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Fighting Fire With Fire

Cole Casey Champions the Underdogs, and Wins Fair and Square

The only way to guarantee you’ll lose is by not fighting,” is one of the first things Cole Casey tells his clients when they come to him after being charged with a DUI.  This frank declaration isn’t just a pep talk designed to make his clients feel better.  It’s the motto that he personifies on a daily basis to the benefit of thousands of clients over the last 15 years. This philosophy also extends well into his personal life, and benefits an unusual group of underdogs.

Casey doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to describing how he feels about fighting for his clients.  “The vast majority of my clients are not criminals at all,” he says emphatically. “I refuse to allow them to be treated as criminals. My clients could honestly be anyone.  They range from college students, to military–both enlisted and officers - soccer moms, doctors, judges, CEOs of Fortune 100 Companies, police officers, and professional athletes.  It’s impossible not to recognize that in many cases the collateral fallout from a DUI conviction can be more harmful to the client than the actual court punishment. Accordingly, I am well aware that a great deal of trust has been placed in me to potentially save their jobs, family, or their careers. In many cases I am the only person that is in my client’s corner and that comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility,” he adds.

A Cause Worth Fighting For

The fierce drive to fight for the underdog is rooted in Casey’s upbringing. “I can’t stand abuses of power. It drives me nuts. And, in many cases, the abuse of power that I see in the courts borders on bullying,” he says. “I see the government, with all of its power, all of its resources, and all of the outside influences that are in play, whether they’re political, financial, public opinion or the media or whatever else, compared to the minimal resources of a typical defendant and the feeling of absolute terror and helplessness they experience,” he says.

“My clients are real people, with real families, real jobs, real lives, and real feelings. Sometimes that gets forgotten as the so-called wheels of justice turn. Just in resources alone, it’s very much a David vs. Goliath situation, and everyone in the system knows it. But, we are told that the system just runs a lot smoother and more efficiently if we all just pretend that it’s a level playing field, and so we do. These are the rules of the game. I accept that. But in reality, the State vs. the citizen is hardly a fair fight. I accept the odds are against my clients and me, yet time and time again we show up, and we bring the fight, time and time again,” he adds.

More often than not, even when his clients seem to be the clear underdogs in a case, Casey fights to a tremendous victory for them.  A recent victory illustrates just how rewarding standing up to fight for someone who can’t defend themselves has become in his life. “I recently tried a case that involved a high blood alcohol level and a hit and run. The client hired us to fight this because he was trying to obtain his citizenship in the U.S. so that he could legally bring his young son here to live with him. The client was of Moroccan descent and had previously lived in a part of Germany informally known as the ‘skin head capital.’ His son was still living there and had been the victim of racial violence and intimidation way too often. Were my client to have been convicted of the DUI and the hit and run, it would have stopped the whole process for him.”

Continuing, he says, “The case seemed to be fairly clear-cut at first blush, but once I began digging, interviewing witnesses, and getting their testimony under oath at the DMV hearing. I had enough to put the case in front of a jury. It turned out that many of the so-called witnesses against my client weren’t too terribly different from the folks in Germany our client had fled from once.  Fortunately, for my client, the truth came out that they had concocted an elaborate story, with the intent to cause harm to my client. The case went to trial and we won. All counts were dismissed. To see the tears of happiness on my client’s face was priceless,” he concludes.

Casey’s severe aversion to bullying has deep roots. Growing up an only child just south of San Francisco, Casey attributes his disdain for abuses of power and bullying to his Irish heritage, a heritage of which he is very proud. “Irishmen have been fighting the abuses of imperialism, corruption, and good old-fashioned ignorance for a thousand years. That’s why we are born to fight. We have always been the underdog, and have always had to stand up to the bigger powers, and that is also the reality for any criminal defense attorney. You get used to being the only person in your client’s corner, the only one who really thinks your client just may be innocent, and if that doesn’t motivate you to put up a fight, a real fight, then you’re in the wrong business.”

For more than 15 years, Casey has made it his business to do just that—stand up for underdogs facing sometimes catastrophic life disruptions as the result of being charged with a DUI.  As one of San Diego’s most successful DUI defense attorneys, Casey is nothing if not well known in the field of DUI defense.  And that is neither an accident nor dumb luck. Instead, it’s because he decided long ago that mastering his craft was the single most important thing he could do for himself and his clients.

“My father used to tell me to do one thing, do it better than anyone else, and people would line up at my door,” he reflects.  So that’s precisely what Casey did.  “In 1998 I decided I wanted to be the man to see when it came to DUI defense in San Diego,” he says.  “So, for the next 10 years, I attended every conference, every seminar, and read every book available to learn more about DUI defense than anyone out there.” After just one year of practicing general criminal defense, he limited his practice to DUI defense.

Preparing for the Fight of His Clients’ Lives

Because a DUI charge has two separate prongs, with both the state and the DMV imposing their own penalties, Casey needs to not only master the courtroom craft, but also has to show up for the DMV hearings ready to do battle.  To that end, he began preparing for each DMV hearing as if it were a matter of life or death for his client.  It is this strategy that remains to this day one of Casey’s most distinguishing fortes. “In many instances, the client’s driver’s license is their biggest concern.  For some clients even a short suspension can be professionally devastating to them.  So when we do these hearings, we prepare like crazy for them.  We file briefs, subpoena witnesses, make a good record to be used in the criminal proceedings and do things that, quite frankly, few other DUI defense attorneys are doing.”

Why other firms don’t prepare for the DMV hearing with the same intensity as Cole Casey is puzzling to him. “I have never, nor would I ever, take the position that a DMV hearing cannot be won,” he says. However, he recognizes that this philosophy is not the norm among attorneys handling DUI cases. “Many clients come to me after they have already engaged another firm or attorney, and they are frustrated with the adverse decision of the DMV. I tell them to request the transcript of the hearing before meeting with me.” Unfortunately, the clients then realize how little effort was applied to the DMV portion of their case. “I have talked to lawyers, good lawyers, that have essentially said, “Why bother with the DMV hearings? You just lose,” and it blows my mind. Even on hearings I have lost, having a good record for appeal or the transcripts of the witnesses to use later at trial or in a motion hearing has helped to get many, many clients some very good results.” He laughs when saying “The biggest complaint we get is from the DMV itself, because our hearings tend to take too long in their opinion. Oh well.”

The extraordinary lengths that Casey’s firm goes to in preparing for a DMV hearing is, as he puts it, “because in many situations, the client’s driver’s license is their livelihood and that’s not just those that drive for a living. If you hold a professional license, or a security clearance, or are subject to a background check or drive a company car, or just need to get your kids to school and back every day, a driver’s license suspension can be devastating. In many cases, the actual punishment from the court side of things is the least of the client’s concerns, but keeping their license is essential.”

In addition to preparing every case as if it may go to trial, Casey also places utmost importance on customer service, mimicking an unusual business model in his defense practice.   “Years ago, I had many years of retail sales experience and believe it or not, I have tried to implement the Nordstrom model of client service within my practice.  Client support is everything.  Returning calls and emails, taking the time to answer all questions and developing friendships with the clients; I insist on doing all of that,” Casey explains.

While this is an admirable objective, it also serves a very legitimate purpose.  “My practice distinguishes itself from many others in that my emphasis is on taking cases to trial by jury. That doesn’t mean that every case goes to trial; rather that in every case we take, and in every strategy session we hold, we are tirelessly searching for ways to actually fight the case and win.”

The willingness and, in fact, the zeal to go to trial has been the key reason for Casey’s long-term success. Never one to back down from a fight, Casey to this day insists that he and the lawyers in his firm try at least 12 cases to jury verdict per year, a pace that Casey himself kept for many years on his own.

Cheering On the Competition

Casey has come a long way from the law school graduate who first decided to defend his friends who had received DUIs by setting their cases for trial, and spending day after day at the County Law Library reading books like DUI guru Lawrence Taylor’s “Drunk Driving Defense.”  Casey is now the co-author with Lawrence Taylor of that very esteemed book.  He’s gone on to be recognized for countless awards, served as the California State Delegate to the authoritative National College of DUI Defense, is a Board of Directors Member of California DUI Lawyers Association, and is a workshop instructor for the National College of DUI Defense, held each summer at Harvard Law School. He was recently voted one of San Diego’s Top Attorneys for 2011 in criminal defense by the San Diego Daily Transcript, and was the only lawyer in that elite group with a practice limited to DUI defense. When it comes to being victorious in his area of specialty, Casey is clearly a winner.

Victory in the courtroom has certainly been sweet for Casey, but that doesn’t mean he balks at competition.  On the contrary, perhaps what is most surprising for this self-proclaimed born fighter is his desire to help others, especially those who could potentially be viewed as competitors, if not outright challengers.  Casey, in a manner of speaking, directly invites them into the ring to join him.  “I have an open door policy for any young lawyer who needs help with their case.  I have had public defenders come to my office to review a case and have mentored countless new lawyers in this field as well,” Casey says.  “I absolutely want to keep the pressure on law enforcement and the government. I want to keep helping other attorneys get better.  My God, my door is wide open to any attorney who wants to help someone in a difficult situation. I want to raise the bar in DUI defense.”

It’s fair to draw the conclusion that Cole Casey is able to offer this support to fellow attorneys because he truly has mastered the craft of DUI defense, and he wants to help others to do the same.  “If you intend to handle a certain type of case, and you intend for those cases to be the bulk of your practice, then you have a responsibility to seek as much knowledge about those types of cases as is humanly possible and actually get in there and fight.  That does not mean waiting until you get a case and then trying to figure out whether you know how to handle it or not.  Remember why clients hire you.  They do so because at the end of the day, it’s not your marketing, your TV ads or your fee structure, it’s because they trust you.  So I take that very seriously,” Casey says.

For Casey, advocating for those who feel like they have no one else in their corner is just a way of life. This extends to an unusual group of beneficiaries–animals. Despite the often negative publicity they fall victim to, Casey and his wife Chelsea are proud owners of two Pit Bulls, and are very involved with It’s The Pits, an animal rescue specifically for Pit Bulls. “These types of dogs require responsible ownership because they are so incredibly strong and energetic, and my wife and I are committed to making their lives as great as they make ours. So many of these dogs have been bred by idiot breeders just trying to make a fast buck, and then they are neglected or abused by equally dumb owners that think having a Pit makes them look tough,” Casey laughs. “They never realize that these dogs require tons of attention, interaction, and wide open spaces to run and exercise every single day. They sure as hell don’t belong chained up inside a yard or in a 400-square-foot studio apartment,” he says. “But most of all, they require genuine love. Give them that and they are the most incredible and amazing dogs in the world.”

Cole and his wife are also involved with a rescue for big cats. They became involved with Lions, Tigers and Bears (www.lionstigersandbears.org) several years ago, and it quickly became a passion project. “We have adopted some of the tigers and lions there, which means we help pay for their food, veterinary expenses, and whatever else may be needed. Just like with the Pit Bulls, these cats are usually seized from some owner that thought it would be cool to have a tiger, until they realized not only the cost of keeping one, but how incredibly dangerous they can be. So, after the novelty wears off, the cats become neglected, and in many cases starved and abused. That is when we get involved. We keep the cats on a ranch out in the East County. It is not for profit, for breeding, nor is it a zoo. We simply provide a nice, comfortable life for these cats for the rest of their lives. They eat well, get exercise and and, of course, full veterinary treatment as well. There is honestly nothing quite like feeding a 500-pound Siberian Tiger by hand. It makes you really appreciate the true meaning of grace, power, and perfection. It’s unreal,” says Casey.

When he’s not standing up for others, it’s no surprise that Casey is an avid combat sports enthusiast, himself having trained for years in boxing, wrestling and both  traditional and mixed martial arts for over 25 years. He now trains his 12-year-old son in all of these disciplines, which to him is “an absolute blast.” Continuing, he says, “Boxing has always been my passion, but I just love a good brawl, whether it’s in Thai boxing, Jiu Jitsu, some type of karate, or even a good old Irish pub fight–the kind where when the dust settles, you shake hands and have a pint and laugh about it.” And, he believes his years in the fight game have made him a better trial lawyer as well.

“In front of a jury, or face to face with a guy that wants to remove your head from your body, it’s all on you. There’s nobody else. You stand alone. So, you either fight and fight to win, or you get dropped.” And although Casey is a DUI defense attorney, he will always handle the occasional non-DUI case for friends in the fighting world and has defended some of the biggest names in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Strikeforce Competitions.

As for the future for Cole Casey, he is honest when he says he has no desire to grow a large firm. “In my opinion, bigger isn’t better.  In terms of quality, however, that is an intangible that I continually focus on, increasing the quality of my advocacy, knowledge and connection with my clients.”

As anyone who has reaped the benefit of having Casey in their corner when facing a DUI can attest, when Casey says, “The only way to beat it is to fight it,” you can bet that he will fight to the finish.

G.Cole Casey
2550 5th Avenue, Suite 815
San Diego, CA 92103
p (619)-237-0384
cole@duisandiego.com

www.duisandiego.com

Education:

  • De Anza Junior College - Associate of Arts (Economics)
  • San Diego State University - Bachelor of Arts (Economics)
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law - Juris Doctor, 1996

Associations and Awards:

  • Listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities
  • Certified Instructor in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing
  • “Specialist Member” of the California DUI Lawyers Association (2002 - Present)
  • Board of Directors - California DUI Lawyers Association (2005 - Present)
  • Sustaining Member - National College for DUI Defense, Cambridge MA (2002 - Present)
  • California State Delegate - National College for DUI Defense, Cambridge MA (2005-2009)
  • San Diego Daily Transcript “Top Attorneys” in Criminal Law
  • Co-Author, California Drunk Driving Defense, West Publishing

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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