Leonard Padilla has been a bounty hunter in Sacramento for over 30 years. He is the founder of the University of Northern California Lorenzo Patiño School of Law and is currently a candidate for mayor.
How did you become a bounty hunter?
Back in 1975, a friend of mine asked me if I knew anybody in Mexico that could help him pick up a guy down there. At the time I didn’t know anything about bail or anything like that. By the time I had a conversation with him for about a half hour about this individual, I just said, “Let me go down there; I’ve got a cousin. I’ll call him, tell him I’m coming down.” And I took a friend of mine [with me] and we went down there. I spent a couple days down in Mexico, picked [the guy] up on Sunday, took him over to the San Diego Sheriff’s Office, and the guy paid me my expenses plus an extra grand. That’s how it all got started.
And here you are 30 years later. You’ve probably seen it all.
I went to Switzerland after a guy back there and I got thrown in the cell right next door to him. And then we both got put in a van and we both got driven to the airport in Zurich and we both got put in an airplane—him to Iran, and me back to the U.S.
Tell me about the documentary Bounty Hunters: Cat and Mouse that you starred in on National Geographic.
They’ve done several of them. They did a two hour kick off and they’ve done four one hour [shows]. I don’t know if there are any more in the future; they wanted to do nine more. It’s complicated doing those things and right now we’re not doing anything.
What’s it like carrying a crew with you when you’re trying to track people down?
It’s a bit difficult at times, but you forget they are there.
So how do you go from bounty hunter to candidate for mayor?
Well it’s a situation that I have done before—it’s no secret that I’ve run three times before. I enjoy it because a lot of people take college classes or they go to seminars to learn about their city, but if you run for office you can really learn quickly and you can enjoy it. In this particular situation it’s gotten to the point where I realize that one of my opponents is definitely not supposed to be mayor. I don’t want him as mayor so I am going to force the issue.
What’s Leonard Padilla going to bring to the mayor’s office?
There are a lot of things I would do, but I’d start with public safety by starting a City Marshall’s Operation which would not be under the police department or under the police officers union. It would be directly under the mayor’s office and it would actually focus on locating and arresting parole violators, probation violators. It would be a very proactive operation. I would also make the police department a more proactive anti-drug and anti-illegal gun operation by supplying them with gun-powder sniffing dogs and drug-sniffing dogs—get a couple dozen of them. When they have these drunk-driving checkpoints they can also see if there are guns in the vehicles or drugs. You got to start somewhere. You’ve got to be proactive—you can’t just wait until there’s a guy driving down the street with a busted taillight to stop him.
How did you end up running for Congress against your daughter?
I didn’t really run against her. What happened was, I was in the race and at the last minute she decided to jump in so I was on the ballot, but I didn’t really run, I just supported her.
Two Padillas in the same Congressional race must have made for some good dinner chats.
Oh yeah, she’s kind of mean to me at times. But that was a situation where she jumped in and I said, “Hey I’ll support you,” but by that point I couldn’t get off the ballot.
You’re also the founder of the University of Northern California Law School.
It’s a law school that five of us put together, back in 1982, so it’s been around for 25 years. It’s very very inexpensive and it gives opportunities to people that want to go to law school but don’t have a lot of money. It’s down to around $17,000 for four years as an evening school and you go two and three nights a week and you can actually keep your job, raise your family and go to law school.
Mayoral candidate, bounty hunter, television show and founder of a law school —anything you don’t do?
I don’t go to theater movies. When I started law school in 1975, I gave up going to theater movies, so I haven’t been to one since. I wait until they come on television. I also quit drinking in 1975. That way I didn’t have three headaches and three hangovers every week. So that gave me the time that I needed to go to law school and get my degree. I never went back to drinking and I never went back to movies.
Has anyone ever mistaken you for Kinky Friedman?
Well here’s the secret. When I met Kinky Friedman, he used to wear just a regular brown suit and hat. So I ran into him in Houston once, and he kind of liked the get-up and the next thing I know, I get a picture in the mail two weeks later and he had on a black shirt, black jacket and a black hat. So I thought that was kind of a compliment in a way.