Craig Van Rooyen Was Always Out Of My Reach

I spent my last three years of high school at Placer. It was my first time at a public school. Before then, I’d always gone to Christian schools.

I loved the opportunities and freedom of public school but it was an awkward social transition. A Seventh-Day Adventist, I didn’t drink or smoke or swear and I never went to one party (until the night of my graduation, when I got drunk).

I was lucky to have some friends who shared my Adventist heritage, such as Doug Badzik and Craig Van Rooyen. But they didn’t go to Placer with me. They went to Christian high schools.

On the Sabbath, we’d often meet up. On that day of restriction, we’d often go for long walks or just hang out and talk.

I guess I was pretty obnoxious. I had a smart mouth and I was always cutting people down. I was looking to break the rules. I was very concerned about getting ahead and aggrandizing myself.

On Sundays, we’d sometimes play touch football. I remember one day in particular. I had a blonde girl on my team. She was only the second girl to French-kiss me but the first one who showed me how to enjoy it. All my skill at kissing, such as it is, comes from her.

On defense, I’d try to guard Craig, who played receiver. On this particular day, he caught everything thrown at him. He go long or he’d go short and he always got the ball. I resorted to tackling him but still couldn’t stop him. I remember one play where the ball was under-thrown. We both came back to it and we both leaped in the air for it and I smashed into him as hard as possible and he still caught the ball.

In February of 1988, I got sick and spent most of the next six years in bed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I largely lost touch with my friends.

Occasionally, we reconnected. Doug told me in the summer of 1992 that his memories of me at Forest Lake Christian School “are not fond. Luke Ford was an arrogant little turd who was always right regardless of whether he was right…. Whatever his arguments lacked in substance, he made up for in verve and raw rhetorical abilities…. Luke frequently seemed illogical.”

Today I find myself Googling them.

Doug is now a doctor for the U.S. Army. He’s stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Craig became a journalist and then a lawyer at a big San Francisco law firm. We exchanged email and a phone call around 1998.

He wrote poetry on the side and was published in such places as The Christian Century.

Converting to Judaism alienated me from many of the friends I had growing up. Whenever I got in touch with most of them, they had their guard up. I’d try to stay in touch but it takes two to play that game.

Or maybe it is just my own personal failings. Perhaps I can’t blame it on Judaism.

When I get sick, like today, I want to reconnect with my old friends. When I’m well, I’m more focused on getting ahead.

On May 9, 2011, Craig Van Rooyen was profiled in the San Louis Obispo Tribune. As I read the article, it reminds me of what a righteous guy he was and how much I miss him:

Man who’s worked for county in Dan De Vaul and Carson Starkey cases left prestigious San Francisco firm to reconnect with human aspect of law

Like 32 other county prosecutors in similar shoes, Craig Van Rooyen’s work requires a complicated juggling act: keeping the community safe and holding those who have committed crimes accountable while avoiding wrongful accusations.

Though his job is not extraordinary as prosecution work goes — despite handling some unusual and controversial cases — Van Rooyen’s experience provides insight into the thinking that goes into being a courtroom enforcer of the law. Among other things, the job entails making tough decisions that determine whether people spend time in jail.

No matter the nature of the cases, which can be heinous and gruesome, or the great amount of influence that prosecutors have, the goal should never be “to win at all costs,” Van Rooyen said.
Well-prepared, serious, persuasive and humble, Van Rooyen displays traits of an effective prosecutor, according to colleagues.
“You want the evidence to be speaking to the jury, and Craig knows how to do that very well,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran. “A court trial should not be a personality contest between attorneys.”
It was just five years ago that Van Rooyen had an office with a view in a high-rise building in San Francisco as a partner in a prestigious civil litigation firm. But he left the job to do his current work.
“With some legal work, you feel like you’re just pushing along files,” said Van Rooyen, who also had a four-year stint as a prosecutor in Riverside County. “I wanted to reconnect with the human aspect of law. Speaking up for victims who have been bullied is satisfying.”
Van Rooyen said he takes particular satisfaction in helping victims who might otherwise be ignored.
“Whether it’s the homeless guy who has been assaulted, the low-income family victimized by gang violence or a domestic violence victim who doesn’t know how to stick up for herself, everybody deserves the same protection under the law,” he said. “Ironically, I’m sure a public defender would say his or her greatest satisfaction is speaking up for marginalized people accused of crimes. And I don’t dispute that as a noble calling also.”

Since starting as a local prosecutor in 2007, Van Rooyen has handled a wide variety of cases.
Every prosecutor has a different style, but Van Rooyen’s polite, affable and seemingly effortless approach helps a jury to “understand the evidence, look at it carefully and go back and discuss it logically,” Gran said.
The tall, thin man who dresses in neatly pressed suits often wears an expression in court of concern and thoughtfulness — and listens with careful attention to detail.
His work has included the prosecution of a group of college students whose hazing resulted in the death of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey; Dan De Vaul, a high-profile San Luis Obispo rancher charged with property code violations; and a 16-year-old charged as an adult with rape.
Van Rooyen has developed a reputation for being conscientious and fair.
“Prosecutors have a lot of responsibility to the people of California, crime victims, law enforcement, as well as to reach out across the table to defense attorneys professionally,” said defense attorney Paul Phillips, who recently opposed Van Rooyen in a three-strikes burglary case. “Craig is very, very fair. He’s a good servant of the people. He doesn’t have a hidden agenda.”

…Van Rooyen helps the homeless as a volunteer with his wife, Mimi, a local orthopedic surgeon. With members of their Seventh-day Adventist Church, they serve hot breakfasts at the Prado Day Center.

Craig’s little brother Andre is a psychologist in Los Angeles. Their dad, Smuts, is one of the church’s great speakers and counselors.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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