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PAMELA Y. PRICE, ESQ.
Overcoming foster care, the juvenile justice system, and the streets of Cincinnati, Pamela Price graduated from Yale and then Boalt (Berkeley Law) at the University of California.
Pamela is an accomplished and experienced Civil Rights attorney. She has litigated and won substantial settlements and verdicts against the California Department of Corrections, the City of Oakland, the County of Sonora, and AMTRAK, among many others.
She is one of the few African American women to have argued a case in front of the United States Supreme Court.
She is currently running for District Attorney of Alameda County. (2022 Election)
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Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman / Pamela Price – Transcript
Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer will talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been.
I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect.
She doesn't just talk the talk on Civil Rights. She has taken on some of the most powerful adversaries, one could imagine. Yale University, the California Department of Corrections, the City of Oakland, Amador County, Amtrak, and have only a handful of black women to have argued a case in front of the United States Supreme Court. She is a successful business person, a Northern California Super Lawyer, Assembly District 18, Woman of the Year, and National Lawyers Guild Champion of Justice, among many, many honors that she has received. She has run for District Attorney of Alameda County, and she's running again. Pamela Price, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Welcome.
Pamela Price 1:19
Thank you. Thank you for welcoming me and having me on your show, Louis, thank you very much.
Louis Goodman: Well, it's a real honor to talk to you. As we were talking before we started recording I don't really know you personally. But I have been very impressed by the history and resume that I've found in doing some research to prepare for this interview.
Pamela Price: Thank you.
Louis Goodman: Let me just start by asking you, where is your office located?
Pamela Price: My office is remote. I've been remote since 2019. And since the pandemic I really became remote. So I was able, fortunately to transition in 2019 to a remote operation. So I had an arrangement, you know, as many lawyers do with an office where I could receive clients and where I would see clients, but since the pandemic that's over. So we're just doing everything on zoom. Now. We're in the cloud with everyone else.
Louis Goodman: I know the situation. What sort of a practice do you have?
Pamela Price: I'm a Civil Rights Lawyer, as you've indicated. I've been practicing Civil Rights litigation since 1991.
Louis Goodman: And where are you from? Originally?
Pamela Price: Cincinnati, Ohio.
Louis Goodman: You have kind of a checkered early career in high school. Is that right?
Pamela Price:I did. I was a high school dropout. I was a foster kid. So when you're in the foster care system, your education kind of goes out the window. I also spend some time in juvenile hall and they don't really educate you either. So I was going in and out of high schools and going, I went to three different high schools before I finally dropped out. And so you know, it really was a miracle that I made it from the streets of Cincinnati to Yale College.
Louis Goodman: Well, I know that you did go to Yale University. And I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the miracle that took place between the time that you were essentially a juvenile delinquent and, your words reading off of your website, to becoming a Yale University undergrad?
Pamela Price: Yeah, I very much was, unfortunately, a juvenile delinquent and not a bad kid, but just kind of reckless and hard headed. And I emancipated when I was 16. And I was still trying to go to school because I had my birth mom was a teacher. And so she gave me a great foundation. And I had three foster mothers that constantly told me get your education, get your education, stay in school. That's the one thing that no one can take from you. And so I heard that and even after I dropped out of high school, I stayed in touch with my high school. And I called my high school one day just to check in and they said, Where have you been? We have been looking for you. You have been accepted to Yale College. You need to come back here and finish high school so we can get you to Yale College.
Louis Goodman: Well, so what was the experience of going to Yale like, I mean, that's quite a change from being in the streets of Cincinnati.
Pamela Price: It was, I went to an all black High School. And so you can imagine when I got to Yale, and there were less than 300 black students in a in a University of 5000. It was culture shock. I got a full scholarship to go because I was an emancipated minor. And you know, so I appreciate that I got a great education at Yale. It's a great educational institution. I took advantage of as much as I could. I did my junior year abroad at the University of Dar Salaam, Tanzania and East Africa, and I never would have gotten that opportunity, but for the time, the fact that I was a Yale College student, and so I appreciate that. Unfortunately, I had a opposite experience where I was sexually harassed by a professor and ended up having to be joining part of the first sexual harassment lawsuit in education under Title Nine, where we sued Yale to have a grievance procedure. And to establish that sexual harassment in education is illegal.
Louis Goodman 5:34
Do you think that that experience in being involved in that lawsuit helped guide you towards being a lawyer yourself?
Pamela Price 5:43
Definitely, the lawyers who represented me as an undergraduate, they did it pretty much pro bono, none of us had any money, and they were innovative and creative and committed and passionate about helping us. And when you see that expressed and demonstrate it has to have an impact on you. So yeah
Louis Goodman: I did want to go back for a moment to your junior year and your experience in Africa, and how your experience as an African American woman in Africa felt.
Pamela Price: Very interesting, very challenging, very inspiring. It's everywhere I went, people said, they knew instantly that I was not a native African. And they would ask me, where are you from? And when they figured out or I would tell them, I'm from America, I'm an African American, they would always say welcome home sister. Well, so many people told me welcome home. And that was, you know, just, I mean, that just your heart just like, oh my God, and so I loved it there. They embraced me.
Louis Goodman 6:53
What did your friends and family think and say, when you, ultimately decided, hey, I want to be a lawyer. I'm going to go to law school or I want to go to law school.
Pamela Price 7:02
They thought that was not what they expected that my aunt said to me that I had said I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 12 years old. I have no recollection of that. So my family was not surprised. My friends were not surprised. They were elated for me. They thought that's perfect. You should be if anybody shouldn't be a lawyer, you should be a lawyer. Yeah, I think they were right about that.
Louis Goodman 7:25
Did you take any time off between graduating from Yale and then going to law school?
Pamela Price 7:30
No, no, I'm the poster child for stay in school.
Louis Goodman 7:34
And where did you go to law school?
Pamela Price 7:36
I went to UC Berkeley.
Louis Goodman 7:38
Now that's a change to I mean, coming from the east coast and Yale and the cold winters to being in beautiful Berkeley, California.
Pamela Price 7:48
Yes, very much. So it was a change. I want it my last year in New Haven. We got snowed in and meaning we could not go outside for more than a week and that much snow and I said California sounds good to me.
Louis Goodman 8:04
Well, I graduated from the University of Rochester in upstate New York, and then came out here to go to Hastings. All of that was very much on my mind.
Pamela Price 8:15
Yes, snow and ice. No, never again.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience at Berkeley? I guess it was Boalt at that time. Now. It's called Berkeley Law.
Pamela Price: Yeah, it was both and it was challenging. Law School is very challenging. It makes you question who you are, question where you came from? And what do you want to be when you grow up? All of those things get very, you know, imposed on you, you have to kind of go work your way through that. So law school was very challenging for me about taking the bar exam had that feel I'm saying but I it put I had to get into a space where I had the focus. And I think it served me well. And if nothing else, I suppose law school trains you to focus. I will share with you when I took the bar, you know, I did the bar prep and but I also made it very physical. I went into it was like I went into training. So I would work out and I would study and by the time I got ready to take the bar, I could hear the rocky music in my mind. Like Rocky, ready to do this thing. And that's how it felt very much like this is the ultimate challenge. I'm getting into the ring. I'm going to beat this thing and I'm going to pass this bar and I did so I was grateful.
Louis Goodman 9:37
Yeah, you know, I kind of did the same thing. I ran trained and ran a marathon that summer and and took the bar and that's all I did is I trained and I studied, but those two things and being focused really got me through. Yeah, I think that's the key. What was your first legal job when you got out of Bolt?
Pamela Price 10:00
I went to work for Bayview Hunters Point Community Defender's Office in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: How did you move from there into your own very successful civil rights practice? I wanted to, I realized that I wanted to do more than just practice criminal defense. I was very intrigued with civil litigation, I had worked on some civil rights cases while I was in law school, you know, I had interned with some civil rights lawyers, and obviously, I had my own case, and had had that experience. So I really wanted to be able to do civil litigation as well.
Louis Goodman 10:38
Now, I'll tell you, what impresses me is, you know, a lot of people say, Well, you know, want to do something about civil rights, I want to do something about Black Lives Matter, I want to do something to help people in the community. You know, that's great. But you have an incredible history of getting really huge settlements on behalf of minority clients, against big, big companies, governments, entities. And I'm wondering if you just kind of tell us a little bit about that practice, and why you think you've been so successful, because I think you've been super successful.
Pamela Price 11:26
Thank you. I mean, I have only been able to do what I do, because I chose to represent people who were courageous enough to go against those institutions. I mean, I got to go to the United States Supreme Court, because of a black electrician named Abner Morgan, who was not afraid to stand up for what was right. Before he hired me Abner had tried to help organize the other workers, laborers, electricians at the Oakland's Amtrak Yard who were being subjected to the worst kind of racial harassment. And so many of my cases have been about everyday people standing up for what was right. And fortunately, because I have been blessed to have had such a wonderful life and to know what it means to have people who are willing to stand up for you, when nobody else will. I've had people drive from Crescent City, California, who work at Pelican Bay, and they show up in my office. And they tell me that they are ready to challenge the high and mighty State of California and fight injustice within the California Department of Corrections. And because they have that courage, they inspire me.
Louis Goodman 12:42
Yeah, you represented a correctional officer, I think you got a million dollar settlement for her. Is that correct?
Pamela Price 12:48
I've represented many correctional officers and gotten many million dollar settlements, California Department of Corrections is my favorite defendant.
Louis Goodman: That's good to know.
Pamela Price: Yeah, we've had a lot of success.
Louis Goodman 13:01
What do you really like about practicing law?
Pamela Price 13:03
I like giving money to clients. I love that part. I really, do I figure that out. When I actually get the money, and I can give it to the client. That's the best day.
Louis Goodman 13:16
Well, yeah, I mean, really, I mean, seriously, when I tell you, I'm impressed by what you do. I'm impressed. Because you get money for your clients. It's not just a matter of, you know, getting some story in the newspaper or making some speech about what's right. It's your there's really money behind it. And, you know, that really impresses me.
Pamela Price 13:39
No, it's about compensating people for the harm that they've suffered. And if that means I have to try the case, I love trying cases.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend the law as a career choice to a young person?
Pamela Price: Most definitely, the law is a great tool. It's the great equalizer. It allows someone like me, who's just the average everyday person to step up and represent and help other people.
Louis Goodman 14:07
What advice would you give to someone just starting a career in law?
Pamela Price 14:10
Take your time, it's a long career. You have to pace yourself, you have to remember to do self care. I often tell young lawyers to recognize as you're trying to have a family and a life that the law is a jealous mistress. She will suck everything you have and take every moment of every day if you let her.
Louis Goodman 14:34
How about the business aspect of practicing law. I mean, you've been very, very successful, and I'm wondering if you could share a little bit about your business acumen your business not right.
Pamela Price 14:45
Yes, as you know, law is a business and fortunately, I learned that early during the period of time when I was in training as a young lawyer. I watched people running, how they ran their business, and I understood early and got it that this is a business you have to be able to sustain yourself to be able to help someone else.
Louis Goodman 15:10
You're currently running for District Attorney and you've run for District Attorney before. When did you start thinking about that as a career move?
Pamela Price 15:20
In 2017, I was on sabbatical. And we can talk about that I took in 2016. I closed my practice. It took me 18 months to close it down. But in February of 2016, we shut the doors, turn the computers off. I said, I'm off. And my plan was to stay off through the year of 2016, from February to December, I just needed a break. And so I started doing things community activists being involved with black women organized for political action. I became their Political Director in Richmond, Contra Costa, where I have roots over there. And I was assigned to work with the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition. So I was doing that. And one of the main issues there was around police accountability, and the District Attorney's failure to prosecute anyone or to investigate police violence and the death of one person in particular PD Perez. I've met his family and worked with them. And so we were challenging Mark Peterson at that time, the Contra Costa County District Attorney. And so we were looking for a candidate to run for District Attorney in Contra Costa County and literally searching it was, you know, like an executive search, right? We're calling lawyers and trying to recruit people and following up and we were getting nowhere fast. And in that process, we started looking at each other. And so there would be these conversations where people would say, Well, why don't you run? And I could always say, No, I live in Alameda County. I will not be running for District Attorney in Contra Costa County. No, no. And one day I had a conversation with one of the young activists and he said, Well, why don't you run? I don't live in Contra Costa County. I live in Alameda County. And he said, Well, you should run over there.
Louis Goodman 17:38
So your cover story was no longer working?
Pamela Price 17:40
Right? I was blown. I was like, Oh, dear. Oh, okay. And so that compelled me to look at what was happening in Alameda County. And that was early 2017. And when I look at the failures of the Administration of Justice here, I was aghast, I had no idea that I mean, I knew, you know, intellectually, that there are racial disparities in the criminal justice system. But when I saw the statistics, I was just, you know, shocked, and very, very upset. And I realized that I was a person who had the capacity to run a race of this magnitude because Alameda County is huge.
Louis Goodman 18:27
Yeah, I know, I ran for judge here some years ago, when I found out just how big the county is, and how expensive.
Pamela Price 18:34
Yeah, it's so much of a notion, and I had run at that point, I have actually run two campaigns. I had run a very successful campaign in 2016. And I have worked on other people's campaigns. So I understood the political skill that you have to have to be able to run a campaign.
Louis Goodman 18:56
Well, you're not really a professional politician. So what do you think of campaigning and raising money and the things that are required in order to run for office?
Pamela Price 19:08
It's not great. The raising money part, it doesn't bother me personally, because I've raised money for nonprofits. I've raised money for the Leukemia Society, for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, for A Friend Foundation, so I can raise money. I'm not bothered by that. But I am bothered by money in politics. And I realized that I'm in a unique position, you really have to have a different kind of skill set. And even as lawyers, I mean, we as lawyers think things are orderly and there are rules and you have to have integrity and your qualifications. What I have learned is qualifications mean nothing in this political game. It's really a game and you have to, it's about who you know, how much money can you raise and how much name recognition do you have, and those are the only things that determine who's going to win or lose, which is crazy. It is a great challenge to have to run for office. And it's unfortunate that it's that difficult. So I am a corporate free candidate for a reason, because I believe that money in politics is detrimental to our democracy. And I've seen that firsthand.
Louis Goodman 20:23
Let me just stay on the money issue here for a minute. The last time around, the word on the street at least was, maybe you can kind of clarify this, is that you've gotten quite a bit of money from George Soros, who supported a number of progressive candidates for District Attorney around the country and other offices around the country. And if you did get some money from him, I congratulate you. And I'm wondering how you were able to tap into that resource.
Pamela Price 20:52
I wish I didn't get a dime from George Soros, Mr. Soros has the capacity to fund his own, what we call independent expenditures. And this is what people, most people don't realize that the can't bear the candidates and the candidate has to raise his or her own money. And then there are these other things, these PACs basically and they're called independent expenditures. And anybody can come together, a group of people can come together or an individual can create a pack and put as much money as they want to, in the pack. They can't give it to the candidate because as candidates, we have campaign limits. So Mr. Soros chose not to give me anything. And I don't know how to contact him, quite frankly. But he made a decision nationally, and in particular, in 2018. In California, I was part of a progressive class, a class of progressive prosecutors across the state. There were nine of us who were running in different counties to try to bring the criminal justice system forward from where it is, and the only one who was successful was done in Becton in Contra Costa County. So Mr. Soros was part of that initiative. And so people said, Oh, he's giving her money. No, he didn't give me a dime. But he used his money as part of the effort to support myself as well as the other eight candidates in California.
Louis Goodman: Okay, well, really, thank you for clarifying that. What do you think it's going to take in terms of money to run a campaign, the county wide 2022 in Alameda County?
Pamela Price: I think it's gonna take $500,000 to run our campaign. I think we can get it done in $500,000. I expect that there will be other people who will spend millions of dollars on this race.
Louis Goodman 23:04
Do you have a 30 second elevator speech? Let's hear it.
Pamela Price 23:07
My name is Pamela Price. And I'm running for Alameda County District Attorney because I'm a drum major for justice. I'm a Northern California Super Lawyer. I'm a survivor of the Ohio Juvenile Justice and the Foster Care System. And I've been blessed to live my making by standing in the gap for everyday people. I'm running for District Attorney because for too long District Attorneys have been at the heart of mass incarceration, have driven this bus from the school yard to the prison. And we need to change and we need equity and integrity in the District Attorney's office. And most of all transparency and accountability for peace officers for public officials. No more double standard. We need justice with compassion and justice done. Right.
Louis Goodman 23:54
Thank you. I have a few more questions about this election. And then I do want to move on to a few other things as well. I think to some extent, and I'm just sort of wondering what your comment on this is I mean, to some extent, I think that your goal, if not your personal goal, at least sort of the overall goal is going to be resolved in your favor in 2022, one way or another because the District Attorney of Alameda County has announced that she's not going to run again. And there are two announced candidates and there's one candidate who probably will announce all of you are African American. And so I think that on some level, we're going to have an African American District Attorney elected in Alameda County, one way or another.
Pamela Price 24:43
I tell people that I believe as Dr. King said that it really is not about the color of your skin but the content of your character. And I say that not to denigrate the other African American candidates that may or may not come into the race, but to recognize that my background and experience has been one of fighting for justice, and fighting for the civil rights of people, and that my orientation is completely different. I bring an innovative, completely new approach to criminal justice reform and to the administration of justice. And you can't really expect people who have been part of the old way to really be able to effectively lead you to the new way. I mean, that's just the reality of it. And, you know, we really, I tell young people all the time, don't just look at, you know, identity politics or someone because they're black, you assume that, therefore, they're going to be for you, or they're going to understand and be committed to the principles that you're committed to, there is a difference between Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas,
Louis Goodman 26:02
Do you think that the legal system is fair?
Pamela Price 26:04
No, I know, it's not.
Louis Goodman 26:07
What sort of issues do you think that you would be facing as District Attorney if you're elected?
Pamela Price 26:13
The first issue is being the administrator of an office that has been going in one direction, has been led by someone for 30 years, you know, and people have been comfortable in the way in which they practice law. And you and I know that lawyers can be difficult. And fortunately, I've represented a few lawyers in my time. So I expect that my greatest challenges will be with the lawyers that I have to lead, because some of them have, yes, spent their entire careers following one metric and thinking one way, and I'm going to come in, and I will have a mandate that says, No, no, no, this ship is going in the wrong direction.
Louis Goodman 27:01
I want to shift gears here a little bit. I'm wondering how practicing law has affected your personal life, your family life, or how it's fit together with your family life and your personal life?
Pamela Price 27:13
As I mentioned earlier, the law is a jealous mistress. But when, you know, for years, I went without a vacation, my family knew that I might arrive. If we went on vacation, I might arrive the day after everyone else. And when I arrived, I was going to need to sleep for the first day. Because I was going to be exhausted. Because trying to take a vacation meant I had to work literally around the clock for days, to be able to leave my office Lord drains you. It's just a very draining profession and then putting running a law office. On top of that, you know, my worst time was when I was supposed to go on a trip a cruise with my ex husband, and he left early without me. I mean, he left when we were supposed to leave. I was in trial. I couldn't get there.
Louis Goodman 28:12
Do you have any recreational pursuits, things that you enjoy doing outside of practicing law?
Pamela Price 28:18
Yes, I love running. And that became a salvation of sorts for me because I started training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma, Lymphoma Society. And to do that you really had to make a commitment to actually train. And that saved me because I would, it would make me leave the office and go walk or run whichever I was training for, you know, on a consistent basis. And I've traveled quite a bit, you know, going to different races. And that was fun. I love gardening. My I have to have something that gives me peace of mind where I can, I've found that gardening takes me to a different place where I leave the stress and I don't think about the cases and what I got to do and the deadlines, all of that goes out of the window when I'm outside, you know, playing with my roses and travel.
Louis Goodman 29:15
I know that you spent some time in Africa when you were in college. What other sort of travel experiences have you enjoyed?
Pamela Price 29:22
Well, the thing about going to Dar es Salaam was you couldn't fly there directly. So I at 19 years old, I was found myself landed in Copenhagen and I learned about Copenhagen on the way to Africa. And when I came back, I had to go through Brussels and London and Paris and I learned about those places that I love. Paris is my favorite city in the whole world. I'm very disappointed that the pandemic prevented me from even thinking about going there. But you know, once you've gone there, then I've been to Italy, I've been to Venice twice. I love Venice, then to Florence and Rome and just had the opportunity to go across the pond. And that's always been fun. And then traveling to the islands, I love St. Lucia cheer the St. John's and the St. Saints, I love the saints. And I love Maui. And I love to travel. And that's the other thing as a lawyer, if you have, you know, we're blessed to be able to have resources. And so that's a way that really, I think gives one an opportunity to rest and to disconnect is to get on a plane and go somewhere far away.
Louis Goodman 30:45
And was there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we haven't covered?
Pamela Price 30:50
Yeah, I think I want to make sure that we really focus that I would be remiss if I didn't talk about youth justice. And because that's something that across the board, everyone is concerned about. When I talk about public safety, I recognize that people want to feel safe, and they want to feel that their kids are safe. You know, probably when you grew up, I know when I grew up, I could get on my bike and go ride. And I we didn't know about people or being abducted kids. That wasn't even a thing. Kids did not be abducted, and there certainly wasn't gun violence. And I could go ride my bike to the park. And as long as I was home by dark, my mom was okay with that. And I could ride with kids in the neighborhood, it just was a different time for children and for people generally. And, and we've lost that now. And a lot of what we're asking law enforcement to do, and the way in which we're addressing the changes through have come through the criminal justice system. And so I recognize that it is so important that we don't criminalize our children, that we do whatever we can to make things safe for them. You know, I've represented a number of young people in my practice, and you know, the cases. One case I had was where kids in Union City were being shot at on the way to school, by gangs, and I just thought this is outrageous. How do you expect children to learn if they can't even get to school safely?
Louis Goodman 32:38
Pamela Price, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It's been a real privilege to talk to you.
Pamela Price 32:46
Thank you, Louis, I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you for having me. And thank you for what you do. So many people don't know what lawyers do when they don't know that we are at regular people, human beings, and we're just trying to do the best we can to help other people. So thank you.
Louis Goodman 33:04
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. And to Joel Katz from music, Brian Matheson for technical support, and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Pamela Price 33:47
I hope that the voters will look beyond the color of my skin. I am unapologetically black and proud and have been that way all of my life. But that does not define me. I've traveled the world and I've engaged people in countries around the world and I've recognized we all believe the same