Interview with Judge Tara Desautels – Recipient of the ACBA Distinguished Service Award for Judge
Judge Tara Desautels started her career as as a Deputy District Attorney at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, handling all types of cases from misdemeanors to serious felonies, and was selected to serve as a member of the felony Child Sexual Assault team, as liaison to the Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement task force, and as a mentor with the California District Attorneys Association. She left to work with the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, where she handled business litigation matters including antitrust and unfair competition, and also represented defendants charged with white collar crimes, and served as Habeas Counsel for a death row inmate.
Judge Desaultels is a strong advocate for women and children, serving as the chair of the Child Abuse, Listening, Interviewing, and Coordination center (CALICO), which works to achieve justice and healing for abused children, and speaking and writing on issues affecting girls in court, and women in the profession.
She was appointed to the bench in 2010 and has served in criminal, family law and juvenile assignments since that time, and on the Court’s Executive Committee since 2015. The Alameda County Bar Association is proud to give Judge Tara Desaultels our Distinguished Service Award for Judge. She sat down with us to tell us a little more about herself.
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
My grandfather, a person whom I greatly admired and respected, had been a lawyer. And while I never knew much about his actual practice (he retired when I was little), he was a strong proponent of logic and the rule of law in all aspects of life and human interaction. His teachings and reasonings stuck with me and led me to go to law school as the best way to train and learn to use language and logic as a peaceful means of contributing to and bettering society.
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
Other than being a mother, that’s hard to say. I would certainly hope to be doing something that required a high level of interpersonal interaction and community involvement.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first admitted to practice?
That there is no singular “right way” to practice law or to achieve varied career goals. Lawyers need to stay true to themselves in how they choose to practice law. Juries, judges, and clients see through those who don’t, and the training necessary to become and stay a lawyer is too powerful to waste or misuse.
What is the biggest challenge facing new attorneys today?
The practice of law is challenging, and all attorneys have ups and downs throughout their careers. The modern day and Bay Area in particular offers a wealth of tempting non-legal employment opportunities that might seem to be more exciting or lucrative than the hours of document review, discovery responses, or trial preparation facing new attorneys. Some are well worth pursuing, but the grass is not always greener. As long as you are intentionally, actively working in a legal arena that is true to your personality and life philosophies, you will achieve a successful, fulfilling career in the law, likely even beyond your initial expectations.
What is your favorite part of being a judge?
Going to work every day with the goal of doing the right thing.
What is your dream vacation?
An actual vacation – meaning someplace in the mountains or near water, with lots of clean air and outdoor activities, where neither my husband nor I am interrupted by work, and our kids are miraculously nice to each other and us.
What are you reading now?
Inspired by my recent law school reunion, I just finished a book written by one of my close law school classmates: Gilded Age by Claire McMillan.
What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
That I was once a serious water polo player.
What person, living or dead, real or fictional, would you like to have dinner with?
Madeline Albright. She was the first woman Secretary of State for a President who was a Georgetown grad and when I was still at Georgetown. Before her appointment, I had met her briefly as part of with a seminar I took that was connected with The Great Decisions Debate Series, for which she was a regular participant. She has had a pretty amazing life and seems like a really neat person, too.
Why did you decide to be an ACBA member? What is the greatest benefit of membership?
I joined the ACBA because I believe in supporting Alameda County’s local legal community, of which I am proudly a part. Membership’s greatest benefit is the neverending opportunity to meet and learn from other legal professionals who live in, practice in, or otherwise have a connection with our county. We are a talented and diverse group; I learn something or meet someone new at every event I attend.