John Soldati is a commissioner of the Superior Court of California, San Joaquin County. As of press time, Commissioner Soldati is awaiting certification of the results of the June 5, 2018 election in which he is the apparent victor of the race to become the newest judge of that court.
John and I met for coffee near the courthouse following his morning calendar. He was punctual, cheerful and ready for the questions!
Q. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A. "Do I have to answer these really quickly, or…?" John implored with a sarcastic tone while adjusting his glasses. Assured that his answers were not being timed, he continued, "I guess it would be time spent laughing with family, especially my kids." He described his family, which consists of his wife and his six children ranging from the ages of 8 to 21, and affirmed that they were what made his life full of joy and true happiness.
Q. What is your greatest fear?
A. Sliding the sleeve on his coffee cup up and down, he meditated on the question. "Probably the health and safety of my children; accidents, if they got hurt, or sick. I am admittedly a control freak and if my kids were hurt or sick, and I can't do anything about it, I would be totally helpless."
Q. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
A. "I'm a control freak; especially with the children, and I need to learn to let go a little bit. Let them make their mistakes, pray they are not permanent mistakes, and watch them learn from those experiences."
Q. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
A. A hint of melancholy coated his response. "Dishonesty. I just can't stand it when people lie. I generally trust people until I can prove that they've lied to me. But, I am a BIG fan of forgiveness. I will forgive you and maybe come to trust you again as well, but in the words of Ronald Reagan, 'trust but verify' in those situations."
Q. What is your greatest extravagance?
A. "Starbucks." (Ironically, that is where we chose to meet). "Up until I went on a diet, I would get a Starbucks mocha every day. I don't know how many calories are in it, but it adds up. Plus, when my wife and I were reviewing our budget, I was startled to see just how much I spent on coffee; the cost adds up too."
Q. What is your favorite journey?
A. "I know you're not talking about the band; that was my first thought!" I laughed, admitting that I had been waiting for someone to make that reference for years now. "Homer's The Odyssey must have been a fantastic journey, granted not something I would personally want to have to go through, but an adventure nonetheless. As for a quest or adventure, I guess I would have to say that I am already on a journey. I am fairly religious and I am on my journey to Heaven. And as a father, I have to work to guide my children there, too. You have to be good—follow the Golden Rule—and doing that is the most exciting, interesting journey. A lot of obstacles try to get in your way, just like in The Odyssey, but you have to keep going. Here you have complete control of the outcome based upon your decisions and how you treat others. When you think about it, every day is amazing. The sun comes up. Why does it come up? We all think freely, although not everyone thinks intelligently, and we live and breathe on a ball that is hurtling through the universe. It is either a crapshoot or a masterfully designed plan. My experience in life has led me to conclude that it is a plan of an intelligent being. It's a great journey."
Q. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
A. "Well, you should probably know that I was classically trained in philosophy, so it is so hard for me to say that any one of them is overrated. But, if you'll allow me to answer which one is the most difficult to follow, I would say self-control. We like what we want and we want to have it now. People do not appreciate delayed gratification and would rather take less now than more later. I believe, if society were to answer this question, its behavior says that self-control is overrated, however I believe it is what society needs most."
Q. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
A. He raised his eyebrow suspiciously. "Well," he paused, "when I mentally see myself, I am still a 20-year-old in college. Then I look at pictures of myself and I think, 'Who's that old guy with the paunch, sagging chin, wrinkles on his face… I'm certainly not a 20-year-old college student anymore!"
Q. Which words of phrases do you most overuse?
A. "Okay." He smiled. "I think I use 'okay' as a way to give myself more time to think before responding to a question or situation, okay?"
Q. What is your greatest regret?
A. "Not saving more money when I was younger and just starting in my career. Again, this is tied to self-discipline. Sometimes I think, if I'd done 'this' or 'that' I would be independently wealthy by now."
Q. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
A. Without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "Lucy, my wife. And my children as well."
Q. When and where were you happiest?
A. Generally, I am pretty happy right now. In the past, I guess a good time was back in 1995. I had just started law school and Lucy and I had just purchased our first home. It was Christmas and we didn't have anything. She was nine-and-a-half-months pregnant with our first child. We had a small Christmas tree and we ate dinner sitting on our couch using the boxes as a table. We only had one or two presents for each other under that tree, but we were very happy. Another time, I would have to say, is when I got to deliver our third child. I told the doctor in the delivery room that I was ready to cut the umbilical cord and the doctor instead allowed me to deliver my son. It was also special because my dad was an obstetrician, and I got to experience, briefly, what he did every day—bring new life into the world. It was an amazing experience."
Q. Which talent would you most like to have?
A. "I wish I could sing. I couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle on it! I was born with a hearing deficiency," he motioned, pointing to the hearing aids adorning his ears, "so it was hard to hear the tunes and get the right pitch. But I've been singing to my kids since they were born, before they knew what bad singing was. Now that they are older and I can relish in embarrassing them, I am not as self-conscious about it. I know I can't sing."
Q. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would you like to be?
A. Gently shaking his finger in the air as if a subtle warning, he declared, "First of all, I don't want to come back! But, if I had to come back, I guess I would like be Jimmy Buffett. I love his music, it was a unique style and brought joy to people." Smiling, he added, "I also enjoy a good margarita every now and then."
Q. What is your most treasured possession?
A. "That's hard to say. I don't really treasure possessions. But in my chambers I have a picture of my paternal grandfather from 1932. He is in court, cross-examining a witness on the stand. He was the only other lawyer in my family. I never got to talk to him about it because he passed away when I was on my way to college and before I had any aspirations of becoming a lawyer."
Q. What is your favorite occupation?
A. "Oh, law of course!" he responded as if it were a joke. "As my grandfather told my father, 'the law is a jealous mistress.' I fell in love with the law on the first day I of law school. I loved being a prosecutor, I loved being a defense attorney, and I love being on the bench."
Q. What is your most marked characteristic?
A. "I am pensive. I think things through before I speak, okay?" he joked. "I like to think and look at things from every angle. I also think I have a sense of humor. I like to make light of things, to help people feel more comfortable in court—but only when appropriate. Also, I think I have the heart of a teacher. I like to explain things so that people understand what's going on."
Q. What do you most value in your friends?
A. "Loyalty and honestly."
Q. Who are your favorite writers?
A. G. K. Chesterton. He was a British writer who wrote about Roman Catholicism at the turn of the twentieth century. He was hilarious, prophetic, and his arguments, when you read them, appeared to go off on tangents, only to circle back around after answering any possible objections one might have in the process. I also like reading Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court opinions. Even though I didn't always agree with his decisions, I loved his wit."
Q. Who are your heroes in real life?
A. With humility, he responded, "Navy Seals, specifically, Seal Team Six. They received little pay, yet risked life and limb on principle and honor."
Q. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
A. "It's gotta be Superman. I had an original copy of the first edition of the book Superman that my dad got when he was five. It had old style, black-and-white drawings; the Man of Steel!" I asked if he still had the book; his response revealed that dogs eat more than homework and that the "paper version" of Superman has more weaknesses then just kryptonite.
Q. How would you like to die?
A. Somberly he spoke, "At an old age, following a very brief period of illness, and after a long and vigorous life, surrounded by my family."
Q. What is your motto?
A. "I don't know if I really have one! I am trying to think of what I say to the kids." He pondered, "Well, here is an old one: 'use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.' And there is the notorious 'money doesn't grow on trees' and of course, 'I'm your dad, not your buddy.' I guess I don't really have a motto, but those should do."