Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chief Deputy District Attorney John P. Kochis retires after distinguished career with the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office

The Kochisean World Paradigm
Kent Williams

Deputy District Attorney

What I will always remember about John Kochis is his sense of diplomacy.  He has been a distinguished prosecutor for almost 40 years, but I think his real calling was in diplomacy.  He would have been an equal or better to James Baker or Madeline Albright.  It’s too bad our office doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Middle East—John would have everyone behaving in no time.  John generates this positive aura by displaying respect for everyone—yes, sometimes even for people who don’t fully deserve it.  But he always presumes the best about everyone and he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.  When presented with information to the contrary, John takes it with a grain of salt.  His trademark phrase is “Well, the flip side of the coin is…”  John never made rash decisions.  He liked to mull things over and talk to just about everyone involved before he reached any conclusion—and even then his conclusions were often tentative.  He corrected issues by gentle nudges and by talks that were typically more encouraging than reprimanding.  John pretty much has lived by the axiom of “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  There has never been anything malicious in John’s character, but more importantly, there has never been anything petty.  He is a man of substance.  Every discussion was couched in a constructive, often humorous, light.  His was a reign of charisma rather than terror.

The essence of all of this was that everyone knew that John Kochis was absolutely going to preclude anything unfair from happening.  No one was going to get unfairly vilified or railroaded under his watch.  He never threw the baby out with the bathwater.  That’s an extremely important element to have in a chain of command. John exhibited maturity and confidence.  He had no need to make any personal statement or show of ego. Occasionally we wished he addressed issues more aggressively.  But, as with anyone, you have to take the good with the  bad.  With John, the good outweighed the bad by a factor of ten.  John enjoyed rigorous dissent, he was not threatened by it.  I don’t recall him ever becoming defensive, even when someone adamantly disagreed with him.  Actually, his main response to vocal dissent was to smile.  He liked “lightning rod” attorneys, as long as they were willing to try cases.  John was “old school” in that regard—active willingness to try cases was the currency of the kingdom for him.

John was a workaholic.  He was the classic “first in, last out” type of Supervisor and Chief.  John was never just “kicking back.”  He has been dealing with one major issue or another for as long as I’ve known him, and there was a visible intensity to his work.  But all you had to do was stick your head in his office and ask if he had a moment.  He would break free from his thought processes, smile, and invite you in.  He was never in the least sanctimonious or austere.  In fact, he was casual and warm. The most serious of conversations were augmented with anecdotes about families and movies and the condition of slopes and waves.  I appreciated my early discussions of cases with him. He really likes his lawyers to articulate their analyses rather than just operate off of generalities, instinct or hunch.  He expected us to comprehensively know the facts of our cases.  At the end of the discussion he was typically deferential to the line lawyer’s views and recommendations.  He readily acknowledged the assigned lawyer’s feel for their cases.  He ended every conversation with “Okay, go have fun.”  In his mind, the work we do here is not conventional, plodding work.  Seeking justice is fun.  You seek justice, and then you go surf or you go ski.  That’s pretty much the Kochisean World Paradigm.

When Jim Hackleman left a few years ago, someone mentioned the wealth of “institutional memory” he took with him.  The same thing is true now with John’s departure.  I was a sophomore in high school when John started with this office.  That seems like a lifetime ago to me.  He has seen countless twists and turns since then here in San Bernardino County.  Not the least of those twists and turns were Kevin Cooper and Phillip Lucero.  I saw John’s penalty-phase opening statement in Lucero—it was as meticulous as a Swiss watch and as potent as a missle.  It has set the standard in my mind for the balance of my career.

We knew it was just a matter of time before he departed.  He’s “been working for free,” as the saying goes, for quite some time.  John assures us that we’ll be fine with Bruce Brown and Bob Bulloch, and we will.  But I think we all know that the amazing “institutional memory” will now be on the slopes or the waves, instead of in that northwest-facing office waiting to untangle the latest issue or debacle.

Top Flight Prosecutor
 by James Hackleman
Assistant District Attorney (Retired)

You know that little guy in the tuxedo that they put on top of wedding cakes.  Few people know that John Kochis was the model for that fellow next to the gal in white.  John has always looked the part.  And in the courtroom, it was ever obvious who was the prosecutor.  Jurors paid attention to this good-looking, impeccably dressed attorney whose easy demeanor and command of the facts and the law resulted in their complete trust in him.  He developed into one of the Office’s top flight prosecutors.  He became an expert in Grand Jury procedures and has death penalty convictions to his credit, including Kevin Cooper, a case he continues to monitor and to tirelessly work on through all of its post-trial machinations.  When a critical case had to be won and done right, elected DAs turned to John.  He never let them down.

John was an obvious selection for supervision.  And as a Chief Deputy he successfully ran Central and then the West End for many years.  That trust that jurors gave him was the same trust he engendered with judges, police chiefs, public officials, and the citizens that he dealt with on a daily basis.  He was not an “office” Chief but was in the courthouse, in the trenches with his deputies, and had personal contact with the public and police.  With management he often presented unique insights that got us all to ponder, and his dry wit often got the better of us.  He was always a willing hand and carried many an important Office project to completion.  And from his first days in the Office until his last day today, John could pick up any file and present a beautiful case in the courtroom.  It is hard to picture a career as a prosecutor that could have been done better or a retirement better earned.  Along with my congratulations and best wishes, John has my sincere admiration.      

The Man Behind the Yellow Legal Pad
Karen Schmauss
Deputy District Attorney

I have known John Kochis for 36 years.  I started out covering his murder trials at the old courthouse in Ontario when I was a newspaper reporter.  After I joined the office in 1984, I began working for him.  The best lesson I learned from him is there is no substitute for preparation, preparation, preparation.  That is how cases are won – not so much by brilliant advocacy but by meticulous and thorough preparation. 

I can close my eyes and visualize his  “John writing,” in his neat, compact hand, as he filled yellow legal pad after yellow legal pad with notes and indexed them for use at trial.  He was a trial lawyer before there were personal computers, and his method served him well.  

As a supervisor and as a chief deputy, he was an excellent leader and role model, although it could be difficult to get an audience with him because he was so busy – after all, he’s been working on the Kevin Cooper capital case for 31 years!  His advice was always excellent.  I never saw him get angry or raise his voice at anyone.  John is truly an institution at the DA’s office and he will be very missed.

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