Chain | Cohn | Stiles: ‘Standing for Justice’ in Kern County for 85 Years

June 26, 2019 | 6:00 am


The year is 1934. The great Dust Bowl storm is sweeping across the Great Plains of the United States. Donald Duck premieres on television. And the FBI kills Bonnie and Clyde in a shootout in a Louisiana.

It’s also the year Morris B. Chain first set up shop in the Haberfelde Building in downtown Bakersfield. The Russian immigrant who grew up in Bakersfield had recently earned his law degree from University of Southern California and struggled to find a law firm that would hire a fresh-faced attorney. It was, after all, during the Great Depression era when “help wanted” signs were nowhere to be found. So, he made his own opportunity. He opened his own law practice, and began laying the foundation for what would become one of Central Valley’s most prominent and longstanding law firms, one whose mission became to fight for the everyday working man and woman.

The firm’s name has changed through the years — using variations of the law firm partners, including “Chain-Younger” for many years — but several things have remained constant. The most obvious: the Chain namesake has remained, and the firm today is known Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Another constant: For 85 years, the firm has been firmly cemented in downtown Bakersfield, and its office dedicated to helping our area’s residents in their time of greatest need.

For 2019, Chain | Cohn | Stiles is marking the 85-year anniversary in several ways:

  • The law firm is giving back to the community it has called home for 85 years. The law firm donated $10,000 to the Bakersfield Homeless Center in an effort to combat our community’s homeless epidemic, specifically the homeless center’s job skills training program and street cleaning team focusing on downtown Bakersfield.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles has released several videos focused on the history of the law firm. In the videos, law firm partners David Cohn, Jim Yoro, and Matt Clark share stories of the law firm’s origins, and its values that remain true today. Videos include:
  • More is still to come! Stay tuned for more surprises commemorating Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ 85-year anniversary.

As for the history of the law firm, The Bakersfield Californian in 2014 featured an article on what was then the law firm’s 80-year anniversary. You can read that article below, which has been updated to include news from the last five years, as well as several relevant links at the bottom of the page.

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BAKERSFIELD ROOTS

Though born in Russia in 1904, Morris Chain developed his Bakersfield roots early. His father ran a store on 19th Street, and Chain attended Kern County Union High School and Bakersfield Junior College.

At BC, Chain is credited for coming up with the nickname “Renegades” while on the football team. It was in school, too, where Chain developed his love for drama, participating in speech, debate and theater – skills he would use throughout his career in the courtroom.

Known as a showman, Chain was also hard-working and aggressive. Making little money after opening his shop in 1934, he worked long 18-hour days, investigating his own cases with camera and subpoenas in hand. Car-less, he hitched rides with prosecuting attorneys on cases he was defending.

“If young lawyers today had to go through what I went through, I don’t think they would even enter the profession,” he told The Bakersfield Californian in 1976.

The hard work led to success. Chain moved into the Sill Building in 1938, on 18th Street and Chester Avenue, where he would become known for taking on some of the highest-profile criminal cases in the area, while also helping the everyday person.

In Chain’s obituary in 1977, Californian columnist Eddie Griffith wrote that “this stemmed from his continued life-long interest in the ‘little guy’ and the problem of the downtrodden, generally.”

“The greatest compliment you can get is from the little guy you do a lot of work for and who comes up and says thanks, you did a hell of a job,” Chain told The Bakersfield California.

With success, Chain’s team grew.

 

LOCAL LEADING LAWYERS 

The firm’s attorneys would also become servants to the local community, becoming leaders in local and statewide Democratic politics, labor and the arts, following Chain’s lead to serve the hometown. Most of the lawyers through the firm’s 80 years, including today, were either born or raised locally.

In 1936, Chain ran for Kern County District Attorney, but lost. Chain received the coveted Kern County Bench and Bar Award in 1976, recognizing outstanding service to the administration of justice and the legal profession.

In the 1970s, the firm moved over to the building on Truxtun Avenue and M Street. The year Chain died, 1977, he was praised for being “one of the most remarkable men in the history of the community and certainly in the history of the legal community of Kern County,” according to a Californian article on his death.

Through the 1980s, the firm was ahead of the curve in race relations in Bakersfield, including forming relationships with the local Sikh community, and hiring Latino, black and Asian attorneys and staff.  Whites numbered 80 percent of the Kern County population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, but the minority population was ever increasing (today Latinos make up more than 50 percent).

“The firm promoted diversity long before it was even discussed in the mainstream,” said Robert Tafoya, Kern County Superior Court judge and attorney at Chain, Younger, Cohn and Stiles in the 1990s. “They were visionaries in having a diverse workforce.”

Tafoya joined the firm even after opening his own firm, calling the Chain firm “a major player in the community.”

“I was a fly on the wall, watching and asking questions,” Tafoya said. “I learned a lot at the firm about serving the community.”

The firm’s stellar reputation also attracted Gary Ingle – a retired Kern County Superior Court judge and attorney at the firm from the late 1970s to early 1980s.

“In my mind, the firm had the best reputation in town,” Ingle said. “They had flashy cases, but they were smart lawyers who made some good law.”

He continued: “The attorneys at the firm have always advertised themselves as being the working man’s attorney. I think that’s truly the case.”

In the courtroom, the law firm’s staff focused on making the world safer, said David Cohn, current managing attorney.

Since the Chain era, case results at the firm have led to significant changes: oilfield equipment and machinery have been made safer to reduce injuries, child car seats now require crash testing to make them more reliable, and turkey fryers have been revamped to prevent burns and injuries, for example.

Still today, the attorneys at firm remain at the forefront of civil law. The firm continues to take on high-profile wrongful death, work accident, and other personal injury cases.

Among its current lawyers, James Yoro is one of the most veteran workers’ compensation lawyers in the state, having appeared in front of the Supreme Court; Cohn continues to be lead counsel on some of the highest profile civil cases in Kern County; and Matt Clark, 42, has regularly been recognized in legal circles as a top up-and-coming attorney.

 

85 YEARS

At its largest stage, the Chain law firm had 18 attorneys and offered a multitude of legal services including family law and criminal defense. Today, the firm focuses only on accidents, injuries and workers’ compensation cases.

In 1990, the firm moved into the Bank of America building on Truxtun and Chester avenues, where it remained for 25 years. The law firm’s name changed to its current title to Chain | Cohn | Stiles in 2009, and today includes seven attorneys. Continuing a legacy of diversity, the firm includes Yoro, a Filipino; Beatriz Trejo, a rising leader in Kern County’s Latino community; and Tanya Alsheikh, who is fluent in Arabic.

As for advocacy and community commitment, the firm continues to take on cases aimed “to make our world better,” Cohn said, while also donating time and effort to local worthy causes. The firm is a presenting sponsor and organizer of a walk and run hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County, gives away hundreds of bicycle lights and safety helmets each year with Bike Bakersfield, and this year donated to a Bakersfield Homeless Center program to combat our area’s homeless epidemic.

Through the years, it was important to keep the Chain name on the firm’s masthead as a symbol to local civic and community effort, Cohn said.

“The name takes us back to our roots,” Cohn said. “Morris Chain’s mission to stand up for the little guy is what founded this firm, and influences everything we do 85 years later – even those of us coming after him. It’s the guiding principal of everything we do.”

In 2015, the firm moved into a 30,000-square-foot historical building at 18th Street and Chester Avenue – occupied previously by the Goodwill Industries of South Central California.

“This move came at a special time, as we celebrated our 80th anniversary,” Cohn told media during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the building. “We hope this new office will better serve our clients, and will help in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Bakersfield. And we look forward to serving Kern County for another 80 years.”

In recent year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been inducted into the inaugural “Best of Kern County Hall of Fame,” awarded to men, women, businesses, and organizations with a long history of excellence in their respective fields, and who also give back to our community. The law firm has also been selected for inclusion in the 2019 “Best Law Firms” list by U.S. News & World Report.

Still, the new home of the firm is stark contrast to the way Chain first started his career, said local historian Gilbert Gia. But the law firm’s new home will have a view of Chain’s previous homes, including his first office in the Haberfelde building.

“When we look at the law firm today, we see a monolithic edifice, but the law firm started out in humble beginnings,” Gia said. “The firm today, inside of the walls, seems to be sticking to its roots.”

 

THE CHAIN GANG

Here are a few local attorneys, judges and legal professionals who have worked at the law firm founded by Morris Chain:

JUDGES

  • Gary Ingle: Kern County Superior Court judge, practiced in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Stephen Schuett: Kern County Superior Court judge, practiced at Chain in the 1980s.
  • Louis P. Etcheverry: Kern County Superior Court judge, practiced in the 1980s.
  • Robert Tafoya: Kern County Superior Court judge, practiced from 1995 to 2002.

CHAIN | COHN | STILES TODAY

  • David Cohn: Current managing partner, having served under the Chain name for nearly 45 years.
  • James Yoro: Partner, managing the workers’ compensation division, who has worked at Chain for 34 years.
  • Matt Clark: Partner, joining the firm in 2006.
  • Associates: Tanya Alsheikh, Chad Boyles, Doug Fitz-Simmons, and Beatriz Trejo.
  • With the exception of Fitz-Simmons, all attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles were raised in Bakersfield.

NO LONGER PRACTICING

  • Paul Busacca: Partner in the 1970s and 1980s, now deceased.
  • Paul Welchans: Practiced at the Chain firm for 30 years, retired in 2012.
  • John Tello: Served at the Chain firm from the early 1980s until 2004.

IN HISTORY

  • Morris B. Chain: Namesake and founder of the Chain law firm; died in 1977.
  • Milton Younger: Joined Chain full time in 1956, and remained at the firm for 53 years; he died in 2018.
  • Timothy Lemucchi: Joined Chain in 1965, and remained at the firm for 30 years; now practices at Law Office of Timothy Lemucchi.
  • Leonard Winters: Investigator working directly with Chain at the firm for more than three decades. He joined Chain after first helping him in 1946 in his unsuccessful campaign for Kern County District Attorney – reportedly one of the only investigators working for an attorney at the time; now deceased.
  • Noriegas: Al Noriega, now deceased, began as a law clerk working directly with Chain. His son, James Edward Noriega, would also go on to work at the firm. He now practices at Law Office of James E. Noriega.
  • Daniel Rodriguez: Worked at the Chain law firm through the 1980s; now practices at Rodriguez & Associates.
  • Others: Rod Williams, Dustin Jameson, Todd Berry, Frank Butkiewicz, Scott Fontes, Stephen Klink, Indra Lahiri.

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‘100 Deadliest Days’: Summer period especially dangerous time for young drivers

May 29, 2019 | 5:04 pm


Did you know that the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is known as the “100 Deadliest Days” in the United States?

During this time span, which largely includes the summertime, our country’s roadways see a sharp increase in automobile fatalities, many involving teen drivers, according to AAA.

For example, in 2016 during this time period more than 1,050 people were killed in crashes involving a teen driver. That’s an average of 10 people per day – a 14 percent increase compared to the rest of the year, according to the AAA.

What are the reasons for the sharp increase?

It’s not that more teens are driving for longer periods in the summer with school out. In fact, driving behavior greatly increases the risk of a crash, AAA states. Distracted driving, inexperience, driving under the influence, not using safety belts, and driving in adverse conditions are the primary reasons.

Bakersfield’s 23ABC News reporter Lezly Gooden examined this annual issue, and discussed what we can do to decrease the numbers. The report also featured Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury Matt Clark, representing MADD Kern County as a board member regarding the alarming DUI-rates in Kern County, which sees more than 4,000 DUI arrests per year. Additionally, Kern County’s rate of DUI-related fatal crashes is the second highest in the country, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.

“The statistics are frankly embarrassing for our county,” said Matt Clark in the 23ABC News report. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is deeply involved with MADD Kern County efforts to raise awareness of the local DUI epidemic, and ways to combat the crimes. “It’s embarrassing that we live in a county in California where you are likely to die in a drunk driving accident than almost any other county in the country.”

Additionally, research shows that when a teen driver has only teen passengers in their vehicle, the fatality rate for all people increased 51 percent. Speed and nighttime driving are also factors, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration.

Here are a few tips for parents of teens and young adult drivers:

  • Evaluate your teen’s readiness. Talk with your teen about personal responsibility, ability to follow rules and any other concerns before beginning the learning-to-drive process.
  • Get informed. Graduated driver licensing, driver education, license restrictions and supervised practice driving are all part of today’s licensing process. And the state of California sets parameters throughout a multi-stage licensing process for young drivers, such as times of day they can drive and how many passengers they can carry.
  • Start talking now. Share any insight that could save your child from having to learn things the hard way. Talk about what it takes to be a safe driver, the rules and responsibilities once they start driving.
  • Focus on passenger safety. Talk to your teen about always buckling up, not riding with a teen driver without your advance permission, and being a safe passenger with teen and adult drivers.
  • Be involved. When you’re behind the wheel, talk about what you see (road signs, pedestrians, other vehicles) that could result in the need to change speed, direction or both. Maintain an ongoing dialogue about your teen’s driving, appropriately restrict driving privileges and conduct plenty of supervised practice driving. California requires that parents and their teens conduct 50 hours of supervised practice driving, including 10 hours at night.
  • Be a good role model. Make changes in your driving to prevent any poor driving habits from being passed on. Show you take driving seriously by always wearing your seat belt, obeying traffic laws, not using a cell phone while driving, watching your speed, not tailgating, using your turn signals, and not driving when angry or tired.
  • Responsible drivers never drive under the influence. As a parent, you can reinforce that message and help steer clear of dangers, including being a passenger of friends who have been drinking. Preventing underage drinking also helps avoid exposure to violence, risky sexual behavior, alcoholism and other serious concerns.

And, as always, share the road with pedestrian, scooter riders, bicyclists and motorcyclists. For more driving safety tips, go to bloggingforjustice.com.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles se junta con la program ‘Despierta Bakersfield’ para educar nuetra comunidad sobre cuestiones legales

May 22, 2019 | 10:00 am


La firma de abogados Chain | Cohn | Stiles se ha asociado con Univision Bakersfield, la estación de televisión en español, para educar a los Latinos locales sobre cuestiones legales, incluido qué hacer si estás en un accidente con algiuen con poco o sin seguro, los peligros de la fiebre del valle en el lugar de trabajo, y la importancia de contratar con abogados de compensación al trabajador que son certificados por el estado.

KABE Univision 39 es la estación de televisión en español más vista en Bakersfield, donde viven casi medio millón de Latinos, lo que representan el 57% de la población total. Para servir a nuestra comunidad, Univision Bakersfield organiza programas de asuntos públicos, como “Te Informa” y “Despierta Bakersfield”, que se centran en temas corrientes como la inmigración, la salud, las leyes, y la educación.

En la promgrama “Despierta América”, abogada asociada de Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Beatriz Trejo, se unió con la anfitriona Ofelia Aguirre para discutir los siguientes temas. Puede ver todos los segmentos a continuación, o en la página de YouTube de Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, la firma de abogados de accidentes, lesiones y compensación al trabajador, tiene dos abogados que están certificados por el estado como especialistas en la ley de compensación al trabajador — Beatriz Trejo y Jim Yoro. La certificación es dado a profesionales legales que han logrado extra los requisitos de licencia. El programa fue el primero de su tipo en los Estados Unidos y ha servido como modelo para otros programas estatales para certificar a especialistas legales en todo el país.

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ENGLISH

Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has partnered with Spanish language television station Univision Bakersfield to educate viewers on various legal issues, including what to do if you’re involved in an accident with little or no insurance, valley fever dangers in the workplace, and the importance of hiring a certified workers’ compensation lawyers in the event of a work injury.

The award-winning KABE Univision 39 is the most watched Spanish-Language television station in Bakersfield, which is home to nearly a half million Hispanics, making up 57% of the total population. To serve our community, Univision Bakersfield hosts public affairs programs, like “Te Informa” and “Despierta Bakersfield,” focused around hot topics including immigration, health, law, and education.

For its “Despierta Bakersfield” show, Chain | Cohn | Stiles associate attorney Beatriz Trejo joined host Ofelia Aguirre to discuss the following topics. You can also watch the segments on the Chain | Cohn | Stiles YouTube Page.

The Bakersfield-based accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is home to two lawyers who are state certified as specialists in workers’ compensation law, Beatriz Trejo and James Yoro. The certification is awarded to legal professionals who have gone beyond the standard licensing requirements. According to the State Bar, the program was intended to provide a method for attorneys to earn the designation of certified specialist in particular areas of law, increasing public protection and encouraging attorney competence. The program was the first of its kind in the United States, and it has served as a model for other state programs for certifying legal specialists around the nation.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claim on behalf of family of 8-year-old attacked by dog at school

May 16, 2019 | 10:04 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a claim on behalf of the family of a second-grade student who was bitten on the face by a dog while in her classroom.

Leilani, 8, suffered severe lacerations and tearing to her face when she was attacked by one of two large dogs visiting her classroom on May 9 at Wayside Elementary School (Bakersfield City School District) in south Bakersfield. The dogs belonged to a volunteer reader from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.

The family alleges in the claim that Bakersfield City School District and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office negligently allowed the volunteer reader to bring into the classroom two dogs, and failed to supervise the dogs in a safe manner. As a result, Leilani suffered severe injuries. The family further alleges that the dog owner is strictly liable pursuant to California Civil Code section 3342 (Dog Bite Statute).

The dogs appear to be similar to Akita or Chow breeds.

This case is a warning to school officials and parents toward allowing animals near young students on school campuses.

“A school should know better than to allow dogs into a second grade classroom.  No matter how gentle the dogs may be, their behavior can be unpredictable,” said Matthew C. Clark, attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Unfortunately for Leilani, she is likely to have lifelong facial and lip scarring, and vision difficulties.  Let this be warning to schools, and to dog owners: Do not bring dogs onto school campuses. The risk is simply too great.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what was the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California at the time, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database.

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If you or someone you know is bitten by a dog, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

CASE FOLLOW-UP

Chain | Cohn | Stiles inducted into first Best of Kern County Hall of Fame class, selected to ‘Best Law Firm’ list

May 1, 2019 | 11:21 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been inducted into the inaugural Best of Kern County Hall of Fame, awarded to men, women, businesses, and organizations with a long history of excellence in their respective fields, and who also give back to our community.

In addition, the Bakersfield-based law firm has been selected by people in Kern County as a favorite in the “Best Law Firm” category of the annual Best of Kern County Readers’ Choice Poll by The Bakersfield Californian, unveiled recently in Bakersfield Life Magazine.

“We do what we do because we care about our community, and the people in it,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “This is our hometown. We want to make sure we help our local residents in and out of our office.”

Cohn continued: “We don’t do legal work or community goodwill to receive accolades. Still, we want to thank the people of Kern County for voting us into the Best Law Firm category year after year, and also Bakersfield Life Magazine for selecting us into the first Hall of Fame class. We sincerely appreciate it.”

This is the seventh year in a row that the law firm has been selected into the “Best Law Firm” category — each year since the category was introduced to The Bakersfield Californian’s Readers’ Choice Poll. But for more than 25 years, TBC Media has conducted the Best of Readers’ Choice Poll to showcase the people, places and things that make Kern County truly unique.

This year, the poll received 100,000 nominations and nearly 325,000 votes.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles was one of three inductees in the inaugural Hall of Fame class, announced during a Bakersfield Life Magazine reception. Ten local companies were nominated for the Hall of Fame. Joining the law firm was Urner’s, a local furniture store celebrating 100 years this year, and Jim Burke Ford, a local Ford dealership and one of the largest such dealerships in the country.

While these three businesses are different, their community giving is what makes them all similar. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is commemorating 85 years of helping accident and injury victims in Bakersfield. The law firm works closely with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County, to help DUI crash victims, raise awareness of DUI crimes, and provide educational programs locally. The law firm also partners with Bike Bakersfield year after year to donate hundreds of safety helmets and bicycle lights to students and bike riders in areas of Kern County that need them the most.

Most recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles donated $10,000 to the Bakersfield Homeless Center in an effort to combat our community’s homeless epidemic.

You can see the complete poll results online here, or in the magazine version here. And you can find our Best of Kern County awards displayed proudly in our law firm lobby in downtown Bakersfield. Hall of Fame winners will be highlighted during a “Best of Winners Circle” publication in The Bakersfield Californian.

You can hear from the law firm partners about the award on our Instagram Story video by clicking here.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles donates $10,000 for Bakersfield Homeless Center jobs program

April 3, 2019 | 11:41 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has donated $10,000 to the Bakersfield Homeless Center in an effort to combat our community’s homeless epidemic.

The donation will go toward the homeless center’s job skills training program and street cleaning team focusing on downtown Bakersfield. In short, the program helps homeless center residents move forward with their lives while making a difference in our community. The program is designed to be a transitional program, where participants gain real-world skills, build confidence, and develop experience to find long-term employment.

The donation comes on the heels of a Kern County Homeless Collaborative report that found a 50 percent increase in the local homeless population over last year’s count, with over 1,330 people locally experiencing homelessness. Large efforts by City of Bakersfield and Kern County to tackle the issue are underway.

“Sadly, we see the effects of homelessness every day on the streets in downtown Bakersfield and outside our own office,” said David Cohn, managing partner of the law firm. “If there is something we can all do to help homeless center residents out of homelessness, while at the same time making sure our city is presented as the jewel that it is, then we should all help. All downtown businesses are impacted by homelessness, and I would encourage others to step forward, and help support a solution.”

Added Louis Gill, executive director of the Bakersfield Homeless Center: “The dedication of Chain | Cohn | Stiles to invest in our community and the lives of everyone who lives in it is on full display as they lead the way with support for our Downtown Street Ambassador program.  We are grateful for their partnership in this program which provides employment opportunities for people seeking to improve their lives, beautifies areas around downtown businesses, and reaches out to homeless individuals through compassion and resources.”

Currently, there are more than 80 people participating in the homeless center’s jobs program. The Downtown Street Ambassadors program was first implemented by the Downtown Bakersfield Development Corporation in partnership with Bakersfield Homeless Center, Garden Pathways, The Mission at Kern County and Keep Bakersfield Beautiful.

The donation also falls on the 85-year anniversary for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which has been housed consistently in downtown Bakersfield during its history – from the Haberfelde Building, to the Sill Building, Bank of America, and its current home today.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of 3 students who were victims of sexual misconduct at local high school

March 13, 2019 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has filed claims on behalf of three students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. Local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, after speaking with victims and investigators, suspects there could be even more victims. According to the victims, Rodriguez would give students sodas and candy, befriend them on the social media, and send them sexually explicit photos and videos, among other sexual misconduct that took place over several years. One of the women is 19 years old, and the abuse first occurred when she was a sophomore in high school.

In one instance, Rodriguez sent a photo on Snapchat to two of the girls that showed him wearing shorts and a tank top and grabbing his penis. A number of text messages sent by Rodriguez to the girls told them he thought they were “hot” or commented on various parts of their body he found attractive.

Rodriguez “groomed” the victims, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn, who is representing the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the filing of the complaints and the arrest of Rodriguez, please see the links below.

The mother of one of the victims has also spoken out.

“This sick man manipulated my daughter. She and I are very close, but she felt she was doing something wrong and was afraid to tell me about it,” said the mother of one of the victims in a statement. “My hope through this lawsuit is to prevent this from happening in the future, and to protect our students through better accountability and scrutiny of school officials.”

Added Cohn: “We want to get to the bottom of how this went on for so long.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17. “It will be interesting to listen to the district’s explanation for why they didn’t do something sooner.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and the parents of the victims advise other parents to talk to their children about boundaries with those authority.

“Take this opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager,” Cohn said. “Students should never have one-on-one conversations through social media or text messages with school personnel, coaches, or other adults in authority. And encourage them to speak up if someone in authority contacts them privately or crosses a line.”

Citing similar cases that have occurred in the past few years, Cohn told local media that a message must be sent to the school district that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.

“A the end of the day, what really has an impact on the school district is getting hit in their pocketbook,” Cohn said.

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CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney provides legal commentary following North High School sexual misconduct allegations

February 27, 2019 | 10:48 am


A local high school athletic equipment manager has been arrested on suspicion of having sexual contact with current and former students. And as yet another local school employee is arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney Matt Clark provided insight to media on the ongoing problem, and the effects on victims.

According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Edwin Rodriguez, 40, who worked at North High School in north Bakersfield, was arrested on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. He faces 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts.

For media coverage of this case with Clark’s legal commentary, see “Media Coverage” at the bottom of this post.

According to media reports, 10 people have come forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction. Rodriguez allegedly sent explicit messages, including photos and videos, to eight juvenile students through the social media platform Snapchat and that he had sexual contact with several of the victims dating back to 2015. One of the alleged student victims at North High estimated they had witnessed over 300 conversations with Rodriguez of a sexual nature involving students, both male and female, according to court documents.

The arrest of Rodriguez comes after several other sexual misconduct cases in recent months. In December, former Liberty High School boys basketball coach was charged on suspicion of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18. Also, a Kern County jury awarded $10 million to a girl who was allegedly molested by a computer lab technician for the Lamont Elementary School District. A lawsuit was recently filed against a former Highland High School assistant principal who allegedly sexually abused a 16-year-old male student in 2009. And a McFarland High School basketball coach was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct in October after a male student came forward to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office; the coach had allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the student, promising him a spot on the school varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Matt Clark, who has represented several victims of sexual abuse and misconduct, told local media he has seen these types of cases all too often.

“I don’t think people realize the damage they do to these young adolescents when an adult gets into a relationship with them. It haunts them years and years later,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward. I think they’re in a tough position.”

Social media and text messaging have played big roles both in allowing such relationships to start; they also help prove that misconduct has actually taken place.

“It gives the sexual predators the means to make contact and to groom their prey,” Clark said. “However, it’s also actual documentary evidence that a school employee sent inappropriate messages or material to a minor. Before we had that technology it was just verbalization, which was difficult to prove.”

Several times a year, Clark speaks at the Kern High School District “Coaches Clinic,” which trains school employees on various legal issues to watch out for.

“One of the rules that I give to the coaches during the training is do not text message a student one on one,” Clark said on KGET-17 News. “There should never be a situation where you are text messaging a student one on one.”

Clark said that while some predators believe deleting their correspondence with students will protect them from being caught, that is not the case.

“If you put something in a text message, it’s saved forever, even if you delete them,” Clark said. “If you’re having inappropriate contact with a student and you don’t know that, that’s really playing with fire.”

If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. The sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.

See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Kern Under the Influence’: Series highlights local DUI epidemic

February 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


UPDATE: Eyewitness News recently presented a special half-hour program focused on the series highlighted below titled “Under the Influence & On the Road,” sponsored by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. To watch the entire program, click here

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You are more likely to die of a DUI related crime in Kern County than any other county in the state of California.

It’s with that startling fact that Eyewitness News (KBAK-KBFX) recently presented a five-part, in-depth investigation into Kern County’s DUI epidemic titled “Kern Under the Influence.” The series, by reporter Jeff Platt, highlights how deadly Kern County’s roads truly are, how difficult it is to keep repeat DUI drivers off our roadways, how officers try to keep our streets safe, how crash victims are affected, and how we can prevent future DUI crimes.

The series also features Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury lawyer Matt Clark, who shares his experience in representing DUI crash victims, and the suffering that they incur. Clark is a board member on MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, and his law firm serves annually as the presenting sponsor for the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, which raises funds to help innocent victims of DUI crashes, helps raise awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and helps fund MADD Kern County programs.

Clark also serves as a speaker for the MADD Victim Impact Panel, a program that has victims and other DUI crime experts speak to first-time DUI offenders in an effort to prevent future and repeat DUI offenders. Clark also took part in a special Eyewitness News Victim Impact Panel segment that followed the five-part series.

To view each of the five parts in the Eyewitness News series and the special Victim Impact Panel segment, scroll down to “Media Coverage” section at the bottom of this post. Here is a breakdown of each of the parts:

 

Part I: Drunk Drivers in Kern County

Every day, drivers in Kern County are sharing the roads with drunk drivers. In fact, local officers arrested nearly 4,300 DUI drivers last year. And that’s just “a drop in the bucket” in terms of how many DUI drivers are actually driving on local streets, local officials say.

According to Eyewitness News, there are 15 DUI drivers on the road at any given moment, with a peak between midnight and 3 a.m., where are nearly 80 DUI drivers in Kern County. And each one of them is a tragedy waiting to happen.

 

Part II: Repeat offenders hardly punished

One of biggest problems involving DUI drivers is that state laws force our county to let them drive drunk over and over again.

In California, drunk drivers get a second chance, a third chance, and in many cases a fourth chance after they are caught before getting any real jail time. As Eyewitness News shows, in between those chances, they’re driving on Kern County’s roadways, and sometimes they claim lives.

Victims are left with little trust in the system, but want lawmakers to address and fix this problem.

 

Part III: Busting drunk drivers

For police, catching DUI drivers sometimes is like finding a needle in a haystack, and other times it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The worry always is how many they are not able to catch.

The fact is, drunk drivers outnumber the police and officers can’t be everywhere at once. But local police use such strategies as check points, saturation patrols, and having every officer DUI-trained to catch DUI drivers. They also hope other motorists look out for DUI drivers and report them to police to keep other drivers safe. A 9-1-1 call with a location and partial plate could be the difference between a fatal crash, or a driver under the influence ending up behind bars.

After all, DUI is a community issue, which will take a community effort to stop it.

 

Part VI: The insurance myth

There is a myth that many victims of DUI crashes get rich in court. In fact, the opposite is true.

A combination of old insurance laws, minimal enforcement of those laws, and rising costs of medical care has created a new normal where DUI crash victims who live end up smothered in debt. In cases of death, victims’ families are sometimes left with nothing.

“Defendants in drunk driving cases often times have no insurance or far too little insurance to cover an injury or God forbid a death,” attorney Matt Clark explained.

Two major issues are at play. One, insurance companies and the DMV don’t communicate, making it too easy to drive without insurance. The second issue is the minimum coverage rates in California barely cover an ambulance ride to the hospital.

Clark suggests increasing your uninsured/under-insured-driver coverage on your policy.

 

Part V: Your choice

Many of the solutions to end DUI driving would take huge government action, including stiffer penalties. But one solution is in our hands: every single one of us deciding to make the right choice and help others make the right choice, too. Impaired driving, after all, is 100-percent preventable.

 

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MEDIA COVERAGE: KERN COUNTY UNDER THE INFLUENCE

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash due to the fault of a DUI driver, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Sex & Education: Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney discusses recent local sex issues involving educators

February 6, 2019 | 6:00 am


In recent weeks, local media has reported on several allegations of various sexual misconduct on behalf of educators in Kern County schools, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark has provided expert insight on the legal issues.

Recently, local media reported on a local high school science teacher alleged to have appeared in pornographic videos, and a high school assistant principal alleged to have sexually abused a student.

For more on these news reports, including a radio interview with Matt Clark on the subject, see the “Media Coverage” links below.

Since Chain | Cohn | Stiles provides legal representation for victims of sexual abuse and assault at the hands teachers, law enforcement, coaches, and others in authority, local media spoke to Clark about the legal ramifications.

Teachers should have no social media or after-school contact whatsoever with their students, Clark advised.

Every year, Clark speaks to local high school coaches regarding liability in athletics. He advises them to never give out their cellphone numbers to students or interact with them on social media. And every year, he told The Bakersfield Californian, people ignore that advice. He’s had multiple cases come across his desk regarding teachers or coaches engaging in alleged inappropriate conduct with students, often starting online or through texts.

Clark said if a coach or teacher goes against his advice and does text a student or contact them online, the message shouldn’t contain anything they wouldn’t be embarrassed for their mother to see.

Any sexual contact, he said, “is clearly illegal.” In one case reported recently, a Highland High School student is suing the Kern High School District and former assistant principal claiming he sexually abused a homeless student who entered the school as part of a school-sponsored homeless assistance program. The assistant principal’s defense attorney says the allegations are false.

As for the case of the Frontier High School teacher appearing in porn videos, Clark told local media that the teacher could potentially file a wrongful termination lawsuit of the schools dismisses her, considering the allegations make no mention of sex acts involving students or occurring on school grounds.

“You’re on a really slippery slope here because obviously these are sensational circumstances, but where do you draw the line?” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian.

Teachers in California are subject to a set of guidelines called “Morrison factors” developed by the California Supreme Court to determine whether a person is fit to teach. They include the effect of the notoriety, impairment of teacher-student relationships, disruption of the education process and how recently the conduct occurred.

“You analyze the totality of the circumstances,” Clark said.

The typical cases Clark handles regarding schools involve incidents where a teacher or other school employee became involved in a sexual relationship with a student. That’s clearly illegal, he said, as opposed to what the teacher is alleged to have done. Still, he said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to a teacher in such a situation for the case to have received intense media scrutiny.

“As a teacher you’re kind of a public figure, you’re considered a role model,” Clark said, “and if you put this type of material in a public forum where it can be found you’re kind of asking for trouble.”

 

What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. The sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.

See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

If you or someone you know is sexually abused or assault by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE