The Nature of Justice

Attorney Mark Khalaf sees both sides of the law

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | 9:49 pm

Even good people make mistakes. Pasadena attorney Mark Khalaf knows that well.

He has practiced criminal defense for 12 years now, and having worked in Law School as a student prosecutor in the Alhambra office of the LA County District Attorney, he learned early which battles he would much rather fight.

“There was a hiring freeze in the DA’s office after Law School, so I went to work downtown in a big law firm, with 500 attorneys,” he told Pasadena Now. “It was all civil litigation.”

“After two years of it, I hated it,” he said. “I enjoyed dealing with DAs and defense attorneys much more. I would much rather fight over people’s rights as human beings rather than just fight over monetary compensation. So I had to go back to what I love.”

The Pasadena local then went to work for a criminal defense law firm for a year before finally opening his own law office with his brother, Ted.

While Mark’s field of law is criminal defense, his particular expertise is in the area of DUIs—drunk driving arrests. They comprise nearly 75% of his caseload.

”I love these cases,” he said, “because I think that a lot of people could be wrongly convicted of DUIs. I don’t want to see anyone drinking, having a .08, and then driving drunk,” he explains, “but if you have had two glasses of wine with dinner, and you’re not impaired…The fact is that a machine can mess up, and blood testing can be done wrong, and I fight that.”

Interestingly enough, Khalaf has also been a reserve Sheriffs deputy for 14 years now—joining while still an undergrad at La Sierra University—so he knows both sides of not only the badge, but the courtroom as well.

“I love the law part of it,” he recalled, ”so I told myself back then, ‘I am going to be a district attorney, and put bad guys away, or ‘alleged,’ bad guys” he said, correcting himself.

“So I thought that I would just work in a criminal defense firm until there was an opening again in the DA’s office,’ he continued, “but once I really got into criminal defense, I loved it.”

“I started to realize,” he said, “that good people make mistakes all the time. Innocent mistakes lil‹e having two beers and not knowing that you’re .08, and driving. That’s an innocent mistake. You can feel fIne, and just not know.

“The other thing,” he said,  “is that I’ve come to realize that it happens all the time that someone who is completely innocent is charged with a crime and many times convicted of a crime. And I am of the notion that if I have to choose between sending an innocent person to jail or setting a guilty person free, if I have to choose, I want a guilty person going free over an innocent person being found guilty and moreover, we all have constitutional rights, and many times those constitutional rights are violated.”

And thus the battle for justice goes on.

But then there are the cases in which punishment seems obvious, but upon closer inspection, is perhaps not the right answer.

As Khalaf recalled, ”I had a client who was arrested for a third-time time, DUl.

The City Attorney’s office wanted the mandatory 120 days in jail. He had a public defender who said, ‘It’s not going to really get better than that.’ So he hired me, and we were able to geta medical evaluation that showed that this person was truly diagnosed with alcoholism. And that if you send this guy to jail for 120 days, he’s gonna come out and do it again. So how do we make it better?

“I had a very receptive prosecutor who truly wanted to help this individual out. So, in lieu of sending this person to jail, we were able to get him in to a live-in  program. It’s been six years now, and this individual has completely turned his life around. He has a job now and making good money, and is back with his ex-wife”

For me its also gratifying, for example, when you’re able to help people with schizophrenia, who are in trouble, when what they really need is mental help. They don’t need to be prosecuted. And I love it when I’m able to help these people.”

And that is the nature of justice.

The law flrm  of Khalaf and Khalaf is at 33 South Catalina Avenue,  Suite 202, Pasadena.  (626) 466-01 66.

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