What Happens After the Preliminary Hearing?
Clients are quick to hire lawyers who quote them low up-front fees for what are often very serious felony cases. The lawyer gets on the case, he is unable to settle the case in a manner that makes the client happy and then the case gets set for a preliminary hearing. With little communication, lawyer comes back to court, conducts the preliminary hearing, defendant is held to answer and lawyer is never to be seen again. “What do we do now”? You ask the lawyer as he is walking away. “We don’t have any more money”. “Sorry, talk to the public defender”, says the lawyer as the elevator doors close. When asked where he went, he says, “You only hired me through prelim”. And with that he is gone, and so is your $2,500 or $5,000 or $7,500 or more.
The lesson here is multi-faceted. Yes, it is ethical for a lawyer to take a fee through preliminary hearing. However, the lawyer should tell the client what is happening. The fact is that the more serious a case is, the less likely it is to resolve before the preliminary hearing. Lawyers know this going in. But clients do not. Murder cases are almost never resolved prior to preliminary hearings. This is true for most sex offenses, robberies, serious assaults and ever heavy drug charges. Don’t hire a lawyer on a heavy felony “through prelim only”.
This being said, it is ok to hire a lawyer through prelim only if you want to test the lawyer out. Maybe you are not sure if he is the right fit for you. In that case, you don’t have to come up with the entire fee all at once. You can give him money through prelim and see if you like how things go. If you do, then you can continue with the lawyer the rest of the way.
Another good thing about prelim only retainers is that is does allow the client more time to pay the fee. Serious felony cases can last for many months and even years. People do not normally save up for hiring a criminal lawyer. If you can break the fee up over time, it can be very helpful to the client in coming up with the legal fee.
Besides the money part, there is the legal part that comes post- prelim. After prelim we normally have a better idea if a case is going to trial. If so, we may need to do pretrial motions, conduct further investigation, hire experts and get witnesses together. We often reserve legal motions for after the prelim. This is true because normally in Superior Court, we have a judge and a DA with more experience handling the calendar.
If the case doesn’t settle before prelim and the case doesn’t settle shortly after prelim, then we may be talking about going to or at least getting ready for trial. Long ago I learned an expression that still holds true today: “Good things happen when we answer ‘Ready for Trial’”. Sometimes we have to put the district attorney’s feet to the fire in order to get where we need to be. Cases often settle shortly before commencing trial. Some cases actually go to trial. But unless it’s absolutely necessary, I don’t ever want to go to trial without a viable defense. Trial preparation takes, time effort, planning and often times, money.
So as for that lawyer who was quick to take your case through prelim for a few bucks…Tell him to take a hike. Hire a lawyer who wants to see your case through to the end. Hire a lawyer who isn’t playing games with your freedom just to try and make a buck. While it’s true that I make a living practicing law, I don’t do it at my client’s peril. No one case is worth my reputation. I would much rather not take a case then take it and have an unhappy client in the end.
If you or someone close to you has been arrested for a serious crime in Southern California, I would be happy to speak to you about how I can help.
Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org