Cynthia Chandler boasts an impressive legal career spanning over 20 years, during which she has co-founded multiple social justice organizations, including the Oakland Eviction Defense Center, Critical Resistance, and Justice Now. In addition, she served as the director of the Alameda County Bar Association’s Bay Area Legal Incubator, where she helped aspiring lawyers launch their practices. Her tireless efforts have played a vital role in advancing the rights of HIV-positive women in prison and putting an end to the illegal sterilization of women in California prisons. Cynthia's unwavering commitment to the advancement of women's rights and access to social justice has earned her several prestigious awards. In this episode, she shares some key milestones and accomplishments from her career, as well as insights on how to address social issues in both the community and the legal system. Don't miss the opportunity to learn about Cynthia's admiration for Fay Stender and her experience attending Harvard with Ted Cruz.
Bay Area Legal Incubator
Oakland Eviction Defense Center
Belly of the Beast
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Go to https://www.lovethylawyer.com/blog for transcripts.
In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, Love Thy Lawyer presents an interview with:
Alameda County Bar Association
The Alameda County Bar Association (ACBA) is a professional membership association for lawyers and other members of the legal profession. The ACBA provides access to ongoing legal education; and promotes diversity and civil rights in the Alameda County legal community. Our mission is to promote excellence in the legal profession and to facilitate equal access to justice.
Senior Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Chandler has an unusual background for a prosecutor. And we can expect her approach to criminal prosecution to be radically different than the traditional view of the job.
Cynthia Chandler is a change agent, founder, business coach, and attorney. Her innovations include launching the first organization advancing the rights of HIV+ women in prison, creating the compassionate release process allowing for the release from prison of terminally ill people, co-founding the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland, CA, and co-founding Critical Resistance and Justice Now, early prison abolitionist organizations influencing the Black Lives Matter network. Cynthia has spent the last 20+ years campaigning to end and win reparations for coerced sterilization of people in prison, culminating in legislative victory in 2020 making California the 3rd state to provide reparations for survivors of historic State eugenics programs and the 1st state to provide reparations to people coercively sterilized in State prisons. Her work to end sterilization abuse is featured in the Emmy Award winning and Peabody nominated documentary Belly of the Beast. Cynthia currently is working to democratize the rule of law as Director of BALI | Bay Area Legal Incubator, where she supports diverse attorneys in building successful law practices. Cynthia has received numerous prestigious honors for her contributions to the legal profession, including the Auburn Lives of Commitment Award Celebrating Women of Moral Courage, ABA Pro Bono Publico Award, the California Women Lawyers Fay Stender Award, and the inaugural Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World Award. Cynthia earned a JD from Harvard Law School and a M.Phil. in criminology from University of Cambridge.
Special thanks to ACBA staff and members: Cailin Dahlin, Saeed Randle, Hadassah Hayashi, Vincent Tong and Anne Beles. (https://www.acbanet.org/)
Music: Joel Katz, Seaside Recording, Maui
Tech: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
Audiograms: Paul Roberts
Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman / Cynthia Chandler
Louis Goodman 00:07
In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, this is Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with members of the ACBA about their lives and legal careers. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the LTL podcast. And yes, I'm a member of the Alameda County Bar Association. Cynthia Chandler is a change agent, founder, business coach, and attorney. Her innovations include advancing the rights of HIV positive women in prison, creating a compassionate release program, co-founding the Oakland eviction defense center, and working with numerous other civil rights programs and organizations. Until recently, she was the director of the Bay Area Legal Incubator, an access justice project of the Alameda County Bar Association. No surprise, she's the recipient of numerous awards. What may be surprising is that she has recently accepted a position as a Senior Deputy District Attorney here in Alameda County. Or perhaps that should be no surprise at all.
Cynthia Chandler, welcome to the Love Thy Lawyer and the Alameda County Bar Association podcasts.
Cynthia Chandler 01:35
So great to be here. Thanks so much.
Louis Goodman 01:38
It's really an honor to talk to you. I have been very impressed by your resume. And now I'm even more impressed by your resume that you've gotten this job in the District Attorney's Office. So where are you talking to us from right now?
Cynthia Chandler 01:53
I'm talking to you from the District Attorney's Office, not necessarily what's going to be my whole office and where I'm going to be seated permanently. But yeah, my first day, my first day of this new chapter of my life.
Louis Goodman 02:05
Well, congratulations. And I understand you're on the ninth floor of the courthouse.
Cynthia Chandler 02:09
I am. I am on the ninth floor of the courthouse.
Louis Goodman 02:13
So how long you've had this job, was just one day?
Cynthia Chandler 02:18
Half a day. Yeah, I'm just getting myself settled in. And it's just a really important opportunity for me to be able to be part of the historic transition of this District Attorney's Office and put to use what I feel like is really my whole career's worth of skills towards this endeavor.
Louis Goodman 02:37
Where are you from originally?
Cynthia Chandler 02:39
Now, that is a really hard question, because my family moved all the time. So I was born in Boston but lived there two weeks. And that kind of set the tone. So I spent most of my childhood in South Central Illinois, and then teenage years, mostly outside of Philadelphia. And then my family finally relocated to Berkeley right before I turned 17. And I've claimed, the Bay Area as my home ever since.
Louis Goodman 03:03
So did you go to Berkeley high school?
Cynthia Chandler 03:06
I went to Berkeley High School for half of the year. And then I graduated. And then I went to UC Berkeley, and I ended up marrying and born and raised in San Franciscan. And so I left town for grad school and law school, but I popped on back with him and we've been here ever since.
Louis Goodman 03:23
After you graduated from UC Berkeley, you went to law school at some point, did you take some time off between college and law school or do you go straight through?
Cynthia Chandler 03:33
I graduated halfway through a year. So I graduated in December rather than in the summer, and I spend six months working with Bay Area Women Against Rape, which is an organization I had volunteered at for about four years during college. And I was working with them developing a prototype, here rape crisis counseling training program inside what was then the world's largest men's prison, which is in Vacaville. And the idea was that we wanted to figure out a way to support men who were both convicted of rape and then raped in prison in understanding how they themselves were impacted by violence, and then how they impacted other people as part of a program to really stop the cycle of violence. And it was an incredibly transformative experience for me and really heralded a career for me in challenging violence and using the law to that end.
Louis Goodman 04:26
So when did you go to law school?
Cynthia Chandler 04:27
I thought it does. So that was six months. And then I went and got a master's in criminology from the University of Cambridge in England. And then I headed off to Harvard Law School.
Louis Goodman 04:38
So you went from college, to the Bay wall, and then to Cambridge and then to law school. So pretty much right through except for that working period, right?
Cynthia Chandler 04:48
Louis Goodman 04:51
Well, what was that experience like living in England?
Cynthia Chandler 04:53
You know, it was fascinating. I love the sort of rural settings I'm in from a cultural anthropological point of view. And I think honestly, I got that from my suitemates in England, I shared rooms with a woman who was an anthropologist, a graduate student from India. And we would spend at least one night a week as a cultural exchange night where we would talk about issues that we were experiencing there in England, and how it differed from our home countries. And actually, it was interesting, a lot of the conversations revolved around criminal law and how people were treated if they were harmed, how people were treated if they were deemed outsiders and criminalized and how the police interacted with people. It was fascinating, it also was only more classist and also misogynistic environment than I was accustomed to having come from UC Berkeley to the point where, even like, female students would ask other female students to be quiet so they could hear from male students. And it was a really transformative moment for me and learning how to exist in an educational environment that was a bit more hostile than I had been in before then.
Louis Goodman 06:06
What about the educational environment at Harvard?
Cynthia Chandler 06:10
Well, Ted Cruz was one of my classmates. And we met during orientation and didn't have many good things to say about each other. And that was kind of how it started. I mean, honestly, I didn't come from a family with lawyers. And I didn't know much about the law. And I felt honestly from orientation that I had made a huge mistake that I had really been interested in being sort of an activist academic. And I realized suddenly that most people viewed law school like a trade school, not like an academic school, like other graduate programs, and didn't want to geek out on the logs and want to throw their entire lives into it. And I felt very much like a fish out of the water for that reason. But I started realizing also that I didn't want to teach at least full time in life, I did really want to figure out how to be more impactful and do more social change work. So I think I survived, I would say, I survived Harvard Law School. And I did that by being out of the school as much as possible, and in the community, doing as much legal work as I could, and doing that work and learning to do that work and collaboration with people and grassroots movements. And that was really how I tried to shape my career. I actually no, huge hero for me, early on. And I went to school, college before the internet, so before you could just look stuff up on Google, it was a woman named, Fay Stender, an amazing civil rights attorney from California, and she had really created a career being at one with different social movements, including people in prison, and I very much wanted to emulate the way that she did work, which I articulated as building power with people, not over people. And unfortunately, I think there's a lot of building power over people.
Louis Goodman 08:01
When did you first decide you wanted to be a lawyer? And what prompted you to do that? I mean your last answer sort of leads into that kind of naturally.
Cynthia Chandler 08:14
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think that I was inspired by a series of events to think about being a lawyer in my life. And honestly, even just from birth until I was about 20 years old, I saw an enormous amount of social change that was made possible in partnership with lawyers that made me think it was possible to be an activist attorney. So for example, my mother was the first woman to get a PhD in physics from the University of Illinois. And she endured, there had been one woman graduate student before her and she had killed herself and my mother was the first one to actually get her PhD and that the level of sexual harassment that my mother endured was spectacular, including, she had two small children. So she would take care of us and then go back into the labs and back into work late at night after she put us to bed and one night she was in the lab and a group of men wearing ski masks came into the room where she was working. And I told you they were going to rape her, force her to strip, get down on the ground, she was begging for her life, telling them that she was a mother and then they took her ski masks off her said Haha, it's just a joke. And it turned out it was all of her fellow graduates and that was just one of many things.
And I remember my mother coming home that night, after that experience, and this was before Title Nine, this was before there was the ability to have any kind of legal recourse. Similarly, the town that we lived in, when the University of Illinois was very much a racially segregated town. I lived in a very small enclaves that was allowed to be integrated. And I remember very vividly when I learned that black people were not allowed to live in most parts of the town and I remember a deep level of just disbelief that the adults in my world could tolerate that, that that would be such a thing. And so I think about the changes that have happened now around housing discrimination is profound. And I was just saying partially because I was in that integrated community. One of my fourth grade teachers had at my school, which was the only integrated school be part of a Scared Straight program, I think, ostensibly, because we might be up to no good because we were in an integrated classroom. And the experience of watching the children in that facility that we were taken to a maximum security juvenile facility, which has since been closed down for cruelty and unconstitutional conditions, seeing their children there who are all black, not a single white child was there and having us be encouraged to see them as zoo animals and have them paraded in front of us. I often say that I think that, in that experience, the adults in the community were trying to create and perpetuate a culture of white supremacy. and instead they accidentally birthed an abolitionist. So anyway, and all those things and seeing the role of the law and making change was incredibly inspiring to me, they made me want to have a career where I could have that impact.
Louis Goodman 11:15
Speaking of your career, can you briefly take us through your career, hit on the high points and how you use your career in order to facilitate the social justice issues that you wanted to promote?
Cynthia Chandler 11:33
Sure. So when I was in college, that was the heyday was a school of feminism called Radical Feminism, which is very critical of pornography, and the sex industry. And I was inspired and graduate from that watching how people, women specifically in the sex industry were treated as were alienated from the feminist movement inspired me to do graduate work, really looking at criminalized women and how criminalized women are treated by social movements or treated by the Academy and media. And I wanted to continue that research moving forward. And what I started realizing was that the factors that rendered people at risk of criminalization were also the same factors that rendered people at risk of premature death. And that was, I got graduated from law school and 95 and got funding to start the first advocacy organization on behalf of HIV positive women either in prison or facing criminal charges. And much of that work was revolved around educating courts and District Attorneys and Public Defenders on how even the very short term of imprisonment at that time before there were the HIV meds that exist now, would lead to people dying quite quickly. And I got in very involved with a group of about 10 people, none of whom were lawyers, who were looking at how we could keep people alive, who were in prison with HIV. And we developed a collaboratively, it was a team of jailhouse lawyers and a few activists and outside community that I was really a baby lawyer, it was this was like 95, 96, that was straight out law school, we started experimenting with using the recall and resentencing structure that most penal codes have for getting people out of prison. So they then could either access life saving care that they couldn't access in prison because it was experimental, or if nothing else, be able to die with a level of appropriate pain management as well as give their families a chance to reconnect with them and heal before they might pass away. And my first cases became sort of the test cases for what eventually was codified in the late 90s as the compassionate release process for terminally ill people in California. And then we replicated that across the country.
Louis Goodman 13:55
Your last job before you got in the District Attorney's Office was the Bay Area Legal Incubator program.
Cynthia Chandler 14:01
Louis Goodman 14:02
How did you get involved with that?
Cynthia Chandler 14:04
Sure. Well, I love building organizations when there's a need. So like the organization I built with Rachel, because of women, there wasn't anything like that that existed. And I've always been a social entrepreneur, founder. And it was so hard to create my own businesses right out of law school, and even later, I mean, there's just not many people I could turn to for help. And I felt like if I had had mentors, I wouldn't have made all the mistakes I undoubtedly made. And so when I heard about and actually Tiela Chalmers, the CEO of the Alameda County Bar Association, had heard about this burgeoning movement of legal incubators and the idea being to be able to coach and community where people would be accelerated in launching very modern law businesses that would serve untapped markets. They're historically typically disenfranchised. Tiela had heard about it and she came to a bunch of the local law schools and I was working as an associate dean at Golden Gate law school, and I was assigned to work with her on this concept, it just made sparks go off, I think.
I started realizing how many people could really build, lawyers to really build up impactful businesses and do it in a financially viable way if they had coaches to teach them how to do it, and they wouldn't have to stumble and replicate all the mistakes of people who had come before them if they had that kind of a resource to community. So I was really excited about the business design, and I was on the hiring committee to hire someone to take the job. And about 30 minutes before the due date, I decided to resign from the hiring committee and I said, throw my hat in because I again, I love building organizations, and I realized not only would I be in charge of building the incubator, but I would be surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs. And it has been an incredibly, unbelievably rewarding experience, I should say the incubator one of the things that was my dream, which actually ended up just happening was my dream had been it would also become a program that would encourage a pathway to success for diverse attorneys, because it is frequently people who don't fit in with mainstream legal community who go solo. And what I found is that that was 100%, the people that were coming into BALI at any rate, so it ended up being not just a really important program for showing that there are viable business models for serving untapped markets, but also an incredibly important program for showing how we can build up this success of diverse attorneys in the legal community. And it's kudos to the Alameda County Bar for making that possible.
Louis Goodman 16:46
Two part question, what do you think's the best advice you've ever received? And what advice would you give to a young attorney just starting out?
Cynthia Chandler 16:55
The best advice I ever got was just an affirmation, that I had power within myself to realize my dreams, and that I deserve to be able to have a passion-filled career and I deserve to be able to succeed at it. And I think that that's an enabled me to be really an organizational builder and a policy change maker over my career. And then for attorneys, I guess, in starting out attorneys, I would just say, find your professional friends, like just find any mechanism, you can usually recommend that attorneys join at least three bar associations, one based on geography, one based on affinity, one based on substantive law practice, find people who you can call upon and ask for questions, and then just do it, just assume that most people are going to help you because most people want to be helpful. I can't overemphasize how important networking really is.
Louis Goodman 17:52
Yeah, I think that's really good advice. And a good insight in that most attorneys, most people really do want to be helpful, and if asked, will be helpful.
Cynthia Chandler 18:07
Yeah, absolutely. I think people get intimidated when they're at the beginning of a career. And they're nervous about talking to folks who've been doing it for a while, but anyone who's achieved any level of success knows that they've done it because of the help of other people. Right. And so I think most people are willing to give back to the next generation.
Louis Goodman 18:25
When you're not practicing law, when you're not building social justice organizations, what sort of things do you like to do? Any recreational pursuits?
Cynthia Chandler 18:35
I mean, for the last 20 years, my recreational pursuit has been my pro bono work, which I helped to lead a campaign to expose the fact that California was illegally coercively, sterilizing women in its prisons, and we just won reparations and the reparations program is being implemented. And honestly, I found myself now with a lot more free time and free time where I can find that extra legal hobby. I love sewing and crafting, and I have artists children, and I spend my Friday nights at JoAnn Fabrics like walking up and down the aisles.
Louis Goodman 19:10
Let's say you came into some real money, let's say three or four billion dollars. What if anything would you do differently.
Cynthia Chandler 19:18
I have a lottery plan.
Louis Goodman 19:22
Okay. Let's hear it. Yeah, let's hit the lottery plan.
Cynthia Chandler 19:26
A lottery plan. Well, when I win the lottery, not if the when, when I win the lottery, I will no doubt set up both a foundation to give away money, especially scholarships to younger people who haven't had the level of academic privileges that I had. And I also would set up an operating funds and the operating foundation would specifically fund social media propaganda that would promote democracy. I think we are in a world with social media where are very radical, right? And by the radical right, I really do mean the Neo fascist, right is using social media to really build an army. And I have such incredible love for the democracy that we live in. It's not perfect. And I know it needs to be improved. I also do really appreciate it. And so yeah, I would want to get involved in shielding the democracy.
Louis Goodman 20:23
Let's say you had a magic wand that was one thing in the world, the legal world or otherwise that you could change, what would that be?
Cynthia Chandler 20:29
That could change one thing, I think I would change poverty. I think if we got rid of poverty, we will get rid of so many forms of violence, intrapersonal and state. I mean, really getting rid of poverty also means getting rid of capitalism. So if I were to get rid of capitalism, that would also reduce a great amount of repression in our world. Yeah, that's what I would change.
Louis Goodman 20:53
What keeps you up at night?
Cynthia Chandler 20:54
Actually, I sleep pretty well night. That might sound weird, but I do. I'm really proud about where my career has gone. I have children who I'm very proud of. No one's life is perfect and without struggle, and there certainly isn't and mine isn't. But we are also so incredibly blessed. And right now, I'm embarking upon a very challenging job transformation, but one where I feel that there's a real chance to increase both a sense of justice as well as safety in our county. And that feels really wonderful, too.
Louis Goodman 21:29
What are you hoping to do now that you're in the District Attorney's Office?
Cynthia Chandler 21:34
So my hope in the District Attorney's Office and really, I took this job because I do see it as a historic moment where the District Attorney's Office is becoming even more diverse folks out there who went to Pamela Price's inauguration, but her inauguration might have been the most diverse event I've ever been at even in the Bay Area. It was remarkable for the diversity of people who were present. I really hope that and plan to have opportunity to ensure that people who are harmed in our county are responded to more effectively, communicated with more effectively. And I also hope that we can focus our attentions on some of the most grave harms and that there might be ways that we could do conflict resolution, in a way without [unclear 22:26], and that we could do conflict resolution in a way where we involve communities and isn't just a professionalized setting. And again, I'm this is me and my own personal opinions. I am not speaking for Pamela Price's, her priorities, I would love to see one day every county in our state have a community court system, where there's opportunity for community members to learn alternative dispute resolution. And where that can happen before charges are even, and where communities within counties are incentivized to being part of that kind of a process through grant money and other things. And I anyway, I would love to see that here is my long-term goal or dream for our county, whether it happens under Pamela Price or not, and I hope that that spreads statewide.
Louis Goodman 23:16
We have a lot of people on our call today. And I would like to give them an opportunity to contribute to this conversation. So let's start with Maria Palazzolo. And could you unmute and ask your question or comment for Cynthia?
Maria Palazzolo 23:37
Hi, Cynthia, I had attended a lecture that you had given to the Bar Association on the work that you were doing with inmates. And you just now mentioned about the reparations. Can you talk more about how much money we're talking about? How you went about getting the reparations? I'm so appreciative all the work that you do, and it's wonderful getting to know you better.
Cynthia Chandler 24:00
Thank you. And thanks for coming to that event earlier. So the reparations program that just went into effect one year ago, we're basically at the one year anniversary now covers two distinct populations. California is the third state to provide reparations to people who were historically sterilized under California eugenics laws, until and including 1979 and we're the first state to provide reparation for sterilization, use in our state prisons from 1979 forward and we know that it's a coalition of groups I've been working with, we know that that practice is ongoing in other prison systems as well as our INS detention system. But we're the first state and I'm really proud of the fact that we are to both recognize it’s prohibited even though it was already illegal to have sunshine statutes prohibiting it and now provide reparations. The hardest part of winning the reparations if I like getting to that stage, I mean, the first 10 years or so they worked on this, we were struggling with just getting the abuse that was on going in the prisons acknowledged and then stopped. And then we moved into this upper reparations. And we brought the bill before the California Legislature three times without getting it through appropriations, we couldn't get funding and the funding was the biggest problem, especially because a lot of the people who are getting reparations are very elderly, the historic survivors are very elderly. And then the other classic contemporary folks are mostly in prison, right? So we kind of bring crowds of people up to the Capitol and the legislators had to make priority, right? They had to prioritize what to put money into. And that was our big challenge. I think why finally did it for us, frankly, was the low lens of awareness around racial injustice that rose up nationally around George Floyd's murder pandemic, which started highlighting more and more issues of eugenics. And the fact that some people's lives are more prioritized than others allowed us to have more thoughtful conversations with legislators. But one of the most impactful things was, so I teamed up with a filmmaker named Erika Cohn to create a movie called Belly of the Beast, which is a feature length documentary, it won an Emmy and was nominated for a Peabody Award. And Mary J. Blige did the song for it, which was nominated for an Oscar, the exposure that we got for the issue through that film, galvanized a lot of political will in our favor. And the last thing we finally did, which I think what sealed the deal, was we arranged for a private screening of the film with Trumpian Republicans from North Carolina who had approved reparations in their state for historic eugenics, and liberal California legislators. So we brought together folks across these huge political divides to have a private screening and for the Republicans to educate the Californians about why they were in favor of reparations for sterilization abuse. And it was maybe one of the most moving discussions I have ever witnessed. And I wish that the whole country could have been able to see this moment a bipartisan, not just connection, but almost a bipartisan like deep soul connection. And it ended with a group of Republicans from the south, saying you all have to vote for this, you have to fund this or we're going to come back, we're going to come back and make you right, like, so. But that was finally what won us. And that pot of money is $3 million to be spread across survivors.
Louis Goodman 27:54
Thank you, Cynthia. Cheryl Poncini, you've been in the District Attorney's Office a long time. Do you have a question or a comment for Cynthia?
Cheryl Poncini 28:04
Well, you know me, I always have a question. So Hi, Cynthia.
Cynthia Chandler 28:09
Hi, pleasure to see you.
Cheryl Poncini 28:11
Nice to see you. It's been a while, what will your day to day job duties be in the District Attorney's Office?
Cynthia Chandler 28:19
I am still carving that out. Me fundamentally, I'm an organizational builder and manager, a team builder as well as someone with 30 years experience during legislation as well as building coalitions around legislation. And so my expectation is that I'm going to be helping with management with this new team, leadership team, as well as helping with policy both I would say internal and external. So building bridges between the leadership team and the folks who have been there for a long while. And then also building bridges and additional bridges with the organization, the office and community, nonprofit organizations, and other community-based organizations.
Cheryl Poncini 29:05
Well, welcome to say office and good luck.
Cynthia Chandler 29:08
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Louis Goodman 29:09
Lisa Simons. Do you have a question or comment for Cynthia?
Lisa Simons 29:15
Hi, Louis. Good to see you again. Hi, Cynthia. Hi, Lisa. So Cynthia is also known as a fairy godmother. But I have to say, I think she's a unicorn for sure. This kind of person does not exist in our idea of reality. And I've been extremely blessed to get to know Cynthia and get to know all of the things that in her endeavors that she's been involved in, be inspired by Cynthia and be supported by Cynthia and I am going to miss her over at BALI but I tell you what, I couldn't be happier about a position that she's taken and there isn't a better marriage that I could see when the two systems getting together and I'm so excited to follow, I'll probably be a lifelong follower, by the way, and see how this progresses and any way that the criminal defense bar be able to assist in exchanging ideas, not just Public Defenders, but also private defense attorneys and seeing how we might all roundtable at some point, have their own issues. So I just wanted to say Hi, Cynthia, thank you for everything you've done. We're going to miss you. And we will always be in touch, I'm certain of that. And I am so excited about your new position.
Cynthia Chandler 30:34
Thank you, Lisa. Can I just say that I know that one of the things I'm interested in here at the DAs office as I'm the new person here, is to really get to know the different departments and have sort of a listening tour where I get to really dive deep. And for me when I'm always interested in because I think I'm like, a coach, like at core is, what do people need to do their jobs better? And what do they wish they had access to? And then once that's done internally my hope is to be able to bring that externally too. And so Lisa, I'm going to remember this suggestion for doing like a brainstorming like informational session with the private bar, because I think that that's brilliant. And thank you for that.
Louis Goodman 31:16
Thanks, Lisa. Amy Helfant.
Amy Helfant 31:19
Hi, there, I actually joined late. So I don't think I have a question. I am an attorney in New York State and just studying for the California Attorney examination. So I just wanted to get a little bit of a lay of the land of various important legal figures. So thank you for the discussion.
Louis Goodman 31:34
Well, good luck.
Cynthia Chandler 31:35
I’m just going to say, can I say what I always say, the people studying for the bar, which is you can do it, you can do it, you can do it. And just remember not to panic. Because if you can just keep your head going, that's what they're really testing you for. Just don't panic.
Astkhik Levantian 31:52
Hello. Hi, Cynthia, I just wanted to join in and get to know you even better, I've had the privilege of being a student of Cynthia's when she was teaching at Golden Gate University. And I'm also a BALI attorney as well. So I'm just super grateful for the opportunity and that everything you've created at BALI, and just how amazing program that it's been, and that it's continuing moving forward. And I wanted to say congratulations on your new position and this new adventure that you're at the District Attorney's Office, I guess my question would be me being like, a relatively new working mom, I'm just always interested in how others have navigated that within their careers. And when your daughters are older now than when you were practicing law, but yeah, just kind of how you've navigated that and some tips and tricks that you might have for us.
Cynthia Chandler 32:41
That's such an important question. Thank you at Astkhik. And I should say Astkhik was one of my teaching assistants, not just the students and someone who I think I learned a lot from. So thank you, I call me on being a care provider, whether it's a child you're taking care of, or whether or not it's a parent's or another elder that you're taking care of, is so hard with balancing a life as a lawyer. And I think part of that is systemic, that we haven't figured out on the legal profession, how to treat ourselves well, which is probably reflected in the high rates of attrition in the profession. I was fortunate enough that I did build an organization that I then ran, so I was always able to bring my children to work with me. My children, literally were on my hip when I was like giving talks in front of 100 people or going to a lobbyists meeting or whatever I was doing they were right there with me. And they both have amazing communication skills as a result. But I also think it's true that my children had to share me with the world, the rest of the world in a way that perhaps other kids don't have to with their moms. And I'm really be proud of the fact that I've instilled in my kids I think values again that they feel that they do have power to make a change in the world that it's possible they've seen their mother do it. They've seen their mother's allies do it. On the other hand, there's a lot of things I did miss out on. In terms of tips for people with small children. I think I've told Astkhik before, I use time blocking religiously and for folks who don't know what time blocking is that you divide the day up by types of work, so you have like your email time, your writing time, what have you. But I would sort of do a second layer of time blocking where I divided the day between what I could do with one hand, two hands and no hands. Because really having a baby at work with me. For example, like if the baby needs to be balanced, I had to do what I had to do balancing, right? The minute the baby went to sleep, that's when I use both hands and started writing like a madwoman. And I used every single time the kids would go to sleep, I used it almost like a bar performance exam, where I would be like how much can I get done in the next one hour? How much can get done in the next two hours? But yeah, time blocking saves me then was the only reason I was able to keep things going with small kids. And frankly, I still use that, now that my kids are 17 and 21. So a lot older.
Louis Goodman 35:10
Rachel Shigekane 35:13
Hi, thank you. And yeah, thanks for pronouncing my name correctly, I just want to say hi, I'm one of Cynthia's colleagues at the ACBA. I hit up our lawyer referral service. And just been a pleasure to work with you, Cynthia, and to be in your orbit. I've learned a lot. I've really enjoyed your commitment to partnership, and feel like we've done a lot of good work together. I appreciate your opinion. And I think you're really a great role model to how attorneys can reflect back a commitment to including the community in important decisions and moving social justice forward. I think a lot of attorneys think that that happens just by filing lawsuits in the court, and it really doesn't, and you've really lived that every day. So I really appreciate the model and the example that you set, and you'll be missed sorely, but we wish you all the best of luck.
Cynthia Chandler 36:07
Thank you. Thank you so much. I had never really been an active member of a sort of a bar association like the Alameda County Bar Association, sort of a geographic community before I went to work there, actually, because a lot of the networking that I did was actually not just merely substantive, oriented towards the law, but actually working with more grassroots organizers not working with lawyers, frequently, and it has been such an incredible gift to see the incredible amount of talent behind the scenes, like behind the curtain of the Alameda County Bar Association and to know that how many gifted people there are there. And I want to say it's also a home of a lot of lawyers who have children, a lot of folks with that. The Astkhik's question earlier. I mean, a lot of folks with kids will find sort of alternative legal careers to advance their careers. And I feel like the Bar Association is full of incredibly talented mothers in particular.
Rachel Shigekane 37:10
Louis Goodman 37:10
Ocean Mottley 37:12
Thank you very much, Mr. Goodman. I love your show, great choice of a guest, Mrs. Chandler, great to meet you, really an awe, hearing everything that you've done in your life, you can retire now and an incredible career. And I'm glad to know that you're still going, love hearing you point out issues with capitalism, and how the BMA versus public defender isn't really treating different sides. But really just one system that heard your concerns about poverty. And I'm curious how your new role in a District Attorney's Office, you want to address poverty issues in Alameda County.
Cynthia Chandler 37:44
That's so important and so good. One of the things, I don't have an exact answer to that. And also, let me just be clear, if I had a total answer to getting rid of poverty, I would be getting a Nobel Peace Prize next as awards. I only have what my hopes are. So I don't know what I have to think of what will mesh with what's possible, combined with what District Attorney Price's goals are, my hope is that we can start looking at participatory, okay, looking at community court systems where there's a way to have, as I said, funnel grant money as an incentive into smaller micro communities that are using dispute resolution forums, and then allow those communities at the end of the year, for example, to engage in a participatory budget making process so they can funnel resources back into their communities, so much about our criminal legal system has leached resources out of some of the most vulnerable communities in our society, and both resources in terms of people as well as having almost all the systems oriented around policing, rather than around social welfare. And so I would really like for us to think about ways where we can encourage dispute resolution before problems escalate to more serious grave harms. And also do that in a way where it funnels grant money back into communities so that communities can be stronger and where the communities have control over that process. There's a wonderful health center in West Oakland, or East Oakland that is thinking about a prototype of that kind of dispute resolution and seeing as part of a public health response to gun violence to get rid of disputes at a very nascent level so that they don't keep escalating and lead to more serious harms. And I'm looking forward to hearing more about their model.
Louis Goodman 39:34
Cynthia, if someone wants to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that?
Cynthia Chandler 39:40
Sure. The best way is probably through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you can't remember that, you can always look me up on the State Bar website.
Louis Goodman 39:52
And you could call the Alameda County District Attorney's office and just ask for you.
Cynthia Chandler 39:56
That is true. I'm not used to this yet, but that is true.
Louis Goodman 40:01
Cynthia, is there anything else that you would like to talk about or mention that we haven't covered?
Cynthia Chandler 40:10
Sure, I think maybe for me, one of the most important aspects of my legal career has been about developing a praxis of both how I practice law and live my life that reflects the kind of equity and justice that I want to see in the world. So my job of fighting for justice doesn't stop at my job's door. It goes into how I lead my life, how I interact with people every day. And I think it's beyond being what it means to be an ally. It means to truly work in hands and build up and amplify the strengths of communities that are in need. And that is really the mantra that I brought into my work, as I said Fay Stender was the huge hero to me when I was younger and still is. And specifically for how she used and leveraged her position as a lawyer to allow people in prison to publish to get their own words out, she wasn't their voice, they have their own voices, right. She amplified it. And I think, yeah, that's what I hope the next generation of lawyers will carry forward as well.
Louis Goodman 41:23
Cynthia Chandler, thank you so much for joining us today at the Alameda County Bar Association and the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you, and thank you for all the participants for your thoughtful comments and questions.
Cynthia Chandler 41:39
Thank you so much for having me here today and folks who chimed, who came. It's great to see some of you are friends and I am always going to be part of the Bay Area Legal Incubator and the Alameda County Bar Association community. So thank you for this glorious send-off.
Louis Goodman 41:54
That's it for today's edition of Love Thy Lawyer in collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association. Please visit the lovethylawyer.com website where you can find links to all of our episodes. Also, please visit the Alameda County Bar Association Website at ACBAnet.org, where you can find more information about our support of the legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession and facilitating equal access to justice.
Special thanks to ACBA president Pamela Ross and Criminal Justice Chair Annie Beles, staff members Cailin Dahlin, Sayeed Randall, Valerie Brown Lescroart and Hadassah Hayashi.
Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Cynthia Chandler 42:58
I could do anything I want and if I should do what I want, I better be damn good at it.