In The News
“He’s the best there is when it comes to child molest cases. Everybody hates him, but his results are the best.”
-Ron Talmo, former partner
By Lynn Smith
Times Staff Writer
Some days, Paul J. Wallin feels a faint fear. Those days, the Tustin defense attorney has spent all day in court trying to show that a small child is lying. He may have repeated the same questions in various ways. What did he do? Tell us. Show us. Where? What do you call it? How many times?
If after seven hours he cannot break her story, the fear rows. He could be wrong. Then Wallin – a specialist in defending accused child molesters – said he goes home to his wife and three children and weeps.
But then, in order to maintain his belief that his client has been falsely accused and to win the case, Wallin said he wills his doubt away. “I can convince myself,” he said. “I’ll just say, ‘He is not guilty. I have no reason to believe he is guilty. He is not guilty.'”
Over the past three decades, Wallin, along with his partners Stephen Klarich and David Cohn have successfully defended thousand of persons accused of sexual offenses. Wallin has used his will, his in-house investigator and persistence to build a reputation as Orange County’s most aggressive, most thorough and most successful defender of alleged child molesters.
“He’s the best there is when it comes to child molest cases,” said former partner Ron Talmo, the former Dean of Western State Law School. “Everybody hates him, but his results are the best.”
While acquitted clients view Wallin as a hero, detractors within the legal community view him as a self-promoter who may have built a career at the expense of child victims or of the accused who don’t know where else to turn.
Some attorneys say they avoid child molestation cases because they are depressing, sordid and fraught with emotion. Wallin said he takes 40 cases a year and turns away 40 more. He claims he has lost one of his last 20 jury felony trials.
Wallin has also represented:
- Doyle C., of Anaheim, a Los Angeles police officer charged with molesting eight young boys he had befriended while on duty. Criminal charges were dismissed in May after a judge ruled the boys could not testify. The prosecutor called it a “technicality.”
- John R., a Fullerton elementary school principal charged with molesting a 5-year-od student. Charges were dismissed as the trial was to begin when Wallin disclosed Roseman’s side-that he had only changed the girl’s pants because she had wet them.
- William G., an Orange schoolteacher arrested and accused of fondling several junior high school students. Wallin’s investigation revealed his accuser sought revenge for a low grade. Charges were never filed.
He quit teaching, but Wallin’s practice soared after the subsequent publicity, which included an appearance on the “Today Show.”
A graduate of UCLA and Pepperdine University School of Law, Wallin decided to specialize in child molestation cases in 1981. He had represented two teachers and calls began pouring in, he said. On addition, the Orange County district attorney was about to form a sexual assault/child abuse unite. Unless he limited his practice and hired his own investigator, he decided, he would be at a disadvantage.
Of the over 1000 accused child molesters he has represented since then, about one fourth have been educators, doctors or lawyers, he said.
Wallin said he accepts two types of clients: those who insist they are innocent in cases where there is no overwhelming evidence to show they are lying, and those who admit they did it and sincerely want therapy. He does not represent clients with prior records.
“My clients go from zero, nor record, to the biggie,” he said. In some circumstances, a convicted child molester could spend more time in person than someone convicted of murder.
In It for the Stakes
Clients that come to Wallin and Klarich and ask for help know that the legal fees may be substantial. However, these clients also know that they are often facing years in prison and want the best legal defense team possible fighting for them in court., Wallin contends that he’s in it for the stakes, not the money. “It’s the idea a person’s life is on the line.”
One former client sees Wallin – and his in-house investigator Cheryl G. – as saviors who rescued him from “the worst possible nightmare.”
“I feel they saved my life. Literally,” said David C., an Oakland teacher who was accused two years ago of publicly fondling four 7th grade students. “Until Paul came into the case, I was totally devastated. Thoughts of suicide entered my mind. But I thought why should I? I’m innocent.”
“It seemed so futile to me. The union attorney was saying, ‘You’ve got four girls saying you did it. It doesn’t look too good. The worst you could get is nine months in Santa Rita, the county jail here, and you could do that standing on your head.’ I knew it would take a layer who believed in my innocence to fight for me.”
Wallin put his investigator on the case. She flew to Oakland, tracked down one of the girls and said she told her, “I know you’re lying. It’s time to come clean.” The girl confessed they made up the charges because he was “too strict.” The district attorney dismissed the case and the local newspaper carried a story with the headline, “Teacher’s Life Ravaged By False Sex Molestation charges,” he said.
He regained his teaching job, but is now $15,000 in debt. To pay his legal fees, he sold all his stocks and bonds, took out loans on his house and credit cards. But Wallin’s $32,000 bill was “worth every cent,” he said. “You get what you pay for. . . .The facts spoke for themselves, but I needed a professional to find the truth. People up here were not eager to find the truth.”
Another former client from Orange County, acquitted of molesting his two daughters, said he still owes Wallin $10,000. He is paying off his debt by working on immigration amnesty cases in Wallin’s office.
In his office, Wallin keeps a scrapbook of newspaper articles about his cases, pictures of his appearance on the “Today Show,” letters from judges and lawyers who saw him on the “Today Show,” and flyers advertising his seminar for teachers on how they can protect themselves from accusation. ( His basic advice: avoid being alone with children, or keep the door open.)
On his desk and walls are 36 pictures of his children. He has always devoted off hours to them from coaching his sons’ T-ball and soccer teams, to studying with them for the Bar Exam. This may be partly because his own childhood lacked attention and affection, he said. His father was away from home as he grew up and, when he was 13, a brother died and his mother blamed him for it.
It saddens him to see children separated from parents, which he said may be a reason he drives himself at work.
“They tell you in law school, don’t personalize the case. That’s the first rule I’ve broken, and I think it’s the reason I’m successful. They tell you you have to have a massive distance between you and your client. I sense it leads to arrogance and a lack of compassion if you totally separate yourself.”
Wallin does not drink and said he is too busy to socialize with other lawyers and judges.
He often works from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. and said that he drives his staff equally hard. His one fault, he said, is being a perfectionist. He runs three miles a day, six days a week. He attends every UCLA football game, home or away. He talks at 60 m.p.h.
Winning keeps him going, he said. When he wins, Wallin has not hesitated to criticize prosecutors publicly for “garbage cases” or “witch hunts.”
They, in turn, question his tactics – mostly in private.
Deputy Dist. Attny. Nina R. Brice said Wallin uses a “disrespectful, belittling” tone on witnesses and in one case goaded a teen-age to the point of tears. “She told him very frankly how she felt about him.”
Describe the Taste
Wallin once asked a 14-year-old girl who said his client forced her into oral copulation to describe the taste of semen, said Deputy Dist. Attny. Jan C. Sturla. When she replied she didn’t know, he said Wallin persisted: “Aw come on, was it salty? Was it sweet?”
“It’s absolutely brutal to treat children that way. I’m sure it makes them want to throw up their hands and say it’s not worth it. I’m sure that’s part of the strategy.”
The case against the girl’s teacher was eventually dropped, he said.
“For the child he is a barracuda,” said Joy B., a juror on the Meyerson/Sonnickson case. “I saw young girls actually draw the genitalia of the grandfather. We didn’t know [the point of the drawing] other than to humiliate or demean the poor girl.”
On the other hand, juror Roberta H. said Wallin’s expertise and intelligence persuaded her to vote to acquit a father accused of molesting his 5-year-old daughter. “Each claim they made, he investigated thoroughly. He went to every extreme,” she said.
Tub Was Measured
When prosecutors claimed the father and the girl bathed together, he had the tub measured and photographed to show they could not both fit in, she said.
She and other jurors felt so sorry for his client, whose parents has mortgaged their house from his defense, that they sent him Christmas cards, she said.
“Certainly he had to get tough with the little girl, but his client’s life was at stake,” she said. Wallin denied he is intentionally hard on child witnesses. But he said he is tougher on them in preliminary hearings. “I can be more direct in terms of getting information. . . . I don’t have to use that honey, sweetheart, dear, type language when I’m in a prelim that I want to use in front of a jury.”
There is nothing wrong with “vigorously” cross-examining alleged victims of child molestation, according to Marshall M. Schulman, a former prosecutor and now lawyer in private practice specializing in criminal defense cases. “Basically, that’s the way it should be done. If you can’t you shouldn’t represent people.”
Cases Are Difficult
Even though an estimated 90% of the Orange County district attorney’s child molestation cases end in guilty pleas or verdicts, prosecutors say such cases are difficult because children are less believable than adults. Young children may be fantasizing and preteens – in this era armed with specifics of sexual practices – can make convincing false accusations, Schulman said. But Wallin said that the generally hostile attitude to anyone accused of molesting children makes winning a jury trial extremely difficult.
“It’s sad state of affairs when the court holds the accused has no right to confront his accuser,” Wallin said. “They’re making more and more fences we have to leap over to protect the rights of the accused.”
The defense also is precluded from seeing records of an alleged victim’s therapist, Wallin said. “A kid could recant to the therapist and we have no access, and the therapist can’t reveal it. Therefore, a wrongly accused person could go to prison.”
Could Not Be Fair
In his Orange County trial, 20 of 80 potential jurors for a case of alleged oral copulation and sodomy told the judge at the outset they could not be fair, he said. “Isn’t that frightening? That’s 25% that had the guts to tell the truth. How do I know how many other people felt the exact same way? How can you get a fair trial when that percent of prospective jurors tell you we don’t care what the evidence is, but just because of the nature of the charges, we can’t give you a fair trial?”
Male jurors are the best for the defense because they identify with the defendant, Wallin said. Lately, however, he said he has had good results with elderly women who may see themselves as the mother of the defendant, when the defendant is in his 30s and 40s. Younger jurors may identify with the victim’s parents. “Remember, when they were growing up, this was not talked about, whether it was happening or not. They find it extremely difficult to comprehend it could even happen [in our society], yet alone that this cute, innocent man did it.
In court, he said he uses language understandable to 8th-graders. “Jurors aren’t that intelligent sometimes. You need to bring it home.” Wallin’s staff analyzes child witnesses’ statements and uses a word processor to ferret out the inconsistencies. Charts are made. The child’s statements are listed under the title, in red, “Lying.” The defendant’s are listed under “Truth.”
He may have his client undergo a sexual arousal test in which responses are measured to stimuli, such as pictures of nude children. The tests are dramatic and impress lay people, but are not considered reliable enough to be accepted in court. To make sure jurors hear about the test, he will have the client attend therapy and then call the psychologist as a witness. The psychologist will then mention the test as a reason for concluding his client has no propensity to molest children, he said.
Many of the sexual abuse cases defended by Wallin and Klarich are high publicity cases. Wallin contends that in many cases the law firms clients have to battle not only the District Attorneys office but prejudicial pre-trial publicity. Wallin doesn’t believe in bringing in the media to publicize a case. When I do have the press involved, it’s only to benefit my client.” It’s unfair, he said, that charges and arrests receive more publicity than exonerations.
Wallin declared that his law firms goal is to make certain that every person accused of s serious criminal offense is able to obtain the best representation. The consequences are tremendous when a person finds himself accused of a sex offense. Doesn’t it make sense that a person be able to have someone who is really willing to fight for their freedom”, he stated.