I was licensed to practice law in May of 1996. The day after I got licensed I made my first appearance in criminal court as a lawyer. It’s been 18 years and I am still running…from court to court, that is. While a lot of my criminal defense and DUI defense work is in Los Angeles County, early on in my career I was lucky to have a cousin loan me my first office in Chatsworth. While that seemed to me to be a strange location for a law office, cousin, Brent Vallens always made it work for himself and it worked quite well for me too. I was able to attract some significant business from nearby Simi Valley, in Ventura County. Then, I seemed to branch out to the Conejo Valley (Thousand Oaks) and eventually to all of Ventura County.
Being a criminal defense attorney in Ventura County is very different than it is in Los Angeles. At first, the judges didn’t seem very nice to me. Things were a little different in Ventura courts than I had been getting used to in Los Angeles courts. The terminology was a little different, the deals weren’t as good and, oh yes, we went to court at 1:30 in the afternoon all the time. I often wondered what those LA courts did all afternoon.
After a few dozen cases in Ventura, I started to get the lay of the land. In Ventura County we actually have settlement conferences where the lawyers and the judges talk about the cases. That may seem ridiculous to some, but in Los Angeles, although we may call a settlement conference by that name, we don’t actually talk about the cases and discuss a settlement, it is quite a misnomer. Lawyers will go to court for a settlement conference in LA, the DA will say: Here’s the offer or the offer is over there on the sheet. No discussions, no bargaining, no nothing.
Next, in Ventura County judges like to follow the law. Again, this may seem ridiculous but, I have settled countless cases in Los Angeles with illegal sentences or entered plea agreements to charges that are wholly unrelated to the case at hand. Judges in Ventura County (and DA’s) actually like to see that the charges correspond to the factual allegations.
I recently had a client arrested in a car with his backpack between his legs. In his backpack was a veritable pharmacy of prescription medications without prescriptions. He also had a couple knives with him. My client was charged with possession forsale of narcotics as a felony and misdemeanor weapon possession – it was an auto-opening knife. After lengthy settlement negotiations I was able to convince the District Attorney to change the charges to a different code section. I very rarely used section of the Health and Safety Code makes it illegal to possess, possess for sale or sell prescription drugs without a prescription. The difference is that this section carries less punishment and can be reduced to a misdemeanor. My client avoided jail, got his charges reduced to a misdemeanor and has since moved on with his life after having his case expunged.
This is not to say that things are all roses as a defenses lawyer in Ventura. We have all heard the slogan by now: Come on vacation and leave on probation. And to be fair, The Office of the District Attorney in Ventura County may not be giving anything away. However, the office does seek to do justice and they seek to do it in a fair manner. As long as I have been practicing, the DA’s office has been accessible either in person or by letter. The DA’s policy is such that if they make a favorable decision on a case: i.e. to strike a strike or dismiss a serious special allegation, then that decision stands for the pendency of the case, regardless of whether the case gets settled or continues to trial.
Of particular note in Ventura County is the District Attorney’s policy of “Info Review”. Although I was never a prosecutor in Ventura County my understanding of the policy is as follows: In felony cases, after the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the prelim DA writes a memorandum to his supervisor about the case, the state of the evidence from the preliminary hearing and what, if any changes he or she feels should be made to the felony charges before they are filed by way of information in superior court. The memo is reviewed by a panel of senior deputy district attorneys before a final filing decision is made. I have had several cases get dismissed after this review or charges could be changed or reduced. By contrast, this process is wholly non-existent in Los Angeles where we routinely see all pre-prelim charges re-filed, including charges that were actually dismissed by the judge at the preliminary hearing.
This is not to say that being a criminal defense or DUI defense attorney is easy in Ventura County. In short, I believe it is a tough jurisdiction in which to perform this job. However, there are several aspects to practicing in Ventura that can benefit my clients.
Several years ago I was representing a young man who had never been in trouble before. He was arrested and charged with spousal rape. He was alleged to have raped his estranged wife by force on two occasions and there was a third incident of an attempted rape. He was alleged to have waited inside her home and after she arrived home he bound her with duct tape and threatened her with a gun. My client was facing a minimum of 15 years to life with the special allegation attached to the serious charges. The DA’s office warned me they were going to amend the complaint to add a second special allegation. This would expose my client to a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.
I had already been investigating my case, interviewed my victim and her family and obtained medical records regarding my client. I submitted a mitigation package to District Attorney, Greg Totten and asked Mr. Totten to strike the special allegation and let my client settle his case for a fixed prison term. Mr. Totten agreed. I was able to settle my client’s case for 3 years and truly did save my client’s life.
In another interesting case I had a client charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The allegations in the police report said my client took a box cutter and sliced his ex-girlfriend’s arm requiring over 60 stitches and causing a large scar. The offer of settlement prior to the preliminary hearing was for a felony and a year in jail. We conducted our investigation and determined the victim to be a liar and lack credibility. After prelim the case went to info review and was never re-filed. Case dismissed. Thank you Mr. Totten. Keep up the good work.
Being a criminal defense and DUI defense lawyer in Ventura County is very challenging. But learning how to use the law to achieve superior results for my clients is fun, exciting and likely to be something I will be doing for at least the next decade.
For a list of results of past cases please check out my website. For honest reviews, by actual clients, check out Avvo0r check out my Yelp site. Please look at the reviews that they hide because I don’t pay them.
If you have questions about criminal defense or DUI in Ventura County or anywhere in Southern California, or you or someone you care about has been arrested or charged with a crime, call me, Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340