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Distinguished Service Award Spotlight for Attorney – Ray Keller

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After 32 years as a public defender, Ray Keller retired from the Alameda County Public Defender office and promptly began serving on the Court Appointed Attorney Program’s Advisory Committee. Ray has served on the Committee for the last 7 years, most recently Ray as the Chair of the Committee. His final term ended in December.

When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?

Ray Keller
Ray Keller, Ret.

I went to law school because I was tired of painting houses. Not to become a lawyer. I worked at various jobs through my undergraduate years, but found that I made the most money painting houses. When I graduated from Cal I went to work seriously – sometimes with a crew of up to six people – to pay off loans and finance a nine month knapsack trip in Southern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. When I returned I went back to house painting while I planned the next trip to Southeast Asia. While at Cal I had taken the LSAT because it seemed like a good idea at the time. As the trip to Asia neared I realized I was at the end of the time I could use the LSAT score so I sent out applications and got on the plane to Singapore. When I returned six months later and found that I had been accepted, I chose law school. But that’s not the end…I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I just thought it would be a good thing to have in my back pocket as I went through life. Then, in Crim Pro second year I read Mapp v. Ohio. It was a sledgehammer moment for me. The discussion of an individual’s rights as against the government struck a major bundle of nerves in me. I thought the coolest thing in the world would be to have been Ms. Mapp’s lawyer. I knew at that moment I would practice criminal defense.   

 If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?

Hopefully not painting houses. I really don’t know. I was an activist at Cal, and thought, at one point, of becoming a psychotherapist. I would more likely have gravitated toward some left wing non-profit advocating for change. Or maybe I would move to Montana and become a fly-fishing guide – a passion I’ve had since I was twelve years old.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first admitted to practice?

 The value of stock in Apple.

What is your dream vacation?

That’s a tough one. I’ve traveled a lot. My wife and I were in Europe twice in 2019. My dream vacation would last at least two months. It would probably be on more than one continent. I’ve never visited sub Saharan Africa so we would start there. Certainly a safari would be in order. And a fair amount of beach time. Then perhaps a flight across the Atlantic to the Patagonia region of South America. We could practice our language skills and I could fly fish some of the best water in the world. Come to think of it, that may be the plan for 2022!

What are you reading now?

I’m reading, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, by Heather Cox Richardson. We are in a time of extreme white supremacy. It’s important to know the lessons of history and how we got here – or never left.

What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?  

I love brussels sprouts.

What person, living or dead, real or fictional, would you like to have dinner with?

Frederick Douglass. I recently read his biography by David Blight. He’s at the top of my list of great men of the 19th century. Blight quoted extensively from Douglass’s speeches. What an incredible orator! I would just like to be in his presence and listen to him speak, and maybe ask a few questions.

Why do you choose to be a member of the ACBA? What is the greatest benefit you have enjoyed as a member?

A sense of community. It is the most important thing to have when you are involved in demanding, high stress work. And apart from lives lost, that is where the pandemic has done some of the worst damage. Not being able to get together and talk. Kudos to the ACBA for doing everything it can to mitigate the damage!

This post is brought to you by ACBA Installation and Distinguished Service Awards Night Event Sponsor JAMS.

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