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Not An Ordinary Sitting Judge: An Interview With Keith Faulder

I had wanted to interview Judge Faulder for many years. The occasion never presented itself, though I had observed him in the courtroom, spoken with him in his chambers and had lunch with him twice in Ukiah when he talked off the record. Then, recently, my long-held desire finally came true at the end of August 2023. Since Faulder lives in Ukiah and I live in San Francisco, we decided to conduct the interview on the phone, for convenience sake as much as for any other reason. I have conducted dozens of phone interviews and they have almost always turned out alright. I think that’s true of this one. You can read and see for yourself. There’s a lot more that Faulder might have said. This is a start.

Raskin: Judge, what should we know about you in terms of facts?

Faulder: I was born in 1958 in Modesto and raised in Palo Alto in the 1960s, which I remember as a much freer time than today. The things we did that didn’t lead to an arrest would probably lead to arrests today. Kids can’t do in the 21st Century what kids could do in the Sixties and not raise an eyebrow. 

Raskin: I understand that as a judge you are under some constraints. Is that true, accurate?

Faulder: Yes. As a judge I’m not supposed to express opinions about an issue or a person that might come before the court.

Raskin: Do you feel handcuffed?

Faulder: No, I don’t feel that way, though when I retire from the bench, which will probably be in 2028, I will not be under the constraints I’m now under. I was voted into office twice. When my second term ends five years from now I’ll be 70.

Raskin: You have a life outside the courtroom don’t you?

Faulder: I do. I’m a big bicycle rider. I’ve traveled by bike along the Empire State Trail that runs for more than 300 miles on an old railroad line from Staten Island, one of New York’s five boroughs, to Albany, the state capitol. I have seen a lot of New York State up-close. I have also been on a bike in Portugal. There’s also the Camino de Santiago which traverses Spain and that’s popular with cyclists and walkers. There are hostels along the way, plus commercial enterprises for travelers.

Raskin: Cycling must clear your head; a clear head seems to be essential for a judge.

Faulder: It has cleared my head, especially when I’ve cycled in Portugal along the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve noticed that when I’m traveling on a bike I get into a rhythm. Bicycling is fast enough to feel you’re actually getting some place; making forward progress. And it’s slow enough so you see, hear, smell and feel a place that’s imprinted in your head. In Portugal there’s spectacular food. Cycling is a great way to see a country, including the US. There are great places to ride here.

Raskin: How else does cycling help you?

Faulder: It keeps me physically as well as mentally fit.

You’ve been in my courtroom so you know that I don’t sit.

Raskin: You’re not a “sitting judge,” though you are a presiding judge.

Faulder: No, I am not a sitting judge. If I sit I feel like my blood goes to my butt and I don’t like that feeling. Cycling helps me stand for long periods of time. I can stand for hours and move about and feel good. 

Raskin: There must be other activities outside the courtroom that are helpful inside the courtroom.

Faulder: I feel that the more life experiences I have the better I’m able to function well in the courtroom. Life experiences enable me to feel empathy and to have an understanding of the lives of people who are on trial.

Raskin: You are married aren’t you? Your wife’s first name is Jonah?

Faulder: It’s spelled Jona. We have been together for 32 years. She is cycling now in Nova Scotia. She’s a retired lawyer. We did not meet in a bar, as some like to think, but rather when we were both working as lawyers in San Diego. We got together to discuss the cases we were handling, especially the sentencing phase. We talked about strategies for the courtroom. 

Raskin: Tell me about the cases you talked about with the woman who is now your wife.

Faulder: Jona’s client was accused of murdering seven women. He stabbed them repeatedly with a knife. My client was accused of murdering five women. He duped them, killed them, dumped them and set their bodies on fire. Both men, who were serial killers, are now on death row. Both of them are Black, which is rare in the annals of crime and punishment. Statistically speaking, there are very few Black serial killers. Most serial killers are white.

During the trial of the man who killed seven women, my wife’s father asked her, “How can you defend a man who killed seven women?” I guess everyone deserves his or her day in court and is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Raskin: My younger brother is a private investigator who works for criminal defense lawyers. He’s been a PI for 40 years. Mostly, he maintains confidentiality, though sometimes a case hits him so hard that he has to talk about it. That happened with a murder case in LA. Two gang members killed two members of a rival gang and a DEA agent, a woman, who had infiltrated the gang. This took place during the “Rodney King riots.” At first, the cops assumed it was random violence, but one detective didn’t buy that story. He investigated and arrested a man who admitted he was at the scene of the crime, but insisted he didn’t pull the trigger. He named his partner in crime. That man was tried for murder, found guilty and sentenced to prison. My brother thinks that the man who pulled the trigger was innocent of murder. 

Faulder: In the world of crime there’s a whole lot of snitching. When co-defendants are charged, someone usually names names and helps the prosecution. On the topic of snitching, I’m amazed these days at how loyal most of the Trump people are to the former president. 

Raskin: You’re following the many indictments against Trump? 

Faulder: I am. I get news from The New York Times, BBC America and the PBS NewsHour. I find it fascinating. You don’t have to be politically astute to understand what’s happening, but rather psychologically astute. It surprises me that Trump’s Republican base is so intensely loyal to him, though he does and says almost everything that’s anathema to traditional Republicans. 

Raskin: Do you see the same or similar patterns of behavior in Mendocino?

Faulder: I once had my finger on the pulse of Mendocino, but I no longer do. I used to have many contacts outside the courtroom, served on boards and attended functions. I don’t do that any longer. I don’t have the kinds of conversations I used to have because as a judge I’m supposed to be fair and impartial. I’m supposed to uphold the law, and not bring any shadow into the courtroom.

Raskin: In that regard you are probably unique. Judges, including the nine judges on the US Supreme Court, seem to make rulings based on ideology as much as on the facts of the case and the law. 

Faulder: When I first put on the black robes I felt a sense of responsibility. It was a physical sensation. I have carried that sense of responsibility to this very day.

Years ago, I followed with intense curiosity, the OJ Simpson trial and also the Timothy McVeigh trial, which happened at about the same time. To this day, many people can name the judge in the OJ trial, plus the names of the prosecuting attorneys and the lawyers for defense. That’s not true for the McVeigh trial, though I would argue that the McVeigh trial was and still is more interesting and more important than the OJ trial. The McVeigh story, the story of a domestic terrorist, took America by surprise. It’s much more complex than the OJ story.

Raskin: The media built up the OJ story. OJ lent himself to a kind of soap opera: Black man and a super athlete murders his white wife and goes on the run before he’s apprehended. That’s Hollywood.

Faulder: Yes. The public was more interested in OJ than in McVeigh.

Raskin: I’m now reading an excellent non-fiction book titled The Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. It's about the real life murders by white people of two dozen Indians who belonged to the Osage and who were wealthy because oil was discovered on their land. A very young J. Edgar Hoover tried to lead the investigation from Washington D.C. White people, including a judge, a banker, lawyers and other pillars of the community, conspired to kill the Indians with poison and also to gun them down and cover up their crimes. The story has been made into a movie and will be released in October. Martin Scorsese directed. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone. 

Faulder: Why haven’t I known about this fascinating part of American history? There is so much of our past that is buried, ignored and unknown. It’s a shame. I wish we could change that pattern. 

Raskin: Thanks for talking to me in this interview for the AVA.

Faulder: You're welcome.

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