HELP!  I Need to Hire an Attorney and I’m Broke!

If you are not in a position to afford to pay for an attorney, you are not alone.  Many people struggle just to make ends meet, so it’s not unusual if legal fees may put a strain on your budget.  This article will provide some ideas of resources to help you.  

  • Criminal Case – Do you qualify for a public defender?  If you do not have the means to hire an attorney to represent you in a criminal case, the judge can appoint an attorney to defend you. When you go to court for your first appearance, you can request an attorney.  Judges may ask different questions about your income, but in general come with prepared with information on:

Your income

Your debts, including student loans, credit card debts, etc.

Your assets.  For example, you may be asked whether you own or rent your home, whether you own or make payments on your car

  • Family Law Case – Have you checked into free community resources?  For example, if you live in Solano County, the Solano Legal Access Center might be a helpful resource to you.

http://solano.courts.ca.gov/Courts/SolanoLegalAccessCenterSLACandFamilyLawFacilitator.html

The website above is a resource for California forms.

This website also has a repository of self-help information, videos and documents.

  • Domestic Violence – Have you looked into a Victim’s Advocate Office in your community?  Many communities have teams of professionals dedicated to assisting in protecting you from domestic violence.

For example, the Solano Advocates for Victims of Violence https://www.savvcenter.org/

Another resource for those in the Vacaville area is the Advocate Against Domestic Violence in the African – American Community, http://www.aadvac.org/

  • Pro Bono for Other Types of Cases – There are instances where an attorney may assist you without charge.  The term for this is “Pro Bono.” It isn’t the norm for an attorney to represent you for free or for a reduced fee, but there are instances where a lawyer may be willing to help you.  Use your resources.  Ask people in your network if they have a friend who is an attorney.  Meet with a lawyer and explain your problem.  Don’t expect free services, but you may be able to work out payment plans or other billing options that can make the representation affordable for you.   

What Kind of Fees Can I Expect with a DUI Charge?

Unfortunately, the cost of a DUI is very high.  This article will summarize some of the costs that you can anticipate, as well as give you helpful links to find out more.  Your attorney can also advise you on the costs to be anticipated, and can help you prepare for the road ahead.

  1. Impound Fees.  If your vehicle was impounded, you will be on the hook for administrative fees, plus the cost of towing and storage.  The administrative fee depends on where the vehicle was impounded, but for instance, the cost in Vacaville can be $234.  (See https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/fees/miscdl_fees#misc_duireissue).  Also, be aware that the vehicle can only be released to the Registered Owner.  However, if the owner is incarcerated, then the jail can provide a Vehicle Release Form.
  2. Driver’s License Fees.  These vary depending on the age of the driver, and whether it is a first or second offense, but to give you an idea of the ballpark the Reissue Admin Fee for a Driver over 21, is $125.  This link will give you the specifics:  https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/fees/miscdl_fees#misc_duireissue.
  3. Bail Fees.  If you have been incarcerated, you can anticipate a bail bonsdmen fee.  The way it works is that the court sets the bail.  The bonds company charges you a fee (usually a percentage of the amount of bail), and then the bonds company pays the full amount to the court.  When you appear at your hearing, the bonds company receives their money back, but they earned the fee.
  4. Court Fines.  These can run you at least $2,000.  According to the Yolo County Sentencing Guidelines for Infractions and Misdemeanors, Effective August 25, 2016, the minimum fine to be imposed for a DUI is $1958.  
  5. Other Miscellaneous Court Fines and Fees.   The Court will likely impose misc. fines and fees which total at least $300, depending on the jurisdiction.  See the excerpt below from the Yolo County Sentencing Guidelines for Infractions and Misdemeanors, Effective August 25, 2016.
  6. Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 8.57.36 PMCounseling – The amount of counseling ordered and the cost of the classes varies, but a conservative estimate would be at least $200 for counseling and classes.
  7. Restitution – If the DUI involved an accident, the court may order restitution, which means that you will have to pay for the damages incurred by the other driver.
  8. Interlock  – An interlock device is placed in your car so that your breath alcohol level is checked before you can drive.  The cost can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and the company you choose.  One company surveyed charged a $60 installation fee and 69.95 plus tax per month.  
  9. Insurance – Automobile insurance rates are higher for those who have been convicted of a DUI.  To reinstate your license after a DUI, you will have to file a Proof of Insurance Certificate (SR-22).  These sites can give you more information about the insurance needed.  https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl35 

 

 

What Is the Typical Legal Procedure for a Standard Divorce

When you are embarking on a journey, it is important to have an overview of where you are now and where you are going.  Similarly, with a separation, divorce or an annulment of a marriage or domestic partnership, an overview of the system will help you plan ahead.  This article will give you a view of a big picture, but be aware that this is a generalized summary that will certainly vary depending on the unique facts of your case, your assets and your family.  

1. Petitioner Files Paperwork.  The Petitioner is the person who files the paperwork to get the divorce process started.  The forms needed to start your case in California can be found at this site:  http://www.courts.ca.gov/1229.htm

2. Serve the Forms.  The other party (Respondent) needs to know what paperwork is filed.  To accomplish this, a person serves the forms to the Respondent.  The Petitioner can’t serve the forms themselves because the Petitioner is a party in the case.

3. Respondent Responds.  The Respondent has 30 days to reply to the paperwork that is served.  There are 4 possible scenarios here:

  • Respondent Doesn’t Respond.  The Petitioner waits 30 days and files the appropriate paperwork for a Judgment.  
  • Respondent and Petitioner Work Out a Written Agreement. Respondent doesn’t respond but the Petitioner files the written agreement between Respondent and Petitioner and the paperwork for a judgment.   
  • Respondent Files a Response and Written Agreement (“Uncontested Case”).  This is the “uncontested case,” where one of the parties files and Appearance, Stipulation and Waiver and a Proposed Judgment.
  • Respondent Files a Response (“Contested Case”).  The Respondent files a response, but the parties can’t agree, so it proceeds to the next step toward trial.  

4. Disclose Financial Information.  Both parties are required to fill out disclosures of financial information within certain timeframes. This is where you submit information, and you must not withhold information or be dishonest about any information.

 

5. Orders.  During the process, either party can request temporary orders relating to child support, spousal support, custody, etc.

 

6. Mediation.  Mediation is where an attorney or an arbitrator assist the parties in seeing whether they can come to an agreement on important issues such as dividing the assets or time with the children.

 

7. Trial Preparation and Trial.  There are various steps that can lead to trial.  The discovery stage is where parties are trying to get more information from each other.  They can do this with interrogatories, which are questions posed that are required to be answered.  Requests for admissions is where you submit a statement to the other side that they have to affirm or deny.  There are also requests for production, where certain documentary evidence can be requested.  Deposition is sworn testimony where a person is asked questions while they are under oath.  These steps help the parties prepare for a trial, where the judge will make a decision on the issues presented.

 

8. Final Judgment and Timing. Your divorce will be finalized by a document that is signed by a judge.  This is when the proposed Judgment that was filed by one of the parties is signed by the Judge and becomes a Final Judgment.  Be aware that in California, you have to wait until 6 months after the case is filed and the Respondent has been served before the Judgment is Final.

 

9. Additional Resources.  This is just a primer on the divorce process, but there are many resources for more information.  One very helpful resource can be found at http://www.courts.ca.gov/1225.htm.   

 

 

What Should I do if there is a Warrant for My Arrest?

  • What is a bench warrant and why is there one for me?

Some of the most common reasons why there might be a warrant for your arrest is that a judge issued a bench warrant based on 1) failure to appear in court on your scheduled date, or 2) failure to complete the terms of your probation, or 3) failure to pay fines.  A warrant is signed by a judge and authorizes law enforcement to arrest you.

  • What are the consequences of failing to comply with court orders?

Failure to comply with court orders may result in a mandatory court appearance, additional charges being filed by the prosecutor, a hold being placed on driver’s licenses with the DMV or an arrest warrant.

  • What does an arrest warrant mean to me?

An arrest warrant puts you at serious risk because a police officer has a duty to arrest you if there is one outstanding.  This often happens if you are stopped for a traffic violation, and the officer runs your license and discovers that there is an outstanding warrant.  You can also be arrested at your home or workplace or anywhere that you might come in contact with the police.

  • What can I do if I’m concerned about an arrest warrant?

A criminal defense attorney can tell you if there is a warrant outstanding, what it’s for and the amount of bail.  Your attorney can help you schedule a voluntary appearance, so that you can avoid the scene of getting arrested unexpectedly.  If you are out of state, your attorney can provide information to you about your options.  

  • Do I have to go to jail if there is an arrest warrant out for me?

Not necessarily.  In some cases, your warrant may be able to be recalled without ever having to appear in court, post bail, or spend time in jail. This depends on the particular circumstances.  For bench warrants relating to misdemeanor offenses, your attorney can typically appear in your absence to clear the warrant.  

5 Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Lose Your Shirt When Splitting Marital Assets

With any looming separation or divorce, you are wise to be worried about the income and assets and how your financial well-being may be impacted.  This article will give you some essential background information and five ways to make sure you protect your assets in a divorce.

Background.  In California, community property includes all the assets and income acquired during the marriage, and the law requires that the community property will be divided equally, unless there is a written agreement requiring something different.  

1. Identify the Extent and Value of Your Marital Assets.  This step is vital to protecting your financial future.  Discover and document everything you can about the state of your marital financial affairs.  In many instances, taking screen shots of information that shows both the information and the date can be very useful down the road.

 

  • What bank accounts do you have and how much money is in them?
  • What investment accounts do you have and what are those values?
  • Are there employment benefits involved, such as HSA accounts?
  • What health insurance do you currently have?
  • What real estate holdings are involved?
  • What other benefits might be applicable, such as military benefits?

 

2. Get Your Ducks in a Row About Your Separate Property.  In general, separate property is anything acquired before the marriage, by gift or inheritance during marriage, or property obtained during the marriage that can be traced to a pre-marriage acquisition.  What does this mean for you?  The court is going to presume that any property acquired during the marriage, except by gift or inheritance, is community property.  That means that you need to gather the proof to show that what is yours is yours.  Look at all sources of documentation to prove your case. This is a list of where to start to look for that proof:

 

  • Check emails
  • Find texts
  • Ask the gift-giver for any documentation they might have of the gift.
  • Look for documents or receipts
  • Check account histories

3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Most people in a divorce are angry, disappointed and hurt.  There is a temptation to be stubborn and to focus on a few key emotional items.  If you want to be financially successful in your divorce, you will likely be best served by letting go of the negative emotions and thinking about your marriage as a business that is winding down.  Don’t get caught up with issues or assets that don’t have a great value.  Time is money, and you will not get the satisfaction that you are seeking out of a “So there!” moment from operating out of revenge or vindictiveness.  As much as you can, look at your assets impartially, and seek to make moves that will benefit you the most long-term.

4. Don’t Lie, Cheat or Hide.  For many, it is ever so tempting to hide an account here or lie about an asset there.  This is typically a very poor long-term strategy for protecting your money.  A court can order you to pay the legal expenses of the other side for the search of hidden assets.  Those legal fees can add up.  Furthermore, a judge can sanction you for lying to the court.  Think long-term not short-term, and be forthcoming in your disclosures, not just because it’s your duty, but also because it really is almost always in your best interest financially as well.

 

5. Hire Competent Help.  The legal fees for an attorney can seem daunting, but having an experienced guide help you through the maze of dividing assets will often save you money.  Find an attorney who is experienced in divorce and who is committed to helping you reach your goals for dividing your assets.

 

 

3 Essential Steps to Best Resolve a DUI Conviction

If you entered a guilty plea to a DUI or lost your case at trial, this article is for you.  It discusses what to do next once you have a DUI conviction.  Following these steps will help you succeed in completing your probation successfully and putting this conviction behind you.

Set Yourself Up for Probation Success

  • Know.  Make sure you find out what the terms are of your probation and how long it lasts.  Typically, you will at minimum be ordered to stay drug free and not have any other criminal offenses.    
  • Do.  Confirm that you have your paperwork and call the court for a copy if you have lost it.  This will list what you need to accomplish and when.  Typically you will need a counseling evaluation and a certain amount of counseling sessions. You may have community service obligations.  Following through with the Court’s orders is essential.
  • Report.  Ensure that anything you complete is reported, because you want to “get credit” for the counseling, etc. that you finish.  If you don’t know whether the court has a record of what you’ve done, be proactive to call and find out.

Do Not Drive with a Suspend Driver’s License 

  • Don’t drive while your license is suspended.  Typically, your license will be suspended.  Make sure that you do not drive during the suspension period.
  • Complete the DUI Program.   You will likely need to complete a DUI program prior to reinstatement of your license.    
  • More information about Suspended Driver’s License.  For more information about a suspended driver’s license in California go to http://www.dmv.org/ca-california/suspended-license.php

Compliant Driving after a DUI – Interlock and Insurance

  • Interlock.  An ignition interlock device prevents you from driving with a level of blood alcohol above the setting.  You will typically be ordered to utilize this device for a certain amount of time following your DUI, and you shouldn’t do anything to try to bypass the system.    
  • Insurance.  You need a special type of automobile insurance following a DUI.  It is often called high-risk or SR-22 insurance.  Make sure that you obtain the right kind of insurance and keep your payments current.

If you take the time to know and obey the terms of your probation, you can successfully overcome a DUI conviction.  Make sure that you find out what you need to accomplish, avoid driving while your license is suspended, and take the steps necessary once your driving privileges are restored.

3 Things to Avoid Saying in a Custody Battle

You’ve probably heard that you have a right to remain silent in a criminal case, but sometimes it’s an advantage to you to remain silent in a civil case as well.  This is particularly true in the tense situation of a custody battle.  Some parents can be their own worst enemy in a fight over custody of their children.  This article is going to remind you of what you likely already know when you are in a non-stressful situation, and will help you apply these tried and true principles in a custody case.

Avoid All Physical Threats/Cussing/Bashing the Ex

When you are in a custody battle, you need to be cautious about every word you speak.  Imagine that the judge is sitting on your shoulder overhearing every word and decide whether your tone and language will benefit you.

  • Never make a threat of physical harm, even if it is in jest.  Even words meant with sarcasm can be taken out of context.
  • Avoid cussing or hateful speech as these can reflect poorly on you.  You have an opportunity to create your image with the words that come out of your mouth, so make sure that you come across as even-tempered, wise and caring. These are traits almost anyone values in a parent, and exhibiting them will help win points in the custody battle.
  • Don’t bash the ex to the children.  When you talk about your ex negatively to the children, it puts the kids in the middle of the battle.  It isn’t healthy for them, and it won’t help you with the case. 

Don’t be too eager to show your hand 

  • Keep your strategy between you and your attorney.  If you were a gambler, you wouldn’t show your opponents your hand of cards.  Similarly, you want to avoid giving the other side too much information about your strategy and plans.
  • You may not want to be too specific initially about your priorities.  If having the kids this Christmas is the most important thing to you in this world, you may or may not want to share that information just yet.  Revealing your pain points may cause a vindictive ex-spouse to try to prevent you from having the kids this Christmas just to spite you.
  • Follow your attorney’s advice on information you share. Your attorney can advise you on what information to share or hold back, but in general you want to share information strategically at the right times and in the right ways. 

Refrain from “never” and “always” and stick to the truth

  • Don’t back your ex into a corner.  When you tell someone you will never do something or you always deserve something, then you automatically trigger an obstinate reflex.  Even though the term is custody “battle,” they often involve a lot of negotiation, so keep tried and true principles of negotiation in mind:  Don’t back your opponent into a corner by using words that show you aren’t interested in compromise.
  • Don’t exaggerate, stick to the truth.  In an emotional situation, it is easy to exaggerate a story or twist the truth a bit to try to get what you want.  When you are working to get custody of your children, you will be best served by only saying things that are absolutely true because this builds credibility with your children, with the counselors and evaluators that may be involved, and ultimately the judge.  Stick to the truth.

While these are a few of the things you shouldn’t say, there are many things that should be expressed.  Children are sensitive to divorce, so share your love and appreciation for them often.  Take an interest in them.  Spend the time that you can and talk to them about their feelings.  Take the opportunity to model cooperation and civility for your children during the custody case, and if hard positions or harsh words need to be said, let those come from your attorney so that you can be a calm and collected rock for should children to lean on.

How to Know When to Strike a Plea Bargain and When to Go to Trial

Deciding what to do when you are facing a criminal charge can be challenging, but taking a step back to analyze your case will help you decide the best course of action for you.  Since each case is different, there are many facts and factors play into a decision this important, but this article will help you think them through.   

  • Do you need to decide yet?

If you were just arrested, you do not need to decide immediately whether to enter a plea or go to trial.  You will have the opportunity to attend hearings prior to trial.  If you qualify, you can request that an attorney be appointed for you.  If you want to hire a private attorney, you will have time to follow through with that.  It is possible obtain a continuance to have additional pre-trial hearings if there is an appropriate reason.  The bottom line is that you shouldn’t feel pressured to decide your case strategy right up front.

  • What are your odds of winning at trial?

You need to look at your odds of winning at trial to decide whether to risk it.  Is there a witness that may recant or may not be available?  Is there a credibility issue that a jury is likely to believe or disbelieve witnesses at trial?  How much technology was involved in creating the evidence against you?  Is a common person likely to find the evidence reliable?  Is the evidence extremely strong, or is there room for doubt?

  • Is the plea bargain really to your advantage?

Remember that the prosecutor is your adversary in this situation.  Look carefully at the deal that is presented.  Is it really valuable to you?  For example, a typical offer the prosecutor may make to every defendant with a DUI charge is that the traffic violation will be dismissed with prejudice.  Is this really a benefit to you?  Can you get more out of a bargain if you wait?

  • What are the policies at play?

A prosecutor is likely under the direction of his or her supervisor, and it is helpful to have the advice of an attorney who knows the prosecutor or the office politics.  Is the prosecutor reluctant or eager to go to trial?  This could determine whether the plea offer gets better or worse as you go along.  Are there restrictions to the prosecutor’s ability to offer you a plea?

  • What sentence is likely under either scenario?

When you are considering a plea vs. trial, you need to know what punishments are likely with each choice.  Make sure you find out all aspects of the prosecutor’s plea.  Don’t just focus on the amount of jail time that will be involved, but also find out what counseling, probation and fines will be included.  Is there a significant difference between the sentence likely under the plea bargain and the sentence likely if you lose for trial?

These are just a few of the many factors that need to be weighed when choosing between a plea bargain and a trial.  Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney will typically be helpful to you in making the choice because they can assist in determining the strength of the evidence against you, the extent of advantage the plea bargain really is to you, and the various possibilities for sentencing of the charge if a plea is entered vs. a trial.   

3 Ways You Know You Need to Find a New Lawyer

Did you hire an attorney to represent you, and now you are having second thoughts?  Are you wondering how to know if you hired the wrong person?  Here are things to look for when deciding whether you should break ties and find someone new to represent you.  Before you switch attorneys, however, you should always inquire into the retainer and billing and how that change may impact the cost of your case.

1. You Are Not A Priority to This Attorney.  We all know that attorneys have a roster of clients, but every case should be handled with diligence and care.  Take a look at how serious the problem is.  If your attorney is missing hearings or deadlines, then you probably need someone new.  If he or she is consistently late to court, then that is something also to look at.  If your calls or emails are not being returned, then your attorney is not fulfilling their responsibility to communicate with you.  If your attorney talks down to you or pressures you to make a decision you aren’t comfortable with, then those are also signs that you and your attorney may not be a good team.  

2. Your Attorney Doesn’t Know What He or She Is Doing. Even if you were referred to your attorney by a friend or if they are an acquaintance, the relationship is a business one. You have to look out for yourself and make sure that you are being represented by someone who is competent to represent you in this type of case.  Signs to look for:

  • Does your attorney seem to know the system?

Can he or she give you an overview of each step or hearing in your case and what will take place?

  • Does your attorney appear confident?  

Trust your instincts about the level of confidence your attorney displays.   Confidence doesn’t equal competence, but it is one indicator of whether this is your attorney’s first case of this type or 10000th.

  • Does your attorney answer questions?

If your attorney is knowledgeable, he or she will not shy away from questions, but rather, encourage you to ask about anything you don’t know or understand.

Does your attorney know the people?  

Does your attorney seem familiar with other attorneys, court staff, counselors, etc. Professional affiliations are another clue to experience.

3. You can’t Afford Your Attorney. This is a tricky one because the value you get from an attorney is difficult to quantify.  Any attorney is going to be a strain on your budget because divorce, adoption, criminal defense, and so forth are expenses that are unusual and will seem high.  So, the financial discomfort of any attorney is a given and you want someone who is good, which doesn’t come free.  However, some attorneys are better salesmen than lawyers.  Some bill for things that may not be necessary.  Here are some things to look for when deciding if the cost is prohibitive:

  • Are you comfortable with the billing approach?  Would you prefer a flat fee for your case?  Do you prefer hourly?
  • Do you understand the fees and do you understand how to maximize your value? For example, if your attorney bills you a flat fee for every email they read from you, then you may want to consolidate all questions into a short email.  As another example, is your attorney “chatty” such that a phone call will cost you a lot more than email exchanges or is your attorney a bit of a slow writer, such that a call will resolve issues faster than email.  
  • At the end of the day, do you feel like you are getting the full value out of your representation?

Your decision on legal representation should not be taken lightly, as the outcome of your case will impact your life for years to come.  There is no easy answer to whether you should make a change, but the factors to be considered certainly include whether your counsel is giving you the attention you deserve, whether they are competent to represent you in this type of case, and whether you will be able to pay the bill when it’s all said and done.

5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Finding the Perfect Family Lawyer

The perfect family lawyer is the person who best fits with you, your goals, and your case, and it’s worth taking the time to find the best fit.  This article will discuss the steps to narrowing the field to the best family lawyer for you.

1. Look at What and Where.  Family law is a general term for a practice that typically includes divorce, custody, child support, visitation, alimony/spousal support, adoption, pre-nuptial agreements, and more. If you want to find the perfect family lawyer, you first need to identify what type of case you have.  One of the first questions you will want to ask your potential attorney is whether they practice where the case will be filed. Typically your case will be litigated where either you or your spouse live, but there are exceptions, so ask up front whether you are looking for an attorney in the right place.  

2. Research Whether Your Potential Choice Specializes in Family Law.  You need to do the work to find the best family lawyer, and you have many tools at your fingertips.

  • Check the Attorney’s Website.  Click the links on the attorney’s website.  Does the attorney list family law as one of his or her specialties?
  • Ask Your Attorney Questions about Their Experience in Family Law.   Ask as many questions as you can think of, such as how long they have been practicing family law, what types of outcomes they have had in cases similar to yours, what style they practice (whether adversarial or more conciliatory), and what your expectations should be.

3. Do a Reputation Check.   Ask friends and family for a recommendation, since word of mouth can be one of the best ways to hear whether an attorney is good or bad.  Check the Better Business Bureau website to make sure that your potential choice doesn’t have any complaints.  Look at the online reviews to see whether others had a good experience.

4. Talk About the Money.  Some clients feel reluctant to talk about the billing, but this should be done right up front.  Many attorneys require a retainer, which is a fee paid at the beginning of your case, but that amount isn’t the only number you need to know to make an informed decision.  Ask which attorney will work on your case and why.  With some firms, the same person will be working on your case exclusively and for the duration.  With other firms, you may communicate with a partner, but an associate (less experienced attorney) will be doing much of the work.  Find out in advance who will be doing what, and make sure you are comfortable with it.  Make sure that you will get back any portion of the retainer that isn’t used. When your bills come, look at them carefully, and don’t be afraid to question a charge that seems unreasonable.

5. Consult with More than One Attorney.  Some people feel obligated to an attorney after an initial consultation, but it’s a mistake not to shop around to your top few choices.  Trust your impressions. Go to your initial consultation prepared.  Ask questions.  Take notes.  Give yourself time to make the decision and don’t feel rushed, and you will gravitate to the person who is the best fit for you and your needs.

Don’t let your search for an attorney overwhelm you.  Finding the best family lawyer is not so different from finding the right home, or a great car or your favorite technology.  By following the guidelines above you can identify what you need, do the necessary research, and finally make a well-founded decision on whether that person is the right fit for you.