Monday Profile: District Attorney Nancy O’Malley
On September 15, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors appointed Alamedan Nancy O’Malley to fill the remainder of longtime District Attorney Tom Orloff’s term, making her the first woman DA in the county’s history.
O’Malley, who has spent the last decade in the office’s #2 spot, brings a rather impressive resume that spells out a lifetime of fighting for victims’ rights, particularly for victims of violent crime. Her accomplishments include creation of the Family Justice Center, a one-stop shop for victims of violent crime, and authorship of several bills intended to help victims that were signed into law. And the honors she has received for her work are too numerous to count.
O’Malley took a half hour out of what was undoubtedly a busy Friday to chat with The Island for this Monday Profile.
How did you decide to enter the field of law?
When I was growing up, I think I was the person who spoke up for people. I was the neighborhood protector. When I made my final decision to go into law, I had cancer. And my doctor just kept saying, “You should be a lawyer. You negotiate, you’re strong.” And then I thought about it. They had me working with (other) cancer patients because I had an attitude they were hoping would be something for other people to draw from. I had a positive attitude, and kept my sense of humor.
A number of your family members have distinguished law careers as well. Your father served as Contra Costa’s District Attorney for 15 years, and your brother, also a prosecutor and judge, is running for the seat now. Did this help inspire you to become an attorney, and a prosecutor?
My parents had nine children. My brother and I are the only two lawyers. But everyone in my family is involved in public service in some form or another. I think that when I was younger, I would go with my dad when he would go to work on Saturdays. Probably just trying to have alone time with my father. He would let me read different cases and tell him what they were about. And then just watching my dad, who was an honorable, honest, hardworking man, gave me the sense that it was honorable to be a public servant.
You are Alameda County’s first female District Attorney. What does that mean to you?
It’s a great honor to be in this position. Those who came before me are the greatest among legal scholars – Earl Warren, Lowell Jensen, Jack Meehan, Tom Orloff. To be in that group is amazing. To be a woman in that group is just extremely exciting. Part of it is remembering that there is a responsibility going with that. As my mom said, ‘You may be the first, but you’d better not be the last.” You work hard, and you make everyone proud. One of the issues I’ve worked on, with California Women Lawyers, is finding a way for women to be in leadership positions. This not only recognizes that women have huge contributions to make and leadership skill. But it also paves the way for women to be able to have equal access to positions at the top.
Over the course of your career, you have become a well-regarded expert on victims rights and have done a great deal of work to help crime victims. Could you explain what put you on that path?
I think that it’s a sense of what’s right, doing what’s right. For me, it’s helping people find the courage that it takes to step up and speak out against those who have harmed them. Especially victims of violent crime who, by their circumstance, and by bad timing or bad luck, end up in the criminal justice system. We expect a lot from them. And I’ve always felt that victims deserve our highest respect and the most that we can give them. I think one of the goals that I’ve had has been to make access to resources and access to justice for victims easier. In the past, we didn’t listen to them, we didn’t give them a voice. We make them sit around here all day. And they’re the ones who got hurt. And that sense of having justice, and the courage to do the right thing, has driven me over the years to work harder and fight harder for victims, and to make it better for victims in this system.
What would you say are your greatest accomplishments?
Certainly, the Family Justice Center is one of the things I’m most proud of in my life, not only my career. What we have created is exactly what I’ve dreamed about my entire life, from 1977, when I was a rape crisis volunteer (and victims had) no rights, and no voice. The Family Justice Center is the closest thing we have to bringing the resources and the services to victims of crime. We are seeing some remarkable outcomes, particularly in the prosecutorial arena, with victims coming forward, and staying with the case. We are the opposite of the trend. I have to think it is the culmination of all the hardworking people at the Family Justice Center coming together and working collaboratively. That’s my greatest accomplishment.
I’ve (also) been very fortunate to be involved with the legislative process, and have written several bills that have been signed into law, enhancing victims’ rights, especially victims with disabilities, and victims of personal crimes.
What would you say are your biggest opportunities and challenges in your new post? And what are some things you hope to accomplish as DA?
I think the challenges are making sure the decisions that are made are made thoughtfully and responsibly. And maintaining our integrity and acting honestly. Just really upholding all of those things that I value when making decisions. The opportunities, on the other hand, are being much more visible to the community. We’re funded by taxpayer dollars. We represent victims of crime. And we have a moral obligation to ensure defendants accused of crimes are treated fairly and their rights are ensured. The community doesn’t always know what we’re doing on their behalf. For example, we have a strong restitution program, which I set up. The effort paid victims of crime last year over $9 million. We also got $800,000 in orders for defendants to pay back (restitution to) the state. Then almost $500,000 in fines helped support the victim witness program.
When and how did you end up in Alameda?
I’ve lived in Alameda for two years. How is because I got married three years ago too. What drew us to Alameda was, one, we love the weather. And also the quaintness of town. And the fact that it has a small town feel to it. People are friendly, and also, they care about what their community is doing. This is a place where people have a lot of ownership.
What are your five favorite spots in town?
I love the beach. I love the Point. Especially on the first Sunday of the month. We love BarCeluna. And Otaez. What I do if I have a little down time is walk up and down Park Street. My kind of shopping.