As the world becomes more transparent thanks to the Internet and technology, I have come to better appreciate the brilliance of our forefathers in creating a government of checks and balances. As a legislator, I’ve focused a lot of my elected career to combating domestic violence, for example making it easier for judges to issue a restraining order and keeping our shelters open. More recently, my attention has turned to the legal system after a victim commits that final act that kills her husband/boyfriend and what happens next.
A District Attorney has a lot of power to decide when to file a charge that enters a person into the criminal justice system. It is a discretionary call that depends on the evidence in the case and the attorney’s ethics and judgment. A jury is instructed to convict a person “beyond a reasonable doubt” so the evidence and facts of the case must be really solid.
I met Frances Young through long time former Ventura County District Attorney Michael Bradbury who personally hand-picked Frances and six others out of Loyola Law School. He proved to be a trusted mentor who taught her great ethics, judgment, balance and to treat people with respect versus as criminals. She was a quick study and went on to work in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office where she’s been for the past 15 years specializing in high profile murder, rape, domestic violence and extortion cases. She heads up the “Unit of One – Special Trials” division where her victims are often the “Who’s Who” in the Rich and Famous crowd. Her cases are complex, take a lot of time and requires her to employ and hone her people skills constantly. Frances has to say “no” a lot and has been threatened many times over her career.
But she’s a tough cookie and learned from her strong mother who eventually had the courage to leave a torturous situation and raise her and her two siblings as a single mom when Frances was 6. Her Filipino mother was a former model who earned two masters degrees but stayed at home early on to take care of the kids. Her father was from a wealthy family from Shanghai; he was the #1 son, an engineer who changed jobs often in the US; he was a very proud man who wanted to keep up with the Jones’ and didn’t want to live within their means. Eventually the IRS and banks caught up with him and he took out his anger and frustration on his wife. Frances remembers her mother asking her if she wanted to leave. Her immediate answer was “yes” and they left for a shelter in San Jose with $20 and a half tank of gas in their Oldsmobile. They never went back. Her mother ended up putting all 3 kids through Catholic schools and bought a house with her sisters. Her entire family on her mother’s side has served in the military and are all committed to public service so it’s no wonder Frances does what she does and is who she is: a classy, humble, grateful, compassionate attorney/mother who continues to want to make a difference in this world.
You’ve been an attorney in the trenches for a long time. What do you appreciate about our criminal justice system?
I most appreciate the human beings who make up the criminal justice system: the witnesses who swallow their fear and courageously tell a court what they witnessed; the victims who re-live their horrors in front of strangers; the defendants who accept responsibility for having done a wrong and who use the rehabilitation opportunities to better themselves and their families; the jurors who perform their duty of citizenship; and all of the lawyers, clerks, court reporters, interpreters, judges, commissioners, and bailiffs who work tirelessly every day to make our system the best in the world.
Who are some of your role models or mentors? Why?
When I was in school, my role models were the Jesuit priests who took a chance on me and gave me opportunities which I would not otherwise have had and the nuns who inspired me to ask my mother if I could go to India to work with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity instead of going to college. She and my parish pastor thought it would be better if I went to college instead. They were probably right. I would have made a terrible nun.
Now that I have had a front row seat, as a career prosecutor, to the very best and the worst of people, my role models are the people who go through the horrors we read about in the newspaper but who choose to go on with their lives with courage and hope instead of falling into the despair which would be so understandable. Every one of them is a hero and it is an honor and a privilege to go to work every day for them.
Speaking of Jesuit priests, our former and current Governor Jerry Brown once considered going into the Seminary. He probably had the same hindsight you did about being a nun but I know you met him in college. Please share with us your story.
I was a college Sophomore and ran for Student Body President as a “write-in” candidate. I campaigned hard and won. It was 1992 and we invited all of the presidential candidates for a forum. Only Jerry Brown responded so my job was to pick him up from the airport by himself (no entourage ). I was driving a dilapidated Renault Encore with a broken passenger seat and was really nervous. He said he was “hankering for carrot juice” so I took him to an Albertson’s where he shook hands with shoppers and really enjoyed himself. They didn’t have carrot juice after all and I was stressed because we were running late by this time. We finally got to Loyola and he gave a wonderful, inspiring speech about public service. He also joked with the President of Loyola Marymount (who was not from California) that he should’ve stayed a Jesuit. At least he could have been President somewhere. I found him to be gracious and he never complained about my car.
What is your advice to young women thinking about going to law school and pursuing a career in the law?
I came from a humble beginning and did everything I could not to ask my mother for help paying for college and law school. The end result was six-digit student loan debt, which the Financial Aid counselor told me would take me 37 years to pay off. I wanted to take a job in public service, which would allow me to interact with people everyday – my true passion. However, the only job I wanted was as a prosecutor with a starting salary that was so low every person in my life told me I would be insane to take the job when I owed four to five times that amount in debt. Only one person, the late Justice Paul Boland, encouraged me to trust that it would work out. I did. And he was right. Sixteen years later, I’m still in public service and it was the best decision I ever made. So, I would advise young men and women that if you feel any desire to pursue a legal job as a public servant – to go for it. It really will work out and we really need you.