assert the human rights and the statutory
rights that they would otherwise be able
to assert, and are therefore subject to an
extra level of oppression or exploitation.
That can create a bad situation.
Q: An older case of yours, People v.
Marron, got overturned as a result of
racist jury comments.
A: There was a guy on the jury who said
any Mexican with a gun is guilty.
Q: Sounds anti-NRA.
A: It managed, at the same time, to offend
enthusiasts of the Second Amendment and
people who are against racism.
Q: Which case are you most proud of?
A: [Pause] I represented a border patrol
agent, Sergio Lopez, who was doing an
undercover operation in Chula Vista,
California. Now, mind you, he had
waist-length hair, he was driving in an
unmarked car, and he properly used his
flashing lights and siren going through
some intersections as he tried to get back
to a position where he was conducting
surveillance. But the Chula Vista Police
Department didn’t like his attitude. So
when he got out of his car and said, “Hey,
what the hell are you doing? I’m a federal
agent. We called you guys,” they decided
that they would throw him to the ground,
causing him to aggravate a neck injury, and
threaten to tase him—even though they
knew he was a border patrol agent. They
kept him in handcuffs, seated on the curb
to humiliate him for about 40 minutes.
We asked the jury to return a verdict of $1
million, but they were so outraged by the
conduct of the police department that they
returned a verdict of $2.2 million.
Q: What cases are you working on now?
A: We have four wrongful death cases in
the office now. One is Anastasio Hernandez
Rojas, who was killed by repeated tasings
after he was handcuffed and on the ground
at the port of entry in San Ysidro.
Q: You also represent powerful people—
like Mayor Maureen O’Connor.
A: Yes. It was actually a very tragic case.
Maureen O’Connor was one of the finest
mayors San Diego has ever had. But
after she retired from being mayor, after
her term was up, her husband, Robert
O. Peterson, who was the man who
founded Jack in the Box, died. She was
all alone. Unbeknownst to her, she was
also developing a brain tumor, which
was in the part of the brain that governs
impulse control, among other things. So
she began to gamble very heavily and lose.
Ultimately, she went through about $20 or
Q: I thought it was a billion-dollar
gambling problem. That’s what I read.
A: That’s what the government wanted for
the press release. It’s a billion dollars in net
losses, but $975 million in net gains.
What happened is she took $2 million
from a foundation that was set up by
her late husband, and of which she was
the trustee, but it’s not as though she
embezzled the money. She was there, and
she wanted to pay the money back. But
whether it was actually a federal crime
is highly questionable. So we agreed to
defer the prosecution for a period of two
years. She has made payments that she
can toward the tax debt and will make
payments, if she can, toward the payment of
the loan back to the foundation. But in any
event, so long as she does the best she can
and stays out of trouble, we’ll have the case
dismissed next year without a conviction.
Q: Have you ever disliked any of your
A: Yes, but very few.
A: There’s a natural impulse on the part
of the client to cooperate with the lawyer
and the lawyer to help the client. Part of it
is financial from the lawyer’s point of view,
but part of it is that you genuinely develop
a relationship. You read things, and in the
abstract, you say, “Oh my God, look at this
charge. How could somebody do that?” Then
you find it’s not quite what is presented, or
maybe it’s not factually correct. Or even if it
is factually correct, there’s an explanation, or
certainly there’s mitigation.
So instead of judging people, if you
just listen to them, sometimes you’ll be
able to find that what Solzhenitsyn said is
the truth: that the dividing line between
good and evil runs not between countries
or social classes or political parties, but
through the heart and soul of each and
every person in the world.
Q: That’s fantastic. Not enough people
memorize great lines of literature.
A: Well, that’s the other tragedy. When
I was a young lawyer, you could hear
lawyers speak, and closing arguments
were, compared to what you hear today,
models of oratory and eloquence. Now,
unfortunately—partially because of the
change in the culture, which would make
excessive quoting or formality stilted and
unpersuasive, but also partially because we
don’t have as many trials and the kind of
practice that we should—you see a failure
to have an appreciation for the language,
which is, after all, one of the most beautiful
in the world.
Q: Over the course of your career, have
the kinds of cases that come to you
shifted? If so, does it represent a change
in the larger culture?
A: You know what I’ve noticed? The
mentality that you used to see only in drug
cases is the same mentality that you see in
many white-collar cases.
A: Meaning that at some point, the people
who do business in this country adopted
the ethic of gangsters. Except that the
drug dealers are far more honest and
Q: If you could give one piece of advice
to a young trial lawyer about trial
technique, what would it be?
A: It would be: practice. Go to trial
advocacy programs. Practice, practice,
practice. I would add this second
admonition: Watch other lawyers, go to
court and steal. If you see something
nice, steal. If you read some quote in the
newspaper that you like, steal. With respect
to trial practice, there is no copyright law.
This interview has been edited and condensed.