Frequently Asked Questions

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Our client prevails in hotly contested civil rights claim-Hopkins v. Bonvicino

Q: Will you act like a pit-bull and make the other side suffer?

A: No; we are not in the business of vengeance or "scorched earth" litigation. We believe that zealous, principled advocacy is in your best interest. There are many ways to handle cases, and the ability to determine the best method for a given case comes from our history with hundreds of cases and many years of experience. While many clients initially feel that they would like to "make the other side suffer"; this is very rarely, if ever, an appropriate approach for litigation. While we are well accustomed to dealing with opponents who prefer "mad dog" litigation, we enjoy defusing and exposing the strategy as an unreasonable method, and a waste of all clients' time and money. When the two sides set out to make each other suffer, they are usually successful in causing each other pain and expense, but only the lawyers win. It is also important to understand that judges do not tolerate frivolous or bad faith litigation tactics, and if a litigant or lawyer is perceived as unreasonable, it taints the entire case until the end. Our clients are much better served if we engage professionalism, emphasize strengths of our clients' positions, point out the weakness of the opposition, and prepare your case in a way that makes the other side worry about losing.

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Q: How do attorney fees work?

A: There are generally two types of fee arrangements; contingency or hourly. At the beginning of your case we meet with you and discuss the case, and come to an agreement on the appropriate structure for your issue.

A contingency fee structure pays the attorney's time by a percentage of recovery for the client. Contingent fee structures are used most commonly for personal injury, civil rights, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims.

An hourly structure simply means that the client is charged for attorney work on an hourly basis; and the payment of the hourly rate is not dependent on the outcome of the case. We bill time in six minute increments, and the client gets a detailed bill about every month which shows how we spent the time, and where we spent out-of-pocket expenses on your behalf. Hourly cases usually require a retainer; the amount of which can vary depending on the anticipated complexity of your case. Our firm places client retainer funds in a trust account, which serves as the account for the case; and may need to be refreshed at various points in a litigation. Hourly fee agreements are generally used in criminal law, business disputes, family law and for defense of general civil litigation matters.

Regardless of the fee structure used, when the case is over, the client receives a final bill settling all of the attorney fees and out-of-pocket expenses for handling your case. If any funds are remaining in the retainer trust account, they are promptly returned to the client.

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Q: What are ADR, Mediation, and Arbitration?

A: ADR is short for Alternative Dispute Resolution; usually that means mediation or arbitration. In some jurisdictions, it can mean a court ordered settlement conference, early neutral evaluation, or a county sponsored, "free" mediation. Most courts strongly suggest or require some form of ADR before a case goes to trial. ADR is a great concept, but it is sometimes abused. It is important to have an attorney advise you on the benefits and risks of each process. However, for general background, we can outline each process for you. We can advise you on the right form of ADR for your case when we learn the facts of the case, the personalities involved, and the goals of the parties.

Mediation is quite simply, a private, confidential effort by all the parties to resolve their dispute with the aid of a mediator. Mediators are generally very experienced lawyers or retired judges, who work as neutrals; and give each side an opportunity to resolve a case informally. A mediator has no power to force any resolution, but his or her efforts are (should be) focused on finding common ground, and bringing the parties together to find a resolution that everyone "can live with". By definition, mediation suggests compromise, and diffusing some of the emotional or ego driven complications which arise during the litigation process. If the parties come to an agreement during the mediation, the agreement is reduced to writing; usually in the form of a "settlement agreement", which is an enforceable contract. Mediation is effective for most any kind of dispute, but it is especially effective where there is some continuing relationship between the parties, or when something more than money is at stake. The parties usually split the fees for the mediator's time equally.

Arbitration is a bit more formal. Arbitration is either non-binding, or binding. In non-binding arbitration, the parties, usually through their lawyers, present their case in a shortened version to a neutral "arbitrator"; agreed by both sides. The arbitrator reviews the evidence, and issues an “award” which is basically a decision. If the parties both agree with the award, it becomes binding, and can be entered in the court as a judgment. On the other hand, if one party does not agree with the award, the case returns to the court and goes back into the trial track.

Binding arbitration is formal and generally very final. As a general rule, binding arbitrations occur where either the parties agree to the process, or where an existing contract requires binding arbitration to resolve the dispute. In binding arbitration, there is no right to a jury trial, and no opportunity for the parties to reject the award, and the decision can be immediately entered as a judgment in the court.

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Q: The police want me/my family member to give a statement. Should I/we?

A: There are a few important things to remember. First, even though the police most likely did not read you your rights, if you believe you are a target of an investigation, the most important thing is to SAY NOTHING TO THE POLICE. ASK FOR A LAWYER. The police are trained to tell you that it will be better for you if you talk; the reality is that it almost never is. A sad statistic is that the majority of criminal defendants are convicted out of their own mouths. Insist on a lawyer and make no statements until you see one. This is your fundamental constitutional right. The police are also skilled at engaging family members to provide evidence against defendants. As a general rule, your family members are not obligated to speak to law enforcement. Do not, however, do anything to discourage anybody from speaking with the police. It's their choice, and if the authorities think that you have done that, you might be charged with another crime. Instead, remember that even your family has the right to engage an attorney to assist them with the police.

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Q: What about bail?

A: Bail is a way for you to stay out of jail pending trial. If bail is an issue, there are a wide variety of ways to be released from custody. Before paying for a bond, discuss the situation with us to determine what is in your best interests. In some cases, posting bail is an expensive proposition that will ultimately not help you.

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Q: The police want to search my home without a warrant. Should I let them?

A: As a general rule, law enforcement does not have the right to search your home without permission, or a warrant. There are exceptions to the rule, but the most frequent mistake that defendants and their families make is permitting the police to search under the threat that "we could get a warrant anyway". Fortunately, the constitution protects us from warrantless searches and seizures. Let the police do their job, and ask them to get a warrant; it can't be held against you.

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Q: What are the steps in a criminal charge/trial?

A: When first arrested, the defendant is booked, and is either charged and held, or charged and released.

If charged and held, bail is usually an option. Unless there is a critical reason for you to get out immediately, it is usually better not to post bail until you speak with an attorney.

After charging, you will be given an arraignment date. The arraignment is a hearing at court, at which time the defendant will enter a plea, almost always "not guilty", to the charges. If you do not have an attorney at the time of the arraignment, ask the judge for another court date so that you can be represented at this critical stage. Do not waive your speedy trial rights until represented. After a plea is entered, what happens next depends on the charges. You need the help of a lawyer to decide which option to choose.

In the normal course of events, following the plea, the defense conducts an investigation and gets documents and other evidence from the prosecution. Unlike civil cases, there are no depositions, but rather only voluntary statements. Adverse witnesses and police are often reluctant to discuss the case with the defense, and it is therefore critical to have the help of an experienced attorney and investigator.

During or after the discovery phase, the two sides generally begin negotiation to resolve the case prior to trial. These negotiations are frequently based on the development of a strong defense; which encourage the District Attorney to consider either dropping the charges, or negotiating a plea deal for a lesser charge.

During the negotiations, trial preparation is ongoing; at which point the defendant's attorney works closely with the defendant and possibly expert witnesses to finalize the defense, and prepare for the trial date. Trial dates in criminal cases are usually firm, as are other deadlines in this practice. It is imperative that the defendant work closely with the attorney to prepare a strong defense that is ready for trial.

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Q: Attorney "X" said that he would defend my case for a flat fee. Will you do that?

A: When meeting with a lawyer to establish a relationship, remember that there is no set price for criminal defense. While criminal representation can be costly, don't be misguided by firms that advertise "set fees" for criminal representation. We do not believe in the set fee. Firstly, many cases don’t require a full set of services, and can be resolved at an early stage. Secondly, if you have paid a set fee, it is less likely that your attorney will have your best interests at heart. Most criminal defense lawyers attempt to analyze you for two pieces of information prior to setting a fee: How scared are you, and how much money do you have? We don't do that. Never have, and never will. Every case is different, and should be treated that way. Your freedom and our reputation depend on it.

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Q: I have been arrested for a DUI. Do I need a lawyer?

A: Absolutely. DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT (BUT ALSO DO NOT REFUSE THE CHEMICAL TEST)! You should have an attorney review your case to identify any legal or technical defenses you may have. Many DUI cases are won based on technicalities, and many are lost due to the words of the defendant. Additionally, timing of the conviction can be important.

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Q. The police took my license and gave me a temporary license, how do I get my license back?

A: If you are found to be driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or above, the DMV will suspend your license. In order to fight the suspension, you must contact the Driver Safety Branch of the DMV within 10 days of your arrest and request an administrative hearing. Contact the Driver Safety Branch of the DMV that is closest to the place your arrest occurred:

The DMV process requires prompt action, and rights, as well as your license, can be lost if you delay. An attorney can assist in the DMV process, and that process is entirely separate from the criminal case. Amazingly, you can lose your license even if not convicted of a DUI. Speak with an attorney to discuss your options.

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Q. I have to go to criminal court in 30 days, what can I expect?

A: At your first court appearance, you will be told whether or not charges have been filed against you. If charges have not been filed, it is because one of the following has occurred:

If the DA has decided not to file against you, your case might be over, but the DA might change his or her mind. If the DA needs more time to decide whether or not to file, the judge will give you another date to return to court. If charges have been filed, the judge will tell you what the charges are. You can either enter your plea (not recommended), or ask for time to hire an attorney. You will then be given another court date and are expected to hire a lawyer for your next court appearance. If you cannot afford a private attorney you will be referred to the Public Defender’s Office.

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Q: I have been charged with a DUI. Why are there two charges against me?

A: In almost all circumstances, the District Attorney's Office files two charges in DUI cases: a violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and a violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(b). Section 23152(a) is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – this count means that the DA believes they can prove you were too impaired to drive, regardless of your blood alcohol level. Section 23152(b) is driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or above – here, your level of impairment is not significant – the law states that anyone driving with a .08 blood alcohol level or above is guilty of a DUI.

These charges are filed "in the alternative," and you will not be held responsible for both – a person cannot be convicted twice for the same incident.

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Q. I was convicted for a DUI before. Can my conviction be used against me in this case?

A: Unfortunately, yes. The sentence for a DUI differs, depending on whether it is a first, second, or third conviction. When you are charged with a DUI, the District Attorney's Office looks back 10 years from the date of your arrest – if you have had one DUI conviction within 10 years, the new case will be considered a "second time" DUI; if you have had two DUI convictions within 10 years, the new case will be considered a "third time." Additionally, reckless driving with alcohol involvement can also be counted as a "prior".

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