For the first several years of my practice, doing jury trials was the highlight. Having to convince twelve men and women, good and true, of your client’s innocence was always a big challenge. Primarily because, in a huge majority of the cases, the clients are in fact guilty. I enjoyed the challenge, and was well paid for accepting it. Such was the case over 30 years ago of young Bill W. How ironic it was that the person whose case would ultimately change my entire practice would have the same moniker as one the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although at the time I had never heard of Bill Wilson, known by all on the recovery community as “Bill W”, I would come to know his life’s work in intimate detail.
One afternoon, a Fullerton Police Officer was on routine patrol when he observed a vehicle parked against the curb with a person slumped over the driver’s wheel. Stopping to investigate the circumstances, he approached the vehicle, and knocked on the window several times without response. To determine if the person inside perhaps needed medical help, he opened the car door, only to have Bill fall out into the street. Subsequent investigation led to Bill being arrested and charged with DUI after a blood test determined his alcohol level was .22!
When Bill hired me, I spent little time on examining why a young man of 18 would have be so intoxicated in the early afternoon to pass out while driving. My focus was only on “getting him off” the case, for which I charged him a fairly significant fee. Questioning only the circumstances of the police officer’s intrusion and arrest, I filed and argued a motion to suppress the evidence, which under prevailing cases at the time was granted, and Bill’s case was dismissed. Being well-paid, and pulling off a miracle was all that mattered to me, and following the case I went on my way without nary a thought of Bill.
Less than six months later, I was awakened by my answering service in the early morning hours, and was told by the operator that Bill was on the phone and needed urgently to speak with me. When connected, I could barely recognize Bill’s voice through his sobbing. What I understood was that he had been arrested for another DUI. Coincidentally, I had been looking to buy a certain boat at that time, and I remember thinking with some degree of pleasure that Bill was now going to buy me that boat. What he said next is as clear in my memory as if I had heard it today, so many years later. “It’s much worse this time, Mr Freeberg. They say I hit a kid on a bicycle, and I killed him”. As vividly as the words, I remember the combination of his tragedy and my greed made me feel as if I had just been kicked in the stomach. That feeling would persist for a very long time, and while painful it, would become the impetus to re-evaluate my role as a lawyer, and my responsibility to my clients.
I realized that in defending Bill in his first case, I spent all my energies in examining what Bill had done, and zero time in trying to understand why he had done it. I began to realize that when people hire me, I had an obligation to get them not only “off” a case by looking at the facts, but to get them “out” of the system by examining why they did it. And once I started down this path of inquiry, I had a duty to provide them with appropriate tools and support to help them end the destructive behavior that brought them into the Court.
Before, my client contact had been on discussing the facts, and telling them ways we might try to beat the case. Now, I still had that evaluation to make, but I also had to be more intrusive into their lives to find out the cause of the behavior, and to recommend solutions. Drugs were only beginning to make inroads into the population at large, with alcohol abuse being the driving factor in a massive percentage of criminal cases.
I began reading up on the research in this area trying to understand the causative factors, and available programs to deal with alcohol, and it’s sister addiction, drugs. At that time it was AA and Salvation Army who provided the most help, and my contact with AA resulted in lengthy discussions with a long time recovered alcoholic, Benny M, who would come and talk to my clients and me about recovery. Over a period of time, I decided to revamp my practice to a model I called Rehab Law or Sobriety Law.
Not having had this issue personally, I formed a team of experts, consisting of recovered drug addicts and alcoholics, who possess the unique perspective of having been there, done that. Of Psychiatrists and Psychologists with training in the identification and resolution of mental health issues relating to axis I disorders of Bipolar, Schizophrenic, major depression, anger management, PTSD, ADD, ADHD among others that may be contributing factors. Additionally, I work with lawyers who have recognized expertise and skill in dealing with cases involving these issues.
Over time we have had significant success in resolving clients cases with dramatic reductions in their charges and sentences. But more importantly, they become clean and sober, and are no longer making regular visits with a police escort to jail and to court.
If you or a loved one is struggling on the road down or needs guidance on the road back, call us. We stand ready to help…