Under Oath: Stephen Rosenbaum

Stephen Rosenbaum, J.D., M.P.P. is the new Directing Attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) office in Stockton. Before joining CRLA, Stephen taught courses in social justice, civil rights litigation, and mental health law and policy at his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley's Boalt School of Law. Stephen has had appointments at U.C. Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, Stanford Law School and Golden Gate University. 

Stephen and I met at French 25 to support the restaurant and get in one last meal before it closed its doors. We were both intrigued by the alligator tail appetizer, a quintessential Cajun delicacy. After determining that the rumors were true—it did, in fact, taste like chicken—we dove into the questions. 


Q. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A. "I guess it would be a sensation of being stressfree, relaxed, blissful, and bringing joy or comfort to others." 


Q. What is your greatest fear? 

A. "This interview is almost like therapy," he quipped. "I am always afraid of giving the wrong advice to a client." He quickly added, "Or giving the wrong advice to anyone, really." 


Q. What is a trait you most deplore in yourself? 

A. "That's a hard one. I guess I over-explain things, whether it be directions or perhaps my analysis of a situation or solution. I also sometimes try to problem solve for someone who is seeking a listener and not an advisor. I need to be a better listener." 


Q. What is the trait you most deplore in others? 

A. "Not reading social cues, which may lead to an awkward conversation, a longer conversation than necessary, or regrettable or even harmful remarks."


Q. What is your greatest extravagance? 

A. "I do like to eat pastries. But, I think my real extravagance is coffee. And, the coffee made by the barista at the café is always better than what I make at home. You know, the right granulation, the right dosage, the right temperature. I guess good coffee is not really an extravagance these days. I mean, I am happy to drink Peet's Coffee over an artisan, overpriced, precious handcrafted brew any day." 


Q. What is your favorite journey? 

A. "I love to travel and I don't wish to discriminate as to continents. I have traveled a lot, but over time, I have come to prefer staying longer in one place rather than cramming in lots of venues during a single trip—the old If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium phenomenon. I prefer places where I speak the language and know a little about the local culture." I asked which languages he spoke. "Spanish, French, and I am fairly decent in English." He also relayed that his work in the legal profession has taken him to West Africa, Egypt, Qatar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, France—and, yes, Belgium, amongst other places. 


Q. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 

A. "A clean desk!" 


Q. What do you dislike most about your appearance? 

A. He immediately responded, "I wish I were taller, but I think I have outgrown that discomfort. I have become more comfortable with my height as I have grown older. But I think as a society we tend to idealize taller men." 


Q. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 

A. "I can't put my finger on it. Let me think about that and get back to you." As this is a frequent request in interviews, I responded, "Ok, we'll come back to it." He laughed while correcting me: "No, that is the phrase which I overuse. 'Let me think about that and get back to you.' I say that a lot." 


Q. What is your greatest regret? 

A. "They always say that your kids grow up too quickly before you can enjoy them in the moment. But while I think that is true, I think the same observation can be made about life in general. And, I am guilty of that insofar as I am not always living in the moment." 


Q. What or who was the greatest love of your life? 

A. "Does this have a predictable answer? Of course, the answer is my wife—oh, and also my partner. She has been and is both spouse and partner." 


Q. When and where were you happiest? 

A. "My son says his best time was in college and he is only a few years out. While I did enjoy that period of my life, and subsequent work, family time and travel, it is too soon for me to make that assessment." 


Q. Which talent would you most like to have? 

A. "To be totally in sync with every person I meet in a personal, social or professional setting. That would require me to do and say 'the right thing' all the time." 


Q. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would you like to be? 

A. "Michael Ratner. Perhaps he comes to mind quickly because of his recent passing. He died after living a life as a supreme human rights advocate across the globe." 


Q. What is your most treasured possession? 

A. "If you asked my children, they would say, the many artifacts I have collected from my travels, but it's really my family—past and present generations," Stephen replied after pondering the question. 


Q. What is your favorite occupation? 

A. "One of the things I have strived to do in my work life is to combine advocacy, teaching and writing. That is the ultimate occupation." 


Q. What is your most marked characteristic? 

A. "I think I am perceived on a spectrum from very engaging to much too intense." 


Q. What do you most value in your friends? 

A. He answered succinctly: "Loyalty, discretion, candor, and acceptance." 


Q. Who are your favorite writers? 

A "Ernest Hemmingway, Eugene O'Neill, Barbara Pym, and Arthur Miller." 


Q. What is your favorite hero of fiction? 

A. "Probably Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird." 


Q. Who are your heroes in real life? 

A. "Eleanor Roosevelt, Elie Wiesel, and Nelson Mandela."