They say that there are some folks in this world, because of their kindness and human touch, that you can only be a stranger to but once. But they're wrong. Or at least they didn't know Harold Esparza, because he was one of those rare persons who didn't know the meaning of the word stranger, which was something you could never be in his presence.
I joined hundreds of people Saturday to say goodbye to our friend. I came here seven years ago, starting up a new practice of law, after leaving Orange County and a few miles of bad road behind me. Harold was one of the first people in our courthouse to put out his hand and welcome me and tell me if there was anything I needed to ask him. I can still hear his soft voice and easy smile from that morning in 2005.
You have to know the business we do in our community at 450 H St. to appreciate what Harold Esparza and our bailiffs do. From criminal to dependency to civil to juvenile law and more, we exist daily in a system that seeks to find truth and deliver justice, but is marked as adversarial in nature, which of necessity deals with situations toxic and explosive.
Sure, wehave bomb scares and runners and screaming matches and scuffles. But from the San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino county courthouses, places I've practiced that have seen blood spilled and lives lost, I have never once seen a situation Harold and his fellow deputies didn't contain and protect the rest of us from.
The other part of that equation is how many situations never occurred because of the way he and our other bailiffs treat people and how people somehow act human when you treat them that way.
A lot of our mothers have told us at some time, "If you don't have something nice to say about someone,don't say it." Over the past seven years, not once did I ever hear him raise his voice or utter an unkind word about anyone.
A week ago Friday morning, I was in the jury room alone, weighing over some things, when Harold walked in. He stopped, looked me in the eye and asked me if I was OK. I told him I would be.He took off his blue latex glove, shook my hand and said in a voice that at one time or another had brought comfort or a smile to everyone in our courthouse, "You're gonna be alright."
There's not a soul in our courthouse that won't take a loving personal memory of our dear friend Harold with them. One that I'll keep as testament to him was the reaction of the people in the Probation Department lobby, lined up for their Monday morning weekly drug court tests. You could see a genuine sadness pass through that lobby when they heard of his passing, one young man saying, "He was a good guy" and a woman whispering, "He treated us like real people."
Late Sunday afternoon, I went for a long, slow bike ride up to Point St. George. On the way back,I pulled over on Pebble Beach to watch the sunset. I shed some tears for the loss of my friend earlier that day and thought of him while watching the sun dipping below the horizon. As it dropped from sight, the brilliant reds and blues were still there, illuminated by the vanished sun's presence. And I wiped my eyes and thought of the man we knew as Harold and how his moving on could never diminish the gifts of patience and kindness and love he gave to us, things which never die when they live in your heart's neighborhood.
Jon Alexander is the Del Norte County district attorney.