Max Berkley (00:00):
Hi, this is Max Berkeley. This is Compassionate Las Vegas, the podcast.
Will Rucker (00:29):
Welcome to Compassionate Las Vegas, the podcast. I'm your host, Will Rucker, and joining me today is a special friend, a amazing human with a family legacy that if you're anywhere in Las Vegas, you definitely already know about. But he's gonna inspire us today and remind us about the importance of hope. So with that, welcome to the podcast Max Berkeley.
Max Berkley (00:55):
Thank you very much. Will I, I appreciate the introduction. The feelings are mutual. I, I think that you're a great person, a great public servant. I love that you have this, you know, medium for people to hear about. You know, you listen to your guests and I'm excited to be here this morning.
Will Rucker (01:17):
Yeah. Well, it's, you know, it's so interesting that we have both kind of ended up here. The, the journey and the road has been, and I'll just be candid, has been exhausting but in such a good way and in such a filling way because we, we get to talk to so many amazing people and learn about what matters to them. And so I'm kind of excited because this is opportunity for you to tell me what matters to you. And I wanna frame it around, of course, the idea of compassion. So the first question for you is the hardest one, and it's simply how do you define compassion?
Max Berkley (01:56):
So especially in my career, and I'm gonna kind of talk briefly about my career, and I think that kind of leads into my definition. You know, I've been a public defender for the last 11 years. So I'm in Justice court, you know, once or twice a week you know, for that entire time period. And compassion is something that we, you know, try to, you know, we hope to see in Justice Court. And we hope to see it in our, you know, everyday lives. And I think compassion, you know, is treating people with a certain level of respect a certain amount of dignity. You know, putting ourselves in a position, you know, that they might be in. And, you know, ask ourselves how would we want to be treated if we were going through something similar.
Max Berkley (02:51):
So I think there's, you know, respect, there's dignity, there's empathy. I think all those things are rolled into compassion. And that's one of of the reasons I decided to run for office is that, you know, in, in justice court, there's some judges that are great at it. Some judges legitimately are compassionate toward everyone. They're respectful toward defendants, toward victims, toward, you know, all the attorneys that go in front of him or her. And then there's some others that are not real compassionate. So certainly in my 11 years as a public defender I've always you know, tried to put an emphasis on, you know, representing someone to the best of my ability, you know, always being available and trying to relate to them and what they're going through. Cuz it's not easy to go through the criminal justice system.
Will Rucker (03:41):
And I appreciate you emphasizing that dignity and respect. A lot of times it can be kind of hard for us to think about compassion in the sense of justice. They almost seem sometimes to be opposing forces. Do you believe that? To be so?
Max Berkley (03:58):
So no. And I would explain it this way, You know, you can be compassionate, especially as a judge. You could be compassionate to someone, but recognize that the person, if it's a defendant, for example may deserve to be punished. They, they may not qualify for what's called an or, you know, release, you know, release on their own recognizance. You know, you can be compassionate and be understanding and make sure that their voice is heard and make sure their attorney gets to make an argument on their behalf, but in the end, decide to rule against them because quite frankly, they are a danger to the community. And you also, I think, you know, on the flip side, you know, if it is a case that involves a victim you can be compassionate toward the district attorney's office and rule for the defense side. So I think in general, like you're making tough decisions as a judge. But I think ultimately, you know, where, you know, the law dictates a judge to go and ultimately make a decision. You could still be compassionate to both sides, even the side that you rule against.
Will Rucker (05:11):
Yeah. Thank you for bringing that out. I always try to emphasize the importance of the spirit of compassion or the intent. It doesn't necessarily mean, you know, just like rainbows and Skittles everywhere. It, it is in fact being honest and, and really addressing the challenges we face. I say that a compassionate community can be an uncomfortable community cuz we have to deal with hardship head on. So thank you for highlighting that. Of course. I wanna take you back a bit in life rewind, 20, 30 years to the moment that you decided you wanted to serve our community through justice.
Max Berkley (05:51):
So I think it really started for me both by parents you know, our attorneys my mom has been more in the area of public service. You know, my dad is more on the, you know, he's a commercial litigator, so still practices and still as a trial attorney didn't end up going on the side of public service. But he's always been a compassionate person and he's always been very encouraging. I feel like a lot of times when I speak to people, you know, my mom's a little better known, so I end up kind of being drawn to just talking about her. But you know, my dad definitely deserves mention to you know, he's, you know, a, a an excellent attorney, but he also, yeah, I remember going to, you know, events with him and, and he certainly went, did a lot of philanthropy and still does a lot of philanthropy as well.
Max Berkley (06:47):
So I think with my dad was probably the biggest motivator to wanna be a trial lawyer. And then my mom was probably the bigger motivator when it came to public service, even though my dad was encouraging, you know, watching my mom's career and just watching her become inspired about the idea of helping people being in a position to do what she could, to be compassionate toward others, be in a position to help others. And certainly, you know, when she was in Congress, you know, there's thousands and thousands of constituents reaching out. I know, you know what that's like, you know, you know, with the assembly, you know, and you know, just people reaching out and saying, Hey, I, my, I I'm having an issue. My family's having an issue. You know, is there something you can do to help and really puts you in a position to be compassionate?
Max Berkley (07:43):
So anyway, going back to, to me I was in law school. I, my plan was to go into gaming law, you know, be in a born and raised Las Vegas gaming law. Certainly you know, prevalent gay in Las Vegas is, you know, probably the best city to practice that type of law in. So that was my plan. And then was really my second year of law school. I had an opportunity to clerk at the Public defender's office. Not at all on my mind at the time that that could be, you know, where I made my career. But I remember very first day, you know, being in court and you first day as a clerk, you know, they, they don't waste time at the public defender's office. You know, you show up and you're with an attorney and an attorney says, All right.
Max Berkley (08:32):
Here the clients we're gonna be appointed on, Here's what we need to know. Go speak to them. And, you know, a lot of 'em are, you know, in handcuffs and in custody. So it was real deal very quickly. But I fell in love with it. I, I thought it was very rewarding. I thought it was very gratifying. And shortly after that I remember thinking, you know, know if I have an opportunity to you know, if I receive an offer from the public Defender's office down the line to work as a PO as an attorney I'm gonna do that. And thankfully, you know, pass the bar exam, I think June 5th, June 6th, 2011. And then the very next day, the public defender gave me a call and said, You're interested we'd like to hire you. And I said, Yeah, I'm interested. And I've been a public defender for the last 11 years. And I sort of got a chance to fulfill both of my passions, which is, you know, public service on one end, and then being a trial lawyer on the other, on the other side. So, got a chance to do both. So I'm very fortunate, that's kind of how I decided to become a public defender.
Will Rucker (09:43):
Yeah, that's really cool. And I just have to, to say two things. One is about your mom, cuz you, you mentioned her I love that when she's out with you, she's like, Max's mom, like that, that's who she is. And you can just feel the pride beaming from her. You know, even though she's had this incredible career and is still doing incredible things, like she's a mom. And that's just amazing to see. The other thing is, you mentioned when you walked in and you were basically confronted day one with folks in handcuffs and, and kind of that really heavy burden of criminal justice, right? How do you maintain your humanity in this system? And I wanna give you just a little more context on this. One of the things I admire most about you is you really are a very approachable, accessible human person. And you greet people with a smile. And even if you are tired, you're, you're still very kind and gracious and just wonderful. So there's almost like these two polar ends of the spectrum, but you, you navigate it well. So how do you do that?
Max Berkley (10:52):
Well, thank you. Thank you. And likewise, you know, I obviously, you know, we've seen each other now, you know, dozens of events and you are equally gracious and approachable as well. And you know, I think that the way it was explained to me, you know, right when I was starting to practice law, is you have to understand what your role is. You know, your role in a lot of these situations is to be compassionate. I mean, you know, I as a public defender, I'm still an attorney and I'm still fighting for people. And that's my role is to represent 'em, you know, and, and to be their effective representation in court. But a lot of individuals that, you know, are in custody you know, there is a need to be compassionate, a need to be understanding. A lot of people, you know, are just, yeah, they, they wanna tell you about what happened, and they wanna tell you about, you know, a little bit about their life and about, you know, how they you know, their background with the criminal justice system.
Max Berkley (12:04):
And sometimes they just need an attorney to listen. Sometimes they just need an attorney to be understanding. And sometimes they need to turn to be brutally honest with them, which which, you know, with clients, and that sometimes happens too. But I think understanding what, you know, makes a quality public defender. And I know there's, you know, a little bit of a, you know, this, you know, idea that public defenders are overworked and they don't get a chance to spend a lot of time with their clients, so therefore clients don't always receive, you know, very good representation. And that was one of the, you know, kind of personal goals I had, is to, you know, never have any, you know, my clients feel that way or say that about me. And, and I must say, you know, in the office I worked with a lot of quality people who, you know, are constantly on the phone, calling clients, going to court, talking to clients, discussing their case, dis you know, doing everything they can to represent 'em, you know, to a high abi you know, to, you know, you to the best of their ability.
Max Berkley (13:07):
And I think that's really, you know, the, the role of a public defender. So I I, I think it's, you know, sure there's gonna be tough moments, you know, I'm sure there's gonna be moments when, you know, don't agree with the judge's decision or, you know, you're trying to work something out with the district attorney and it's just, you know, But like any time you're trying to, you know, reach a, you know, a you know, a settlement, you know, sometimes it's just not, not happy to be called a plea plea negotiation. And sometimes it's not happening and there's frustration and sometimes there are clients who are gonna be difficult and no matter how much effort you put in, yeah, they're not always gonna be appreciative. But that's, that's kind of what you understand and you sign up for. And ultimately, I think the focus on doing your job, you know, more than, you know, the, you know, credit or the appreciation of the end, that should be the focus of every public defender. And, and last point I'll make is typically, you know, much like the events, you know, that, that we go to, usually in the end, most people appreciate the effort you're putting in. And 90 plus percent of the time clients thank me at the end of their case. Yeah, they appreciate that they had an attorney. And this is not just for me, this is, I think, almo almost all defense attorneys, at least the quality defense attorneys that are working hard. Usually there's gratitude at the end.
Will Rucker (14:30):
Yeah, I, I can absolutely see both sides on that. And I, I love that you highlight kind of that reputation of the overworked public defender. And I, I don't think you aren't overworked mm-hmm. . Cause I, I do think you are, and you make the extra effort to connect. What is it that you wish people really knew about your role as a public defender? If you could just like plaster it on a billboard and say, Remember this one thing and this is why it may appear like we don't care, or it may appear like we're not doing our job. What would that be?
Max Berkley (15:04):
That's great question. And I think the answer, the best answer I can come up with is just that you know, I, I guess I would say to the community in general, cuz there, there's some people out there that really admire, you know, what public defenders do, and thank 'em for their effort, recognize, you know, the importance of having, you know, quality defense attorneys, and then there's some in the community that don't, and think to themselves, eh, how could you ever represent someone accused of fill in the blank? You know? So whatever the crime happens to be. And I would just say to those people you know, if you believe in the constitution and you believe in a fair criminal justice system, then every person accused of a crime deserves effective representation. Because if you are going to take away someone's liberty and someone's freedom, potentially that person deserves every opportunity to have a defense attorney speak on their behalf and do it well.
Max Berkley (16:15):
And just put yourself in that situation. You know, what if you were accused of a crime, you know, maybe that you didn't do, or maybe you know that you did, but there may be extenuating circumstances. You want someone speaking for you and you want someone who's good at it and who's gonna work hard for you. So I would just say that to the community, to the, you know, percentage of people who, and most of them, I don't think this is most people, but I know there's a few out there who, you know, they hear public defenders or just defense attorneys, they think, you know, sleazy, they think, you know, they think how man, just, you know, depraved of any, you know, decency by representing, you know, someone accused of, you know, certain whatever the crime is. And I think that's the explanation that I just said, which is that again not everyone is guilty, that's charged. And even the people that are guilty, there's extenuating circumstances frequently, and that person deserves effective representation. And again, if you believe in the rule of law, then you know, the constitution you know, insists on it . And, and that is the law.
Will Rucker (17:23):
Yeah. And that, what I just heard in that answer is truly compassion. It's remembering that these are human beings. What if this was you in that predicament? What if it was your family member, your best friend? Wouldn't you want them to have every opportunity to receive true justice, which may be the declaration of innocence? You know, wouldn't you want that for them?
Max Berkley (17:42):
Absolutely. And we know a lot of examples, you know, I, not only did I mention that, you know, not every person is guilty, guilty, but in addition to that, you know, there's a lot of people that are serving crazy long sentences for, you know, marijuana cases. Now there's a lot of people that are in prison for, you know, nonviolent offenses without, you know, any criminal background at all. So the, a lot, I think that there is definitely you know, a moral side to what we do as well, you know, and the fight for, you know, not only fair trials but on the other hand, you know, fair punishments, you know, and, and a lot of times when people say protect the community, Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes that means putting someone in custody because they are a threat to the community, that that's true.
Max Berkley (18:36):
I do think that there is an element of protecting the community, you know, by, you know, being tough on, you know, either a criminal or someone accused of a crime. But there's also, you know, protect the community can also mean getting someone into inpatient treatment, getting someone into drug rehab, getting someone into mental health court, because down the line, you know, if that person receives the treatment they need and is able to turn their life around, that's a whole lot safer to the community than somebody who serves a short prison sentence and gets back out and never gets treatment.
Will Rucker (19:09):
Mm. Yeah. I'm working with restorative Nevada right now for a movement around restorative justice. We've started in the schools, there's still a ton of work to do to actually get it right there, but at least the doors open. And what it really seeks to do is give individuals an opportunity to be restored, to be made whole, to be able to be productive, contributing members of our community. And I think that's just as important for us to remember in these scenarios, is our goal isn't just to lock people up, throw 'em in cages, and leave them there. Our goal really is to have a, a truly whole community.
Max Berkley (19:47):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And also, it's, you know, it's important for people to understand that that's great work you're doing, and that is absolutely protecting the community as well by restorative justice, because that same person you're talking about, if the person is able to beat a drug addiction, you know, if the person's able to find work, if the person can find a stable place to stay, turn their life around, that person no longer is a threat to the community. If groups, like you're talking about, if movements like you're talking about didn't exist, Jan saw that person goes right back to whatever got them into trouble in the first place. And there's a lot of gr hope for prisoners. You know, they, Salvation Army, you know, there's, you know, West Care, there's mental health court, so there's a lot of groups out there, and it's, it's important for the community to know, you know, hundreds and hundreds of people, even thousands of people, you know, are going through it. And we're always trying to improve, and we're always trying to, you know, create restorative justice for, you know, more and more people. But there already are groups out there that are working hard to do that.
Will Rucker (20:52):
Yeah. And you remind me, because many of those groups I also work with, but growing up, admittedly, I was very sheltered, very, very sheltered, and I, I grew up, you know, in a very safe neighborhood where police were our friends, and it just, you know, a very different environment than what a lot of others have. So I, I had honestly a, a poor view of people who were justice involved. And so my thought was, Oh my gosh, they've been arrested. Let me, you know, old, like I'm an old lady, clutched my purse and afraid. But then I started working with these individuals and I'm like, these are some of the most respectful people I've ever met. Some of the most brilliant people I've ever met, some of the most compassionate people. Some made some horrendous mistakes, and the hardest for them to be forgiven is for them to forgive themselves for what they did. And I just never, until I was involved personally with these one-on-one relationships, I never even considered that aspect. So I, you know, I, I just wanna to highlight that and say, yes, there are so many great groups out there doing great work, because these are people.
Max Berkley (22:01):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that's the most important thing. And I know there's some who, you know, have done, you know, really egregious things who, you know, may deserve to be punished, but again, there's still people, they still have, you know, many of 'em have children, many of 'em, you know, have, you know, families, you know, they you know, whatever the circumstances, whatever the crime is that they may have committed there's still a human being and they need to be treated with compassion.
Will Rucker (22:32):
Yeah. On the other side of that is the person that was harmed and the, the loss that they suffered, the trauma that they suffered. How do you deal with that as someone who's defending the person that caused them harm? Does forgiveness play a role? How do you, how do you navigate that space?
Max Berkley (22:51):
So I would say that the defense attorney's role is to, you know, do their best to represent their client. However if a case resolves and 99% of them do at that point, the focus shifts from finding quality defenses, you know, whatever it is, you know, trying to, if there's an alibi witness or if there may be a, you know, an illegal search issue that initially is maybe what the defense attorney's focused on. But after a plea deal is reached, then the focus shifts and it shifts to you know, accountability and taking personal responsibility. Then in, in some ways, a defense attorney can become a little bit like a social worker, and hopefully you have, you know, the, a client who is remorseful, who does recognize, you know, the importance of apologizing, especially if it is a crime with a victim or, or victim's, plural.
Max Berkley (24:02):
And, and then that definitely plays into the role of a defense attorney and finding a way to communicate that. And a lot of times there can be restitution, you know, when, you know, if it's a, you know, a case where you know, victim has had something stolen from them, or maybe it's has had injuries the defendant, oftentimes restitution is imposed. And sometimes it could be, you know, the role of a defense attorney can be speaking to a defendant and saying, you know, here, you know, here's what you're gonna do. If you're gonna get probation, here's the game plan. You're gonna need to pay this much a month. Or we need to find work and, you know, add sentencing, and we're gonna speak to the victim, you know, who's gonna be there. And you know, you need to, you know, I speak from, you know, from the heart. And if you genuinely are, you know, remorseful for what you did, you're gonna have your day in court to, to demonstrate that. So yeah, defense attorneys certainly you know, the, there are many different roles and when it gets to that point in the case, if it, if it does get to that point in the case, then forgiveness plays a big part.
Will Rucker (25:06):
Yeah. All right. I wanna shift gears in our last few minutes together here, and these are some of my favorite questions to ask. So I hope you're ready. Hold onto your seat here,
Max Berkley (25:14):
Will Rucker (25:16):
What are you listening to? What music are you listening to right now to keep you motivated, to keep you going?
Max Berkley (25:24):
So yeah, I was, you know, born in the eighties, so I, I like a lot of the rocky type music, you know, kind of the, the motivational music, you know, and, you know, athletes, you know, are, are, you know, right about to start, you know you go to the battlefield, so, you know, rocky type stuff, you know, Springsteen, those kind of things. It'd be what I'd be listening to.
Will Rucker (25:48):
I love it. I love it. And when you're with your family and you just want to have a beautiful moment, what do you, what do you do? Do you put something on a tv, a movie? Do you make dinner? What, what's that moment like for
Max Berkley (26:00):
You? So I, if you'd asked me a couple years ago, my answer would be completely different. But now we've got a 22 month old and an eight month old. So for us at this point I would say, you know, spending the evening, you know, the four of us, you know, with dinner and then going out into our backyard and, you know, ke our oldest playing in the Don the Jungle Gym, you know, our you youngest kind of crawled around, you know, outside in the backyard, you know, the four of us together. That's probably our, our special moment. We still like to go out, you know, we're not, we're not those parents who, you know, just stay home all the time. But probably the most beautiful moments at this point in our kids' lives, or, you know, beat at home where they can run around and throw things and not upset anyone around them.
Will Rucker (26:50):
Nice. Yeah. I, I love kids. I have a godchild that he is, well, he'll be one next month.
Max Berkley (26:59):
Okay. Oh, not happy birthday.
Will Rucker (27:02):
Yeah. wow. Okay. Sorry. Back to you
Max Berkley (27:05):
. No, that's okay. Actually, my my oldest is turning two next month, so yeah, we're around, we're around kids a lot. It's that's what, what, what, what in October,
Will Rucker (27:15):
So next month, so we're in October now. Oh
Max Berkley (27:18):
Will Rucker (27:20):
Max Berkley (27:20):
Been a long campaign. Sorry to clarify. Yeah, my said turned October 30th, so, Well
Will Rucker (27:25):
That, you know, that's such that, that's on the cus there, you know, it's close enough. You like, Got it. Paperback hard cover or electronic book.
Max Berkley (27:35):
I hardcover hard. Me too dumb old school.
Will Rucker (27:39):
Got it. Last set of questions. And this is whatever comes to mind first. Don't overthink it, just finish my sentence. The best things in life are
Max Berkley (27:53):
Spending time with family and people that are important to you.
Will Rucker (27:58):
Max Berkley (28:04):
I I would say immunity is important. Especially when it comes to you know, the I think there's a concern that, you know, people are gonna be judging you. People are gonna have opinions about you, you know, immunity is important to remember and, you know, ignore the criticisms.
Will Rucker (28:33):
Nice. I I let you go with that one cuz I was curious my attorney brain right there. Yeah.
Will Rucker (28:39):
The, the question is community is,
Max Berkley (28:41):
Oh, community, I think you said immunity. That's how I like, That's a tough one. community is vital. And it's also important to get involved in the community too, that, you know, everyone, you know, chooses to get involved differently. But you can make, you know your life better, You can make the people around, you know, you can make the lives of the people around you better. If you get involved in the community
Will Rucker (29:10):
Max Berkley (29:14):
Comes unlimited possibilities.
Will Rucker (29:17):
I love it. Yeah. Max, thank you so much for joining the podcast. Is there anything you want to leave with our audience? Last words that you wanna share with them?
Max Berkley (29:27):
Just wanna thank everyone for listening. Thank everyone for being with us. Will, I want to thank you for the opportunity to come on this podcast. And, and I really enjoy, you know, I've always enjoyed speaking with you, but I also enjoy, you know, your positivity because, you know, a lot of times, you know, when someone brings you know me on, you know, or brings anybody on that's running for office, the focus immediately becomes negative. It becomes, you know, you know, questions that might bash the other side. This was a exclusively positive exclusively about me. And that's, I think what, you know, every interview with someone runner for office should be like.
Will Rucker (30:11):
I so appreciate that. And to our audience, thank you for tuning in. This is season four of Compassionate Las Vegas, the podcast. And as I always remind you, you are not just a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop and what you do matters. So live compassionately. See you on the next episode.