May 06, 2017
May 06, 2017
By Toussaint Bailey
What is your practice area?
My practice area is Criminal and I am currently assigned as a Deputy Public Defender in Marin County to do all felonies all day everyday – felony domestic violence cases, assault cases, sexual assault cases, stabbing cases, almost anything that walks in the door.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
When I was in high school at Galileo (San Francisco), I had a civics teacher named Ms. Sutherland who noticed that I was very interested in history and civic engagement. At some point during the class, we became close and she took on a mentor role to me. One day she just said “Eva, I think you would be a really good lawyer.”
Why did you decide to be a Public Defender?
I always knew that I wanted to do a social justice type job. Before I became a public defender, I helped out as a paralegal at Catholic Charities, after which I also worked for Mission Legal Defense helping low income seniors. But at the end of the day I knew that ultimately I wanted to work as a public defender.
Public defender work is attractive to me because it touches on so many different areas of interest. For instance, it’s partly drama, it’s partly helping people who are marginalized, it’s partly arguing about our constitution and the laws, and the application of the constitution and our laws to our judicial system. I think, and I argue this in closing all the time, that our judicial system really is the best in the world as far as I can tell.
There is no other judicial system that I have read about, or seen in person, that I think is as glorious as ours. “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is a very compelling construct for me, as well as “innocent until proven guilty.” In our system of justice we have decided, as a people, that it is better that 10 guilty persons are set free rather than one innocent person be wrongly convicted. I like that, and that is how it should be when you have the awesome power of the government prosecuting the lone individual in a criminal matter where his or her liberty interest is at stake.
You said you attended to high school in San Francisco. How did you end up practicing in Marin?
My family immigrated to the United States when I was about five years old to Detroit, Michigan, and eventually relocated to California in 1974-75. I did all my schooling and most of my jobs in San Francisco. I had decided that since what I really wanted was to do criminal defense work I better start networking. At that point, I was willing to go anywhere to be a public defender. To that end I contacted Enrique Ramirez, then-President of the La Raza Bar Association, and was told that Marin was desperately in need of a bilingual public defender and had asked for a recommendation. He recommended me! I was pleased and flattered. I came to Marin as a contract attorney for bilingual work. They kept extending my contract and ultimately I was hired on full-time, so I stayed. It was exactly the kind of work I wanted to do.
If you could pursue any other career besides law, what would it be?
Music if I had any talent. I would be a singer or stand-up bass player. That is seriously what I would try to do if I had that kind of talent. When I was in high school, I was thinking about the visual arts as an artist. At the end of the day, I wasn’t sure I could help anybody with art. I am not saying some artists don’t, but I wasn’t sure I could. I thought public defender work was really the kind of work I can do where I’m actually helping people on a daily basis.
There are so many people I come across who want to quit their corporate jobs and do more altruistic work. Some end up working for us or volunteering for us. I’m in the wonderful position that I don’t have to quit my regular job to do good deeds.
Why did you decide to get involved in MCBA?
I joke that I joined because Dorothy Proudfoot asked me to. Partly that is true, I really like her and I have a lot of respect for her. The real reason though is because I really wanted to become more involved in the community that I had just recently moved to. I lived in the City, I lived in Sonoma, I lived in the East Bay, but I decided a couple years ago that I did not want to commute anymore. I moved to Marin so that I could walk to work if necessary.
I believe, right now with what’s going on politically, that community engagement is absolutely one of the most critical things that we can do as human beings. In this alienating huge world, the more associations we have, the closer we can get with everybody who lives and works in a particular community, I think the better it is for the community. I really believe in community engagement. I’m happy to see more and more people from my friendship circles joining legal associations and running for office. Law is a wonderful tool to try to get things done and to curb abuses, whether political, economic, social, lifestyle, etc.
If you had to pick a single highlight of your career, what would it be?
The highlight of my career was recognizing—this happened when I had a huge case—that a collaborative approach to doing legal work will garner you the best results. I used to think, "Let me figure this all out … I won’t talk to anybody because they might think that’s a dumb idea." I now recognize the importance of reaching out to your colleagues, to law students, to people who aren’t even in law school, to collaborate … just brainstorming a case. The more the merrier. So now, every single case I have there’s always a law student around or a pre-law student or a colleague whom I can meet with to brainstorm the good, the bad, and the ugly. We discuss what’s going to resonate with the jurors, how people will look at the facts of the case, etc. That’s how I approach cases now and that is my highlight ... learning the collaborative approach to assessing and trying cases.