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CACJ Celebrates 40 years!

40th Anniversary Luncheon and Awards Ceremony

Past Presidents at the Luncheon

CACJ Timeline- 40 years of fighting for freedom

TO RECOGNIZE AND TO REFLECT

By Scott A. Sugarman

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,

we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Many of us recognize those words from high school or a college English course. Charles Dickens penned those memorable lines to begin A Tale of Two Cities, his story about the French Revolution. We do not live in such revolutionary times, yet we certainly live in unsettled times, some good and much not.

In the first issue of Forum, Ephraim Margolin wrote from the "President's Corner" that he and the other founding members established CACJ as an association of criminal defense attorneys so that our concerns, experience and perspective would be expressed both in new legislation and in the media, and so that we could support other defense attorneys by, among other acts, filing amicus curiae briefs in selected cases. Their foresight and joint commitment helped innumerable defense attorneys become better lawyers, and be more effective for their clients. We are all in their debt.

There is no less need now than 40 years ago for the combined authority and support of this association of criminal defense attorneys and affiliated professionals -- indeed, arguably a greater need.

Our clients suffer lengthy, punitive prison sentences, with greater frequency, than could have been imagined 40 years ago. Prosecutors have almost unfettered discretion to charge minors accused of almost any serious crime as adults, and ship them off to prison for decades, with little or no judicial review. Over decades, judicial decisions had imposed modest duties on prosecutors to disclose information and records to assist defense counsel in preparing each client's defense. Then, in 1990, Proposition 115 not only eliminated many of those obligations, that Initiative entitled prosecutors to pretrial discovery from defense counsel. The voting public and the California Legislature enacted the so-called Three Strikes Law a few years later, which has resulted in much longer prison sentences for tens of thousands of defendants. The procedural rights for individuals accused of crimes that emerged from judicial decisions in the 1960s and 1970s as a modest re-balancing of the enormous power wielded by law enforcement officers and prosecutors have been significantly reduced – adversely affecting the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial. Indeed, the Bill of Rights protections in the California Constitution were all but gutted in 1982 by the passage of Proposition 8.

The cost of defending a criminal case has risen dramatically, yet the resources for such defense has failed to keep pace. Indeed, the funds provided to federal defender offices and the rates paid for appointed counsel in federal cases have been significantly reduced in the past year. Local judges are routinely tight-fisted when court-appointed defense counsel seek money for investigation and expert assistance.

The California Judicial Council reports that year-in and year-out, the California appellate courts affirm some 97 percent of the convictions that are appealed. We know that most defendants plead guilty and do not appeal. Hence, even in contested cases, the appellate courts in California find no errors at all, or, as commonly, are forced to admit there was error below, but find the error or many errors "harmless."

In my view, we are lonely warriors in the courtroom and in the legislative halls. We should look to one another and the collective strength of CACJ for support.

Commonly, CACJ is a solitary voice in Sacramento, fighting to block punitive, unfair and/or misguided legislation on crimes, criminal penalties and criminal procedure. Collectively, we have a powerful voice through CACJ, and have successfully persuaded legislators and their staffs through the thoughtful words of our lobbyist and the presence in Sacramento of members of legislative committee and other CACJ members.

The sheer volume of new appellate decisions and legislative changes in Sacramento and Washington make keeping informed very difficult. We have been fortunate, as we are today, to have the insightful analysis and commentary of seminar speakers. These speakers help keep us current on changes in the law and offer us new ways to represent our clients. CACJ sponsors seminars throughout the year to educate us, to guide us, and in many cases, to inspire us. In the scores of seminars I have attended since the early 1980s, I have always – and I mean always – learned about an appellate decision, or new approach to a defendant I was then representing, or a different way to present an issue or defense that I might have missed if I had not attended that particular seminar. Those here will get that benefit from today's seminar speakers – I urge you to return for future seminars and encourage your partners, colleagues and friends to join you at the next seminar.

Forty years ago, Ephraim Margolin explained we needed a collective voice to further the critical work in which you are each engaged. We still do. Thank you for coming to this seminar and supporting CACJ. It is important to all of us, and to each of our clients, that you continue to do so.

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