in a certain way. And I presumed certain things. Then I break my neck and all of a sudden I go out in the world and people treat me like I'm stupid. Or, you know, I hand someone the credit card and then they give the credit card back to my friend and not me or I get the crappy table at the restaurant just cause they was wheelchair and they want to park me here.
I immediately saw any number of ways that I was treated differently and people with disabilities are treated very differently in the world. And I kind of just raged against that for a number of years. And that was a bunch of years of just kind of that. Yeah. So that's a change.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Yeah, no, I mean, this, accident happened when you were in High School, so you graduated, I take it from High School despite that accident, correct?
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah. You know, it's funny. When I was in the hospital, they would send homebound tutors in is what they called it. And I, frankly, I didn't have enough credits to [00:09:00] graduate, but the school was so tired.
I mean, I think they just kind of gave me a wink on a couple of credits and got me out of there.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to college immediately after high school? Did you take some time off?
Mark McGoldrick: I did. You know, it's funny. If you looked at my transcripts, you would think that when I broke my neck, a good thing happened.
Cause you know, up until then I was just failing out and getting kicked out. But what I did was when I got out of the hospital, I live with my parents and then I went to the local community college, which was fantastic for me. And I went to the local community college for about five semesters. I got my AA degree and then I transferred to the local state university.
And I eventually graduated from there from Arizona State. And I was out of state.
Louis Goodman: You said that the community college was a really great experience.
Mark McGoldrick: The one thing I cared to do well, and I never had really applied myself in school. So it was [00:10:00] good to do that. And some people kind of derisively talk about a community college as just a big high school. In a certain way it was cause it wasn't really big, but it also meant that I had smaller class sizes and I had terrific instruction. What I found was when I would show up at school, some of my older siblings gave me some advice from their college and right, you know, the first week I would introduce myself to the professor and say, I'm going to be here. I'm going to do well in your class. And that's it. In one of the front rows and behind me might be disinterested students, but often it was, you know, a lecture where the professor is talking to me and a couple of other people in the front row, and there might be 20 or 30 disinterested students behind us, but I had kind of a really in a certain way, intimate school experience at the community college. And it's really inexpensive. I'm a big fan of JCS.
Louis Goodman: When did [00:11:00] you start thinking about becoming a Lawyer?
Mark McGoldrick: I thought about it in late grade school because a friend of mine's dad was a lawyer and he and I used to just, we got a lot of insubordination with teachers and I remember an English teacher telling me in seventh or eighth grade, that I should go to law school because I was such a smart ass. If I didn't, I was just going to go through like a mask and I thought, you know, I had, I'd be interested. I'll go to law school.
Louis Goodman: So when you got out of Arizona State, did you go directly into Law School or did you take some time off there?
Mark McGoldrick: You know, I took my sweet time getting through college. That thing that people would say, like, these are the best years of your life, you know, enjoy college. I said, hell yeah. So I graduated with a ton more credits than I need. And during college I did a semester in London, traveled throughout Europe. I took a different semester off and traveled Australia a little bit in Southeast Asia did [00:12:00] a language summer in Mexico.
Again, I did a lot of traveling and I did a bunch of stuff. And I, I took my time. So I graduated in six years.
Louis Goodman: And where did you go to law school?
Mark McGoldrick: Harvard.
Louis Goodman: That's a good school.
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah. They, you know, they let me in. They shouldn't have, but they did.
Louis Goodman: What was Harvard like? I mean, it's pretty different experience living in Massachusetts and being amongst really elite students, as opposed to being from a small town in Arizona and going to a community college and then going to Arizona State. I mean, these are, you know, they're all great institutions of learning there, but they're all, it seems to me, very, very different. And the move from Arizona to New England.
I mean, if nothing else, just the weather has got to be a real change.
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah. It was, you know, part of that whole thing about trying to figure out [00:13:00] where I fit in the world. And you know what part of that was also, am I being coddled by living in the town that I grew up in and having family around to help me, you know, if I get good grades at the local JC, what does that really mean?
So I wanted to try to compete with, you know, really talented students or like what we think are really talented students. And that's how I wanted to go to the Law School I could get into. And that was easily Harvard too. When I went there, so I can remember, like my first weeks at school, having a kind of a wide-eyed feeling, looking around and meeting classmates and you know, this one was a Rhodes Scholar and this one went to Princeton and I'm wondering if I was in over my head, you know, and how I was going to feel and do, but then after a few weeks and being in class and seeing folks raise their hand and what came out their mouth and like I can do this. So I [00:14:00] really enjoyed my friends and classmates. I just got to run around with the most interesting people and committed people and people with interesting backgrounds and we had a lot of fun. Then you also have, you know, that it sets in maybe a year or two or whatever that, Hey, I'm going to do this for another couple of years and I almost bounced. I almost just got sick of it and bounced, but that's kind of what I'd done to every other school in a certain way. And I wanted to start and complete a program normally like with everybody else. So I stuck it out. The winters were hard, you know, coming from the desert, if nothing else, the quality and the amount of light, I was used to bright light from horizon to horizon.
And as you know, in a place like Cambridge, you have these slivers of gray matter between buildings and just the lack of light. So at the end of each semester, I would get [00:15:00] my car and I would drive West to get some light if nothing else. Yeah, well, yeah. To do something for the summer and what sort of things I did, I'm of the West, uh, I'll travel other places, but, you know, I was forged in the Southwest.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things did you do in the summers?
Mark McGoldrick: My first summer after law school, I came here to Berkeley. I got a Fellowship to work at a place called Disability Rights Education Defense Fund. At the time I was, when I went to law school, I thought I dabble in either a Civil Rights Law or Environmental Law.
Louis Goodman: When you got out of Harvard, what was your first legal job?
Mark McGoldrick: I clerked for a Judge. I clerked for a woman who at the time was the Chief Judge of the Southern District of California. So that's down in San Diego and that was a Judicial Clerkship.
Louis Goodman: How did you get to the Alameda County Public Defender's Office?
Mark McGoldrick: Well, when I finished my clerkship, I literally, I didn't [00:16:00] have a resume. I didn't want one. I didn't have a job. I wanted to have like a definitive break. I was kind of tired of it. Promising chunks of my life away to the next endeavor. So I took time off. And during that time it kind of came to me. I do want to be a Public Defender.
Louis Goodman: What did you do during that time off?
Mark McGoldrick: Well, the day after my clerkship ended, I was kind of restless. I jumped in my car and I tried to drive by myself to Central America and it, I got into Southern Mexico and had to turn around and that I regrouped and traveled with a friend to East Africa. And then from there I went to Spain and I came back and decided, okay, when I grow up, I'm going to try to be a Public Defender.
So it was one of those moments when I kind of announced myself to the world and the world shrugged. So I just got in my car and I traveled and I went on [00:17:00] canoeing trips and rafting trips. And drove coast to coast. And, you know, went to the White House where some friends were working for Clinton. And then I checked my voicemail and I checked to see if anybody responded.
So I got a response from Alameda County and I made a connection there and they wanted me to come and do their Post Bar Clerkship, which is the normal avenue into the office. You come and you spend a year. And, you know, it's kind of like kicking the tires. They get to meet youand see if you can see what they think of your aptitude and you get to see if it's for you.
I didn't want to do that. Cause I didn't want to move to the Bay Area for a year and then either not get hired or not like it. So I told him no. And then they told me if I was in town, the Chief Assistant told me if I was in town to come see him. So I was on the East Coast traveling and flew out to LA for a wedding.
And then I [00:18:00] called them. It's kind of like the audacity of the youth. It's like, what was I thinking? I called him on a Monday morning. I said, you know, I'm in LA. What if I jump on a plane? And so I did, I jumped on a plane and he came to the airport and we spent the afternoon together.
Louis Goodman: Who was that?
Mark McGoldrick: That was Hal Friedman.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Good friend of mine. I mean, I worked with him, when I was in the DA's Office and it was a great experience.
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I'm very fond of how, you know, he gave me this chance that he frankly shouldn't have. So, you know, we had a nice time. And then when I went traveling and I was like driving across from Chicago to Seattle, I was in, you know, these places like North Dakota, checking in, you know, there's no cell phone.
It was, you know, truckstop kind of stuff back then and I'd call him. Cause he wanted me to call him. Cause there was some like budget thing that was happening and they could maybe hire one person or whatever. And he, I was at some truck stop in Idaho and he said, okay, you're going to have the job.
And he gave me a starting date [00:19:00] in September. And I said, Oh God, I can't, I can't be there in September. And he's like, what are you talking about? You know, I just jumped through a bunch of hoops. I was like, man, I just committed to a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. And he was pretty apoplectic. You know, who do you think you are? I'm pulling strings. And I said, look, I don't know if you've ever rafted down the Grand Canyon, but man, I'm not missing the trip.
Louis Goodman: So I'veheard that's the experience of a lifetime.
Mark McGoldrick: You know, I think I've done it seven times. Wow. It is wow. There's nothing better than, you know, you got to do it on an oar rig, not a motorboat and spend at least two weeks down in there each time and it's the best trip ever.
So he let me start at the beginning of August. No, I'm sorry, October. So I went Rocky and then I drill right there. And they got, I got thrown into the courtroom.
Louis Goodman: You'vebeen there for quite a while now. I think you said about 25, 26 years. Yeah. Well, obviously, [00:20:00] given your propensity for doing sorta what you damn well please, it seems obviously there must be something that you really like about practicing law and that you like about being an Assistant Public Defender.
I'm wondering if you could share that with them?
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah, I do love it. You know, all of these years later I still have a passion for it. I love working with the people with the clients and it's important to me to feel like I'm in a helping profession. I've never wanted to be a lawyer for money. I've always thought that money enough will come.
I like the cops and robbers aspect of it, just the crazy facts and the fact patterns and the crazy situations that our clients find themselves in. I like all that. It's hard on the soul.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Would you recommend going into law for a young person just coming out of college, looking for a career?
Mark McGoldrick: I don't know if I'd recommend Law largely. I would recommend Public Defense if it was their inclination. If they had that, I think being a Public Defender is such a cool job. I haven't [00:21:00] found one. I wanted to leave for it, but yeah, the thing is to do it right. You have to put your heart into it.
Louis Goodman: So what advice would you give to a young attorney? Just starting out as a young puppy?
Mark McGoldrick: Well, you know, the Judge I clerked for the Federal Judge, she had both been a Public Defender and a Superior Court Judge. Before being a Federal Judge, she gave me the best advice. The one piece that I know is tell the truth, the biggest, you know, I would say the biggest pitfall for young attorneys is you show up thinking you're supposed to be aggressive, but you don't really know the rules yet.
And then you over argue or you overclaim. And the thing is you can tell the truth a hundred times in a row and no one will remember it. You get caught telling a lie, you're going to be the talk of the courthouse for a while. And then it's going to take a couple of years to dig your reputation out of the ditch.
Louis Goodman: So [00:22:00] I like that to earlier about your murder defendant, that you did some investigation on and found a reason for the case to be, as far as the murder charge to be dismissed against him. Can you tell me a little bit about,
Mark McGoldrick: Yeah. I'll tell some about it because it's recent and, you know, it's my client.
I'm not going to go too far. The evidence was that my client was definitely the shooter. That's what the evidence looked like early on. It was very clear that there was a good reason for it. And I worked that case really hard right away. We were searching for surveillance footage that maybe the police missed.
We were seeking physical evidence out in the community. We had the police forensically test some evidence that we submitted and when they didn't find DNA, we hired our own expert and using more advanced techniques, found DNA that had initially been missing. And that was [00:23:00] critical. We, you know, we just really worked that case and eventually everything was aligning just like our clients said all these things that my client was sharing with me very early on, turned out to be so, and it was what it looked like, but might've been a drug deal gone wrong, or some other kind of dispute. We were able to convince Lee show that no, it doesn't match the drug deal. It doesn't match, you know, pimping or prostitution kind of thing. It doesn't match all these other things. The only thing that all of these disparate pieces of evidence point to is the decedent was robbing my client with a gun at the time of the decedent's own demise.
And, you know, I also, once we had the case shored up, then we had that I worked with the prosecutor for some time to explain my case to them and they checked it out. And that was very satisfying too, because we work in a very [00:24:00] collegial manner. To get to the right answer.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that, you know now that you really wished you knew before you started practicing?
Well, maybe more humility. That's just more of an approach than a specific thing to know as a younger person, I thought I, you know, I had certain presumptions and well, whatever we all learn over time.
Louis Goodman: Let me end with this. Mark, do you have any plans for some future theatrical?
Mark McGoldrick: I do in December, I was asked to present an excerpt of a play I did at the Marsh and they're doing these zoom performances.
So I did that and it worked out really well. So the theater and I have agreed that I'm going to restage that place. So I've been working on it. And I'm going to present it remotely on zoom in kind of a serialized form. And that's been a, it's been a very fun, recent creative pursuit.
Louis Goodman: One wants to [00:25:00] see your work, some upcoming work, some work that you've already done in the theater space? They can go to marsh.org, which is a theatrical program in San Francisco and search for you there. And find some Mark McGoldrick acting.
Mark McGoldrick: Yes. Mark McGoldrick.
Louis Goodman: Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to talk to you.
Mark McGoldrick: Louis. Thanks again for inviting me.
This was a good time. This was a hit.
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.
Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom [00:26:00] and to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support at Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Mark McGoldrick: Well, you know, it goes back to when I broke my neck, I decided at some point, and I have reaffirmed that decision that I am going to live my life.