Thank you Authority Magazine for this fun interview about criminaldefense work.
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Thank you Authority Magazine for this fun interview about criminaldefense work.
The Criminal Courts Bar Association (CCBA) has announced that it will honor Karen L. Goldstein as the 2020 Trial Attorney of the Year with its prestigious Jerry Giesler Memorial Award. The award, one of the highest honors a trial lawyer can receive in the Los Angeles criminal defense community, will be presented at the CCBA’s 67th Annual Awards Dinner on March 28, 2020, at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Of particular distinction, is that Ms. Goldstein is only the fifth female attorney to be given this acknowledgement in the organization’s history. The award is named after the highly esteemed defense lawyer Harold Lee Giesler (known professionally as Jerry Giesler), a brilliant courtroom tactician and skilled trial attorney who took on the most challenging, high-stakes criminal cases over his 50-year legal career.
Karen L. Goldstein – Persistent, Principled, Passionate Criminal Defense
Ms. Goldstein has been practicing criminal defense since 2003, and represents clients accused of state and federal crimes, including child molestation, rape, RICO, and murder. As the founder of her own legal practice, she is one of the few female practitioners who has dedicated her career to fighting both state and federal criminal charges. With this award, the CCBA acknowledges the complex state and federal jury trials Ms. Goldstein undertook in 2019, including a child molestation trial where a hung jury voted overwhelmingly for not guilty, a result that saved her client from serving a life sentence. Ms. Goldstein works in criminal defense because she has, “a strong desire to fight for the underdog and to protect constitutional and human rights,” she says.
A member of both the Indigent Criminal Defense Appointment (ICDA) Panel and the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel in Los Angeles where she accepts appointments from the state and federal courts to represent indigent clients who cannot afford to hire a private attorney, Ms. Goldstein firmly believes that clients from all socio-economic backgrounds deserve a vigorous defense.
She offers clients her fierce tenacity coupled with aggressive but compassionate representation to ensure that they receive the best possible outcome. Ms. Goldstein’s colleagues in the defense community respect her for taking on, and winning, demanding criminal cases, particularly in the area of sex crimes defense in the #MeToo era.
With a law firm whose motto is, “Persistent, Principled, and Passionate” Criminal Defense Ms. Goldstein’s approach is simple: apply laser focus to each case, handle every detail meticulously, and offer relentless advocacy. She appreciates that every one of her clients is facing stressful and often life-changing circumstances, and that she owes them nothing less than an individualized and exceptional defense.
Ms. Goldstein has been consistently named a Southern California Super Lawyer in the area of criminal defense from 2012-2020, a recognition of her status in the top 2.5% percent of criminal defense attorneys, and has also been recognized as one of America’s Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys. She is a member of the California and Washington, D.C., Bars and is currently in the process of being admitted to the New York State Bar. Ms. Goldstein has also earned a 10-star rating from her clients on avvo.com, an online legal directory that allows clients to provide ratings and reviews.
“Karen Goldstein fought for me. Karen Goldstein defended me. Karen Goldstein won me the privilege to return to my family with my head held high. I appreciate everything that she did for me and my family and I would wholeheartedly recommend her to represent any of my friends or family, should they ever need a criminal defense attorney.” – Former client, J.B.
A Legal Career That is in Her Blood
Ms. Goldstein cites her father, a retired attorney, as among the most important role models in her life. He has had a tremendous influence on her career, and she is proud to follow in his footsteps. An aspiring lawyer since a young age, she graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall cum laude in 1995, after being named as an “Adlai Stevenson Junior Fellow” whereas she was invited to present to the student body and faculty about Mr. Stevenson’s career and values.
Upon her first visit, Ms. Goldstein was immediately drawn to Georgetown University, a diverse, international community that has always been known for valuing social justice, and service to others, since 1789. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown with a double major in History and English; and was selected for a sought-after Honors Thesis program in her school’s History Department.
Ms. Goldstein later earned her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center, graduating cum laude. During her third year at Georgetown Law, she served as a student attorney for the Domestic Violence Clinic, where she represented alleged victims of domestic violence in D.C. Superior Court and fought to secure restraining orders for them in court. Ms. Goldstein also assisted in teaching first year students’ legal research and writing in her role as a Law Fellow.
Active in her Community
A community advocate both professionally and personally, Ms. Goldstein is generous with her time and is also philanthropic with local arts organizations. She supports: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and The Centre Theatre Group. Through the nonprofit organization Motivating Our Students through Experience (MOSTe), she mentors young female scholars from underserved communities with the aim of helping them get into college, many as first-generation college students. She is fluent in French and speaks Spanish conversationally.
Karen Goldstein is thrilled to receive this honor. The Criminal Courts Bar Association, which is comprised of defense attorneys, judges, and prosecutors from the Southern California criminal justice community, is a trusted and respected organization, and has an important voice on criminal justice issues. Please visit
https://www.laccba.org for tickets and information about the annual awards event.
Media Inquiries: For more information about Karen L. Goldstein or to schedule an interview, please contact Amy Levy Public Relations at 310-444-5250.
Over the past month, school shootings have unfortunately become a pertinent topic in California. Earlier this month, a 16-year-old killed himself after supposedly shooting five students at their Los Angeles suburb high school. Two teens died; three others were injured.
More recently, L.A. authorities arrested a 13-year-old middle-schooler because they suspected he planned to commit a school shooting. Other students told teachers they heard the teen threaten to shoot students. Police found evidence to believe the teen had the ability to commit the violent offense and, therefore, arrested him. He will possibly be charged with making criminal threats or attempted murder.
Thinking About Sentencing When The Unthinkable Happens
School shootings are undoubtedly tragic. They shouldn’t happen, and too many people, including children and adults, have lost their lives to gun violence committed by teens. Conversations surrounding this teen violence, however, most often revolve around gun control. That is an important conversation, but so is the value of proper sentencing and treatment of teens accused of violence.
In many school shooting incidents, the young perpetrator takes his own life. Those who do live to face the consequences of their actions face the most severe of sentencing. From a criminal defense and humanity standpoint, it is crucial we ask whether adult-level, life-long sentencing is appropriate for the minors who commit violence in our society. These teens committed awful acts in these cases, but they are still children. They are often children suffering from mental health issues.
There Is More Than A Gun Behind The Violence
Since school shootings have become more common in the U.S., researchers have tried to study the cases and find commonalities among the tragic incidents. While the people involved all certainly have their unique stories, the United States Department of Education claims to have identified some common factors among many of the teens behind the violence:
• History of depression
• History of attempted suicide
What do these common factors tell us? They tell us that underneath the violence was or is a teen struggling with mental and emotional health problems. In many of the school shooting cases, the teens who perpetrate the violence don’t survive; it becomes too late for the community to help them once the immeasurable damage has been done.
In the case of the recent teen arrested based on the suspicion he’d commit future violence, maybe it is not too late to reach him. There are signs of depression and other mental struggles his community could identify and address through the proper medical routes. Mental health counseling, sometimes medication, and even simple improved communication between a kid and his family can make a life-saving difference.
A pediatric study found that teens who self-report mental health problems such as depression are more likely to have access to guns. To compound that concern, other research shows if there is a gun available to a teen, the chance he will commit homicide increases by three times compared to a teen with no access to a firearm. We know the young teen in the recent case did have access to a gun, which further supported authorities’ decision to step in and act upon the suspected threat.
Defending A Teen Is Defending His Right To Hope
When a case involves violence against children by children, emotions run deep. In any criminal case, defendants are entitled to a fair legal process. When the defendant in a case is a teenager – a child, stakes are so high.
A teen facing murder or attempted murder charges has a lifetime ahead of him that will be directly altered by the outcome of the case. As a defense attorney in Los Angles who handles murder and violent crimes cases on a regular basis, the question always remains: will this young client get the chance to try to improve his well-being and outlook on the world through counseling and emotional education, or will the system treat him like a lost cause? And it is my job as a zealous criminal defense attorney to ensure the former and not the latter.
The current college admission scandal involving several wealthy and even celebrity defendants is an example of the media and wider conversation turning true legal matters into a sort of public soap opera. These federal crime cases deserve more than a predictable punchline. Let’s talk about the moral messages and fairness regarding the prosecution strategies and sentencing in the federal cases.
The Story So Far
There are 52 defendants who were federally indicted in this case, most of them parents who tried to get their children into college through fraudulent test scores or paying to have them recruited into college athletic programs. The defendants have faced federal charges of bribery, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, money laundering, and honest services mail fraud. This also means they could face double digit prison sentences in federal prison.
The most famous of the defendants in the federal cases are actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin; they both represent the different defense routes taken in these cases. Huffman is an example of someone having taken a plea deal. She already served time for pleading guilty to paying for altered test scores. She was sentenced to 14 days but served 12 days in prison. Another defendant was sentenced to one month in prison for paying for a better ACT score for his child.
And this begs the age old question: is it fair that white collar offenders tend to receive more lenient sentences than other types of federal defendants and other types of federal crime cases? As a federal crimes lawyer in Los Angeles, it is readily apparent that defendants tend to receive more severe prison sentences for drug trafficking, child pornography, and/or RICO charges. Is this fair?
Strategy and Ethics
This question must be considered in the context of prosecutorial discretion and ethics. Federal prosecutors routinely threaten to add new charges to a defendant’s federal case as what some have called a scare tactic. It is a way to try to scare defendants into taking plea deals they didn’t want or maybe don’t deserve to take.
Despite these scare tactics, Loughlin has taken the bolder route of pleading not guilty to her criminal charges and, therefore, awaiting trial. This defense strategy could lead to no prison time if she is found not guilty during trial. The other side of that coin is a guilty verdict, which without a plea deal, could mean much more prison time than several days. And as a result of this decision, she may experience what criminal defense lawyers in Los Angeles refer to as a “trial tax.” – facing increased penalties (more charges, a lengthier prison sentence) simply for exercising her constitutional right to trial.
Has Advantage Become Disadvantage For Defendants?
Cases like this college admission scandal become widely known not just because they involve the wealthy and the famous. There is usually an underpinning of larger legal and societal themes at the core of the issue. In this case, the theme is the societal advantage of wealth.
First, there is the societal advantage that these wealthy parents have and allegedly used their money to secure their kids a leg up into school and the world thereafter. The money helped them help their kids in ways less affluent parents can’t help their own.
Their money helps these same people afford a criminal defense that will more likely help them avoid a conviction or severe sentencing. Less wealthy parents charged with varying types of crime throughout the country deserve a proper criminal defense but can’t always afford to fight like those in these cases.
The judge in this case, Judge Indira Talwani, however, seems set on making an example of the defendants in the college admission cases. She says she hopes incarcerating the men and women will serve as a deterrent for others out there who might be tempted to engage in this same “entitled” behavior. This also begs the question: is it fair to make an example of these defendants just because they are wealthy and famous?
Through today’s constant media buzz, it is easy to think of certain so-called “scandals” as mere pop culture conversation. But these “scandals” are not a joke to the people involved, and they are not a joke in terms of the bigger picture of the ethical, legal matters the notorious cases present.
As a criminal defense lawyer who handles lots of cases involving federal fraud crimes, I have seen how these cases can be twisted to bully defendants. An experienced defense lawyer like me can help see through the prosecution’s strategy in order to best identify the wisest route for my client.
The California Bail Reform Act, Senate Bill 10, proposes to eliminate the bail fee system, but could replace one harmful system with another. The money bail system must be stopped: it undermines the presumption of innocence, leads to false guilty pleas, and disproportionately affects racial minorities and indigents. However, Senate Bill 10 is unlikely to promote pretrial justice and proscribes procedures that could violate due process.
First, Senate Bill 10 excludes broad categories of people from release from custody pre-arraignment. This includes low-level violations if the person has a pending case, and persons arrested for restraining order violations (even if the arrest turned out to be wrongful or the restraining order invalid). Further, the bill would give local courts practically unlimited power to carve out other exclusions from release, resulting in county courts having the ability to detain practically anyone accused of a crime. These overbroad categories render meaningless the presumption in favor of releasing all but a specified few defendants before trial.
Second, the bill provides unfettered discretion for judges at arraignment to order preventative detention. For instance, a court would be able to order detention if the defendant has a pending case or is on probation, regardless of how minor the previous and new charges are. The new system would allow judges to inappropriately hold people in preventative detention without having to set a bail amount.
Third, the incarceration decision is influenced by profile-based risk assessment tools that are not objective assessors of risk. These risk assessment tools take limited information about an individual—including arrest and conviction history—to create a profile, then make a statistical estimate of the likelihood that individual will get re-arrested or miss a court date based on data about other people with similar profiles. These tools tend to reinforce the system’s ingrained biases and lack transparency.
The risk categories required in the proposed legislation are policy choices, meaning that whoever controls the implementation of the tools can decide how broad to make each category. This adjustability of scoring is significant given the proposed scheme in which anyone labelled “high risk” cannot be released pre-arraignment and will have a presumption of preventive detention.
Fourth, the bill would make the probation department responsible for recommending release or detention and conditions of supervised release, while allocating supplemental funding for probation departments depending on how many people they supervise and what level of supervision.
Senate Bill 10 must be reformed to provide for community oversight. It should also include rules requiring judges to look at each defendant’s unique circumstances, and limit the power of county courts to create overbroad categories for presumptive detention.
In the meantime, defense lawyers should continue to thoroughly interview clients about their backgrounds and present detailed, individualized submissions on bail. For instance, if a client falls within a high-risk category for absconding, the defense lawyer should be prepared to show the court that this client has never missed a court date and has strong ties to the community.
Thorough preparedness will also strengthen a client’s chances at release. In my practice in Los Angeles, I prepare both written and oral submissions whenever possible so that I have already presented my client in a favorable light to the judge before the bail hearing. This upfront work will help ensure the court and prosecution are aware of the factors favoring release in spite of the problems with the new bail system.