Dog Bites & Animal Attacks In The North Bay

Dog attacks are more common than you realize. The American Humane Association (AMH), estimates that there are 4.7 million dog bites in the U.S. each year; nearly 800,000 of them require medical care.  Most involve children, senior citizens and mail carriers.

About half of all dog bites involve children under age 12 and most – more than 80 percent – of all dog bites treated in hospital emergency rooms involve children under age 15.

The AMH advises parents to educate their children on ways to behave around animals and to properly supervise both your children and your pets. The group has developed a program called Kids Interacting with Dogs Safely.

In the event of an animal attack, the law makes it clear that the owner of the pet is liable. Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC has years of experience in representing children and their families who have been hurt or mauled by animals. We can assist you in obtaining the justice that you deserve.

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Types of injuries commonly found in dog bites include:

Bites: Tearing and puncture wounds are caused when the dog clamps down the jaw muscles long canine teeth.

Head or Brain Injuries: Head injuries such as fractured skull and brain injuries can occur as a result of an animal attack and may cause permanent disability.

Broken Bones and Crush Injuries: The jaws of many animals are powerful and may cause bone-crushing wounds during an attack.

Scarring: The face is the most frequent target of attack dogs, including the cheeks, nose, lips and cheeks, causing an estimated 44,000 facial injuries seen in U.S. hospitals each year. These injuries can result in disfiguring scars and can have lingering consequences for victims both physically and emotionally.

Emotional or Psychological Injuries: Victims of animal attacks can be left with life-long emotional scars. Some may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder characterized by debilitating flash backs, night mares and paranoia which could affect their ability to succeed at school or work and require psychological treatment.

Rabies: The deadly disease is transmitted in the saliva of rabid animals and can be fatal if not treated right away. Animal bite victims should immediately seek medical attention in case the animal had rabies.

Death: Dog attacks result in an average of 18 deaths per year in the U.S. In the event of a death by dog attack, the surviving family members are entitled to file a wrongful death action on behalf of the victim.

Speak With a Knowledgeable California Dog Attack Attorney in The North Bay

If you are bitten or attacked promptly tend to your wounds, even if they seem minor to you, to help prevent a possible infection. Call your doctor immediately. You may need to get a tetanus or rabies shot.

Also remember if you or a loved one has been injured by an animal attack, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.

At Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC our personal injury attorneys will conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, collect the important evidence, and deal directly and firmly with the responsible parties.  We can take on the insurance companies on your behalf so you can focus on your recovery.

Bicycle Helmet Laws In The North Bay

The state of California has a law requiring all bicyclists below the age of 18 to wear a bicycle helmet while riding. However, there is no mandatory state law that requires all adult bicyclists to wear a helmet while riding.

However, some cities may have their own ordinances in place that require all bicyclists to wear helmets while riding. It is important for you to know whether your city has an ordinance requiring helmet use while riding a bicycle. It could possibly impact your chances for a claim for compensation if you are involved in a bicycle accident.

If you have suffered head injuries in an accident, because you were not wearing a bicycle helmet at the time, it could significantly impact the success of your claim. You can expect the other party to claim that your injuries would not have occurred if you had been wearing a helmet.

bicycle accident

Additionally, because helmet use is so widely promoted as a way of reducing the risk of head injuries, a court or jury may also be unimpressed with your failure to wear a helmet, and could blame your failure to wear a helmet for your injuries.

A bicycle helmet cannot protect against every type of head injury. If you can prove that wearing a helmet would not have prevented your injury in any way, then you may still be eligible for compensation.

Contact Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507 if you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident anywhere in the North Bay.

We Will fight for YOU!



Sonoma and Marin Counties Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers! What Constitutes Nursing Home Abuse? What signs to look for:

Recently, our law firm was able to get a good settlement for a family whose mother was badly injured at a nursing home and eventually died from her injuries relating to her fall.  Despite the nursing home’s attempts to file bankruptcy, further complicating the case, we prevailed.

Oftentimes you hear the stories about nursing home neglect from the newspaper accounts but there is a lot of hidden horrors and tragedies that go unreported so families must become vigilant in keeping their elderly  family members and loved ones who are housed in these facilities protected.

We, as a law firm and as individuals, passionately believe that our most vulnerable citizens should never be exposed to any type of abuse whether it be of a physical, emotional, mental, financial or even sexual in nature.


Our law firm stands ready to utilize all of our cumulative and combined legal skills and experience to bring any nursing home abuse to the light of day. Through the civil law process  through litigation we bring the abuse to the attention of the public, but more importantly try to get the victims and their families well compensated for their pain and suffering or worse, loss.

Our law firm has over twenty-five years of experience in pursuing justice for those who have suffered injury and harm through the negligence and/or misconduct of third parties.  A seasoned trial attorney will prepare every single case as though it is going to trial so that every legal maneuver and option can become available for the benefit of the plaintiff client.  This careful approach also ensures that YOUR case is going to be thoroughly and meticulously handled up until there is a jury verdict, it that is what has to be done.

Through our law firm’s persistence, tenaciousness, and excellent legal skills we have obtained millions of dollars in rightful compensation for the people and victims we have served.  Please see our top results (Please click here).

Nursing home abuse comes in many different forms.  It can occur through physical abuse by staff and other third parties who have access to the facility.  The other form that is more difficult to prove is emotional or mental abuse that can occur in many different settings and in many different ways.

Therefore, it is very important for YOU to report any suspected behavioral changes in the behavioral pattern of those you love who are currently housed at an elder care facility or a nursing home.  Financial abuse and exploitation can be just as difficult to determine so it is incumbent upon the family to be vigilant.

If you suspect any financial exploitation, you can always make an appointment and speak with us free of charge.  Sexual abuse,  still a very taboo subject,  and in many cases an under-reported crime in nursing homes, is becoming much more talked about and investigated.

Again, it is up to YOU and family members to be on the lookout for any signs of physical or mental sexual abuse.

As a family member and perhaps in the capacity of the trustee for a relative or friend housed at a nursing home, YOU have a duty to detect nursing home abuse.  However, if you are not sure, please contact our office.

Neglect can consist of malnutrition, dehydration, and a lack of proper hygiene.  Bed sores or pressure ulcers are often a sign of neglect.  There are other means to determine neglect and they often arise with over-medication and even a lack of medication are considered a form of  elder and Nursing Home abuse.  The same is true as to the use of physical restraints used on residents which amounts to nothing less than “false imprisonment.”

Abuse can be suspected where a resident develops bruises, fractures, sprains or other unexplained physical injuries.  The same can be true  in cases where the elderly victim displays fear, agitation, depression or other emotional reactions relating to those who care for them at the nursing home.

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However, one needs to be careful because many of the ailments and/or diseases, i.e., Alzheimer’s, can lead to fits of rage or agitation.  Slapping, pinching, and other forms of force are types of abuse an elderly person may suffer at the hands of caretakers or even other nursing home residents who are being cared for in the same facility.

Sexual abuse as we stated above, a taboo subject, as it occurs in our jails and prisons, it occurs in nursing homes where residents are fragile,  and not able to defend themselves.  Financial abuse is often uncovered by reviewing  financial  and banking records and  or by noticing  unexpected or untimely changes in wills, trust documents and gift giving by the elderly resident of nursing homes.  All of these reasons should put you and your family on guard.

If you are not sure or you have questions about what constitutes Elder Abuse, or in this case, NURSING HOME ABUSE  we  encourage you to discuss your case with us at a free, confidential consultation—As we all know, nursing homes are required under the law to provide  a safe and caring environments for their residents, residents who as your family members have been good, law abiding citizens who you want to see get the very best treatment in the waning years of their lives.

When your loved ones fail to get the services and treatment that they need and deserve, you may have no other choice but to resort to legal action.

If you believe that any one of your family members has been abused, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.   Please do not hesitate to contact our law office to arrange to speak with one of our experienced nursing home abuse attorneys in either Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, and/or our San Rafael office in Marin County that is also centrally and conveniently located with plenty of free parking.

Don’t hesitate if you have any doubt, it is better to be safe than sorry.

North Bay Car Insurance Compliance & Laws

Any time you get into your car, you’re running the risk of being involved in a car accident.

There are many drivers on the road in Sonoma County and surrounding areas, and the slightest lapse in judgment or concentration on the part of another driver can have devastating consequences for you.

Unfortunately, in a recent report compiled by state insurance departments, California ranked 47th in the country with regard to auto insurance requirements mandated by law and driver compliance to these laws. This means there’s a significant chance that the damages you incur in a car accident won’t be covered by the other driver’s insurance.


California law mandates the following minimum insurance coverage for all drivers:

  • $15,000/person in bodily injury coverage
  • $30,000/accident in bodily injury coverage
  • $5,000/accident in property damage coverage

These figures are significantly lower than the minimum coverage requirements mandated by many other states, which is one of the reasons why California was ranked 47th in this study. It’s highly possible that you’re damages won’t be entirely covered if you’re injured in a car accident caused by a driver who only has the minimum coverage required by law. In addition, the study estimates that nearly 15% of all California drivers don’t have any insurance coverage, a situation that would create even greater financial hardships for you in the event of an accident.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by an uninsured or under-insured driver, it’s critical to work with an experienced lawyer who can make sure your rights are protected. Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC have been handling car accident cases for individuals in The North Bay for more than 23 years, and we fight aggressively to help you maximize the value of your compensation.

Please contact our law offices today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507 today to schedule your free car accident consultation.

North Bay Legal News of the Day for April 8, 2015

BY: Attorney Justin O. Milligan 

I seem to steer to articles involving criminal defense and personal injury, but I have to touch on something that is very interesting to me and hopefully to you.  That is that a passenger train pulled into the Cotati Depot the other day.  I cannot ever remember that happening in my life.  Perhaps it did back when I was just a baby.  I’m not sure.  I’d have to check.   But to see the video on The Press Democrat website is pretty amazing to me.  It’s simply starting an alternative to driving my car.  I love that!  It’s just a start. Will it immediately solve the commuter traffic jam Highway 101? Will it really only serve Sonoma residents working in Marin?  Will people actually ride the train?

Me, personally . . . I am a veteran Metro rider from my 2 ½ years on the East Coast.  If I have to commute from one place to another, I would want to ride on a train occasionally looking from my work or reading pleasure to look out the window as the scenery passed by rather than wasting my time behind a line of a thousand cars stretching across the county line as I commute at a snail’s pace from my office to the courthouse in San Rafael without the ability to do much, but listen to music, sports and news talk, and commercials. (First SMART cars roll into county, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)

Unfortunately, some of the other news is sobering rather than uplifting.  There was a stabbing at that Mendocino Avenue strip mall just across from the S.R.J.C. just yesterday at around 4 p.m.   (Stabbing reported in parking lot of Santa Rosa store, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)  I have a particular fondness for this strip mall as I have known it all my life, which is funny for me to say because I think strip malls are bit, shall I say, ugly.  Now that I got that off my chest, I hope they catch the person who did this.

I am a staunch defender of a persons criminal defense rights and would champion this person’s cause if he came to my office and hopefully, if he gets his case dismissed for some reason despite having committed a crime, that at the very least there is a lesson learned as a result of having to pay thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.  I am sad that a person would feel he has to fight and stab to live their life.  This person, if caught, will face charges such as assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, inflicting mayhem, and more, and can expect prison exposure exceeding seven years.

In another case, William Steele faces multiple life terms in prison for his actions resulting in 22 felony convictions.  (Clearlake man found guilty in passenger’s death in 2013, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.) It is reported that he was contacted by law enforcement who they suspected he was driving under the influence.

He pulled over initially, but then took off.  During the wild pursuit of his vehicle his two passengers jumped out while he was still moving.  One of them died after hitting his head when he landed.   That resulted in a conviction for involuntary manslaughter, which means simply put that his passenger was killed without malice during the commission of a crime.   Mr. Steel was also convicted of four counts of attempted murder.  This would, at the very least, be as a result of turning his Chevrolet Tahoe towards pursuing police and revving his engine and then also for his shooting at them during the pursuit.

And finally, an unnamed woman, whose identity has been protected by law from being disclosed, took the stand against her parents to testify to a horrific child hood as a result of their deviant acts.  She told the story of being repeatedly raped by her stepfather whose acts were condoned by her mother.  (Victim takes stand in Santa Rosa sex abuse case, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)

It is among the worst case of child molestation ever in Sonoma County.  Why would this go to trial I wonder?  You have a victim who alleges she was made pregnant twice by the stepfather, which is something that can certainly be almost 100% confirmed by paternity testing.  So why, facing such overwhelming evidence would the case go to trial?  There are many reasons why this could be so.  One likely scenario is that the district attorney’s office had extended an offer that was unacceptable to the co-defendant mother and father.  For instance, perhaps the district attorney offered that they “plead to the sheet.”

This would mean that, rather than to dismiss some of the charges if the couple pled to others, they were offered only that they plead to every single count contained in the charging document.  My experience in sex assault cases spanning years is that can be a lot of charges.  In a recent case I had, that amounted to over 60 counts of rape spanning two years.  Perhaps, the offer was for some of the charges, but not all, but was an “open plea,” meaning that it was for some or all of the counts, did not limit the number of years in prison, but left that decision up to the judge, which would leave a lot of uncertainty in the equation.

This is something a lot of people have a very hard time with.  By going to trial, the defendants really, for whatever reason, are telling the district attorney that they don’t like the offer and are going to take their chance with a jury.

Wrongful Death Claims In The North Bay

After the sudden death of a loved one, families face serious hardship. An already emotionally difficult time can be made even worse as medical bills and funerary expenses render making ends meet nearly impossible, particularly when the deceased was the family’s primary breadwinner.

No matter what the cause of death be it a motor vehicle accident, bicycle accident, motorcycle accident, or construction site accident – debt concerns impact families of lost loved ones when they are least able to afford it.

At one time, the common law did not allow the families of those who died from the negligence of another person to pursue a legal remedy. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Today, California law allows the families of a deceased person to bring what is known as a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties.

Thus families may bring suit for medical bills up to the time of death (survival action), funerary expenses, loss of financial support and more, providing them with the help they need to cover quickly mounting bills.

Wrongful death damages that are allowed are split into two main categories; economic and non-economic damages.


Economic damages or financial losses are split into further categories as well, the main categories as follows:

1. The financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that the decedent had before [his/her] death or the life expectancy of the surviving plaintiffs, whichever is shorter;

2. The loss of gifts or benefits that the surviving plaintiffs would have expected to receive from the decedent;

3. Funeral and burial expenses; and

4. The reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided.

Any amount a judge or jury allows for future economic damages must be reduced to present cash value.

The Human Loss

Non-Economic damages are also called the human loss.

Also, often the greatest loss is the human loss of the care comfort and society of the deceased person. What does this long phrase mean? Essentially these are words meant to describe the relationship that the surviving heir would have likely had with the deceased person. This means the loss of the love affection support In California, wrongful death plaintiffs are not allowed compensation for grief however they are allowed compensation for the loss of the relationship they were likely to have with the person who was killed. This distinction makes the hiring of a personal injury attorney who is experienced with wrongful death cases all the more important. California wrongful death law allows recovery for several categories of non-economic damages, and specifically excludes others:

1. The loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; [and]

2. The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations (if the plaintiff is the surviving legal spouse of the decedent);

3. The loss of the decedent’s training and guidance.

The court will say that no fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of noneconomic damages. It is up to the judge or jury to set the reasonable amount of non-economic damages in each case. An award for noneconomic damages should not be reduced to present cash value.

In determining a surviving plaintiff’s loss, we are not supposed to consider the following:

1. Plaintiff’s grief, sorrow, or mental anguish;

2. The decedent’s pain and suffering; or

3. The poverty or wealth of the plaintiffs.


Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

Not just anyone may bring a wrongful death claim when a loved one dies. The California wrongful death statute limits the people who may bring a claim to certain classes of possible plaintiffs. Generally, only the following may bring wrongful death claims:

The surviving spouse of the deceased party

The surviving children of the deceased

If the deceased left no surviving children, those who would be entitled to the deceased’s property if he died without a will such as parents, brothers and sisters, grandchildren, or nieces nephews, as well as any family member who was receiving financial support from the decedent.

Determining whether someone may bring a wrongful death claim can sometimes be difficult and the advice of an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney is recommended.

What Must a Successful Plaintiff Prove?

Although each case is unique, a plaintiff must prove the following to be successful in a California wrongful death claim:

The defendant owed a legal duty to the deceased

The defendant unreasonably breached that duty

The defendant’s breach caused or contributed to causing the death of the deceased

Of course, exactly what the plaintiff must prove – the exact duty owed to the deceased by the defendant, whether the defendant breached this duty, etc. – depends on the specific facts of each case and it is up to an experienced personal injury attorney to ethically and skillfully present the claim or lawsuit.

Contact Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC Today 

If someone’s negligence caused the death of your loved one, contact Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507.

Mr. Fiumara and his team will evaluate your potential case and explain to you your options.

Abalone Diving, & The Natural Beauty Of Sonoma & Mendocino Counties

California Abalone Law 

The first weekend in April each year is the traditional opening for the abalone season and recreational salmon fishing. The temptation provided by this delectable sea snail, abalone, last year lured in at least 25,000 people who went through the proper licensing procedures. There are always others who fail to get the proper permits and licensing and that’s another story.

Because new rules were introduced last year, abalone divers should be much more vigilant and careful to follow every rule and regulation to avoid a citation for a misdemeanor, jail time and a hefty fine. One new rule introduced last year sets limits on Sonoma Coast abalone, which includes a later daily start time of 8 AM, and the closure of a popular swath of coastline around Fort Ross and State historic Park. Other restrictions include: 1. Red abalone diving and rock picking also is permanently prohibited in the Stewart’s Point State Marine Reserve, stretching roughly from southern Sea Ranch to Fisk Mill Cove in Salt Point State Park. 2. In addition, this same prohibition includes two smaller protected marine areas at Del Mar Landing and Gerstle Cove.


Fish and game wardens will be out in full force this year especially with the new regulations and the diminishing supply of abalone in particular. In a recent Press Democrat news article Capt. Steve Riske of the State Fish and Wildlife stated that, “we’ll bring in people from other counties to help out,”meaning that enforcement will be greatly increased, strict and scrutinizing, so be on the lookout. Our experience in representing Abalone divers who have been cited, is the result of Fish and Game wardens carefully observing them from the bluffs high-up above the water with high-powered binoculars, that can even see underwater! No, they do not work for the NSA but, they should!

Part of the reason for the increased law-enforcement presence and heavy-handedness of Fish and Game wardens is because tightened regulations were put into place after a 2011 “red tide” (caused by a toxic algae bloom) which decimated and killed thousands of these tasty sea snails off of the Sonoma Coast and contributed to a 60% decline in red abalone density found over a three-year period of time, according to the Fish and Wildlife Department.

Red abalone is the last of five abalone species that can be legally finished or pryed off the California Coast, but only in Waters north of San Francisco Bay and only by recreational divers and pickers. However, they must abide by very specific and exact guidelines: for example the catch must be a minimum of 7 inches in length with a daily bag limit of three abalone, and a maximum take per person per season of 18. Only nine (9) of which maybe taken south of the Mendocino County line. If you think these rules are complex then you must know how and when your catch must be “tagged” order to avoid the risk of getting cited for a misdemeanor, having your fishing gear and abalone confiscated and ultimately avoiding a court appearance in either Sonoma or Mendocino County–which carries a hefty fine and possible jail time.

It should be noted that abalone divers are prohibited from using scuba gear, so they have to be able to dive, locate individual abalone and pry them from the rocks while holding their breath. That can be a taxing endeavor for some. Our law firm has actually handled misdemeanor cases where divers who went into the water and for some medical reason could not drive down deep enough to secure the abalone had a family member do so for them. This is illegal and the wardens saw this from one of the bluffs overlooking the water with high powered special binoculars, so don’t do it. It is not worth being arrested or cited for a misdemeanor which can affect your record and ultimately future job prospects.

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If you, any of your friends or family members have a question about a citation or a court case in either Sonoma or Mendocino Counties, please free to call us 24/7 for your free and confidential consultation: our Sonoma County number is 707-571-8600. We also have another convenient location in San Rafael at 415-492-4507 and finally you may be able to reach us on our toll-free line at (855)-247-3190… In the meantime happy fishing and diving!

North Bay Boating Accidents

Living in California with the Pacific Ocean right in our backyard, it is no wonder that water sports and water activities are such popular pastimes. However, although they offer excitement and adventure, boating and watercraft activities are also accompanied by a unique set of risks. It is when these risks are disregarded that innocent fun can turn dangerous or even deadly.

Boating and watercraft accidents are an all-too-common occurrence in southern California’s waterways. They can be caused by operator inexperience, recklessness or carelessness, piloting a boat or watercraft while impaired by alcohol or drugs, skier or passenger behavior, equipment failure, or improper boat loading as well as countless other factors. Needless to say, each boating and watercraft accident is different.

While it is critical for an injured party to obtain an attorney with experience in boating and watercraft accident cases, it is just as important that the attorney approach each of these cases with equal enthusiasm, care, and a fresh eye.

boating accident law

At Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC our attorneys have years of experience in litigating boating and watercraft accident cases. We also realize that each case presents a unique set of facts and issues, often involving complex legal and safety considerations. For this reason, our attorneys do not hesitate to consult with technical, medical, and economic experts to develop the strongest case possible and maximize recovery for our clients.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of another person’s negligent or reckless misconduct in causing a boating or watercraft accident, Fiumara & Milligan Law, PC can offer the experience and skill necessary to provide you with sound advice on how to protect your legal rights.

Call us today at 707-571-8600 OR 415-492-4507 to discuss your legal options.

North Bay Legal News of the Day- April 7, 2015

Written By: Attorney Justin O. Milligan

Mental health is critical to having a healthy and productive life.  Some might consider getting help if they find it hard to get up in the morning because they are depressed about some aspect of their job. Some will not seek help until their mental health deteriorates so far that they become incoherent to others.  I’m not sure Ned Kohler of Knights Valley has received the help he needs, but it had to be a sign when law enforcement were called 34 times since January regarding issues about Ned.  (Knights Valley man caught after manhunt, 4-6-15, The Press Democrat.)

Over the last three months Ned’s state of mind must have deteriorated because on Monday morning, he walked into the open door of his neighbor early in the morning and threatened to kill her if she didn’t leave.  What is heartbreaking about his is that the neighbor, Lauren Thollander, has known Ned “for years.”  Lauren, who is 61, told The Press Democrat that she used to pick Ned’s kids for school back when she drove a school bus.  She never expected him to threaten to kill her.  In fact, she had just recently seen him at the local store.  I really appreciate what she says at the end of the Press Democrat Article.  “I’m glad he’s going to get some help,” she said. “He deserves to have a chance to get some help.”  This is so true. There are resources for people with mental illness.  One of the best I can think of is NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  “NAMI Sonoma County is a grassroots

family, client and community member organization, dedicated to improving

the lives of people with mental health challenges and the lives of their families and friends. These challenges are known as neurobiological brain disorders,

or psychiatric disabilities.”  (  If you know someone who is experiencing mental illness, NAMI is fantastic resource that can identify resources for your loved one to help them get better and to cope with what is to some, a permanent disability.

On another front, two “rival” gang members were sentenced on Monday to state prison for the robbery of the Rite Aid store at Guerneville and Marlow Roads.   (Rival gang members sentenced in Santa Rosa drug store robbery, 4-6-15, The Press Democrat.)  The two were convicted of the gunpoint theft of several bottles of Promethazine.  Promethazine is apparently an under the counter cough syrup often used in a concoction with soda called Sizzurp.  I’ve never heard of that, which just highlights my age, but another thing that struck me is the allegation the defendants were rival gang members.  It reminds me of the sickness of street gangs.  It is a disease just like addiction in that these, often youngsters, make decisions to do things like rob stores for the purpose of supporting a criminal street gang that seem contrary to a desire to succeed to most of us.

What is it that causes a young person to join a criminal street gang?  I’ve never met a successful street gang member.  The ones I meet are always having to spend thousands of dollars to defend against accusations they committed a crime with a gang enhancement, which will add years to a sentence.  (Penal Code 186.22.)  Why do it?  Over the years I have developed some insight to this addiction to a gang and it is complicated.  One of the things I have learned is that no matter how smart these young people are (I have personally never represented a gang member more than, say, 25 years old) if they develop a bond with their street gang friends early on, it is as hard to break as a heroin habit.  And there are programs that view it this way.

For instance, Casa Calmecac, a Santa Rosa based recovery center operated by California Human Development offers treatment based on the specific needs of gang members to those “seeking greater self-sufficiency, independence and dignity through education, training, housing and other services.” (  I hope these young men also receive treatment for their disease while incarcerated.  People like them can and do rise above their childhood and their addiction.  I am fortunate to have seen it happen only twice in my career spanning 12 years of practice.  And all the time and effort I have put into trying to help all my clients accused of gang crimes is worth it just to see that happen twice.

Can’t help but to put a shout out to the A’s and the Giants who both won their season openers last night.  Though a Giant’s fan, I am impressed by both teams.  Looks like we may have another exciting season of baseball!

North Bay News of the Day, Andy Lopez Task Force to Make Proposals

The community has come a long way since a deputy who was in my opinion trigger happy at the very least killed Andy Lopez.  We are now at a turning point for starting up a citizen oversight board that would have some sort of oversight on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department.  A community task force will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and propose that an Office of Independent Auditor be created that would “review policies and internal complaint investigations against Sheriff’s Office personnel, probation officers and correctional officers.” (Sonoma County task force readies proposal for civilian oversight of Sheriff’s Office, April 4, 2015, The Press Democrat.)

I really admire what the task force has come up with, which is a comprehensive set of proposals for achieving greater communication between the community and law enforcement by getting to know each other and learning to listen to each other.  I recently attended a presentation by Sonoma County’s Women in Law where Phyllis Rosenfield, a member of the task force, spoke about listening as a key element to a healthy dialogue.

That seems simple, right?  But just was does it mean to listen?  Does it mean you sit and simply nod your head or would an occasional response or acknowledgement be helpful?  If so, would it be appropriate to include opinions as well?  At least initially, my understanding is that a healthy listening means among other things not using language that can be construed as judgmental.  During the presentation Phyllis had us break into groups and discuss some of the proposals being made to the Board of Supervisors.  I was paired up with a family law practitioner whose first name I learned was Bert and we chose to contemplate initiating more mental health awareness to law enforcement.  It was a fun exercise and highlighted what it is like to have a conscious dialogue, that is, to consider how I am listening, what I am doing, am I helping or hindering the discussion.

I hope the Board of Supervisors adopts the proposal, which would include a requirement that the Sheriff’s Office hand over its completed internal investigations into to officer involved shootings, jail deaths, and other critical incidents for independent review as to their completeness and accuracy.  I think this is appropriate as long as the confidential information of the officers is kept from public disclosure.  Believe me, I have represented many people who were blatantly abused by the officers on the scene, whether from just a derogatory comment or to actual use of excessive force and I would love to know what those officers’ personnel records hold.

By the way, if I represent a person who tells me the officer used excessive force on them, I do as an attorney have a means to access that officer’s personnel records to see if there is anything there useful to my client’s defense.  It’s called a Pitchess Motion and the last one I filed resulted in a complete dismissal of the prosecution against my client. But to disclose such things to the public would expose everyday hard working honest officers to danger from the criminal element they worked so hard to protect us from.  I am not for that, but I am for an independent oversight board and healthier dialogue between law enforcement and the community.  I hope the Board of Supervisors adopts the community task force’s proposals!