Los Angeles, CA criminal defense attorney Karen L. Goldstein talks about why she became a lawyer and the philosophy that guides her work.
Karen is the recipient of Trial Attorney of the Year 2020, The Jerry Giesler Memorial Award, by the Criminal Courts Bar Association (CCBA).
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So I knew from a very young age I was going to be a lawyer, because I was, frankly, very argumentative, and I used to like to negotiate with my parents from a very early age for more privileges. But on a more big social justice level, I became a lawyer because we do not have a fair criminal justice system. The cards are stacked against somebody who’s accused. Everybody knows this. People say the system’s broken. It’s more than just broken. So I see myself as someone that has to equalize that playing field, particularly for the minority communities, and to try to restore that imbalance in the power. And honestly, I like fighting for the underdog. I think the redemption story is a great one. I tend to see people on what might be the worst day of their life, and I wanna help them get back on their feet, and I don’t believe that when good people make bad decisions, they should be punished for the rest of their life. So I knew I was gonna go into law, but then knowing how broken the system is, I focused in criminal defense, and also, just with an eye to the fact that minority communities, in particular, don’t get a fair defense, and I am the thing that is standing between the state or federal government and that person going away, possibly for the rest of their life.
So I don’t think I have just one philosophy that guides my criminal defense work, but I do have certain strategies that I think make my practice more effective than others, and they’re two very practical things. So the first is that you put it in writing. We have so many complicated motions that we have to argue, which make a difference in the client’s life, and a perfect example is bail. Your client wants to be out of custody, and for the cases I handle, usually we’re talking million or two million bail – murder cases, sex crimes cases. So a lot of lawyers wing it, and they walk in the court, and the make oral arguments, and they lose. That is not what I do. My philosophy is you put it in writing. You have to give that judge or the prosecutor a sense of who your client is, and you wanna humanize them before you ever walk into court. So if you put your motions in writing, always, and then you walk into court and argue it again, it’s sorta like getting two bites at the apple, and so I think that’s one really effective strategy, and state criminal defense lawyers do not use this enough. In federal, it’s pretty much mandatory that you put everything in writing, so it’s another area where I think I benefit from having experience in both courts.
But my other aspect of philosophy that might be a bit different than other defense lawyers, or at least one that I just use more, is experts. So I am a great storyteller. Defense lawyers need to be a good storyteller. But there can be very technical aspects of your case where you need help from other people. It could be a computer forensic expert. It could be an investigator. It could be a psychologist. Use experts to tell your client’s story better. You should not be expected to be the ballistics expert, and that person can help you cross-examine about a cartridge or a shell casing. And so I think, in terms of philosophy, putting it in writing and litigating it that way – it also makes the other side have to work harder – and using experts are the way to have the best criminal defense practice you can.
The most rewarding aspect of my practice is definitely the clients that I get to meet. These are people at a low point, maybe the worst day of their life, and helping them recover from that and getting to know them as human beings and getting to understand their back stories, that’s the most rewarding part. Of course, also, when you win, but honestly getting to know these people, I feel like, is a privilege, and I get a lot of jokes about the kind of people I must meet or the kind of crimes they’ve alleged to have committed, but hands down, the most rewarding thing is the stories I get to tell on behalf of my clients.