WLALA Changemaker of the Month - Jessica Kronstadt
by Andrea Schoor
In her less than ten years since graduating from law school, this month's featured changemaker, Jessica Kronstadt, is already making her mark on the Los Angeles legal community. Having started out practicing law in the litigation department of Latham & Watkins LLP, Jessica moved to Bet Tzedek Legal Services in 2012, where, as a Holocaust Services Attorney, she managed over 800 reparation cases. In 2013, Jessica joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office as a Deputy District Attorney, where she has served ever since. She has worked in the Preliminary Hearing Units of the Downey and Metropolitan Area Courthouses, with the Victim Impact Program at the Airport Branch Courthouse, and currently works in the Juvenile Division of the Inglewood Courthouse. In addition to her demanding day job, Jessica (who is trilingual) has two daughters, serves as secretary of WLALA's Executive Committee, and recently set a personal record in her fifth marathon. Here, in Jessica's own words, she tells us about her background, personal and professional life, and the values that drive her to be the committed leader and person that she is:
You transitioned from working in a large law firm to doing public interest work to becoming a prosecutor. How have you evolved as your career has evolved, and what have you learned from each of the prestigious offices in which you have worked?
There is no substitute for hard work. Period. Jobs may change but wherever one works, people appreciate and support your career goals when they can count on you to get the job done well. In all of my jobs, I have strived to provide the best work product and be a productive member of the team. As an associate at Latham, I was part of two trial teams and a mediation team. I conducted depositions, took witness testimony, and learned to write effectively. I was fortunate to work with supervisors who gave me the opportunity to get substantive, stand-up experience, and have meaningful contact with clients on a regular basis. I also met some of my closest friends and wonderful mentors. That experience gave me the confidence to run my own cases and produce effective work product at Bet Tzedek and at the DA’s office. As a DA, for the most part, I am the first (and only) chair in my trials and produce all of the written work product in my cases. My work at Latham and at Bet Tzedek prepared me for these responsibilities. Since being a junior associate at Latham, I have become a wife and a mother. I have always tried to be efficient in the office; getting home to be with my husband and daughters has given me even more incentive to be efficient!
What do you like about prosecuting? What is challenging?
In addition to being in the courtroom and trying cases, I enjoy meeting and interacting with new people on a daily basis. Each trial presents a different challenge. My days are never boring! Although I was active in criminal law organizations in law school and worked as an extern with the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, prior to joining the DA’s office my experience was more in civil law. I am constantly learning in the DA’s office. I have had wonderful supervisors in the DA’s office – many of whom are women – who have been instrumental to my career. In addition to my courtroom activity, I write motions and oppositions and have prepared training materials for animal cruelty prosecution matters. Last year, I was invited to join an advisory committee within the DA’s office, where I have had the opportunity to train other Deputy DAs on effective motion writing. I enjoy being that kind of a resource; it is a challenging and fulfilling way to “pay it forward” and to thank the many prosecutors who have helped and are still helping me.
I regularly interact with victims, defense attorneys, judges and law enforcement officers. Developing a rapport with each person is rewarding. I have prosecuted many cases where a victim is not desirous of participating in the trial. They can be scared or have little confidence in the legal system. It is especially rewarding when I have been able to obtain the victim’s confidence.
Has there been a case you prosecuted that had a particularly big impact on you personally?
I handled a child death case where the victim was a two-year old girl. She was – and would be – the same age as my older daughter. The case was profoundly sad. Working with the victim’s parents while prosecuting the case was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I have had. Their strength and spirit are indomitable. It is an honor to work to achieve justice for people like the victim and her parents. I remember the victim every day. She and her parents inspire me to prosecute all cases, and especially the challenging cases.
Who are your role models and mentors?
My parents are my ultimate role models. They are both brilliant jurists and accomplished beyond measure. They are fair, hardworking, respectful, generous, and athletic, and have supported me and my siblings in every facet of our lives. I admire everything about them. They are wonderful parents (and grandparents!). They have a loving and long-lasting marriage (43 years and counting). They are so humble about their many achievements. They are in every way the type of person I aspire to be.
My paternal grandfather – Arnold “Arnie” Kronstadt – and maternal grandmother – Eva Schenk – raised my dad and mom, respectively, as single parents. My grandfather grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. He worked hard and became a successful and well-respected architect. My dad’s mom died when my dad was 9, so my grandfather raised my dad and his two sisters by himself. My grandmother is a Holocaust refugee. She came to the United States in 1948. My mom’s dad died when my mom and her twin sister were only 2 months old, so my grandmother raised both girls by herself. The values my grandparents instilled in my parents – to work hard, to be honest, grateful and kind and to make family a priority – were passed on to me and my siblings, and I am passing them on to my daughters.
My husband is another role model. He was raised in Sweetwater, Texas, which is a small town of just over 10,000 people located around 300 miles west of Dallas. Throughout his life he has worked very hard, achieved great success and remained humble. When he was six, he told his mom he wanted to be the President of IBM. In January, he was promoted to Managing Director at Fortress Investment Group. He also has a beautiful tenor voice and loves the opera. He is strong, self-confident, smart, ambitious, hard-working, loving and kind. He is a wonderful, involved and loving father and pretty much Prince Charming in the husband department.
My being a working parent has been made possible in large part by Rina Aguilar, our wonderful nanny who has worked with us since I went back to work with my older daughter five years ago. I admire everything about Rina, especially her dedication and hard work. She is excellent at everything she does. My children love her and she is part of our family. So much so that my daughters consider one of Rina’s sons their brother and I have had to convince some of the teachers at preschool that I do not have a son! Rina is from El Salvador. She has raised three wonderful children of her own. She was raised Catholic. Almost 10 years ago, she went into a synagogue and felt connected with Judaism. She converted to Judaism shortly thereafter and is a devout practitioner. She teaches my daughters Spanish and Hebrew and helps reinforce their lessons from preschool. Rina makes so many things possible. I am so lucky that she is part of our lives.
My dad instilled in me a love of sports. My grandpa loved the Brooklyn Dodgers, and loved Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson and I were born on the same day (January 31). I have always considered him and Pee Wee Reese role models. When I was growing up, my dad and I read Teammates by Peter Golenbock. This book tells the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The book describes a game the Dodgers were playing against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati. At that game, Pee Wee Reese, in front of his hometown crowd, declared that Jackie Robinson was his teammate. I admire Mr. Robinson’s and Mr. Reese’s strength, tenacity and determination to stand up for what was important to them, even in the face of adversity. My older daughter’s middle name is Reese, which is a tribute to Pee Wee Reese and the relationship he had with Jackie Robinson.
I have always been inspired by Robin Roberts. She was a standout basketball player, a cum laude college graduate, she paved the way for women television anchors and sportscasters and has displayed strength, courage and determination throughout her career. I grew up watching her on SportsCenter. She inspired girls to play sports and be part of athletic communities off of the court. Ms. Roberts has achieved tremendous success in every job she has held. Under her leadership, “Good Morning America” won four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Morning Program and the 2017 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Daytime TV Hosting Team. She was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, as well as the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She was also named one of Glamour’s Women of the Year. She faced life-threatening illnesses. When she underwent a bone marrow transplant, her sister was a perfect match. Because of the outreach she has done since her transplant, there has been a marked increase in bone marrow donors. She was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s in July 2013 for the strength and courage she has displayed throughout her life and career. I hope I can “rock on with [my] bad self” like Ms. Roberts has done throughout her life.
Hon. Beverly Reid O’Connell was my mentor, role model and friend. I wrote this tribute to Bev, which appeared in WLALA’s November 2017 Newsletter: “I met you in the lobby of Latham & Watkins in 2011. I have admired you since then. You were the jurist that every lawyer aspires – or should aspire – to be. Smart, fair, tough, hardworking, dedicated and kind are just a few of the many adjectives that describe you. And you loved sports! You treated everyone with dignity and respect. You were the mentor everyone wanted and was fortunate to have. Your dedication to the advancement of young lawyers was truly inspiring. You were gracious and thoughtful to all WLALA Board members, but especially the young lawyers on the board. We knew your door was always open, that you would always pick up the phone to talk to us no matter how busy you were. I never told you enough how much your support, both on the WLALA board, and in my life meant to me. In 2016, I was honored to be asked to join the WLALA Executive Committee. I was so excited. I was thrilled to receive your phone call in your role on WLALA’s Nominating Committee. You assured me that even though I was young, that I was ready and a great fit for WLALA’s Executive Committee. You supported my nomination, you gave me confidence and you were my friend. These are the greatest gifts anyone could receive. I will always remember the football signed by John Elway - Granada Hills Charter High School’s second most famous graduate - that was proudly displayed in your chambers. When John Elway was inducted into Professional Football’s Hall of Fame, he spent the entirety of his induction speech thanking and acknowledging others. Just like you, he was so talented; and just like you, so selfless and humble that he chose to devote his speech to recognizing the contributions of others to his success. In that speech, Elway recognized his dad: ‘My dad wasn’t just my best friend, he was my hero, my mentor and my inspiration. He was the keeper of my reality checklist, and the compass that guided my life and my career. And he taught me the No. 1 lesson of my life – always make your family proud… He taught me to compete, never [to] give up, to play every down like it’s your last. He taught me to appreciate the game, to respect it, to play it like it was meant to be played. He taught me to enjoy my successes and learn from my failures.’ Bev, you have done this for so many people.” Thank you, Bev. Thank you for being a hero, mentor and inspiration. I love you. I honor you. I will always miss you.
Have you faced gender discrimination in your career?
Yes. (As I shake my head in dismay.) I was the only woman lawyer on trial teams. People consistently assumed that I was not a lawyer, and treated me with less respect than they did my male counterparts. Still, I am eternally grateful to the women before me who fought for the rights and advancement of women in the workplace.
At the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon last month, you completed your fifth marathon, with a personal record of 3:54:22. How did you feel afterward?
Elated. Ecstatic. Exhilarated. I always aspired to complete a marathon in less than four hours. When I crossed the finish line and saw the clock showing a sub four-hour time, I raised my arms and smiled. It was fitting that I wore my “Woman Up” shirt, and socks that read, “She Believed She Could, So She Did” for this run. I am always proud at the end of a marathon. This one was a little more special.
What do you like about running marathons?
I enjoy the physical challenge and endurance that training for and completing one requires. I feel accomplished once I cross the finish line. The LA Marathon brings together so many people throughout the city. It is a fabulous course full of so much crowd support and amazing volunteers. It takes mental and physical strength to run 26.2 miles. To be able to accomplish that while working full time, being involved in the legal community, and raising two kids is worth celebrating. I like showing my daughters that their mom is a total bad@$$, and that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to accomplishing.
Are you a sports fan?
Yes! I am an avid sports fan! Sports have always been a big part of my life. I played soccer and volleyball growing up and was a member of the Varsity Women’s Volleyball team at Yale. Being an athlete taught me mental toughness, physical toughness, how to be a team player, and how to be a leader.
I follow football and baseball rather religiously. I am a die-hard Washington Redskins fan. My dad instilled in me and my siblings a love for the Redskins at very young ages. The Redskins won Super Bowl XXII on my sixth birthday. Doug Williams became the first African American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. I also love the Dodgers. I share season tickets for their games.
What is the GOOD Guys program that you planned and will be moderating this year for WLALA?
GOOD (Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity) Guys is a program that was created by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations. GOOD Guys highlights men who are committed to the advancement of women and diverse lawyers in the legal profession. I am very excited for this program; we have a stellar lineup of talented and diverse men, each of whom has promoted and continues to promote women within his respective office.
Why is it important to you to do bar work and why did you join WLALA?
Throughout law school and early in my career, I received great advice: Get involved in bar activities and find mentors. WLALA has been the perfect platform for these goals. WLALA provides tremendous mentoring and networking opportunities. During my first year at Latham, I joined WLALA because I wanted to be involved in a bar association comprised of women lawyers and focused on issues facing and faced by women lawyers. Being a WLALA member has been life-changing. I consistently interact with talented and interesting people, particularly working moms. The WLALA board is comprised of changemakers, rainmakers and village leaders. Being on the board has allowed me to be a part of programs and panels and has given me the opportunity to be a leader in the legal community at a young (or at least younger) age.
In 2011, I went to a WLALA program where I met prominent and talented women in criminal justice. The program was a panel that featured Assistant City Attorney and Past WLALA President Anne Tremblay, LAPD Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, Judge and Past WLALA President Nicole Bershon, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and defense attorney Shawn Holley. Professor Laurie Levenson moderated. Powerhouse lineup! That program changed the course of my career.
After the panel, I wrote each panelist a handwritten thank you note, expressing my gratitude to her for her time and insight. Later that year, Judge Bershon and I had lunch. She encouraged me to apply for the WLALA Board. In 2012, I applied for and was accepted onto the WLALA Board. Thank you, Past WLALA President Ruth Kahn, for accepting my application. Since 2012, Ms. Tremblay has “looked out for” me both as a board member and throughout my time on the Executive Committee. She is and has always remained a tremendous support. These are the kinds of relationships that WLALA fosters. Thank you, ladies.
After the 2011 panel, I stayed in touch with Ms. Lacey. She graciously accepted invitations to speak at Bet Tzedek events throughout 2012. In 2013, she offered me a job as a Deputy District Attorney, a job which I am honored and privileged to hold. Thank you, Ms. Lacey, for giving me this opportunity.
I love being part of WLALA’s Executive Committee. It has given me a sense of ownership over an organization about which I care so deeply. I am grateful to WLALA Past Presidents Stacy Horth-Neubert and Kim Arnal for encouraging me to apply for the Executive Committee, and for accepting me on that Committee. Every year, WLALA’s Nominating Committee interviews candidates, and seeks input from WLALA board members on candidates who have applied for the Executive Committee. Since I have served on the WLALA Board Hon. Holly Fujie has been part of WLALA’s Nominating Committee. I am grateful that Holly will be part of the Nominating Committee again this year. As I am every year, I am grateful to the WLALA Board for continuing to allow me to serve on the Executive Committee. Being part of the Executive Committee has taught me how WLALA is run, and particularly, how it is run so well! (Thank you, Kay!)
I encourage everyone reading this article to join WLALA.
What values do you try to instill in your two daughters?
The same values by which I strive to life my life: to work hard, to be ambitious, to be kind, to be grateful, to make family a priority, to take care of oneself (mentally and physically), to be a good friend, to be supportive, to stand up for oneself and what one believes is important, and to give back.
Andrea Schoor sits on WLALA’s Board of Governors and co-chairs the business development committee. Ms. Schoor is Senior Counsel at Allen Matkins.