Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

Alumni Q&A with Judge Paul Stark '75

Judge Paul StarkJudge Paul Stark '75, Family Law Court, Israel

Q: Please describe the Child Abduction course you taught during the January Intersession at Southwestern. What are some of the critical elements you hoped to impart to your students?

A: I presented a seminar on the Hague Convention, Child Abduction. I tried to present a perspective on an International scale. Only recently in Abbot v. Abbot, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its first opinion on the matter. Since there are many Israelis as well as other ethnic groups which present issues of migration and abduction to and from foreign jurisdiction, I felt the time was appropriate for such a seminar. I related to the treaty, the causes of action and defenses.

Q: What is your fondest memory of being a law student yourself at Southwestern?

A: My fondest memory as a law student was my time at CLAC, the clinical law studies. Rob Williamson and Diane Wayne (Judge Ret.) were the faculty. I started as an assistant student director and then moved on to the student director slot. There were 5 of us. Judge Fainer was the advisor. It was a great learning experience.

Q: What are some of the most notable changes you've observed at Southwestern since you were a student?

A: The biggest change is in the campus. I started at the Hill Street location and moved to the current (Westmoreland) locale in my second year. There had been no time to really make it into a law school campus. Today, the addition of the Bullocks Wilshire Building adds a sense of history and grace as well as presenting a full law school campus experience.

Q: When you came to law school, did you know what kind of law you wanted to practice? What activities (organizations, honors programs, externships) did you participate in and how did they help you decide?

A: My only goal was to be a trial attorney. CLAC helped to firm that up. I also wrote on Law Review which gave me a background in writing. I had wanted to go into civil litigation, but ultimately wound up as a criminal defense attorney.

Q: Which professors were instrumental to your legal education?

A: There was more than one (other than the faculty at CLAC). They were first and foremost Professor Karlin (Contracts), Professor Fitz (Evidence) and Professor Fischer (Remedies and International Law).

Q: Why did you move to Israel after you graduated from law school? Were you already fluent in Hebrew when you moved there?

A: I had been in Israel prior to coming to Southwestern. I had learned Hebrew. I had planned to go back after law school for a while. I took the bar and completed the requirements for the Bar. Israel is a very special place and allowed me to develop my Jewish identity.

Q: What was the most memorable aspect of serving as an attorney in the Legal Aid Office for Jerusalem and the South, Ministry of Justice?

A: My position as head of the Legal Aid Office in Jerusalem allowed me to become an integral part of the justice system. I was able to contribute to the building of a legal infrastructure for indigents. I relied greatly on my education at CLAC.

Q: After returning from Israel in 1979, what did you find most gratifying about your work as a Public Defender for the Orange County Public Defender's Office and supervising attorney in the Central Orange County Municipal Court?

A: If I were to choose the most satisfying part of my legal career, the Orange County Public Defender's Office would be a major part. It was a place which allowed me to develop as an attorney. The philosophy of the office under Frank Williams and Ron Butler was the duty to defend to the best of your ability. The people I worked with - Michael Gianni, C. Thomas McDonald, Carl Holmes and Bill Kopeny - enabled me to work as a lawyer, with no other concerns. As a supervisor, I had the pleasure of imparting these same values to those who were under my charge. I must also add that the staff of the office was also very dedicated to helping the attorneys fulfill their duty defenders.

Q: What were some of the most memorable criminal cases you argued as a criminal defense attorney during the years you worked in private practice in Santa Ana?

A: During the years of my private practice, I worked on the cutting edge of forensic DNA. I tried People v. Soto 21 Cal. 4th 521, which affirmed the statistical analysis of DNA evidence (can't win them all). I tried several homicides; the last two resulted in a Not Guilty verdict and an unusual reduction to manslaughter, both under very, very difficult circumstances.

Q: What inspired you to move back to Israel in 1994?

A: My move back to Israel had been in the background for many years. I felt I could contribute to the justice system. By the time I went back, I was 44 so it was then or never.

Q: What did you like most about going into private practice? Do you still primarily work on criminal cases or has it shifted more towards family law and international contract law?

A: I am a judge in the family law court. However under the system in Israel, the family law court deals with all disputes in the family, including siblings. Thus, I deal with contracts, corporations and International matters. I still prefer criminal law, but Judging is satisfying when you do a good job professionally. My position as a family court judge requires me to hear matters relating to the family. This includes matters between siblings. These matters can be very complicated and the product of blood feuds. It is these matters, which sometimes are the hardest to resolve.

Q: What are some of the biggest differences between the justice system in Israel and the United States?

A: The major difference is the lack of a jury system in Israel. Of course the Israeli courts also lack some of the formality in pleadings and rules of evidence compared to California. I have not forgotten my training, so Israeli attorneys know that in my court the rules of evidence and procedure are not simply recommendations.

Q: Are there significant differences in the cases you see in Israel vs. family law in the United States? Or are the primary issues in family law (divorce, custody, property) pretty similar in both countries?

A: In family law court, there are no major differences. Both systems are judge based. Both try to keep paperwork at a minimum. Israel does not have the concept of depositions. Also the lag time between filing and trial is great given the overworked Israeli judicial system.