Nicole Valera – Criminal Defense

Fighting the system, one case at a time…

Phaedra Parks: Real Housewife of Atlanta? Or Real Waste of an Opportunity?


I hate to admit it, but I am an avid fan of Bravo TV’s, Real Housewives of Atlanta.   The outfits, the makeup, the shopping, the bickering, the pop songs and wigs … what a great formula for irresistible trash TV! (Don’t judge me, I also read – just finished “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen.  It’s all about balance).  So of course I was more than excited about this upcoming season as I heard that an attorney (and a criminal defense attorney at that!) would be featured as one of the Housewives.   I was wondering what kind of casting Bravo had done – would she be a cliche?  

Episode 2 of Season 3 was entitled “Model Behavior”.  They introduced the final housewife, who is in fact, a model.  It was of course, a play on words as good behavior is always an issue with the any of the housewives.  This episode also shows Phaedra Parks in her office and that particular scene surprised me.

Living in Los Angeles, I am surprised I don’t bump into a reality TV production crew on every street corner.  When I was a public defender, I heard rumors of a reality show focusing on some of the attorneys in that office.  Another time there was an email being sent around our office about some filmmakers who wanted to do a documentary on the lives of public defenders.  My understanding was that most of these projects got shot down because of issues of confidentiality.  How would the producers of these projects be able to capture criminal defense attorneys in their natural habitat?  Getting cameras in a courtroom would be problematic, and certainly cameras wouldn’t be allowed into lockup or during client interviews…

So that was why I was so surprised with that particular scene.  I’m assuming she had him sign a waiver of confidentiality for that particular scene.  Even still…I found it disturbing.  She allowed her client to make a statement about his case ON CAMERA.

I spend most of my time telling my clients not to say anything to anybody, ESPECIALLY if they know they are being taped or recorded.  That is my gut instinct as a criminal defense attorney – the less statements from your client, the easier your job is, the better you can protect them.

Of course her clients’ statement was a denial, and was it just me, or did the whole thing seem staged?  I’m not questioning his innocence, because after all, we are ALL innocent until proven guilty, right?  And I shouldn’t be surprised that reality shows are often staged…it’s just that the whole scene just didn’t sit right for me.

I understand that these women go on these shows to promote themselves and maybe make some cash (Don’t be Tardy for the Party – Woaaaahhhh, woaaahhh), but that scene got to me.  I don’t care that she’s married to an ex-felon, and I don’t care that she used to represent Bobby Brown (and as Nene artfully pointed out – “EXCUSE ME, Bobby Brown was 10 years ago!”).  But if she wanted to expose the inequalities of the criminal justice system, she wasn’t doing that in that scene.  She was just promoting herself  – that was all about how great Phaedra was – you see her receptionist in the front of her posh office which appears to be in a highrise building.  She meets him in a tastefully appointed conference room, dressed to the nines, makeup perfect, and not a hair out of place.  She posts something on Bravo’s website “Phaedra on Felons” but the comment seems more like an after thought and an opportunity to – surprise – promote herself further and justify her upcoming nuptials to an ex-felon.

First of all – no one cares – you’re not the first attorney to marry a client or an ex-felon, and you probably won’t be the last.  Secondly – what a waste of a unique opportunity!  You’ve got a national platform to talk about the criminal justice system and instead you sandwich that between 2 paragraphs about your fiancee on Bravo’s website?!?

What a Real waste.

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October 13, 2010 Posted by | General Thoughts, Hmm...inneresting... | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Less is More


Blue ribbon

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes being a good criminal defense lawyer means saying less is more. That’s probably the best lesson I ever learned when I first started out, and it has carried me to many victories.  I think the pressure to speak and ask questions is high, especially when 1) you don’t think your client trusts you, and/or 2) Your client is paying you a lot of money and you feel like you have to sing for your supper.

Yesterday I won a juvenile court adjudication/trial for a marijuana possession charge.  The police department had put up a fight when I requested the police report (as I documented on my private Facebook page a couple of days ago), so I just sent out a subpoena and they faxed the report over. I can honestly say I have NEVER had to subpoena an initial report.  EVER.  I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Anyway, when I got the report I was pleasantly surprised.  I don’t know if this is just the cynical criminal defense attorney in me, but maybe they didn’t want to send me the report because they realized how weak it is.  Anyway, I ended up doing the trial, even though my client was offered a diversion.  He felt very strongly about standing up for his principle and having his day in court.  I can’t agree more.  But sometimes you have to do a risk analysis, no matter how strong your principle is.  Even though I felt the case to be weak the diversion was tempting.

I have to say that the judge/referee in this case was extremely fair.  One thing you learn is how to size up your bench officer, but this is the first time I’d been in front of him and I didn’t know anyone else who had.  Even though I had a solid defense I proceeded with caution.  Although it was prudent, it wasn’t needed.  He could tell right away where the big hole was in the case, I asked 2 questions to clarify, and he dismissed it upon my 1118.1 motion.

So again, less is more.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Juvenile Criminal Defense, The Latest, Wins | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never a Dull Moment at a DUI Checkpoint


A sobriety checkpoint in East Haven, CT. Also ...

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After getting stopped at a DUI checkpoint for the 2nd time this year I thought that it was time to blog about it and let you know my perspective which may be unique since I’m a criminal defense attorney.

The first time I was stopped at DUI checkpoint was in Santa Barbara. I had driven up from Los Angeles in order to give a speech at my alma mater UC Santa Barbara – A large part of my speech revolved around how I became a criminal defense attorney. A dear friend of mine, Ashlee, had agreed to come with me, and the free night at Bacara was probably a big draw as well.

I was naive about the traffic and thought that 3 hours would be plenty of time to get there. It wasn’t. I had to start putting on my makeup while sitting in traffic and changed into my suit in the bathroom. I gave my speech and Ashlee and I decided to go back to the hotel right away to shower and change. Right outside of the campus we got stuck in the DUI checkpoint. It was also a license checkpoint and they were stopping every single car. I suppose that’s the new guise now – make it a license checkpoint because then you have a constitutional reason for stopping everyone, whereas if it was only a DUI checkpoint then they would not be able to stop every single car, but instead follow a pattern.

As well pulled into the checkpoint the nice sheriffs deputy asked for my license, which I couldn’t find since in the flurry of rushing to the speech I had frantically thrown every item in the car this way and that. I calmly explained to him I would be happy to look in the trunk for it since I thought that’s where it was. He said ok, followed me to the back of the car and watched as I opened the trunk (which was thankfully free of contraband). I still couldn’t find my wallet. I gave him my drivers license number and he agreed to run it for me. As we were waiting he asked where I was headed and what I was doing in town. I told him I was staying at the Bacara, that I was a lawyer and that I had just given a speech at the university. He asked what kind of law and hesitated. He smiled and said, “Ohhhh, you must be a criminal defense attorney!” I smiled back and he said, “Well, let me know when you want to come to the good side.” I laughed it off and he came back letting me know I was good to go and that I was properly licensed.

Technically he could’ve given me a ticket for driving without my license, despite the fact that I was actually licensed. But the nice deputy didn’t seem to mind so, who am I to argue with the law?

The second time this year I was pulled over in a DUI checkpoint was last night. I was taking my friend’s brother home and the both of them were in my car. The traffic began to get heavy and I looked up to see the DUI checkpoint signs. I saw the motorcycle officers sitting to my left on the corner near the legally required turnout, knowing that just down the street there were more officers waiting to pull over those who were trying to abode the checkpoint.

We started to reminisce about the first time I had been pulled over in a checkpoint (Ashlee was in the car with me again – I’m going to start thinking twice about driving with her…) and as we drove by the motorcycle cops Ashlee decided to give them a nice parade wave.

I looked at her with daggers in my eyes and I said, “What did you wave at them for? Now we’re going to get pulled over for SURE!” She laughed maniacally, and I guess it didn’t matter because I wasn’t intoxicated, but who wants to talk to cops unless they have to?

As I watched several cars in front of us get waved through the checkpoint, I tried to count how many cars in front of me had gone without getting stopped. I was trying to establish that the city of Redondo Beach was complying with the constitutional guidelines set forth for them. I couldn’t figure it out since we had been placed in a single lane there was a gigantic moving truck in front of me blocking my full view.

As expected, we were stopped. I’m almost positive that the motorcycle cops had radioed ahead to the cops at the front to make sure we were stopped. I guess they figured that Ashlee had to be drunk to wave at them during a DUI checkpoint and were thinking that the driver (me) would be drunk as well.

The officer politely (and cheerfully, I might add) asked me for my drivers license. I gave it to him and he immediately asked if I had been drinking. I said no, with a smile and he said, “Just drunk people in the car, huh?” I smiled back at him and said nothing. Ashlee’s brother joked with the cop, “No officer, but we do have a Waver up here in the front” pointing to his sister. The officer laughed and asked if she had perfected her parade wave yet. He handed me back my license and waved me through.

Which brings me to some interesting thoughts – I have often asked a client who is stopped in a checkpoint what the pattern was for pulling cops over. What I mean by that is that cops have to pull over people in a DUI checkpoint with a formula mandated by a supervisor – for example, every 3 cars, or every 4 cars. When I was in that checkpoint, you couldn’t tell what the pattern was just because of the flow of traffic.

Another interesting thought – the officer asked if I had been drinking – if I had said yes I would’ve been pulled out of the car – he didn’t get close enough to smell any alcohol emitting from my breath, nor could he see whether my eyes were bloodshot and/or watery (which they were due to laser surgery that I had years ago). Just that question alone probably gets a lot of people without the officer having to do much work up to that point.

Anyway, Ashlee and I will no longer be driving in the same car. Although it was highly educational, I’ve had enough of going through DUI checkpoints.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | DUI | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Criminal Defense Pet Peeves.


One of my biggest pet peeves as a criminal defense attorney is when some prosecutors think that just because a defendant has the opportunity to get a case dismissed through a deferred entry of judgment program, that they shouldn’t fight the case.

What I mean is this: In the criminal defense world in california there are drug programs where once successfully completed, can lead to dismissal. One of them being PC 1000, or DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment). If the client is eligible, after taking approximately 20 weeks of classes and staying out of trouble for 18 months, the court will dismiss the case. Sounds great, right? Most of the time it is, and I have seen many clients benefit from such programs. HOWEVER, I can’t STAND when I have a drug possession case where the stop is bad, meaning illegal under the 4th Amendment and prevailing case law, and the prosecutors think that my client should just take the deal.

Why should my client have to do a program AT ALL when he was stopped and searched illegally? Why should my client roll over when THE PROSECUTORS have the burden to prove that the warrantless search was legal? And the best part is that when I challenge the stop and the subsequent search, I get eyes rolled at me, called up to the bench and asked, “Why are we doing this motion?”

I personally think that questions should not be directed at me as the criminal defense attorney, but rather the prosecutor whose burden it is to prove the legality of the search. BUT, if i have to answer that question, here’s my answer:

The reason I am challenging the validity of the search on behalf of my client is due to the fact that they have the constitutional right to be protected from illegal search and seizures. We ALL enjoy that right. I view it as my responsibility to challenge injustices wherever they exist, whether it is in a simple marijuana possession case, or a complex murder case.

And I will NOT advise a client to roll over and take a deal out of convenience for the court.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Minor Infractions | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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