I get asked a lot about jury trials. Is it really like in the movies and TV shows where prosecutors and defense attorneys can go undefeated? Is there really so much drama? Do people pull out guns or break down on the stand and confess to the crime?

Both yes and no to all these questions.

There's jury trials I've had where I've taken my suit coat off and pounded the table shouting about my client's innocence, where I've picked up the murder weapon and demonstrated its use like they allege my client did the day of the attack; I've juggled bricks of cocaine to show the jury that it's just a powder and not some mystical demon to be feared. I've had clients breakdown on the stand and, despite all my preparation with them, unwittingly confess to another crime that makes them look worse to the jury.

But I've also had jury trials where an expert witness gave 40 hours of testimony on human physiology and anatomy before even getting to the injuries of the victim in the case. I've had white collar trials so boring I glanced over and a good half the jury had nodded off. I even had a trial where the prosecutor asked eight hours of questions, that consisted basically of a dozen questions he just kept asking in different ways trying to trip the witness up. Needless to say, snooze-fest.

So I wrote a book where the protagonist is writing a book (as well as dealing with a brutal murder) about how to win jury trials and the rules that govern the game. Am I revealing too much? Maybe. I have a feeling some defense attorneys will be bugged that I'm just giving away our "secrets," but, hey, my choice.

So if you really want to see what jury trials are like and what tactics we defense lawyers are looking to use, check out the book, which comes out on July 1st.

As a criminal defense attorney, my dealings with homicide detectives are always in opposition. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some homicide detectives that hate me. My job is to attack their case, attack their credibility, and their knowledge, in defense of someone that very likely committed the crime in exactly the manner the detective is on the stand describing. So homicide detectives, and FBI agents when I'm in federal court, and I have a complicated relationship.

But, most of the books I write deal with FBI agents and homicide detectives chasing down the most sick and depraved killers I can think of. So it's interesting for me to read how others view the detectives, and to craft an objective view of them.

And I think I do have a more objective view than most, because I've seen both sides of the good and evil perpetrated by the boys in blue.

Most of the detective novels I've read paint homicide detectives (and police in general) as saviors of the human race that can do no wrong. Well, sorry, but that ain't reality. The reality is that I've had detectives and police officers fabricate evidence to get convictions against people that pissed them off, I've seen them abuse inmates and detainees on videos I later obtained, and yes, I've seen them hurt and even kill people. In fact, at a recent preliminary hearing, we asked an officer if he had ever been disciplined.  He stated no, then thought about it a second longer, and then said, "Well, I'm under investigation for rape. I guess that counts."

Seriously? He had to think about it and then said he "guessed" being under investigation for rape qualified as discipline? We sued the department and the county/city to get our hands on the findings of this investigation. Rather than give it to us, the county/city dismissed the case against our client entirely. A scary thought that they let our client go so they wouldn't have to release the results of a rape investigation against one of their officers.

But, some of the best people I know are police officers, too. People that put themselves in danger to help others selflessly.

It's like any other profession: there are good ones, and there are bad ones. And you have to take the good with the bad. Detectives may have a skewed view of us defense attorneys as well, but they have to simply take the same stance. There's good and bad in every profession. And the detectives have to understand that defense attorneys are the common citizen's only defense against an overzealous, powerful government (anyone that's had to deal with the IRS knows how scary government can be).

But what's it like to walk in a homicide detective's shoes? Here's an interview with a nearly thirty year veteran of the LAPD robbery-homicide squad. I would recommend checking out the full film One-Eight-Seven as well.

www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2014/01/the-life-of-a-los-angeles-homicide-detective/282960/


When I was sixteen, my buddy and I visited a psychic. It was on our way to a tattoo shop and we decided to stop by because the sign said it was five bucks for a palm reading. But, being the skeptic I was, I decided that we would go in separately as if we didn't know each other. I went in first.

The psychic was an older woman in a funky scarf. She was leaning back in a chair, the place decorated to the brim with odd trinkets, old bones, and lighting that made the space appear darker than it needed to be. She took my hand and rubbed it with her gnarled fingers and pronounced my future.

I would be successful in business, married not twice but once, have two children, and a host of about fifteen other predictions. When I left, I waited outside and my buddy went in. He came out about ten minutes later and we compared notes: he would be successful in business, married not twice but once, have two children yada yada.

The psychics were bunk.

When I began researching my newest novel, Blood Dahlia, which you can check out on Amazon here if you're so inclined, I studied psychics in earnest. The novel is about a psychic the FBI use to attempt to capture a serial killer copying the original Black Dahlia murder from 1947.

I went in with a skeptical eye. James Randi has done a great job debunking psychic phenomena and his educational foundation at www.randi.org put up a million dollar challenge: anyone that can show true psychic phenomena in a laboratory setting will be paid $1,000,000. No, ifs, ands, or buts. Million bucks. Of course, in the decade the challenge has been out, no one's been able to claim the million dollars.

Harry Houdini was absolutely obsessed with psychics. Since his mother's death, he wanted desperately to find a real psychic that would allow him to speak to his mother. He traveled around the world, visiting exotic hard to reach locations in nearly every continent, looking for anyone that had a grain of psychic power. He then worked hard proving them a fraud, in the hopes that they would pass his tests. Of course, no one ever did. And in his later years, Houdini traveled around the world visiting psychics not with hope, but with the sole purpose of debunking them and have them run out of town.

Michael Crichton on the other hand, one of my favorite authors, believed in psychic phenomena. Not because he was a man prone to believing in the supernatural, he was a doctor and man of science, but because he stated he had witnessed it first hand. Both precognition, and telekinesis in the form of an eight-year-old child bending a spoon with his mind.

One of the main criticisms, according to Crichton, that people have of psychics is that if they were real, they'd be playing the stock markets or gambling. Here's Crichton's response to that:

"I often hear skeptics say that, if psychic behavior was real, the psychics would be playing the stock markets or the ponies. In my experience, many of them do. There is, in fact, a kind of secret level of activity in which psychics consult to major corporations and businesses. People seem embarrassed to admit this activity but it takes place, just as you'd expect it to."

This sparked an interesting idea to me: secret psychics at the CIA and Coca Cola, helping them without public knowledge. I wondered if psychics had ever been studied by the government. I doubted it, but looked into it anyway.

And then I found the Stargate Project.

The Stargate Project, which I discuss briefly in Blood Dahlia simply because it's so interesting, was a study conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA into psychic phenomena to establish if psychics could be used for the purposes of the Cold War.

I'm not making this up, this is not conspiracy theory stuff, we have the documents through GRAMA requests and there's even a Wikipedia page for Stargate. The study was conducted from the '70s through to 1995 and then terminated because the researchers concluded there was no useful intelligence application of psychic phenomena.

But, did they establish that psychic phenomena was in fact true, even if not useful to the intelligence field? Believe it or not, the answer is both yes and no.

Telekinesis, the ability to move objects with your mind, was found to not exist in a laboratory setting. Basically, the people that claimed they could move objects with their mind could do it outside the laboratory but not in it, i.e. they were frauds.

Most of the other psychic phenomena received the same results: all except one. Remote viewing.

Remote viewing is the ability to describe people, places and things from a distance. For example, what the DIA and CIA were hoping for was a team of psychics describing the manufacturing plants and number of weaponry of the Soviets, or listening in on their plans of attacking the United States.

The study concluded that there was a statistically valid result in remote viewing within laboratory conditions.

Let me repeat that.

The most extensive, objective study ever done on psychical research concluded that there was truth to remote viewing. That a man could sit in a room and think of a room half a world away, and describe what was in it.

Later researchers looked at the report's results and questioned its findings, stating that the subjects must've been given more information than the study let on in order to make their "hits" (a "hit" being the term the researchers used to describe when a subject was correct in their descriptions). But there were parts of the study that have simply not been invalidated. The CIA has recommended more research in the area of remote viewing, but the study was shut down before that occurred.

On an interesting side note, the CIA did keep three psychics from the study and allocated half a million dollars a year in studying and using them. These psychics, last I have been able to gather, were working full time for the government out of Fort Meade, Maryland. The CIA released several statements that the three would be let go and the project terminated completely, but I was not able to confirm that they have actually been let go. So it's possible that the CIA was convinced enough from the results of Stargate to keep three full time psychics on their payroll for decades.

So what does this mean for us, the common public? Should we go out and consult with Sylvia Brown about our futures?

No, it does not.

Whether you believe in psychic phenomena or not, the fact is that the majority of those proclaiming to be psychic are frauds (here's an interesting little piece about "psychics" that swindled a poor lonely man to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars if he wanted to break the curse of his love life).

The sad truth is, they're almost all frauds and hucksters.

But… the interesting question is, what about those three that are working full time for the CIA? The three that, of all the psychics in the world the government recruited, they were deemed the only worthy ones to stay on. What would they tell us if we spoke with them?

Maybe one day, if the government ever becomes as transparent as everyone in government claims they want to be, we can find out. For now, we'll just have to live with the mystery.










The question I most get asked as a criminal defense attorney is not "How do you defend those people?"Which is, let's be honest, what everybody thinks when they hear about what I do. The question I most get asked is "Why don't you write a legal thriller!"

I'll tell you why.

I hate them.

I spend nearly eight hours a day in the courtroom. Most of my job is going through metal detectors, racing from court to court, and getting yelled at by judges for being late. I've been writing for fifteen years and I love it. It's what I look forward to every day. Why would I possibly want to work in a courtroom all day and then write about it, too?

But, I finally caved with my first legal thriller, The Neon Lawyer. The fact is, criminal defense attorneys and cops have the best stories and I wanted to get some of these stories down.

The thing that most seems to puzzle people about the book is that it's somewhere around 80 to 90% true. Even the whacko characters that seem made up are people I actually worked with. But, of course, I have to protect people's identities so certain key things about the cases and locations and dates have been changed.

And now, the book has gone on and become successful and dang it if I don't have to write another one.

But, for those of you considering a career in law, I probably wouldn't recommend it unless it's something you really want to do. I've been very, very lucky. I was a prosecutor first and myself and another prosecutor jumped ship and opened our own firm at exactly the right time. We mastered internet marketing and are doing really well at a time when most law firms are failing.

The fact is, law practice has completely changed and will continue to change. Companies have realized how much they pay for legal services and they've begun outsourcing. As such, law firms have cut staff or switched to contract attorneys. But law schools are still pumping out lawyers by the tens of thousands with no jobs for them once they graduate. The market is adjusting a little (law school applications are down nearly 30% this year) but not enough to make a difference. A law degree just doesn't do what it used to.

Then again, if it's what you know you want to do, then jump in. Life's too short to go into a career you hate. As I've always advocated, I'd rather fail at something I love than be successful in something I hate.

But, getting back to the book, yes, it's based on a true story and most of the stories in there happened to me. Hope you enjoy it, and drop me a line and let me know what you think.
Arrested Development, I feel, is the funniest show that has ever been on television. Here are just a few of the gems that show has produced:

Michael: "What have we always said is the most important thing?"

George Michael: "Breakfast"

Michael: "Family."

George Michael: "Oh, right, family. I thought you meant of things you eat."

--
Lucille: Get me a vodka rocks.

Michael: Mom, it's breakfast.

Lucille: And a piece of toast.

--


Michael: Can’t a guy call his mother pretty without it seeming strange?
Buster: Amen. And how about that little piece of tail on her? Cute!
Michael: I’ve opened a door here that I regret.

Everyone has their own favorite lines and I think each time we go through them, we find new ones that we missed before. So I ask this question:
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
Season four, the newest season only found on Netflix, has been torn apart by critics and fans alike. So how could the funniest show in history (I'm not alone in this by the way) fall to what it was in season 4? 
Granted, there were sections of season 4 where the old brilliance shined through. But it was more like a diamond buried in dung that you just catch a glimmer of. Mostly, the show was a long stretch of boredom and crassness. My novels certainly don't spare on the profanity and sex, but Maeby whoring out her own mother for a few bucks? The quaint sweetness the show had for me died right then. 
The plot, for those of you that haven't seen it, is enormously convoluted, guest appearances are all over the place to the point that it feels like some celebrity telethon, and the jokes are  just not funny. 
HOW THEY RUINED IT
Every show, just like every series of books, has an engine. It has a method and formula that works and that we crave. If done well, we barely notice the formula. 
Want examples? 
Every episode of Gilligan's Island is Gilligan screwing up somebody else's attempt to get them off the island. 
Every episode of Who's the Boss? is putting Angela and Tony in a situation where we ask will they or won't they? 
Every episode of Three's Company is based around a situation where one or more of the characters misunderstands the context of what's happening. 
See the patterns? For a fun game if bored at work, try and figure out the central engine for all your favorite sitcoms. 
So why do TV writers use engines/formulas? Are they lazy? No, definitely not. They work their tails off. But the fact is they don't have a lot of time to write each episode so they can't start from scratch each time. They must have a framework and a formula. 
What was Arrested Development's? Give up? 
It was Michael and his son George Michael. 
Every episode revolved around Michael and his attempt to save the company and his family or to leave them, and his family's antics in screwing that up. 
His relationship with his son was the central relationship and all the other characters were ancillary. This made them even funnier when they were put against the backdrop of everyday-Joe, Michael Bluth. 
George Sr., Lindsey, Lucille etc. are only funny in relation to Michael. So what happens when you take Michael out of the picture? Season 4 happened. 
There were entire episodes I sat painfully still without cracking a smile. I compared this with my near-peeing-my-pants-with-laughter in the first three seasons. And certain other writers I know share the same feeling. In fact, I haven't personally spoken with someone who enjoyed season 4. I know, I know, it's anecdotal. But the social media feeds were abuzz with disappointed fans for weeks after it came out.
WHAT WRITERS CAN LEARN. 
Formulas work. They're there for a reason. If you have something that's working, that readers are responding to, why on earth would you change it? I understand pushing boundaries and trying new things, but if people love what you're doing, don't mess with it. Stick to it until right before they grow bored and then switch to something else. 
This goes back to what type of writer you wish to be of course. I wish to be the writer that entertains my audience and writes what they want to read. If you prefer to be the type of writer who writes what they personally want regardless of what their audience wants, that's fine too. But why publish your books at all? Just do what J.D. Salinger did and write them and stick them in a safety deposit box so the public will never read them. 
I wanted so bad to love the new season of Arrested Development (on a sidenote, huge mistake releasing all 15 episodes at once. Everyone was on different episodes when talking about the show. If one episode a week was released, everyone would have been talking about that episode the next day). But the show just didn't do it for me. Alas, unless the formula goes back to what it was, I probably won't watch more than one episode of season 5. 
So, don't be that writer that disappoints the fans that made you successful. Stick to what they want and always keep the audience in mind when you want to make changes.




I've always loved Napa, California and spent my summers here as a kid on my cousin's ranch. So trekking through the mountains at one in the morning and looking down over the city wasn't a completely new experience for me. We used to go to this platform we had on his ranch that overlooked the whole town. It was a perfect place to take girls to when I was a teenager: scary enough that they wanted to cuddle, but not so scary that I would be wondering if we were about to be attacked by wolves or bears.

But we were here for something else now: UFO's. Not that I believe in them. We, as a species, are hundreds if not thousands of years away from interstellar travel. If a civilization has achieved interstellar flight, we are the equivalent, technologically, of what the amoeba is to us. How often do humans study amoebas? Not very. They lose their fascination quickly. So I simply do not see any logical reason why such an advanced species would visit us.

And that's not even to mention the problems with interstellar flight; the nearest star system being 400 light years away, if we assumed this advanced civilization could travel the speed of light which is impossible for an object of the size needed, it would take them 400 years to get here. 400 years to study amoebas. It's simply too far-fetched for me to believe.

But, I was convinced by an acquaintance named Jim that something strange had been going on in the hills surrounding Napa and so I drank a liter of Diet Coke and tagged along.

Talk about a motley crew. Two of the guys there were so stoned they could barely walk. One of the women there was young and flirtatious and kept asking me what kind of car I drove. I think she might've been about 16. And Jim was hitting golf balls off the side of the mountain into the valley below.

We started walking and I was impressed by how black the sky looked and how the stars sparkled like jewels. Napa, from this peak, has almost no light pollution so the stars look unlike anywhere else in Northern California. We trudged up this trail for about half an hour and began going around the far side of the mountain.

"What are we looking for?" I asked.
"Black helicopters. You'll see them coming up here."

We sat on some rocks and pulled out snacks. I didn't talk much since I just kept steaming about the fact that I could be sound asleep in a warm bed instead of out here with stoners and a horny kid.

As I was contemplating leaving, I heard a thumping in the distance. It grew louder and louder, and sure enough, a helicopter spun around the mountain and disappeared on the other side. The people I was with started snapping photos and mumbling to each other in hushed tones.

"See," Jim said. "Why would there be helicopters out at one in the morning? There's nothing up here, it's all just ranches and homes."
"It could've been a news copter," I said.
"That thing was black. The news copters all got their logos on the sides."

I couldn't disagree with him. It was a black helicopter out at one in the morning flying over a mountain that was filled with nothing it could be interested in. I waited for it to come out from the other side of the mountain, but it never did.

"See," Jim said again, excitement in his voice.
"Dude, there's tons of ultra-wealthy people up here. It could just be some private copter."
"No way, man. No one has black copters up here."

We started walking again and this time, I was actually a little spooked. I knew this area well and knew most of the people up here. No one had a helicopter. But it had to land somewhere.

As we ascended to near the top, we all took positions on a grassy knoll and watched the sky. I put my backpack underneath my head and stared up at the night sky. It was one of the most peaceful moments in my life and I contemplated the universe and other planets and where fate had brought me in my life. I noticed the 16 year old inching closer so I quickly moved over next to Jim and made sure his hulking, sweating, beer-soaked body was between us.

"It's coming, dude," he said. "You'll see it."
"What am I gonna see?"
"Just wait."

So we hung out another hour.

"How long are we gonna be up here?"
"I dunno. We're sometimes here till daybreak."
"What? Jim you didn't tell me that. I got stuff to do tomorrow."
"Chill out, man. It'll be worth it, I swear."

So another hour passed. I was just staring absently at the sky when I felt Jim lean in close to me. "There it is."

Far up in the sky, well past where planes could go, I saw several blinking lights. They seemed like they weren't moving but that could've been an optical illusion because of how far they were. I closed my eyes, and like a cartoon, rubbed them again to make sure I could see clearly. The blinking lights were still there.

"See."
"It's just lights, man," I said.
"You've never seen lights up that high. There's no planes that go up that high."

I watched the lights as long as I could but before long they zipped to the right at what seemed like an incredibly fast speed and were gone.

That incident never really settled well with me. The lights and the helicopter and the speed with which they moved. Maybe it was just too late at night and it started affecting my vision? One thing I can say: perhaps there's things that we haven't quite fully come to understand that have perfectly logical, almost mundane, explanations? I'm sure the aurora borealis was a mystical, unexplainable experience to the first Alaskan explorers but as science and our knowledge progressed we came to understand that it's just light particles reflecting off of electrons in the atmosphere. Knowledge seems to take the magic out of existence.

I don't know what those lights were. But to be honest, in this science-technology driven world where myth and magic are becoming less and less relevant, I have to admit I get more than a little pleasure from having experienced this mystery. And nothing adds spice to life like a little mystery.


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