Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, January 9, 2023


Special Section




Sherri Okamoto




He’s Had Three Major Pursuits: Lawyer,
Politician, Businessman


Former Senate majority
leader and former speaker of the Assembly Robert Hertzberg calls himself a
“risk-taker”—and he’s never been one to take the easy path, or paths—in life.
“I kind of always divided my life into three separate things,” he said: the
law, the community, and business.

After narrowly losing his bid in November for a spot on the
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Hertzberg says he plans to turn his
focus to his business endeavors for a while, but if his history is any
indication of his future, California may yet see his candidacy for another role
if he sees work that needs to be done.


Hertzberg was born Nov. 19, 1954, the third of five sons of
Harrison Hertzberg, a constitutional lawyer, and Antoinette “Bunny” Hertzberg.

The Hertzbergs had moved to Southern
California in 1949 to be closer to Harrison Hertzberg’s father, who was
receiving treatment for tuberculosis at what is now City of Hope.

Robert Hertzberg spent his childhood in Los Angeles. The
family home was in Benedict Canyon.

He took his first steps down the path of his future legal
career, and his political career, at Palm Springs High School after the clan
moved to the desert. He served as both junior and senior class president.

First Case

Young Robert filed a small claims suit against a donut shop
across the street from the high school when he was 15. Hertzberg asserted a
claim for discrimination because the shop wouldn’t let the students inside.

He sought $250 in damages for the aggrieved pupils, who he
had sign petitions and called as witnesses. Hertzberg didn’t win because, the
judge held, the small claims court didn’t have jurisdiction, but, the future
lawyer recalls, “it was a lot of fun.”

Hertzberg enrolled at the University of Redlands, bobbed to
Harvard University for summer school, studied for a year at UCLA, forayed to
USC, then circled back to Redlands where he graduated magna cum laude in 1976.

His major was in history which he attributes to the influence
of his father. As a child, Hertzberg says, all his father “talked about was the
Constitution, linking it to history and why it’s so important to the principles
of this country.”

Hertzberg’s minor was in English and he wrote a 400-page
handbook titled, “A Commonsense Approach to English” while he was still working
toward his degree.

Law School

After graduation, Hertzberg enrolled in UC Hasting’s College
of Law in San Francisco. He says he chose the school because he already had a
job in San Francisco, and the tuition was cheap—something like $500 a month—and
he was paying it himself.

Hertzberg was the only one of his brothers to follow in their
father’s footsteps, and that, he says, was the career path he always wanted to

He remembers his father repeatedly asking him, “Do you want
to be a trial lawyer or a scrivener?” and he would respond: “A trial lawyer.”
Hertzberg admits he didn’t know what a scrivener was back then, “but it didn’t
sound good.”

During law school, Hertzberg worked on the staff of
then-President Jimmy Carter—serving as an advance man and in other
capacities—so, he recounts, “I took off a lot and traveled around, and I missed
a lot of classes.” Still, he had time to coauthor a manual on real estate law,
“California Lis Pendens Practice,” published by the University of California,
and helped form an agricultural technology company in Cairo, Egypt.

As a Jewish-American navigating business channels in the
Arabic nation, Hertzberg jokes, “I learned more about politics there than I
ever learned in California.”

Bar Membership

He passed the California bar exam the summer after law
school, but his swearing-in was delayed because he was travelling with Carter
when the president was informed militants in Iran had seized a group of
American citizens at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The hostage situation would
drag on until 1981, but Hertzberg was able to become a member of the bar in
December 1979.

He went into private practice for a few years, briefly
partnering with his father (though suing him after the association ended,
seeking an accounting, with a settlement being reached with his progenitor’s

Hertzberg also tried his hand as a restauranter and hotelier,
among other business ventures, while working on various campaign efforts in and
around Los Angeles.

Hertzberg says he was “the conciliary, the guy behind the
scenes helping everybody,” in the political arena, and that was how he liked
it. But he saw so many people “turn into mush” and become “owned by the system”
after being elected to public office. For these people, all that mattered was “staying
in power, and getting reelected,” which frustrated Hertzberg, who wanted to
help them form plans to set goals to help their constituents.

Finally, he recalls, “I said forget it, I’m going to go do it



California Gov. Gavin
Newsom, right, and state Sen. Robert Hertzberg arrive for a news conference
held on the campus of Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, on July 22, 2022.



to Assembly

In 1996, he succeeded Assemblywoman Barbara Friedman of the
40th Assembly District. He was reelected in 1998, and in 2000, he was
unanimously elected by a voice vote as the 64th speaker of the California

During his time in the Assembly, Hertzberg noticed that there
was a large influx of new members with every new session. That led him to
co-found the California Assembly Program for Innovative Training and
Orientation for the Legislature, which helped familiarize new lawmakers and
their staff members on “how to do a budget, how committees work, all the basic
things you need to know.”

Hertzberg also helped craft a resolution of a dispute over
water rights from the Colorado River, and negotiate a bond deal to be able to
improve public schools around the state.

But even when “tackling the toughest and meanest problems
that took hundreds of hours,” individual contact remained important to
Hertzberg. “Politics, to me, is personal,” he says. “You’ve got to talk to
people, to go door-to-door and you’ll really see the human side of politics.”

To be an effective representative for constituents, Hertzberg
remarks, “you need to know what’s on their mind, what they worry about, what’s
important to them, what makes them tick, so you can provide the appropriate

He says his focus was on “solving the problems people didn’t
know they had” as well as what they were focused on—preventative
politics—addressing potential issues he perceived.

This practice was something he brought over from his legal
career, Hertzberg notes. He recounts:

“I would kill myself trying to win a case for a client and
the very next day, the client would come back with the same problem.”

Law Practice

Hertzberg termed out of office in 2002 and he returned to
private practice with Mayer Brown. He also became chair of a group called
California Forward that dealt with fiscal policy and participated in the Think
Long Committee, a think-tank funded by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, to draft
a set of proposals to improve the state’s system of governance.

Hertzberg credits the committee with reigniting his desire to
enter politics again. In 2005, he ran for the post of mayor of Los Angeles,
coming in third in the primary. In 2014, Hertzberg was elected to the
California State Senate.

During his first term, Hertzberg helped pass SB 10, a bail
reform measure to benefit unmonied defendants, while
retaining in judges
discretion to determine if a defendant could, consistent with public safety, be
released before a trial.

Money for the courts themselves was also a major issue, as
Hertzberg came into the Senate after the judicial branch had suffered years of
budget cuts, leading to court closures and layoffs.

“Not a month that went by that I didn’t have a group of
judges come by, who wanted to make sure the judicial branch was properly
funded,” Hertzberg recalls.

“Judges have no political power, and the judicial branch
doesn’t raise money, but democracy only works if the judicial branch is robust
and properly funded,” he declares.

As a senator, Hertzberg worked to implement the one-day,
one-trial jury service program, build new courthouses, and implement pay raises
for court reporters. He also helped create a “rainy-day fund” to provide the
government budget with less volatility.

“It’s not something that gets you on the front page of the
papers,” he notes, “but it helps avoid things like court furloughs because you
have the funds to keep things operating.”



In this photo, state Sen.
Robert Hertzberg speaks at a hearing in Sacramento.


Majority Leader

Hertzberg served as Senate majority leader for the 2018–19 legislative
session, and he says he was proud of his work in trying to reform the tax
system “to have an income side that matched the expense side,” and forming an
independent commission to perform redistricting.

He also says he was proud to “work across party lines,” and
that he made Democrats and Republicans sit together to “change the culture” and
encouraged them to all work together.

In 2020, Hertzberg decided to run for the Los Angeles County
Board of Supervisors in light, he says, of his concerns with how the county was
spending its budget.

“I wasn’t running because it was a step in my political
career,” he maintains. “It was a service move, a duty move.”

It was also a tight race, taking a week after election day
for it to be clear that his run-off opponent, Lindsey Horvath had won. She
declared, once her victory was clear:

“I want to thank Senator Bob Hertzberg for his incredibly
generous and kind phone call, for his commitment to public service, and for
engaging in this hard-fought campaign to make Los Angeles a better place.”


Hertzberg says of his bid for county office:

“I’m happy I did it. I’m not a regretful person and I would
have been saying ‘I should have, I should have’ if I didn’t run.”

As for what’s next, Hertzberg says he will return his
attention to “the green energy business,” with his company, Solar Integrated
Technologies, which is based in South Los Angeles.

He’s also leaving behind words of wisdom for the next
generation of lawmakers, having compiled some advice and 30 years of his op-ed
pieces into a book he’s calling “Work In Close.”

Hertzberg calls on lawmakers to “engage in thinking, in
solving problems and don’t worry about winning all the time.”

In politics, “you can’t think you’re going to be a hero
overnight,” he says, “and you’re not ever going to do anything big if you think
it’s going to be easy.”

Hertzberg acknowledges that “there are incentives that are
aligned in such a way you don’t want to take a risk, but the only way to
succeed in life is to take a risk, think through ideas, and be bold.”

He references the founding fathers of America and Martin
Luther King Jr. as exemplars of those who risked their lives and freedom for causes they believed in.

“There’s risks to heroism, there’s character to stepping up,”
Hertzberg comments. “You’re never going to win at everything, and you’re never
going to win at anything unless you go and try.”



In this 2018 file
photo, State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, attends a hearing in Sacramento


Loses Election

Hertzberg says he has that message for his younger son,
Daniel Hertzberg, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the elder Hertzberg’s
Senate seat, losing in the Nov. 8 run-off to Caroline Menjivar.

“He won in the primary and lost in the general,” the proud
father says. “But he got in the arena, and that’s the most important thing. You
can’t win or lose if you don’t get in the game.”

Hertzberg’s other son, David Hertzberg, is an accomplished
musician. Their mother, Hertzberg’s first wife, is Los Angeles Superior Court
Judge Karen Moskowitz.

He was wed from 1995–2005 to clinical psychologist Cynthia
Ann Telles.

Hertzberg has a two-year old daughter, Athena Grace, with his
current partner, Katharine Tellis, who is the director of the California State
University Los Angeles School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at the
Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Hertzberg should have a building
named after him, since he says, “I’m not transactional, I’m structural.”

For his entire career, in law, public service, and business,
Hertzberg reflects, he is always questioning what he is doing to make things
better, and making the structural changes necessary for improvements.

 “It’s not always the best thing in terms of what gets
you elected but it’s the right thing to do,” Hertzberg says. “You’ve got to
make a contribution, do good stuff in life. That’s all I can tell you.”



In this 2018 file
photo, State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, right, receives congratulations
from Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, after his bail reform bill was approved by
the state Senate, in Sacramento.



Former State Bar President and past Person of the Year
Patrick Kelly comments that he has known Hertzberg, “the bear-hug man,” for “a
long, long time.” Kelly says Hertzberg is “a successful lawyer and a successful
government servant” and his career has been dedicated to helping others in those

Former Los Angeles District Attorney and past Person of the
Year Steve Cooley opines that Hertzberg “has a reputation for being a very,
very effective legislator over many years.” As a former resident of the San
Fernando Valley area, Cooley says, “I can say he served the community very

Retired California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, also a
past “person of the year,” remarks that “Senator Hertzberg understood the
importance of the judicial branch and was a strong and important ally during
his tenure in Sacramento.”

She adds:

“Californians should be thankful for his tireless efforts to
improve the bail and pretrial system, as well as to limit the harsh effects of
criminal fines, fees, and penalties on those who can least afford them.”


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Huey Cotton—who, prior to
this year, was supervising judge in the San Fernando Valley (Northwest
District), says Hertzberg “is a champion for justice,” and a person who can
“connect the dots between human need and social policy to address the need
better than anyone I know in local politics.”

Cotton adds that it has been “amazing to see how he can
extrapolate from a problem to a legislative solution,” and “the benefits of a
Hertzberg involvement in public life will be long-lasting, for sure.”

When the courts were “in our darkest hours” with the judicial
branch budget being slashed year after year, Cotton says Hertzberg “was there
to fight on a legislative level, to ensure access to justice.”

They were “real desperate times,” the judge recalls, and “a
lot of people just gave lip-service, but Bob turned what he heard into
legislative action and helped stem the tide of cuts in a way the folks in his
district, and certainly in our county, will appreciate for years and years.”

Cotton predicts Hertzberg “will find a way to inject himself
into public life in a meaningful way” in the future, “and then smoke a nice
cigar to salute himself.”


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