Question: What is a typical day like for you?
Answer: A cell phone battery that dies at 2 in the afternoon from overuse. At least one completely unexpected emergency from a client. A court appearance or deposition. Calls with people of the community interested in some issue of great importance to them. Ideally, followed by a good dinner with close friends. Topped off by reading part of a good book that has nothing to do with the law until complete exhaustion puts you to bed.
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: "The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million" by Daniel Mendelsohn, who undertakes what might almost be called detective work to determine the fate of six distant relatives lost in the Holocaust. It was a phenomenal book. It had enormous amounts to say about the importance of family.
Q: Speaking of family, did your dad in any way inspire you to pursue a legal career?
A: Yes. Etched in my memory are dinner table conversations about all manner of criminal trials, including two years worth of daily updates in the Hillside Strangler case; my father was the judge in the case. But what most stands out and led me to become a lawyer was my father's constant reaffirmation of the fortunate situation we are in the United States, where we live by the rule of law and the concept that no individual, no matter their birth, their power, their money, is above that rule.
Q: What type of a law do you practice?
A: I have a diversified business law practice. My firm prides itself on being not just a group of civil litigators but actual trial lawyers. We thoroughly enjoy taking cases to trial when that is appropriate. The types of cases we handle range from business disputes in the securities area and real estate to intellectual property and Indian law.
Q: What kind of work do you do for American Indian tribes?
A: I have done some work for tribes and some work against tribes. One case against a tribe involved representing an investment firm in a contract dispute with the Chukchansi Rancheria band of Indians in Northern California related to the construction of a hotel and casino. We won a $23 million judgment against the tribe. I have also represented tribes in property disputes. These types of cases are a small part of my practice, but it is an interesting area of law because you get into questions of citizenship, jurisdiction and sovereignty.
Q: What do you enjoy most about practicing law?
A: The most satisfying aspect about practicing law is that each time a new client walks through your door and lays bare a problem, if you do your job well, you have a chance to improve their situation and to right what may be a substantial wrong. If you have done a good job by the time the arbitration or trial is over, you will have found a remarkably grateful client and every once in a while a new friendship.
Q: What compels you to carve out time from your private practice to work on selection committees for judges and prosecutors?
A: I would call it a sacrifice except for the fact that I enjoy public service work so much. I find it very fulfilling to be able to play a role in the various types of public service I have been fortunate enough to be involved in, whether its judicial selection or serving on the 9th Circuit advisory board. If you approach positions of public leadership in an appropriate and humble way, it enables you to give back the best of what you have learned in a manner that affects many people across the board. And if you are lucky, helps to improve every particular public sphere you are working in.
Q: Your law firm, Browne Woods & George LLP, which has about 16 attorneys, is merging with Drier Stein & Kahan LLP, which has more than 60. Why did that happen?
A: We felt this was a great opportunity to expand the type of practice we have and also to deepen the practice we currently have and thereby better serve our clients in a whole array of matters. Now instead of servicing clients only in business litigation and trial matters, we can also provide them first-class transactional legal counsel on a bicoastal basis.
Q: How do you balance your private practice responsibilities and obligations with those that come with your public service commitments?
A: I don't really draw much of a distinction. Those matters that are the most time sensitive I am going to deal with first, whether they're public service or private practice. I think one of the aims is to find the right place to strike a balance, whether it's in life or the way that you handle your tasks on a day-to-day basis.
Q: In a profession that puts a premium on experience and age, you have risen to a powerful position relatively young. How do you respond when people do not take you seriously?
A: I like to think I have worked hard to do well at the various positions I have been fortunate to hold over the years and to serve well the various clients rather public or private that I have been fortunate to represent. It is extraordinarily easy to ruin a reputation and incredibly difficult to make one. I think that truth has to make one think carefully before giving in to an impulse to fire back or become angry. Instead I try to step back and apply a little wisdom to whatever situation I am confronted with.
Q: Do you see yourself seeking a judicial appointment or maybe even running for elective office one day?
A: I really don't believe so. I value my privacy. I value my ability to express my opinions candidly. And I believe that traditional elective office is a profession that calls for a candidate with a temperament that may not truly be the one that I have. I really enjoy the position of being able to advise, when asked for advice, those people who do occupy elective office and to offer perspectives that I don't have the ability to offer if I were myself in elective office.
Q: You have advised Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on legal matters; what are your impressions of him?
A: I have found the governor to be remarkably engaging and quick, and though not a lawyer, very sensitive to the legal issues that impact his decisions. As far as judicial selections, I think the appointees to the trial and appellate court he has made in Los Angeles have been superb, not to mention a very diversified group. I think the governor has done a very good job of that one thing that is most important to maintaining public support and that is communication.
Q: What are your thoughts on the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination?
A: I am going to take the Fifth. I'll discuss that one over a good glass of scotch.
Q: How do you respond to the recent controversy over the Bush administration's handling of the staffing of federal prosecutor slots?
A: I am very proud of the work on U.S. attorney and judicial appointments we have done in California with this administration. I think it took a lot of foresight and courage to put together the bipartisan selection committee that the president put together, and the proof is in the result that we have achieved very quick confirmations for a substantial number of federal appointees who have been very well received in the legal community.
Q: What are the attributes and characteristics you look for in making recommendations about judicial appointments?
A: Humility. Anybody who comes before a judicial selection panel has the requisite intelligence and, presumably, work ethic. But the great indefinable quality that lends itself to a great judge I believe is humility. The humility to exercise great caution and even second-guessing, to try to get the law right and the humility to realize it is a privilege to stand in judgment over your fellow citizens and never to abuse the power that comes along with a black robe.
Q: How do you know you have picked the right person?
A: It is a fascinating process to learn how certain judges make reputations for themselves in the community. From the standpoint of somebody involved in judicial selections, you want to be able to look back and say to yourself that person is a terrific pick for whichever appointing authority ultimately appointed that judge.
Q: What character traits do you look for in filling U.S. attorney positions?
A: Some of the top qualities of prosecutors are courage and fairness: courage to do what might be politically unpopular and fairness when the facts might merit leniency or possibly the dismissal of criminal charges, despite the political unpopularity of pursing that course. The judge for whom I clerked for, D. Lowell Jensen in the northern district of California, he was one the most respected prosecutors the state has ever had. He was the district attorney of Alameda County. And he pressed those points on me, and I will never forget them.
Q: In 2000, you returned to Los Angeles after living in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Sacramento. Why?
A: My two brothers and many of my dearest friends are a part of my Los Angeles world. My roots have always been in Los Angeles and that's where I knew I would want to return.
Firm: Browne Woods & George LLP
Born: Los Angeles; 1968
Education: B.A., Georgetown University; J.D., Georgetown University Law Center
Career Turning Points: Clerking for federal Judge D. Lowell Jensen directly after law school; serving as deputy legal affairs secretary for Gov. Pete Wilson; working as counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee; working with law firm partners Allan Browne and Edward Woods
Most Influential People: His parents, Ronald and Barbara George
Personal: Lives in Beverly Hills; single
Hobbies: Reading and golf
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