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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Once upon a time you did something stupid and managed to get charged and convicted of a crime in San Diego. Once you have completed your probation, California Law allows you to petition the court to dismiss the original charges brought against you. This is sometimes called expungement. 

Clean up Your California Criminal Record - Dismissal of Charges After Probation

You can petition the San Diego Superior Court yourself to have your conviction expunged by downloading and submitting the appropriate forms  and representing yourself at a hearing... or you can hire a criminal defense lawyer to help you.

To complete the forms, we will need to know the court file number and date of your conviction. If your case is more than 10 years old, the courthouse probably won't have a record of your conviction. In that case, you will need to provide a certified copy of the complaint, conviction, and clerk's minutes. But you probably don't have and can't get these documents. Don't sweat it, you can get your criminal record from the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The record is free, but you will have to pay up to $20 to have your fingerprints taken at a LiveScan location.

The court can charge you up to $120 for the services related to the petition, but that might be waived if you can demonstrate financial need.

Expungements are not overly complicated but they do have some significant limitations and involve jumping through some hoops. If you are interested in cleaning up your criminal record but are intimidated by the prospect of representing yourself at a hearing in front of a judge - consider hiring a skilled California criminal defense attorney to complete the paperwork and appear on your behalf. 

You've done your time - let us help you put your past mistakes behind you.

On April 1st, 73 year old Virginia Kelly of San Ysidro was arrested at her home on felony charges of grand theft and embezzlement. The San Diego District Attorney's Office alleges that Kelly has been hoarding toys from the Toys for Tots program and the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation. More toys were allegedly donated directly to Kelly for distribution to children. 

Investigators, acting on a warrant, painstakingly added up every marble, happy meal give-away and nail polish bottle they seized to announce that Kelly was in possession of 11,000 toys. They even made a video to convey the "shocking" discovery to the jury pool. Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego District Attorney, made herself available immediately to try this case in the press saying, "Stealing from a charity and depriving needy children in San Diego of the chance to get a new toy is despicable."

It will be that video and Dumanis' cries of injustice that stick in the minds of every sound-bite junky in the San Diego County. The even-handed article telling Virginia Kelly's side of the story that appeared in the dwindling circulation of the San Diego Union Tribune on April 7th will likely have little impact. Public responses to that article, "Woman says she didn't sell toys," are already drawing parallels to the Grinch that Stole Christmas!

Just in case anyone else has tuned out of work-week-mode and is busy looking busy on a Friday afternoon, here’s a quick legal research tip that is at leastsomewhat work related…

Try out Lawcite (available on the AustLII website) next time you need to check the judicial treatment of a case. Lawcite is a completely automatically-generated case citator, so it includes all referrences to a case in subsequent cases (even if they’re only brief mentions). The lists of “cases referring to this case” can be rather long for those cases that have attracted a lot of judical discussion, but are great when you need to know you’ve reviewed every reference to a case.

In addition to comprehensive coverage of Australian jurisdictions, Lawcite includes “cases cited” and “cases referring to this case” from other jurisdictions covered by LII sites (UK, NZ, South Africa etc) and will link through to the full text of the unreported version of a case if it is available on either AustLII or one of the LII sites.

One down side to the automated process of compiling this database is that there are no catchwords or headnotes to search across, nor are the cases categorised into particular subject areas (unlike its subscription-based counterparts like CaseBase and FirstPoint). Like any case citator, Lawcite is great for locating cases, not for conducting in-depth research on a concept, phrase or topic. Which reminds me…

Remember, like all case citators, you are not searching across the full text of a case when running a search here – just the text contained in those citator (or summary) documents (party names, dates, judges, court, citations, cases referring to the case and cases it refers to etc). This applies to CaseBase and FirstPoint too – see my earlier article on case citators v full text databases if this is news to you! It’s a common mistake…

Feel free to post a comment or question if you have one!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


More often than not, Ghostbusters is the answer to the above question. However, Ghostbusters, while able to exterminate even the biggest of marshmallow men, probably cannot help you get out of the slammer. As a lawyer who practices in criminal defense, among other areas, I probably get the question of “What to do if arrested” more than any other. So, let’s take it step by step, but hope that you never have to worry about it.

Keep in mind that there are a multitude of legal issues concerning a valid arrest, but just for this article’s sake, we are assuming that there was a valid arrest. Also, this article is only dealing with misdemeanors. Check back for articles dealing with these other items in the near future.

1. Be Cooperative – Ok, so you’ve been arrested. First and foremost, be cooperative! Sometimes it is hard to do, especially if you believe you have been wrongly arrested, but being cooperative will help your cause. Misdemeanors are typically heard in magistrate or municipal court. These are smaller courts that only deal with smaller issues. Therefore, the officer and his/her testimony are given great weight. It may seem odd to a person that has never been arrested or even been cited with a speeding ticket, but the defense attorney literally will ask the officer to help him out on certain charges. Particularly, if there are multiple charges, they will often dismiss one charge if the defendant pleads guilty to another charge IF the defendant was cooperative. I have had cases where I read the complaint and thought it would be an easy case to get dismissed. Then, I talk to the officer who says, “yeah, you’re client is a piece of sh!t!” I wish I could say that this does not matter and the facts should stand for themselves, and a good defense lawyer will get your case dismissed. This is just not true in these smaller courts. Magistrates are not even attorneys; they take a 6-week course that “qualifies” them to hear important cases. There are some very good magistrates out there, but most times even the good ones side with the State.

2. Call an attorney – Attorneys get a bad rap for inflated fees and taking your money even if they cannot help. However, this really is not the case. Attorneys do many things that clients do not see which help their case. It is important to call an attorney before you are taken to the station for an arraignment because the magistrate will set your bond. There are several key items that a magistrate must know when setting bond and without an attorney, you may not know what these are and the magistrate probably will not ask; your criminal background (if any), your ties to the community, or whether you are a flight risk are a few of these items. The most ideal bond is referred to as a Personal Recognizance Bond or PR bond. This simply means that on your signature or “word” the court trusts that you will attend any and all court hearings and that you are not a risk to the public. The conditions of bond are also important, and an attorney will be certain to clear up any items that could potentially post problems, such as being able to leave the county or state. If you cannot afford an attorney and there is a possible penalty of jail time, the court will provide you with one, but only after your arraignment. Some attorneys will agree to represent you solely for the arraignment for an hourly rate, so it cannot be overstated how important it is to call an attorney. This will save you many headaches later!

These two steps are also extremely important if you are arrested and charged with a felony. Felonies are much more serious crimes that involve a multitude of hearings that will eventually be heard in circuit or an intermediate court. Check back very soon on what to do if you are arrested and charged with a felony.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that in some way or another, the global financial crisis has affected law firms in the same way it has affected many other businesses – work might be a little quieter, jobs a little less secure and clients a little harder to attract or retain.

Believe it or not, there might be some good to come out of all this doom and gloom. If you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, resist the temptation to steal files off colleagues’ desks and instead use this time to develop your current awareness strategies – know you clients, their industries and the legal developments that affect them.

Develop your current awareness strategies and beat the legal-market downturn - 1

Relax! Keeping up to date is easy!

Investing a little time and effort in setting up strategies to remain up-to-date on client, legal and industry developments now will make you that much more valuable to your firm and clients – which is important now, when times are tough, and even more so when work does pick back up again. You will be the one with the impressive list of articles and papers to your name, a solid understanding of current industry and legal issues and strong client relationships.

There are some amazing free resources out there, many of them as good or better than the services made available by commercial providers. However, for the sake of brevity (I know, it’s not that brief an article at all!) I’m focussing on one or two specific alert services within a few commonly used paid/subscription legal research services. The other focus for this article (and the one to follow on free services) is on resources that can be used to monitor specific areas of the law or industries and not simply general “news” resources (these are of course useful, but most readers would already be familiar with them).
Read about legal developments before anyone else

Alert services provided by commercial suppliers are valuable tools for monitoring developments in specific areas of law. The ones I find most useful (because of their ability to be customised and/or the targeted ares of law they cover) are:

Lawlex’s legislative alerts – the ability to set up alerts for changes to legislation based on targeted areas of law, or specific Acts and Regulations, or a combination of both (selecting certain pieces of legislation that have already been identified as falling within a particular category) is really useful. The lists of legislation under each category are almost as exhaustive as you can get and a great way to make sure you’re keeping up to date with all of the relevant legislation, not just the one or two obvious Acts. The summaries provided by Lawlex when a piece of legislation is introduced or amended are also valuable as brief, plain-english descriptions of the effects of the amendments.

Lawlex’s regulatory newsfeeds – Rather detailed summaries of regulatory, legal, legislative and news developments in certain areas of law such as Environment, OH&S , Building & Construction and Financial Services. The Corporate Law newsfeed is one of the more valuable alert services available.

LexisNexis’ case law alerts – These are my favourite alerts for monitoring Australian cases when you are only interested in monitoring a relatively specific aspect of new cases. Once you have set up a personal profile within LNAU, simply run a case law search from the red “Cases” tab (using as many of the available search fields as you wish) and save the results as an alert. I use this one to monitor how certain judges treat particular issues, to see whenever a client or their competitors are involved in litigation and for monitoring many other issues, words/phrases and topics. Be sure to set your initial search to “last week” or some relatively short period as the alert has the effect of running that same search every morning (or whatever other time of day you set) and sending you the results list. Thus, if there is a new case in an area of interest, it gets sent to me each morning for a week. Kinda annoying (any longer than a week and it would be unbearable), but worth it for the level of personalisation afforded.

Thomson’s Alert 24 – This is another combined alert, providing details of legislative, case law, regulatory, policy and news developments for particular areas of law. I find the coverage really comprehensive and commercially focussed, which is what most of us are after. Once you’re within the “Current Awareness” > “Alert 24″ section and have had a look at the type of information covered under each of the subject areas, jump into “preferences” to set up your email alert. I find “Court Practice and Litigation” the one I get the most out of – good general updates on procedural issues. I know that the Bankruptcy and FSR alerts are both also popular with people I work with. Of course, the relevancy of the topics will be based on your prractice.
Know your clients and their industry

When it comes to monitoring clients and their industries, the free services (such as Google News and web alerts, Business Spectator and others) are some of the best services out there. Some of the subscription based alert services that I find useful include:

Dataanalysis - The Datanalysis alert service is a nightmare to navigate, but once you get through the set up process, the result can be very useful. Use this tool to receive an alert any time an announcement (or a particular type of announcement) is made by a publicly listed company (ASX only). Monitor clients, their subsidiary or parent companies, and other companies operating in the same spheres.

Merger Market – This isn’t one that I use regularly, but I have colleagues that swear by it. News about potential and definite mergers, takeovers and deals is provided and categorised based upon how reliable the source is. While they are admittedly very fast to market with validated information, it’s the “rumoured deals” that set this product apart.

These services are just the tip of the iceberg – the free resources you can use for keeping up to date with legal developments and industry news will blow you away – but I have to leave something for next time, don’t I?! If you’re interested in free tools you can use to monitor these kinds of developments, come back in a week or 2!
Develop your current awareness strategies and beat the legal-market downturn

Redundancies are up, billable hours are down and long boozy lunches are fewer and further between – it seems that lawyers are continuing to feel the pinch of the GFC .

So if you’re not one of the busy few working in insolvency or litigation, be smart and spend a little time each day working on your current awareness strategies. A little time invested now will pay dividends when the market turns around. Use this time wisely and be the lawyer who has developed closer client relationships (by keeping tabs on their industry), positioned yourself as a leader in your field (by researching and writing papers and articles) and has the alerts and habits in place to ensure you’re up to date when work picks up again.

For some great subscription-based services that you can use to stay up to date with legal and industry developments, feel free to check out my previous article ondeveloping your current awareness strategies to beat the legal-market downturn. If, however, the research budget has been cut and your firm won’t be signing up for any new resources for a while, fear not – this article is all about the best freeresources available for keeping up to date with legal, client and industry developments. I’ve been looking forward to writing this article and sharing some of these resources with you – in my opinion, the free resources listed below often beat their subscription-based counterparts on quality of information and timeliness. Thankfully, it turns out you don’t always get what you pay for – these free resources are worth your time and much more!
Know your clients and their industry – for free!
Google News and web alerts

If you have not used Google News alerts to monitor mentions of clients, topics and people in the press, you have been missing out on the single most useful news monitoring tool available, free or otherwise. From an inconspicuous link in the left hand column, you can set up either email alerts or an RSS feed based on any word, phrase or crazy-complex-Google-search-string you can think of. Check out myarticle on using Google for legal research for some tips and tricks on operators and connectors to really narrow down what you want to monitor.

Google News with "News Alerts" circled in red

Google News alerts are completely customisable. As well as allowing you to use all of the Google operators and connectors in your search string, you can specify what the alert is to search across – news sources, blogs, the web generally, video, groups or “comprehensive” being all of the above – and how often you wish to receive the alert – once a day, once a week or “as it happens”. Tip – don’t select “as it happens” unless you have a very specific search set up or you like having a whole tonne of email alerts clogging up your inbox. Choose your email address or RSS to set the mode of delivery. You can change and delete alerts really easily via the “manage my alerts” link. This makes it a great resource to set others up with – they can manage their alerts in the future without involving you. Easy for you and for them.

Create and manage alerts quickly and easily

It’s important to note that Google News only searches across the last 30 days worth of news. This isn’t an issue when setting up alerts (no time warping here, you can only be alerted to new news) but it is something to be aware of when running a search. You can access older news via the archives, but they’re a little hidden – jump into the Google News Advanced Search screen and you’ll see a link to the “archive” about down the page. Why it is tucked away in there I have no idea – the news archive is an amazingly powerful tool, complete with its own advanced search options.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Google News searches across the online versions of hardcopy newspapers and publications. This usually isn’t an issue when using the alerts to monitor updates in certain areas, but can be an issue if you are using the search function to find old newspaper articles. While hardcopy and online versions or articles are often the same, they are not always the same – I’ve seen headings change, articles shortened or lengthened and sometimes articles disappearing altogether between online and print versions of publications. If this is an issue for your research task, talk to you librarian or leave me a comment for info on searching across hardcopy press only.
Business Spectator

I still cannot believe this resource is free – but am sure glad it is! Business Spectatoris another free resource that puts many of its costly subscription-based counterparts to shame. It is a “24-hours-a-day business news and commentary website” written by leading Australian business commentators Alan Kohler, Stephen Bartholomeusz and Robert Gottliebsen (who are backed by an absolute powerhouse of journalists, editors and professionals).

I find that the easiest way to use Business Spectator for client and industry monitoring is to set up customised email alerts. Alerts can be personalised so that you receive news/commentary on a particular company (enter the ASX code or company name), industry sector (currently 27 to chose from) and so that you receive them at particular times of the day or week.

Use Business Spectator's email alerts for monitoring clients and industries
Read about legal developments – for free!
Fee Fie Foe Firm

Fee Fie Foe Firm is one of those “I wish I had thought of that!” ideas which has taken the legal research world by storm. Use FeeFieFoeFirm to search across thousands of law firm websites for articles, bulletins, press releases and legal experts. Because the site uses the powerful Google search technology (complete with the connectors, operators and modifiers that go with it) and includes separate sites for so many jurisdictions (Australia, UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand and South Africa) this site is your one shop stop for case notes, legislative developments and other legal and regulatory updates. An added bonus of law firm website publications is that they tend to be very client focussed, so searching for legal updates here means you’re likely to find practical, to-the-point and commercially focussed articles – and not the interesting-but-a-bit-pie-in-the-sky articles you often get in legal journals.

Part of what makes me love this resource is its inclusivity – law firms don’t have to pay to be included on this site (as is the case with similar products like Mondaq and Linex Legal) which means this is the most comprehensive law firm search out there. As long as they’re on the web, they are pretty much guaranteed to be covered. If you know of a law firm site that’s not on here (I challenge you to find one!), be sure to let the site’s creator @damienmacrae know.
LexisNexis Daily Unreported Judgments Notifier

Perhaps the only product LNAU doesn’t try to charge us for (now that Lawyers Weekly is no longer free), LexisNexis’ Daily Unreported Judgments Notifier is an email alert for all cases that come out of the Australian courts as soon as they are made available to the publisher (usually within a day), which means this is a great resource when you need to know about the latest cases as soon as they are decided. Whilst the DUJN is quite basic in content and design, what sets it above other free daily alerts, such as legal publisher CCH’s, is its simplicity, full text coverage and the fact that it doesn’t rely upon a LNAU subscription to make use of many of the links. However, I find that the CCH daily email alert is a good option if you do have a decent CCH subscription and want links to legal news and case summaries.

On this topic, I’d just like to put one of my nerd-wish-list items out there – an alert service from the AustLII advanced search screen. If I could select which AustLII case law/journals/other databases to search across and could use its boolean search strings to narrow the search significantly, this (currently fictional) alert service would be a lifesaver for legal researchers and lawyers needing judgments on particular topics as soon as they are released. Go on AustLII, do it. You know you want to.

Comlaw email service for legislative updates

The Comlaw email alert service is very basic, but if a Lawlex or Timebase subscription is not for you, then at least there is something you can use to monitor legislative changes. Type in a search term (no complex search strings here – computer says no) and select which database to monitor (I usually stick to Acts, Act Compilations and Bills). Although I haven’t used it for this purpose, it could be a great way of monitoring some of those trickier to find/follow legislative resources such as Legislative Instruments etc. Please let me know if you use it this way, I’d be interested to know how well it works

Monday, February 1, 2016

Legal highs should not be banned

The great debate has been going on around the world is on legal highs. Various organizations and people are raising their voices against legal highs even without knowing what actually legal highs do and why legal highs should be banned. The more steps are taken against legal highs, the more people are being attracted towards it. Many countries have implemented laws to control selling and consuming legal highs. But banning legal highs would really serve the purpose! The policy makers are actually hiding their faces from the reality and trying to make a curtain to cover the socio economic factors that force people to have the pleasures that legal highs serve. Users take the legal highs for the recreational effects. Concerned people and governments should identify the underlying causes in order to reduce the problematic users.

According to Durham chief constable Mike Barton’s statement, all drugs and hard substances should be decriminalized in order to fight against various problems criminal activities. The alternative way of supplying the drugs would make the legal highs safer and the offenses can be lowered. In a Spiegel Online interview, the professor of Harvard University Mr. Jeffrey Miron has questioned in favor of legalizing all drugs. Even he wants to withdraw the prohibition on marijuana, cocaine and heroin, as the prohibition opens the door of black market, which sometimes costs the human lives.

 He argued that the openly sold legal highs could never be the cause of addiction. Alcohol and cigarettes are not illegal and can be consumed easily but not all the people are addicted to them. Addiction does not depend on the fact whether it is legal or illegal. If addition to caffeine or beer is not the headache of government, then how come legal highs seem to be a greater problem! Professor Miron also told that the prohibition lobby only wants to achieve their goals. The legal highs should not be banned as far that would not harm any one else. Rather, legalization of the legal highs would increase violations, as banning would make the black markets inevitable and the conflicts between the parties would be a new threat to civil society.

 The addicted people would get the drugs anyway and would be involved into criminal activities. The vacuum between the users and the suppliers tends to create organizing criminal moves.

 Withdrawing the ban would definitely destroy the black markets, as well as government can regulate the drug trade. Banning the legal highs would not stop the possibilities of the productions and demand will determine the prices, thus government will definitely lose billions of dollars. On the other hand it would reduce the number of prisoners, which will help to save money from unnecessary draining. Holland has managed to hold the position of having the lowest number of drug users in Europe, as Holland has less harsh laws.

Consuming is not a criminal issue; rather it is a social issue. Legal highs should not be banned, as legalization provides the truthful and honest information, which actually guides the user how to use. Legalizations make the people bound to carry some responsibilities. It has been reported that the illegal drugs obtain more than 8% in global markets. Banning the legal highs would only increase the percentage and would help the people to engage more into illegal trafficking. No one can prove that prohibition is fruitful, rather mass awareness is the most needed step to avoid offences associated with legal highs.

  • Here are some important points why legal highs should not be banned
  • Banning would make the users unsafe.
  • It would decrease the population behind the bars.
  • Legalization would reduce the corruption.
  • Government can earn billions of money as tax.
  • It would save money from unnecessary spending.
  • It would cripple the organized crimes.
  • Government can deal with consumer protection issues