Judge Quentin L. Kopp, a former state senator and San Francisco supervisor, is on the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, charged with implementing high-speed train service from Los Angeles to San Francisco. He tells us his desires to see careful spending of taxpayer dollars, the difficulties as a judge of discerning truthful testimony, and the priority he puts on procedure.
Is there a “golden rule” by which you live your life?
Yes, and that is to conduct myself, as a lawyer, aspiring to represent people with valid claims to correct wrongs against them; as a political legislative representative, to ensure the honest spending of tax dollars; as a judge, to be objective and impartial.
What would you say has been the most memorable book you’ve read?
“All Quiet on the Western Front,” which is from the time I was in junior high school. Contemporarily, probably, Robert’s [biographer Robert A. Caro] series on Lyndon Johnson.
Is there a material object that you own, that you treasure more than others?
Maybe a picture of my father in 1918 in his Army uniform in France as part of the American Expedition.
What’s one thing you would change about local politics?
Simple. I’d change it so that a solid majority of the people’s representatives in the executive and legislative branches are concerned about taxpayer waste and flagrantly unjustified taxpayer expenditures. The City today has more city employees than ever in history. And its budget — for a city one-third the size of Philadelphia — is virtually the same as Philadelphia, and it’s an indignity that’s occurred over the last 15 years.
What would you say is the most difficult part about being a judge? The most surprising?
The most difficult part is always discerning truthful and untruthful testimony. The most surprising part has been the lack of procedural knowledge, let alone substantive knowledge in some instances, of so many lawyers — maybe as many as 30 percent — who tend to disregard procedural niceties. I like procedure, and I prided myself on knowing procedure, following procedure; thus I expect lawyers to know it as least as well or even better, and too often they do not.
You have a highway named after you. If you could name a highway after someone, who would you choose?
I would choose John Barbagelata, who I served with for six years on the Board of Supervisors. … He gave more service and sacrifice to San Francisco taxpayers and residents than anyone I know, and he merits recognition. Statewide I would identify Pete Wilson, who I think from a managerial standpoint was the best governor California has had in the last 50 years or so.
If you could give one piece of advice to our current mayor, what would it be?
Fewer press conferences. Pay more attention to the day-to-day operation of city government.
If you could overhear your senate successors talking about you today, what’s one thing you’d hope they’d say?
That Quentin Kopp was an intellectually honest transportation committee chairman. That almost all of his ideas and concepts were astute and served taxpayers better than prior enactment of those concepts into laws. And that he laid a good foundation for us to emulate.