Wednesday, January 07, 2015

          Public Service Virtuoso: Tom Gede '81

          The UC Hastings Board of Directors Vice Chair talks about highlights of his career in government and his recent Native American justice commission appointment.
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          Gede arriving in Alaska to investigate Native American justice issues.
          Q: You’ve spent nearly your entire career in public service. Tell us about how you got your start.

          A: I was born in Berkeley, raised in the Bay Area and went to Stanford as an undergrad. There I studied German language and literature and spent a semester at the University of Hamburg, followed by a commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy. I served almost eight years in Vietnam, Japan and Washington, D.C. From the time I went to UC Hastings, I was intent on developing a career in public service, something I view as a special privilege and honor. Following law school, I was a judicial attorney with Associate Justices Edwin Regan and Keith Sparks at the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, and then in 1987, I became a state Deputy Attorney General in the Criminal Division in Sacramento. Later I was promoted by Attorney General Dan Lungren as a special assistant attorney general, which is effectively counsel to the AG, where I had oversight and policy review authority in the area of public rights. I also served as the amicus coordinator and Supreme Court counsel. It was during this period that I became involved in American Indian law, Indian gaming, land law, water law, natural resources and environmental law. I have been privileged to teach Federal Indian law and also participate as an ALI Adviser on the Restatement of American Indian Law.

          Q: Having written 25 briefs on the merits and as amicus in the Supreme Court, you finally argued in 2000. What was that like?

          It was the fastest 30 minutes in my life! The argument was in a case where I represented Secretary of State Bill Jones to defend Proposition 198, an initiative measure that established a “blanket-style” open primary election system. Immediately after the measure’s passage, the state was sued by all of the political parties alleging a violation of the voters’ First Amendment rights of association, and the case worked its way up to the High Court. I think I got one sentence in before Justice O’Connor asked, very ironically, isn’t this a remarkable proposition, that voters can vote for a candidate of any party? I had to say what was remarkable was that the vast majority of Californians thought it was important and I presented the reasons outlined in the ballot pamphlet, constituting evidence of legislative intent. She was a swing vote in those days, so I knew it was uphill from the first minute. While we lost the case, Justice
          Scalia offered an opinion that suggested that California could choose an open primary system where the top two vote-getters proceed to a runoff, often called a Louisiana-style primary, and that might withstand constitutional scrutiny. Of course, that is exactly what we now have in California. Without question, it was exciting to participate in the interaction of law and policy at all these levels.

          Q: Then you held other positions in government before leaving for the private sector. But you’re still very involved in public service.

          Yes, following time as a special assistant attorney general, I served in the government law section where I represented state officers and agencies in litigation, including the Prop 198 case. Then, as executive director of the Conference of Western Attorneys General, I coordinated the policy and legislative initiatives for 18 Western attorneys general on water law, natural resources and federal Indian law, my old favorites. I still reflect back with reverence upon great instructors at UC Hastings, like Tony Rossmann and Gary Widman teaching these subjects, as well Marsha Cohen teaching administrative law. In late 2006, I jumped into the private sector. I not only litigate, but I’m also a registered lobbyist in California and assist clients in dealing with state executive agencies in Sacramento and occasionally on matters in legislation.

          Q: When you look at these great opportunities that you’ve had, what stands out as particularly meaningful?

          A: In December of 2010, I was honored when then-House minority leader John Boehner appointed me to the Indian Law and Order Commission, a federal nine-member bi-partisan panel charged with looking at public safety issues in Indian country. This was a three year endeavor that was one of the most satisfying, challenging and illuminating engagements I’ve ever experienced.

          Q: What was the panel tasked to do?

          A: There’s a public safety crisis in Native America. The rate of violent crime, sexual assault, and drug abuse is higher in Indian country than in the rest of the country. Part of the problem is that the maze of jurisdictional rules for how crime is interdicted, prosecuted and punished in Indian country impedes real public safety. We conducted hearings across the country and made site visits to almost all the states that have Indian country and to Alaska. In Alaska -- a state which already has the difficulty of huge distances, a tough rural landscape and harsh weather -- getting law enforcement to where they are needed when they are needed is close to impossible. Consequently, much violence and other crime happens with impunity. We recommended strong and immediate action to fix that, including empowering tribal governments to interdict and punish crime locally, subject to appropriate constitutional limits and appellate remedies. We felt strongly that law enforcement and public safety is best accomplished at the local level, not run from Washington, D.C. by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We found that most tribal leaders wanted practical solutions to the intractable problems of crime run rampant on the reservations.

          Also, juveniles who have engaged in criminal behavior on a reservation are not subject to state law for their detention. Sadly, Indian youth tend to be thrown into federal correctional facilities which are not equipped to handle juveniles. This ends up being terribly negative for their rehabilitative prospects and the tribe also loses the connection with the youth. They are traumatized by this process, and they don’t get to connect back with their elders, who have many traditional methods for helping them. So we looked at alternatives to detention and spent two years working intensely with tribal members, as well as tribal, state and federal law enforcement officials to create a roadmap to making Native American safer. We wanted to provide something that will not just be another binder on a shelf, but something that could be implemented in the appropriate policy and legislative arenas. For those of us on the commission, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to contribute to an important piece of work that commands attention.

          Q: As Vice Chair of the UC Hastings Board of Directors, and having also served on the UC Hastings Foundation, what’s your take on where UC Hastings is headed?

          Being an unabashed optimist, I am convinced UC Hastings has a bright future. The faculty is among the finest in the nation in research and academic quality, and the students are diverse and enthusiastic. The management and staff are totally devoted to the success of the College. We have our challenges, but none are without remedy -- it requires hard, smart work, rational and strategic measures and expert performance to govern the college effectively. Having previously served as chairman of the Finance Committee, I am aware of the tough trade-offs that the College has to make to accomplish its mission and goals. All of the members of the board of directors are alumni with vast experience in the real world of law, business and public policy, and they are all deeply loyal to UC Hastings. While the media stresses that law schools are in crisis, and so is the law profession, our board of directors and officers have tackled and continue to strategically tackle much of what goes for a crisis. In reality, the College is made up of people, people who respect one another and strive for excellence. We couldn’t ask for more, and for me, I am humbled and honored to participate in the great endeavor.

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