Oct 03, 2018
A Farewell Chat with Ed Berberian
Oct 03, 2018
By Thomas S. Brown
As we enter the final weeks of election season, I thought it would be an opportune time to sit down with District Attorney Edward S. Berberian. Ed and I discussed some of his highlights and challenges as District Attorney, the current election, his retirement plans, and what he will miss most about the job.
Beginning with the obvious question, “Why retire?” Ed answered simply, “42 years and family.” Ed cited his wife’s support for his career and said that it was clearly past time for him to devote more to his family, which includes four adult children and eight grandchildren. Despite his career in the legal field, none of his kids wanted to touch the law: two have followed paths in education, one works for a veterinary hospital and the fourth is a stay-at-home dad, a career Ed will pursue shortly.
Ed started out as a Fine Arts major at the University of Arizona but was always fascinated with the engagement of the courtroom. He elected to go to law school at the University of San Francisco and then embarked on a career in the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. Ed remarked that the only place to get real courtroom experience was working in a public law practice where you are dealing with judges and juries on a regular basis and becoming a prosecutor satisfied his desire to consistently be in a courtroom.
Ed was appointed to serve as District Attorney in January 2005 when Paula Kamena retired prior to the expiration of her term. Ed went on to serve three terms as the elected District Attorney. When asked to mention a few of his career highlights, Ed brightened up and mentioned the partnership between the District Attorney’s Office and the Jeannette Prandi Center that addresses the dangers of social media and texting. Using students from San Marin High School’s drama program, the DA’s Office has produced mini-movies which have been shown to over 7,000 middle school and high school students in Marin County over the years. Ed was very proud of this program which has brought much needed awareness to the County’s youth about the legal and illegal use of social media. He also noted the District Attorney’s Service Dog program in which the office uses a highly trained canine to help children who are victims of violent and other offenses disclose traumatic events and testify in these highly charged and emotional cases. Ed also regularly met with the survivors and family members of victims of violent crimes to counsel and advise them on how the judicial process works and to discuss the resolution of these high profile and often challenging cases. I recall several occasions where Ed took the time to meet with family members in my cases to let them know why the office elected to file (or not file) specific charges. This is part of the job that the public does not see but is critically important to the criminal justice system.
Other projects implemented during Ed’s tenure include the process of sending prosecutors around the state to argue at parole hearings and the creation of the High Tech Task Force, one of only five forensic task forces in the state. Another of Ed’s significant practical accomplishments was the decision to do away with the over 30-year practice of not making sentencing commitments in felony cases. This was widely accepted by line prosecutors, the criminal defense bar and the bench. Keeping in touch with his belief that he would not ask his staff to do anything he was not willing to do, Ed continued to prosecute cases individually as the elected District Attorney, including trying a five-defendant murder case in Novato in 2011. The absorption of the mediation program by the DA’s Consumer Unit and the gun buy-back program are two other programs that Ed has championed as District Attorney.
As for challenges or disappointments, Ed identified a high profile case that involved the second amendment and observed that one of the most significant challenges for a prosecutor is having to tell those affected by a case why the office has elected to make a specific decision or why the office cannot pursue a case. These decisions often frustrate the law enforcement and family members who are closely invested in the outcome of a case.
With respect to the ongoing contested election for District Attorney, Ed remarked that law enforcement is a local responsibility and that politics must be ignored as much as possible for a District Attorney to be effective. He acknowledged that DAs are elected officials and that it is not always easy to ignore politics, but that should be a secondary focus to the true purpose of the job, which is to analyze the facts of an individual case in determining how justice is best served in prosecuting or not prosecuting a case. Ed cautioned against the temptation to make a statement about legal issues based on current polling, as the opinions of your constituents can and will change over time and it does a disservice to the position to try and implement policy changes based on what is currently popular. I asked Ed why he did not originally endorse a candidate as is common in local elections and he said that since there were multiple candidates, including two from within the office, he felt it was his responsibility as a leader to not divide the office in some way. There have been obvious disagreements among the office but he felt that overall the staff has handled the matter very professionally, a welcome occurrence in light of prior contested elections. Ed is now formally endorsing Lori Frugoli, as he believes that Lori has the requisite experience and is most familiar with what is involved in managing the District Attorney’s Office on a day-to-day basis.
We also discussed the relationship between the prosecutors and the Marin County Bar Association. Ed, who along with deputy district attorney Otis Bruce, has served as President of the MCBA, said that it was a “tough nut to crack,” as traditionally, the prosecutors have not looked outside the office. He has tried to change this a bit, paying for the bar membership for his attorneys and encouraging the attorneys to become more engaged in the community that they represent on a daily basis.
His retirement plans include taking each of his grandchildren on high school graduation trips. As a precursor, Ed and his wife recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking the entire family on a Disney cruise.
Looking back on his career, Ed said that he would miss the people in the office and felt that the most rewarding part of the job has been helping people who are often at the lowest points in their lives.
I asked Judge Haakenson about Ed's retirement, who had this to say: "I have known Ed for all of my 26 years working under Frank Lloyd Wright’s blue roof. As a young prosecutor, I was privileged to know him as a colleague, a boss, a mentor, and a friend. He is one of the longest serving public servants Marin County has ever seen, and has consistently served the county with honor and distinction. He is also one of few elected District Attorneys who has taken a hands on approach, personally trying some of the most difficult cases in the county, while simultaneously heading the office. The citizens of Marin are lucky to have had Mr. Berberian at the helm of the DA’s office for so long. He will be missed."
Please join me in congratulating Ed Berberian on a career of public service well served and a retirement well earned. All the best, ESB!
Continuing this theme of transition, we are pleased to announce the proposed slate of officers and directors for 2019. The officers include the following: Charles Dresow, President; Susan Feder, President-Elect; J. Timothy Nardell, Treasurer; Robert Rosborough, Secretary; and Dave Feingold, 5-Year Past President. The new directors are: Michael Chaput, Habib Bentaleb, Kelley Reid, Sarah Leger, and Ahtossah Fullerton. The slate was formally announced at the September membership meeting and will be voted on at the upcoming October meeting, which features the Annual Judges Luncheon. We look forward to seeing you then.
Finally, a brief comment about the recent roll-out of our ListServ program. We piloted the ListServ program with one of our sections, which found it a very useful tool for communicating with section members about legal issues, referrals, and other matters. We apologize for not briefing the membership more fully during the roll-out but the feedback we have received is that this is something that the membership would find beneficial. We will roll out the ListServ again in the next couple of months. We will give detailed instructions when we do but we will ask members to “opt in” in order to join. The default format will also be a single daily digest with the prior day’s emails, with the option to switch to real-time receipt. Because of the (affordable) system we use, our dedicated staff have to manually log each of these choices but we trust that this approach will encourage use of the ListServ and create a convenient forum for member dialogue.
As always, please let me know if there is anything we can do to assist your practice. See you around the courts.
- Tom Brown
Thomas S. Brown is Of Counsel at Foley and Lardner LLP where he is a member of the Firm’s Government Enforcement Defense & Investigations Practice Group. He is President of the Marin County Bar Association and earned his B.A. from UC Berkeley and J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law.