"CACJ's great contribution to criminal justice is our work in the Legislature. As a member of the Legislative Committee since 1984, I have seen our organization become a real power for justice in the Legislature. CACJ is now a sought-after voice in the Legislature and our view on bills is given serious weight by Legislators and their staff. Yes, a lot of bad bills have become bad law. But brother, you should see the stuff CACJ has stopped. And many times, CACJ was the only organized opposition to these terrible, terrible bills. "

Steve Rease

"I have always been inspired and assisted by my colleagues in CACJ. I first got involved in CACJ by testifying and help refining the first California DNA laws almost 25 years ago, and was so moved that CACJ had taken the lead in the legislative testimony on the proposed DNA Act, I became actively involved. Our legislative and amicus presence, as well as our FORUM magazine, have only become stronger over time. I am more impressed than ever that a private organization like ours is generally the strongest voice, and often the only voice, on issues crucial to criminal defense."

Jeff Thoma, CACJ President

"CACJ is important to the criminal defense bar and to the personal rights and liberties of everyone in California. CACJ's presence in Sacramento is unmatched and often is the only voice to promote or defeat bills before the State Legislature.  CACJ provides the highest quality Seminars and Webinars to educate practitioners and to give them a sense of community. CACJ also conducts the National Trial Advocacy Competition which attracts teams from law schools all over the country."

Robert Sanger

"There is nothing better that I could do to advance the interests of the clients and the criminal defense bar than by being an active member of CACJ. "

Jefferey R. Stein, Past President

"As criminal defense attorneys we regularly make difference in our individual clients’ lives. However, standing alone, our efforts only go that far. In order to bring about a real change to the criminal justice system, we must work together as a team. CACJ provides the framework for that cooperation. As Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Orchid Vaghti, Board Member

"Being a member of CACJ is belonging to dedicated, professional community that has a very tangible effect on the lives of our clients and the public who benefit from our efforts to keep the government accountable and works together to ensure that the citizen's privacy rights, due process and concepts of fundamental fairness are protected and strengthened. Training, outreach and legislative advocacy are cornerstones of CACJ's 40 years."

Matthew Guerrero, CACJ Vice-President

"For over 30 years CACJ has provided me with access to the leading criminal defense practitioners in California, and the opportunity to know about and respond to pending legislation - which I otherwise would not have had."

Michael Millman, Past President

"It has been my pleasure to serve as President of CACJ. In that capacity I have met and worked with many people who are truly committed to the defense of others and the idea that there can and should be equal justice for all. Thank you for the opportunity."

Christopher Chaney, Past President

"It is an exciting time to be a part of CACJ in this changing landscape of criminal justice . The resulting sea-change is the result of budgetary woes from inflated prison sentences. I am inspired every time I attend a meeting and learn of the efforts members make on behalf of the accused without compensation or commendation to put "rehabilitation" back into the system which for so long just sought to warehouse those society deemed unsuitable. I am particularly hopeful that I can address the problems of elderly prisoners seeking compassionate release. No one should die in prison."

Oliver Cleary, Board Member

"CACJ is the organization that is pushing back against unreasonable laws and unjust treatment for people accused of crimes. Because of the state of the law, criminal defense work is a tough, Sisyphean endeavor. My colleagues at CACJ give me the inspiration and strength I need to zealously push that boulder up a hill over and over again. Because of them, I remember that there is strength in numbers and solace in camaraderie."

Cris Lamb, CACJ Treasurer

"Defense attorneys are warriors - for our clients and in defense of their constitutional rights.  We fight more effectively and successfully when we band together, when we support each other through out membership in, and commitment to, CACJ.  We gain strength in our often lonely fights for our clients from the men and women who are engaged in similar struggles for other defendants.  CACJ is a vital means to support one another."

Scott Sugarman, Past President

"It is such an honor to be part of CACJ and to watch the heroic efforts of CACJ members fighting to achieve fairness in our legal system.  When I first joined the Board I had no idea about the incredible efforts and success CACJ advocates make on a daily basis throughout our great state.  The collective wisdom of the outstanding attorneys that comprise the CACJ Board is inspiring and makes me a better attorney and citizen.  The efforts and support of CACJ members ensures the protection  of liberty and justice for all."

Deedra Edgar, Board Member

“We are the gladiators fighting to protect the liberty of the citizens who are investigated or accused of crimes. While most of us are sole practitioners, CACJ makes us into a powerful Criminal Defense law firm with the resources to even the playing field against the government. Whether it is the connections you make at the great seminars, the Brief Bank, the legislative updates and lobbying or what you learn at the seminars, it makes you a better warrior and therefore, helps your clients.”

David S. Kestenbaum, Board Member

"CACJ is like a beacon in the distance through the fog and heavy mist.  It is where we will strive to meet and find our finest selves, where we will become the best lawyers we can be, and where we will work together to change the world and make it a better place for ourselves, our children, and most importantly, our clients."

John Crouch

"CACJ has been the key guide to my becoming a more effective and inventive advocate for the clients I serve, by offering the great minds and strategists of our craft as inspiring mentors."

Jefferey R. Stein, Past President

"The Brady bill is the latest example of CACJ's Leg Comm and Ignacio's group having unlimited creativity to overcome all obstacles and limitless tenacity to keep battling when lesser souls would give up on exhaustion. It is an honor and privilege to be allowed to work with all of you."

Steve Rease, CACJ Treasurer

"For 40 years, CACJ has been a powerful voice for criminal defense attorneys and their clients. It has impacted laws that protect the rights of the convicted and accused and provided defense attorneys with education, advocacy  and community. CACJ's strength, purpose and longevity make it a cornerstone of criminal justice in California."

Laurel Headley

"Strength comes from unity.  CACJ is a great criminal defense organization of public and private defense attorneys who are joined for self-education, mutual support, making our collective voices known, and continuing the historic, continuing struggle for justice for the accused."

Chuck Sevilla, Past President

"There are countless pieces of catastrophic legislation dead on the floor of the legislature as the direct result of the dedicated, articulate and dogged work, over the years, of the CACJ Legislative Committee and our lobbyists."

Jefferey R. Stein, Past President

"As defense counsel is the accused's friend in court, CACJ is the accused's friend in the Legislature. By lobbying together for shorter sentences and fewer crimes, we can make our state more just, and our world more free."

Jesse Stout, Board Member

"CACJ continues to succeed in derailing harmful legislation through our tremendous lobbying efforts of Ignacio Hernandez and the dedicated attorneys of the Legislative Committee.  CACJ has a meaningful voice around the State through our Amicus Committee and the briefs they file.  It is humbling to work along side such a rich pool of minds dedicated to criminal defense in California."

Mara Fieger

"CACJ is a family of criminal defense lawyers. We share knowledge, experience and affection. It is a mirror in which we bond with others like us to experience the best in law and lawyers. It is a message that we are not alone."

Ephraim Margolin, Past President & Founding Member

"California Attorneys for Criminal Justice is the home for those attorneys in California who understand and truly appreciate the liberties and freedoms recognized by our Founding Fathers and embodied in the United States Constitution. More importantly, these women and men of the bar recognize that these inalienable rights enunciated in the Constitution will be ignored, belittled and ultimately stolen from us by the state without champions taking a stand -- this is who we are -- this is who YOU are!"

Jonathan Willis

"CACJ has represented the interests of the defense bar and our clients for almost 40 years. Our legislative efforts, educational programs, amicus support, publications, just to mention a few, have been invaluable to my practice, to our members, and for all those who represent people accused of crime"

Alex Landon

"CACJ is an essential state-wide organization for all criminal defense attorneys.  The seminars, seminar materials, and Forum magazine are outstanding, addressing the latest issues and developments in criminal law, procedure and evidence.  All of the committees are accomplished and hardworking. The Legislative Committee and Ignacio is a prime example: an important and respected voice in the legislature continually achieving impressive results."

Robert Boyce

Assembly Bill 256

AB 256, another CACJ sponsored bill, passed unanimously from the Senate floor. The bill returns to the Assembly for a concurrence vote, before heading to the Governor's office for final consideration.
“The public has a right to record the police and we need to send a clear message that any law enforcement official who tries to destroy this evidence will be punished” said Jeff Thoma, president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice regarding AB 256.
  • The LA Times highlighted the passage of our bill in an article today.

Grand jury ban on probing shootings brings transparency

By Robert Boyce & Jeff Thoma | Aug. 29, 2015

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Senate Bill 277 into law prohibiting the use of grand juries to probe police shootings. This is an important step toward transparency and accountability necessary to keep the public trust in our judicial system.

Black men dying after encounters with police officers have made news and sparked protests in the last year. Grand juries in Missouri and New York decided not to bring charges against the officers involved, increasing concerns of bias. Earlier this month, California banned the use of grand juries to decide if police officers should face criminal charges when they kill in the line of duty. Supporters say secret grand jury meetings are not the place where such decisions should be made. Critics say the law is unnecessary and won’t increase transparency. Here, San Diego County’s district attorney and leaders of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice share their views on the issue.

CACJ Member Receives the "Lawyer of the Year" Award from the Utah State Bar

Ronald J. Yengich,
CACJ member since 1987,

was honored with the title Lawyer of the Year.

Mr. Yengich is a member of the Utah State Bar, the United States Bar: 9th, 10th, and 11th Circuit Bar, the Montana Bar Association, and the United States Supreme Court Bar. He is also a member of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, the National Association of Criminal Lawyers, the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Society for the Reform of Criminal Law, the Italian-American Lawyers of California, the Italian-American Lawyers Association of Utah, the Croatian American Bar Association, and the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law.

Bill to Cut Back Juror Strikes Stalled in California Legislature

By Maria Dinzeo | August 12, 2015

"Ignacio Hernandez, a lobbyist for California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said he just doesn't see a reason for the bill."

"This is the most recent in many failed attempts to do this. We did not receive any convincing evidence that there was a need to reduce the number of peremptory challenges in California," he said, adding that he also hasn't seen any evidence that the bill could actually save money."

"We are always disturbed when you have a group of judges arguing under the banner of court efficiency, their idea to roll back what is a core protection for those accused of crimes," he said. "Even if this were to generate $1 million in savings, it should be the last place we look to cut. Why start there for such a small savings that's even questionable is beyond us."

Governor Brown Signs "Right to Record Act," Clarifying Lawfulness of Civilians Recording Public Safety Officers

by Asia Morris | August 12, 2015

"SB 411 clarifies individuals’ First Amendment right to record police officers by stating that a civilian recording while an officer is in a public place, or the person recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, is not violating the law. Additionally, it makes clear that recording does not constitute reasonable suspicion to detain a person or probable cause to arrest. This bill also protects police by ensuring that these provisions do not allow a civilian to obstruct an officer."

"Following various high profile incidents across the country, it is essential for the community to hold the police accountable without fear of being intimidated or arrested," said Dennis Garcia, spokesman for California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which co-sponsored the legislation, in a statement."

Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice

Inimai M. Chettiar, Michael Waldman, Nicole Fortier, Abigail Finkelman | April 27, 2015

Mass incarceration. In recent years it’s become clear that the size of America’s prison population is unsustainable – and isn’t needed to protect public safety.

In this remarkable bipartisan collaboration, the country’s most prominent public figures and experts join together to propose ideas for change. In these original essays, many authors speak out for the first time on the issue. The vast majority agree that reducing our incarcerated population is a priority. Marking a clear political shift on crime and punishment in America, these sentiments are a far cry from politicians racing to be the most punitive in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mass incarceration threatens American democracy. Hiding in plain sight, it drives economic inequality, racial injustice, and poverty. How do we achieve change? From using federal funding to bolster police best practices to allowing for the release of low-level offenders while they wait for trial, from eliminating prison for low-level drug crimes to increasing drug and mental health treatment, the ideas in this book pave a way forward. Solutions promises to further the intellectual and political momentum to reform our justice system.

Public defender's offices still struggle for funding

By L.J. Williamson | Los Angeles Daily Journal


Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Fresno County claiming that inadequate funding of its public defender's office led to routine violations of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a lawyer for all criminal defendants, whether or not they can afford one.

For many, the Fresno County public defender's office is "a situation which aptly demonstrates that public defense is still treated as the poor stepchild of the criminal justice system," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. "The problem with the Sixth Amendment is that although it's been in the Bill of Rights since 1791, they never said who was going to pay for it."

Steven Rease, secretary of California Attorneys For Criminal Justice, a statewide organization of criminal defense lawyers, said that the "tough on crime" posture on which much of the past few decades' political landscape was built still informs many county supervisors' decisions on how to divvy up their funds.

"Politicians are much less likely to say no to a DA who's saying they need more money because there's more shootings, murder cases, gang killings, and all of that," Rease said. "No politician wants to look like he or she is soft on crime. But the public defender cannot go in and say, 'I need more lawyers and investigators so I can stop these prosecutions and help acquit these people.' It's not going to go over real well."

Public defenders echoed Rease's sentiments, but added that their respective counties have been able to avert disaster because they've slowly adapted a more balanced approach to crime.

"It's unrealistic to think that the public defender's office will be funded at the same level as the DA or sheriff," said Stephen Lipson, Ventura County public defender. Lipson added that Ventura County is funded sufficiently, but notes that some counties "get scraps."

"I remember the days when politicians would say out loud, 'Why would I want to spend money to protect those people who commit those crimes?'" said Riverside County Public Defender Steve Harmon. Harmon said that budgets remain tight but the perspective in his county has evolved. "There's a really good moment of collaboration in the criminal justice system."

Making the situation more difficult is that public defenders, save for Adachi, are appointed, not elected. This classifies them as "at-will employees," forced to comply with the desires of supervisors, city managers and mayors. Adachi said that being elected puts him on a more equal footing with other offices.

Fresno criminal defense attorney Eric H. Schweitzer would like to see public defenders elected in other counties. "My view on this is that the Office of Public Defender in any county with a population as large as Fresno's probably ought to be elected by the public whom they are sworn to serve," he said. "No elected board of supervisors should ever be empowered to cow down their appointed public defender again."

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