In The News
By Michael Ladnovich
Orange County Register News Article
Paul Wallin’s clients call him a saint. His critics call him a braggart.
He portrays himself as a guardian against a District Attorney’s Office that he says wrongly accuses teachers and counselors of sex crimes. Prosecutors in turn describe him as a publicity-seeking lawyer who cares more about winning cases than about his clients.
“I would do almost anything within the bounds of reason if it would mean my client would be acquitted and it was ethical,” said Wallin, the father of three children. “I’d even drop the guys pants (in front of the jury) if necessary.”
Feelings about Wallin run high because the 35-year-old Tustin attorney has earned a reputation as the county’s most successful and visible defense lawyer in sexual-abuse cases.
He has appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and the syndicated television show “Hour Magazine.”
Last week, Wallin and his partner, Stephen Klarich, 30, were in the news again as the lawyers for ———, 38, teacher accused of molesting students.
——–, a reading teacher at Olivewood Elementary School in El Toro, is charged with 10 counts of molestation. ——–, a teacher at Kraemer Junior High School and leader of the schools award-winning marching band, has been charged with molesting a 14-year-old student.
Wallin’s unorthodox courtroom methods – showing photographs of clients genitals to jurors, asking a 14-year-old girl explicit details of sex acts, and using a ruler to measure how high above the knee various victims were touched – have been branded by some as outrageous and demeaning.
“Maybe someone is going to be slightly embarrassed, or he is going to be branded a child molester and go to prison for the rest of his life,” Wallin said, defending his tactics.
——–, a Fountain Valley musician acquitted in 1984 on charges that he had molested his two daughters, said Wallin is a “Robert Kennedy of the 80′s.”
“He has taken an emotional and unpopular cause in conservative era and fought for clients who are alone out there,” said ——–, who estimated the defense costs at $50,000.
But others, like Deputy District Attorney Nina Brice, describe Wallin as a self-promoter whose boast of an unspoiled court record is nonsense.
According to Wallin, he has had 28 child-molestation cases go to trial and only lost one.
“He essentially is holding himself out as unbeatable, and it’s a matter of historical record that isn’t true,” Brice said.
Brice said Wallin will often get a client, determine the client is guilty then pass the case off to his partner Stephen Klarich.
During a jury selection for a child-molestation case, Brice said, Wallin misrepresented himself as having a dismissal in a previous case. In truth, she said, the district attorney never filed charges.
The teacher in the dismissed case was ——–, who was arrested and accused in 1984 of fondling several junior high school students.
——–, who quit teaching to enter business, credits Wallin with quick action.
——– said the case easily could have gone to trial, but Wallin and his staff worked quickly to pull together evidence that proved that demonstrated to the district attorney that there was no merit in the complaint.
“I think he would have liked to taken it to trial to prove my innocence. Paul probably would have liked to seen the publicity,” ——– said.
When Wallin, a graduate of UCLA and Pepperdine University School of Law, began taking child-molestation cases 1981 he was among only a handful of attorneys who even consider representing such clients.
Robert Weinberg, a private attorney a former prosecutor who handled many cases apposing Wallin, described the defense attorney as unafraid of risks.
“Paul has made defending sexual-abuse cases a legitimate practice. It used to be horribly embarrassing for an attorney, a black mark, for an attorney to have one of these cases,” Weinberg said.
Others, like Deputy District Attorney Jan Sturla, find Wallin cruel while questioning victims.
Sturla was the prosecutor in a 1982 case involving a junior high school teacher who was accused of forcing a female student to perform oral sex acts.
Once on the witness stand Sturla said, Wallin asked the 14-year-old boy for explicit details about such sex acts.
“It appeared to me from a legal sense it was argumentative, and further appeared to be harassing question,” Sturla said.
Wallin defends that line of questioning.
“It was in a preliminary hearing and not in front of a jury,” he said. “If I didn’t ask those questions and didn’t get good answers, I guess he (my client) would be in prison now.”
The charges against the teacher were dropped.
Wallin’s courtroom style is part of his job, Brice said. “That’s what a defense attorney is supposed to do.”
Weinberg and Wallin’s courtroom demeanor and treatment of witnesses are the keys to his winning cases.
“There is no question Paul isn’t afraid to ask. He can make a wrong answer sound incriminating against the witness or a truthful answer sound as if it were an explanation,” Weinberg said. “He is constantly straddling the line of insulting the witness.”
“Paul is a very natural and effective communicator. He posseses qualities that a jury can glom onto. He can get close to a jury without getting to cozy and that’s a very fine line,” Weinberg said.
For a lawyer to effective, Wallin insists, the jury must love him.
“If they love me,” he said, “and I stand up and tell them with everything in my heart: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the evidence you have heard and this is how you have to apply the law,’ you know what? They are going to want to believe me.”