An Intense, Passionate and Misunderstood Area of Law

Welcome to the April edition of Contra Costa Lawyer Magazine! This edition will focus specifically on criminal law and mental health, an area of law that is perhaps the most misunderstood by the public. Despite — or maybe because of — the daily media, literary, and entertainment coverage that is given to the field, there are large misconceptions not only about the criminal law field itself, but about those who work in it.

As a practitioner of criminal defense for the last 20 years and as the current head of the criminal law section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, I can say that, while the criminal field is intense, passionate, and fiercely fought over, it is also honorable and chivalric, to the point of almost being anachronistic by today’s standards.

How do those who work in the field do what they do? What issues are important to them? What issues are important to their clients as life-changing decisions hang in the balance?

In this month’s edition, we are going to give you some insight, a glimpse into the answers to these questions and more. You’ll read about what makes a good defense attorney versus a bad one and how to handle a client who is potentially dangerous. You’ll hear an attorney’s take on mediagenic cases such as Netflix’s “Murder Mountain” and get brought up to speed on some of the many changes and reforms that have occurred in the criminal law field. Moreover, this issue will cover such important topics as public transparency and police accountability, and give specific, real life examples on how the criminal law field deals with fairness and disclosure between the prosecution and defense. Finally, it will provide a heartfelt look into how mental health — and how our lack of addressing that subject preventatively — affects our criminal court system.

Ironically, the one thing that everyone can agree on is how divided our society is right now. However, in what one would expect to be perhaps the most contentious and hostile of environments, the battlefield that is the criminal justice system, and among the warriors that tread upon that field, those of prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as the collateral bystanders of the defendants, accusers, victims, and the public, all presided over by one lone judge, charged with ensuring a fair process, a workable and decent jurisprudence has emerged. We take front-line issues, the most heated, emotional, and life-affecting scenarios and deal with them, ideally move them from their starting point to a position closer to true justice. Of course it is an imperfect process carried out by imperfect humans, but at its best, the process approaches divinity. When we bring justice to victims or free the wrongfully accused or politically persecuted, we as a society become better. The more honorably we serve this process, the more honorable this process becomes.

Without any further ado, I am so very proud to present to you the criminal law and mental health April edition of Contra Costa Lawyer. I am also so thankful to all of the guest contributors and the many people behind the scenes who not only made this issue possible but who do so month after month, year after year.

Here’s to opening the door to the daily grime and grit of the issues that affect the criminal courts on a daily basis. I hope this bit of insight serves to bring more light and understanding to issues that predominate our society so and yet are frequently misunderstood or swept under the rug.

Thank you for your reading of this important issue.