Meet Commissioner Pelayo A. Llamas, Jr.
Before being sworn in as a Commissioner in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, Pelayo A. Llamas, Jr. was a Deputy City Attorney in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, where he served in many litigation and advice roles since 1999. He was also a temporary judge for the Alameda County Superior Court. Active in many professional organizations, he was the ACBA Board President-Elect, and an active ACBA member, the 2015-2016 president of the Earl Warren American Inn of Court, and an advisory board member of the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California. Pelayo is in his second year as Co-Chair of the statewide Bench Bar Coalition Executive Committee.
Pelayo took time out of his busy transition to answer a few questions for our members. Please help us welcome Commissioner Llamas to the bench!
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
After graduating from CAL, I was assessing my relative strengths and weaknesses, trying to decide on a direction for graduate school. When my GMAT score came in very high on verbal/written skills compared to math, I took stock of my personality traits (detailed, inquisitive, skeptical) and realized that I was well suited to practicing law. I initially considered a career in real property transactional law, but after conducting misdemeanors trials as a summer law clerk at the Santa Clara District Attorney, I got hooked on litigation. My career has spanned many interesting areas of practice over the years. I spent almost 19 years in public agency law practice, which offered endless opportunities to consider challenging constitutional law questions.
What will your assignment be?
My first assignment will be at the Fremont Courthouse presiding over traffic violation arraignments and trials, with an eventual rotation into a general civil department (small claims, unlawful detainers, and protective orders). I will preside over a lot of cases with self-represented litigants, with high volume.
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
It’s hard to say. I have diverse interests and work experiences. I would have enjoyed being an engineer, music producer, or even serving as a diplomat. When I was young, my father’s work in government moved our family household to many places. I had lived in four different countries and traveled to nine others before I was 11 years old, so I was raised to appreciate many different cultures. I think that’s going to help me out while serving on the bench.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first admitted to practice?
When writing briefs, one should focus on convincing the decision maker. I think that lawyers sometimes forget to convince the judge through writing, and instead write arguments back and forth directed at opposing counsel. When I began to look at things through the eyes of a judge, it changed the way I approached writing as a lawyer. Judges have large caseloads, so the lawyer’s job is to capture the court’s interest, direct its attention to the pivotal issues and facts, and to persuade the court. It is less important to respond to every single argument that your opponent might have raised. Most of all, do not waste time on any personal attacks against opposing counsel; doing so demeans the profession and is counterproductive for your client.
What is the biggest challenge facing you as a judicial officer today?
Budget shortages. The courts have struggled to regain the power to decide how to use funding provided by the state. There were massive budget reductions during the great recession of 2008-2011. Now, as Sacramento slowly restores funding to the trial courts, new funds are earmarked for certain kinds of programs. Those earmarks might not suit the needs of every court.
Overall, we have a judicial system flooded with self-represented litigants. We need greater resources to guide them via our self-help center. We also need money to implement technology that will enable litigants to more efficiently interface with the courts. I feel it’s so wasteful to have 100s of people each day waiting in courtrooms for simple matters.
What is your dream vacation?
To ride my 52 year old Lambretta scooter across the Americas to Bariloche, Argentina, camping along the way. More realistically, to tour the Italian countryside on a Lambretta.
What are you reading now?
Supreme Commander, MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan by Seymour Morris, Jr. – it’s a poorly named book. It is not a about war, but about peace. Its also not about triumph but about rebuilding. It’s a marvel how after WWII Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a man born and raised in an authoritarian military family, was appointed “Supreme Commander of Allied Powers” over occupied Japan, and rather than taking revenge and exacting reparations, went in an enlightened and forward-thinking direction. He led Japan (an absolute monarchy with a military/feudal society) into a constitutional democracy which has become one of America’s strongest allies.
What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a very hands-on kind of person. I am a fully trained butcher (meat cutter). I started in the summer after 10th grade in high school, and ended up paying my way through college by working in a small meat market owned by Italians from Oakland. I was doing “whole animal butchery” decades before it became a hip trend. I’m still very enamored with cooking and eating.
What person, living or dead, real or fictional, would you like to have dinner with?
Abraham Lincoln. I’d like to hear how he found the fortitude to continue fighting the Civil War. Looking back, knowing the Union won over the Confederacy and ended slavery, it’s easy to think there was no question that the war should be pursued. But if you put yourself in his shoes at the time, one can appreciate how difficult it must have been to keep the war going. With the country literally divided, relatives killing each other between the North and South, political pressures, economic difficulties, and specter of foreign governments lurking about, there must have been tremendous pressure to find a compromise solution. There was a possibility of losing the war, and even the collapse of the Union. It all rested on his shoulders. It’s an example of leadership and how much the will and vision of one person can change history.
Why do you choose to be a member of the ACBA? What is the greatest benefit you have enjoyed as a member?
At my first law job (Burnham | Brown), the firm paid for every lawyer in the firm to be an ACBA member, but I rarely participated. For nine years as a volunteer, I led the Lawyers in the Library program at the Oakland Chinatown branch and enjoyed directly serving the public. Eventually, I wanted to meet lawyers from other practice areas and to be involved in leadership of ACBA, so I applied to join the Board of Directors. My greatest benefit has been the opportunity to serve alongside with and learn from the outstanding and dedicated ACBA staff and other directors of the Board. Also, we have a tremendous relationship between the bench and the bar of our county. Its a great place to meet judges, which can increase your comfort level and effectiveness in court.