Boxes rise to the ceiling in Jacqueline Goodman’s cramped office, thanks to remodeling in her Fullerton law-office building. Thumbing through an old file recently, she stops at a folder labeled “Death Threats.” After buzzing her assistant, an alarmed Goodman asks, “We have a file for death threats?”
Indeed she does. That’s what happens when you represent some of Orange County’s most despised defendants. Her clients have included Andrew Gallo, a drunk driver who caused a crash that killed Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart and two of his friends; Sonia Hermosillo, who faced a murder count for tossing her 7-month-old son to his death from a hospital parking structure’s fourth floor; and members of the Irvine 11, the Muslim students prosecuted for disrupting a UC Irvine speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States in a case that generated international headlines.
As Goodman reads through the folder’s contents, her fear and repulsion turn to . . . pride. “How many people have that?” asks Goodman from behind a glass-top desk that was her mother’s kitchen table in a previous incarnation. “I look at it like a badge of honor. . . . People in trouble want someone who works hard, who is a scrapper.”
If she sounds feisty, you’ve nailed it. Goodman comes in a small package—and from tough stock. Her maternal grandmother was a 1930s-era feminist who had a taquito stand on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, made a fortune and bought houses all over Southern California to move her fellow family members from Mexico into, Goodman says. Her father had a Russian-Jewish background and lost many family members in the Holocaust; he was a hippie when he met Goodman’s mother, a hippie herself. “My parents were anti-religious and anti-establishment,” Goodman says.
Goodman’s parents moved from LA to Whittier, where she was born. She looked up to her older brother Mark, who was socially conscious and graduated from paralegal school. He was also a schizophrenic who self-medicated with drugs, descended into homelessness and was ultimately found dead on a Santa Monica beach. She credits his intense quest for social justice with inspiring her legal career. “He would have made a better lawyer than me,” Goodman says. “I know he planted those seeds in my head.”
She went to Western State School of Law in Fullerton, where she met criminal-defense lawyer John Dolan and offered to work for him for free. Goodman went on to surround herself with the best local legal minds she could find, including Steph DeSales and veteran Orange County defense attorney John Barnett. When an office opened up at a Fullerton building owned by DeSales, he offered it to Goodman, who never left. “He taught me the profession,” she says, “not just as a career, but [also as] a way of life.”
Goodman founded and served as the first president of the North Orange County Bar Association and frequently speaks at law schools across the country. Honoring her with the 2012 Skip Glen Award, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice judges wrote, “Proudly standing beside the unpopular, the reviled and the condemned in their hour of need, her humility, combined with her legendary sense of humor, has earned Jacqueline the respect and admiration of everyone she interacts with—from the bench to the bar, from the press to her puppies.”
Reflecting on her career, Goodman concedes she is at a crossroads. She wants to tackle hot topics like prosecutorial misconduct, overcriminalization, mass incarceration and solitary confinement—especially for juveniles. “I think that, having done this 21 years, I feel like I have the need to have a greater impact than I can have with one case at a time,” she says. “Now a good percentage of my work life is dedicated to efforts to bring about systemic changes to ensure a more civilized, more just society.”
For more information about Jacqueline Goodman, visit www.californiadefenselawyer.net.