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Raised in Las Vegas, she completed her undergraduate work at UCLA. She was later active in the Southern California punk rock scene, performing in local bands. Tamara loved the intellectual challenge of law at Michigan and gained her trial chops at the Riverside County Public Defender's Office. She now handles felony and misdemeanor matters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Law Office of Tamara Zivot
4096 Piedmont Ave Ste 127
Oakland, CA, 94611-5221
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Attorney at Law
Tamara Zivot – Louis Goodman, Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect.
Rising quickly through the ranks at the Riverside Public Defender's Office, she litigated numerous jury trials, court trials, probation violation hearings, and prelims. She now provides a wide variety of legal services through her practice here in the Alameda County and through the Alameda County Court Appointed Attorneys Program. She handles cases from misdemeanors to serious felonies in the criminal area.
Tamara Zivot, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
[00:01:00] Tamara Zivot: Thank you, Louis. Happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: Where's your office now?
Tamara Zivot: My physical office is in San Ramon.
Louis Goodman: And do you practice in Alameda County as well as in Contra Costa County?
Tamara Zivot: Yes. And actually in practice, technically in all counties. But primarily in Alameda and Contra Costa.
Louis Goodman: And how long have you been practicing?
Tamara Zivot: For about 20 years.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Tamara Zivot: Well, I was raised in Las Vegas, born in Denver, Colorado.
Louis Goodman: Really? That's interesting. What was it like growing up in Las Vegas?
Tamara Zivot: It was definitely a different kind of lifestyle.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific?
Tamara Zivot: Well, it was like a little cow town for a while.
And very much mob run and then corporate. And then there was a housing boom at that point. But I left that's when I left. I liked it when it was smaller.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to high school in Las [00:02:00] Vegas?
Tamara Zivot: Yes.
Louis Goodman: What high school was it?
Tamara Zivot: It was Clark High School. It's funny. Say that?
Louis Goodman: Well it's Clark County, isn't it?
Tamara Zivot: Yes. It was actually the same high school that Jimmy Kimmel went to.
Louis Goodman: Oh really? Well how was that experience? How did you like go to high school?
Tamara Zivot: I think pretty much like everybody else. I didn't really like it. I graduated early so I could get out and wanted to go to college. I wanted to move.
Louis Goodman: Where'd you go to college?
Tamara Zivot: I went to UCLA. Well, I'll tell you an interesting story though. I was going to go; my original trajectory was supposed to be medicine. My dad was a doctor, and so I, you know, I graduated high school when I was 15. And I wrote that in, in New South Wales, Australia at all that some of the British run, some of the old British colony run places like England and Canada.
And Australia, they have these [00:03:00] programs where you can go into medical school, you get right accepted from high school. You do a couple of years of undergrad. Then you go right into medical school. So I wrote to the prime minister of New South Wales. I think the college was, I can't remember, I think it was just the medical school of New South Wales.
If I remember correct is a long time ago and said, you know, I know that you're, it's only open to your local regional citizens, but if you make an exception, I was, I'm an exceptional science student, I think that'd be an asset to your society, et cetera, to your school. And they accepted me. So I was accepted to medical school at that age.
Louis Goodman:15, 16.
Tamara Zivot: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: So did you make some effort to go there?
Tamara Zivot: No. Um, there was other things going on in my life at the time and I ended up just going to UCLA instead, a four-year college route.
Louis Goodman: What did you think of UCLA? Did you enjoy that?
Tamara Zivot: I loved it. I loved [00:04:00] being in LA. I loved it. I did. I loved UCLA. It was very different being very huge.
Like my undergraduate classes, there was like 500 students and I was just like way back in an auditorium. And so that was, that was pretty crazy. I mean, later on you get to take the smaller classes, but yeah, I loved the whole experience. UCLA was fun. Just picking out my classes. I enjoyed it.
I've always liked school. And so I've always liked being a student.
Louis Goodman: Did you continue with the science education at UCLA?
Tamara Zivot: No. That's when I switched and went into, Political Science.
Louis Goodman: And when you graduated from UCLA, at some point you went to Law School, is that correct? And did you go directly to law school from UCLA? Did you take a little time off?
Tamara Zivot: I took time off.
Louis Goodman: What'd you do?
Tamara Zivot: I took time off cause I was joining punk bands at the time and that's what I wanted to do. This is when I had a [00:05:00] falling out with my family. Cause I was pursuing, they wanted me to go to law school at this point, they gave up like their dreams of me being a doctor. So I went to, so they were pursuing, they wanted me to be a lawyer at that point. I did have a brother who was a clerk who pursued a line. It became a corporate tax, but so they weren't able to do that. They figured that was not a good profession.
Louis Goodman: What was the name of the punk band?
Tamara Zivot: Oh, I joined several punk bands back then. I don't really want people looking that up. I don't want to divulge those names because I really don't want people looking at it.
Louis Goodman: How long did you spend in the punk scene?
Tamara Zivot: Well, it wasn't punk rock scene. It was more so punk. I mean, I sort of had my own music.
It was like a punk funk because I grew up playing the piano, you know, Russian Jewish mom. And I would play the piano since I was like two. Okay. If I was a product it's very tiny. I used to play and people thought I was a prodigy. I learned how to play every [00:06:00] instrument. So it was and just straight up punk, it was, there was a funk to it.
We call it punk funk. And so that's what we used to do. I have a lot of, did I do that for, I think I wait, uh, I didn't go right into law school about five years, maybe.
Louis Goodman: And were you able to support yourself playing punk music?
Tamara Zivot: No. I don't think we did. We make them make money doing that. We used to live in our studios on the studio floor.
So I went from a doctor's family where, you know, I didn't have to worry about money to just living in a studio floor, but you know, it was cool. I was like, Oh, we're pursuing art. I don't know where we did. I know we had to take odd jobs and stuff. I don't remember exactly what we would do,
Louis Goodman: When did you decide to go to law school?
Tamara Zivot: I never really decided that it was sort of decided for me. The dude I was with was like, that was in the band was like, why don't you go to law school? Like he saw that could make money and buy [00:07:00] instruments and buy stuff. Right. Buy things. It's like, I don't like. Okay. You know, might as well have everybody that I was around would always say that I cross examine them.
I didn't know I was doing that, but that's what they say. When I meet them, then I start asking him a million questions. I was cross examined and everybody was sort of encouraging me to be a lawyer. And so I said, okay, I'll do it. I mean, my attitude was, it's a really good education. You know, that's what my dad, I was, it's a good education.
You can't go wrong. And it is, it's a great education. It teaches you how to think. And I thought, I'll just get a law related of job. I don't necessarily have to be a lawyer, you know, at that point. So I still wasn't really thinking I'm going to be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: So you were getting encouragement from both your punk rock friends and from your family to go to law school.
Tamara Zivot: Yeah. Well my family at this point had like really [00:08:00] almost disowned me because you know, I wasn't pursuing what they wanted me to.
Louis Goodman: You went to Michigan. How did you decide to go there?
Tamara Zivot: Yeah. And I'm glad I chose it. It was different. Different than anything it was a different college experience.
First of all, didn't, you know, that I've ever been to. It was like, I don't know. I wasn't that into the whole thing at UCLA, but I don't know, Michigan is very interesting. I liked it.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific about that.
Tamara Zivot: Okay. Well, I mean, first I didn't even really know about it. I didn't know about law school and I did not grow up in a law environment. It was medical and I just really had no clue what was going on. And just, I heard scuttlebutt going around Michigan. You get to go to mission, like you just sounded. Wow. And it just sounded really interesting to me. And I started looking at it and said, wow, this school is like, very well regarded.
And like they had a good band. Their band is like a really good band and a lot of athletes train there. They've got good sports [00:09:00] teams. And I was like, this is like a real college type thing. Like you see in those old movies and stuff, that's right. I'm going to go. And I want to set different. I've been on the West coast, my whole life, you know.
Louis Goodman: It was colder there than it was in Las Vegas or UCLA?
Tamara Zivot: I was, but I adapted pretty quickly to the cold. It was weird kind of no, because you know, even in Las Vegas it did snow and once in a while for snow was pretty decent. Cause it was over there by that Reno snow, which is really good. And there's no as like ice and then, you know, we would get a car and you just start sliding, you know, woo. Hope that you don't hit anything. I wasn't used to that. I used to business and scraping your windows and all that. That was wild for me.
Louis Goodman: Well, aside from the icy driving experiences, what did you think of law school?
Tamara Zivot: I really liked it. It was what I liked the form of the Socratic Method, where you're [00:10:00] talking and you could just argue, start arguing.
You can, and as you had to read the cases, I felt like you, you had to kind of my thing, cause you kind of be a good student. I think to be a law in law school. It's cause you got to read stuff. Like I think medical school would have been easy. Cause it's like memory. I can memorize stuff. That's not a problem.
It's like with law schools, like you had to analyze, you know, you had to, I remember someone saying, can I bring this book? And he goes, you can bring it, whatever. Yeah. It's not going to help you. You know, you're going to have to look at the facts and analyze it and the book's not going to help you.
So go ahead, run whatever you want. So I liked that aspect and you had to read the cases or some people sat in the back or read newspapers the entire time? And there were several really, really, I'd never been around brilliant students like that. I mean, where I just, I mean, I used to be like the top of my class, even at UCLA.
And it was like easy for me, but I got to Michigan. It was like [00:11:00] hard and it was like, oh it was hard work. And there was very, very brilliant people in my class that would get up and they would start talking, like oh my God. You know? So I was just blown away by some of the people in there that are brilliant.
Louis Goodman: I thought that in law school that there were some really brilliant people there. I mean, I thought that it was that there were really smart people around much smarter than. I really ever been around before all grouped in one place. So what was your first legal job?
Tamara Zivot: Really? The Public Defender’s Office.
Louis Goodman: Well, how did you end up going to Riverside Public Defenders Office.
Tamara Zivot: It was like,
Louis Goodman: Why there, as opposed to everywhere?
Tamara Zivot:. I said, I just couldn't apply. You know? And I went on a lot of interviews. I had to travel. Where was I living at that time? It was San Diego area, I think. And I had to take like a bus over.
I didn't have [00:12:00] any money and I had to take a bus to Riverside, for my interview. I remember that. And, and I didn't even really have a clue about what they did. I told you I'm still not seasoned. And I think I watched some law stuff on television, but, you know, it was just the stories that compelled me.
I wasn't even still really, I mean, some of the, you know, you watch them do trials. It's exciting, you know, and we watched them do live court stuff. That's exciting to watch, watch some cross examining and talking to juries. So, you know, it's not like I didn't see that stuff, but I just wasn't, I don't think I was imagining myself ever doing that at that point.
I didn't have hope, clue exactly what they did well. Yeah. I figured it out pretty quickly. And it was like, wow. I just loved it. I was like, you know, first starting up getting paid that much money, put it with like so cool to me. I was like, you know, I was full of kind of anger and rage at this point.
Punk music does [00:13:00] that to you. And, and it was like, I channeled it. It was like, this is so cool. I was going to trial and doing motion straight up. I'm like I did my first motion. It was a DUI suppression motion for one of those DUI stops where they stop you at a DUI checkpoint, you know? And I was like, I remember they were, so we were doing the calendar and you know, didn't do deputies and they go, to our head’s emotion.
And they started moving all the tables away. Like I was just sitting there. I was like, Oh my God. Well, it's like, at that moment, it hit me in my eye. I could see my heart. I was like, I don't even know if I could, I've never done this. I've not even done mock trial. I'd never done any cross examination. I went home.
Nobody really helped me. I went home. I said, I guess I got to ask this guy questions, but I just figured out what questions. To get the most, the best answers right. That I needed to get. And I just sort of figured it out. I never had any training in this. I didn't even know criminal procedures. So I was just like trying to figure it out.
I get there, [00:14:00] the heart's beating out of my chest. I said, I don't even know if I could do this. I didn't ask anybody. I don't know what I'm doing. I said, okay, just calm down either you can do it or you don't, if you totally screw up, the guy can appeal. I'm sure he'll be fine. And you just find something else to do.
Right. I said, no one's going to remember you. So I calmed down. I, one of the motion, I just started asking questions. I just fell into it. And it was like, Okay. This is pretty natural. And I started going to trial. They were telling me this is what the deputies would say, bring your toothbrush tomorrow to finish tomorrow.
I was like, what? I didn't understand what that meant. Cause I was like challenging the judges and they thought I was going to get taken in. That's what that meant. So finally I just stayed with that lip and I was like full of faith and it was like, I was digging, going to trial. I just go to trial, you know?
They would handle your stuff downstairs, continuing your matters that could go to trial. All I wanted; it was just great.
Louis Goodman: Some point you ended up coming up to the Bay [00:15:00] Area. How did you make that decision?
Tamara Zivot: Quite honestly, I liked it, cooler weather. I was moving a lot. I tended to, I don't know if it's because how, like, what would happen when I was going to college.
And that was sort of weird from, you know, having a lot of abundance then going to nothing. And then, you know, I started working at the Public Defender's Office. I became a three pretty quickly yesterday making some money and then like, so I started making some money and it was like, I don't know if I'm addicted to the struggle or what, but I tended to just sort of give everything away and we'll sort of like do coming up again. I did that a lot and then I wanted to go, I went to the Bay Area. I goes, why am I not living here? So nice out here. Is that going to live here? So I got up and I moved to the Bay Area and I was doing appeals at that time. And funny enough, one of my colleagues from the Riverside Public Defender's Office was also up here doing appeals.
It's happened to me at one of [00:16:00] their little seminars. And that was just, that was a really a nice reunion. And so, yeah, so I came up here and then I started, then I applied to panels. I wanted to get back into trial work.
Louis Goodman: So that's when you got on the Alameda County Court Appointed Panel. What do you really like about practicing law?
Tamara Zivot: What do I really like? I like beating the DA's. I like beating the Government. It gives me a really good satisfaction. When they read a verdict, they say not guilty. It's just like the best high in the whole world. It just feels so, so good. It's like rethought, whatever you had to go through to get to that point. It's worth it.
Louis Goodman: If a young person with an interest in punk rock and other things, you know, I mean, seriously, if someone were, you know, coming out of college and thinking about a career, do you think you'd recommend going into law?
Tamara Zivot: Well, yeah. I mean, because people will ask me to say, how might we want to go live guys? So you should, you know, you'll never [00:17:00] regret the education. You don't go. Damn. I wish I just got that great education. What am I going to do with it? You always have that. You always have a great education. It's great. Follow that degree, you know, it's great. You might pursue something else and say, you know what, I'm going to go ahead and pick that degree up again.
Louis Goodman: How has actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations about it?
Tamara Zivot: Well, like I said, I didn't have any expectations because I didn't really think I was going to practice law, but I guess when I started, my whole training has been in Court Appointed. I did Court Appointed, you know, from the beginning and I've always been on panels.
It was Court Appointed for Appeals. Court Appointed now. And so, you know, now I'm starting to get into private. So that's the expectation. I have a little bit leery on, but so like the Court Appointed stuff and the Public Defender stuff that was comfortable, I was comfortable with that. I had no expectations of that, and that was comfortable with that.
Now I'm transitioning from some Court [00:18:00] Appointed to private and that's very difficult. I'm saying how that's working and that's a little more difficult.
Louis Goodman: Why was it more difficult?
Tamara Zivot: You have to do, it's hard to be a lawyer. You have a lot of work to do you really work for your money. And then now that you have to like hustle work, you have to get work.
You have to be a diplomat and you have to have goodwill and you have to be able to advertise yourself, however you do it. And it's just, to me, that's harder.
Louis Goodman: Can you think of a case that went really well for you? Wow. I really did a good job for a client.
Tamara Zivot: Yes. Well, I like to think I do a good job for all my cases.
I have handled many, many thousands of cases. I was at the Riverside Public Defender's Office when they stopped declaring conflicts. And I was on a calendar the entire time. Yeah. I said a lot of trials believe me, but yeah. Okay. So I do remember misdemeanor trial and it was, the guy was going to have serious [00:19:00] consequences.
The guy was going to have to register. As it 290 register is going to get deported. It was like the tribal last statute. And, and yeah, it was like maybe my sixth trial. And then the, my supervisor, Brett. The new, this misdemeanor deputies in to watch me. So I was very, very honored and flattered by that.
And the guy cried, he needed an interpreter and the guy cried. And so it was like, that was like a big moment for me. And then also the Judge bless him. I love this Judge, because he was fair. And the DA, there was a charge, another charge, like a stupid. A licensed charge, some other little charge. Okay.
Your car wasn't parked, right. Or it might not have been the auto, but it was there some other little charge that I, I guess I had offered early on. I said, let him plead to this. It doesn't have all that serious immigration consequences and other consequences. And the guy said, no, we did it in front of the judge.
And [00:20:00] then, so at this point, ----------,. So that charge came up because it was sort of, the DA was pissed that I have just one, he goes, what about this other charge, your honor, we still have that to contend with. And the judge goes, no, I was there when she offered to settle it. And you said, no. So I'm dismissing that dismissed in the interest of justice.
And that was probably the brightest win for me at that level. Cause this guy couldn't beat me. This DA couldn't beat me. He didn't know what I was doing. He said, what are you doing? What's your defense? He was like, it just wanted to beat me. And at that moment I was very, very happy. So that was a good trial.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the system's fair?
Tamara Zivot: Well, I can tell you that I can only comment on the criminal justice system from what I've seen and how I've been in courtrooms and my own personal involvement in the criminal justice system. It's not fair to anybody. It is, I think the idea that it's possibly fair, it's just not fair.
I mean, you know, to the people that call themselves the victims, I don't see how they're any better off, you know, [00:21:00] they're just mired all this anger and retribution because that's what the system is going to do to you. That you're going to go to court every game, be angry. And you know, then of course the defendants, you know, I see how I Veritas to the defendants.
We can get into that more deeply, but so it's not fair to anybody. And then they put the person into prison for ridiculous amounts of time that they shouldn't even be in prison at all. And it's just the whole system just doesn't seem the right way to deal with other humans.
Louis Goodman: Have you had any mentors along the way, people who've kind of helped you out, giving you some ideas?
Tamara Zivot: Well, you know, like I said, I've been lucky enough to shadow a lot of attorneys that are seasoned. Like there's people like you, I could watch you in court. I've always watched how other people handle their matters in court. I've gone to, I've always sat, you know, what's he getting, educating myself, like when I was at Public Defenders Office, you know, like my first trial, I said, I got to do good.
So I would go and watch others. Oh my God, the best [00:22:00] education is reading other, other attorney's transcripts. So reading the transcripts at the Public Defender's Office, I spent a lot of time. I would get up at two in the morning, go to the gym, go to the Public Defender's Office. Start reading books, transcripts.
I would sit after hours. I used to go visit my clients and I would sit after hours and watch trials.
Louis Goodman: Well, you've mentioned going to the gym. What other sorts of recreational things do you enjoy?
Tamara Zivot: I like doing anything outdoors, outdoor sports. I like doing at the gym. I like to lift weights outdoors.
That's where I would get like cardio. Like I love to cycle. I love to, I don't really like to jog and listen going uphill. I like that kind of stuff. And I like music. I'm very, you know, of course I told you I was at piano player and I was in a lot of different bands, you know, both formalized at school as well as later on.
So I like, I love music. I love listening to music.
Louis Goodman: What sort of music do you listen to these days?
[00:23:00] Tamara Zivot: Same music. I've always listened to. I've always been into jazz. I love jazz. Okay. It's complete amalgamation of everybody and everything is American made. I love old jazz, new jazz. It said there was a funk to my punk.
I love punk. I love country. I love heavy metal. I love jazz, I love hip hop. I love just about everything. I love classical.
Louis Goodman: You say you have children?
Tamara Zivot: Yeah. I've got two, two boys.
Louis Goodman: Really how old are they?
Tamara Zivot: They're in their twenties, early twenties,
Louis Goodman: When you were raising your children. How did that work into your practice of law?
Tamara Zivot: It was a little bit difficult to try to, that's why it's good. I, you know, I have a public defender experience that because you know, they sort of did the business part. I just had to do my law, but you know, I was also learning all the time. So I would go there. I spend a lot of my hours [00:24:00] there, so I didn't get to spend a lot of time with them.
So that was hard. But you know what, when I was doing appeals work, that was better. Cause I could be home with my kids.
Louis Goodman: What kind of things keep you up at night?
Tamara Zivot: I got to tell you about something, but my parents thought I was going to do, but I'll tell you about that later. What keeps me up at night? I just, I can't sleep.
I have insomnia. I have a weird energy going through with it. That I can't shut down.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you came into some real money, you know, you fell into a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently?
Tamara Zivot: Nothing really. I mean, I've had money and you know, I've made money. I bought houses and I made money and I don't have a weird relationship with money.
I don't like the habit or something. I just started spending it and I just don't really, like I said, I liked the struggle. I liked the idea of trying to make money better. I like that feeling better. I wouldn't do anything. I think they're just, [00:25:00] I don't know, give it to my kids. Yeah. Give it to my kid.
I think that's the only thing I would do different. Give it to my kids.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you had a magic wand; you could change one thing in the world and the legal world or otherwise. What would that be?
Tamara Zivot: Love, just love.
Louis Goodman: Tamara Zivot, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I appreciate your interesting stories about your life and your practice of law.
Good talking to you. And I hope to see you again soon.
Tamara Zivot: Back at you.
Louis Goodman: That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed Joel Katz for music, Brian Mathison and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.