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

February 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney, Kern County Bar Association VP discusses proposed State Bar rule changes

December 7, 2016 | 8:47 am


As it stands today, the State Bar’s rules allow for lawyers in California to engage in sexual relationships with clients, provided that the relationship isn’t a form of payment for representation, obtained by “coercion, intimidation or undue influence,” or one that causes the attorney to “perform legal services incompetently.”

Now, State Bar of California — the state legal profession’s self-regulatory body — is considering a ban on sexual relations between attorneys and their clients as one of nearly 70 code revisions. It’s been almost 30 years since the California Bar Association last revised its ethics rules.

Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation lawyer James Yoro provided insight to Kern County residents regarding proposed changes to the State Bar rules. Yoro is the current vice president of the Kern County Bar Association, and will be president next year.

“This kind of conduct is pretty much commonsensical, but I understand maybe it needs to be expressed very clearly, very explicitly so that there is no misunderstanding,” Yoro said recently in a news interview with Bakersfield’s KBFX-58 Eyewitness News.

The State Bar’s ethics commission in charge of the changes says that the goal of the rule change is to “promote trust and confidence in the legal profession and the administration of justice.”

Opponents of the rule changes say they are patronizing to clients unreasonably prohibitive where the client is sophisticated and not vulnerable, as well as an overly intrusive and over-broad regulation of private affairs between consenting adults.

Yoro said while there are some privacy concerns, he believes attorneys should be held to higher standards.

“One of the tenets of legal ethics is that we should not only try to avoid impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety,” Yoro said.

The American Bar Association already prohibits attorneys from having sex with clients, unless the sexual relationship preceded the legal one. The proposed change in California would exempt spouses, allowing one member of a married couple to represent the other without disciplinary rebuke.

Lawyers who violate regulations are subject to discipline, including loss of their legal license. California’s Supreme Court and is expected to approve the rules in March.

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If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed at work, or worked with an attorney who has committed legal malpractice, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation. Call (661) 323-4000 or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ – Chain | Cohn | Stiles comments on local federal case backlog

June 1, 2016 | 8:32 am


* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

There’s an old legal principle hundreds of years old that states, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

In Kern County and the Central Valley, where the federal justice moves slower than it does anywhere else in the United States, justice for many residents can take years to realize.

In fact, according to a new Eyewitness News report, a three-year wait for a civil case is not uncommon in the Central Valley. Nationwide, the average civil case takes 26.8 months to finish. In the Eastern District of our circuit court, the average is 37.8 months.

The waits are the product of a case backlog years in the making, according to the news report. And Bakersfield civil rights attorney Neil Gehlawat — of the accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles — told Eyewitness News that this is an issue local residents should be concerned about.

Gehlawat and other Chain | Cohn | Stiles represent victims of civil rights cases, including police misconduct, wrongful death and sexual abuse cases.

“The problem is that people are not made aware of it until they have to be a part of the system,” Gehlawat said. “When they are a part of the system, they get frustrated.”

The average judge in the Central Valley has 1,200 pending cases at any given time, and the federal judicial system has not kept up with the rapidly growing population in the Central Valley, according to Eyewitness News.

For many Kern County residents who must deal with the federal court system, a trip to Fresno or even Sacramento, has been necessary. In fact, as many as a third of civil cases in Fresno were passed to Sacramento, according to Eyewitness News.

The travel can present a considerable burden to all involved in the system, Gehlawat told Eyewitness News.

“That creates more expense,” he said. “It’s difficult for the clients, for them to get there, to leave their homes, their jobs that are important to them and their lives and have to travel two hours or four, five hours away to get their day in court.”

Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles helped settle a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit that was filed in federal court. That case, which received international attention was brought against local law enforcement departments by the family of David Sal Silva, who was beaten and killed by officers.

Three years after the May 2013 death and lawsuit, and just one week before a scheduled trial, the Silva family received justice when it settled the case for $3.4 million.

The federal court backlog in Kern County is a problem not lost on Kern County’s political officials, who agree that our area needs more judges, but Republicans and Democrats blame each other for not being able to solve the problem, according to Eyewitness News.

In the meantime, justice for some in Kern County will be a waiting game.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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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.

If you or someone you know feels their civil rights have been violated, contact the Kern County civil rights attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Bakersfield crashes involving law enforcement vehicles share similar stories

May 4, 2015 | 10:31 am


Late last week, a family of four was driving in southwest Bakersfield when a Bakersfield Police officer driving his cruiser at freeway speeds crashed into them head-on, family members told Eyewitness News.

The officer, they said, did not have his lights or sirens on. The officer suffered minor to moderate injuries while the family members also were injured, and some were taken to the hospital. Fortunately, no one died in the crash.

Family members told Eyewitness News they were trying to turn left onto Wilson Road, yielding to oncoming traffic, when the patrol car swerved into them. Bakersfield Police Department said it’s continuing its investigation.

The case is eerily familiar to two recent cases handled by the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles in which law enforcement officers driving at unsafe speeds have crashed with local residents. Unfortunately in those cases, fatalities occurred.

  • Last year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled a wrongful death lawsuit between the County of Kern and the families of two people killed by a speeding Kern County Sheriff’s deputy. That $8.8 million settlement is believed to be record-breaking for an automobile accident case against the County of Kern. Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David Cohn represented Daniel Hiler’s fiancee and two young sons. The 24-year-old was struck and killed along with Chrystal Jolley, 30, in late 2011 by Kern County Sherriff’s Deputy John Swearengin. Both were crossing a road in Oildale when Swearengin’s patrol vehicle struck and killed them. Swearengin was driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone before hitting Hiler and Jolley. He was responding to a call of a stolen vehicle; however, his emergency lights and sirens were not turned on. Law enforcement officers can travel in excess of the posted speed limit so long as their forward facing overhead lights are activated to warn others that they are responding to an emergency, but Swearengin didn’t do that, Cohn said. In fact, the deputy violated several policies and procedures. The Hiler family received $4.8 million from the settlement.
  • And in September last year, 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett was driving her vehicle at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale when she was struck and killed by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department patrol vehicle. She had just returned to Bakersfield from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends. The California Highway Patrol’s MAIT Team is still conducting an investigation of the collision.

“Under nearly every circumstance, law enforcement officers driving department vehicles are bound to the same rules of the road as everyday citizens unless they’re operating with lights or sirens when it’s necessary,” said Matt Clark, attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “That certainly doesn’t appear to be what happened in this recent case.”

If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident at the fault of someone else, contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

CCS associate Neil Gehlawat speaks with media about hazing, provides prevention tips

September 10, 2014 | 10:47 am


* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

This week, eight members of the Taft Union High School varsity football team in Kern County were arrested for their alleged role in two separate hazing incidents in the locker room on two separate occasions, according to reports.

Police said four students were cited for battery and false imprisonment, three students were cited for battery and one student was cited for sexual battery. Police have not released any more information on the alleged incidences.

According to HazingPrevention.org, hazing is an act intended to cause embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

Bakersfield personal injury attorney Neil Gehlawat, of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, spoke with local media about the case, about hazing, and shared that the school district could be held liable for the hazing depending on the circumstances.

“The charges are serious,” Gehlawat told Eyewitness News (KBAK-KBFX). “The culture of high school football is such that there’s some sort of a ra-ra culture about it, and at times it can get out of hand. It’s the coaches responsibility and supervisors’ responsibility to make sure that this culture doesn’t get out of hand and no one crosses the line.

“If I were a parent, I would want to know what happened, why did that happen, who knew about it, could it have been prevented, and if so, why it wasn’t prevented.”

To view the full news segment with attorney Neil Gehlawat, go here.

Bakersfield and Kern County have seen several hazing-related cases, which also garnered media attention. In 2011, Kern County prosecutors filed misdemeanor hazing charges against three men suspected of brutally beating fraternity pledges for a month. At the time, it was believed to be the first such filing ever in Kern County Superior Court. The personal injury case on behalf of the victim is ongoing.

And in 2009, a bullying/hazing case involving Stockdale High students led to a $260,000 settlement with the Kern High School District and the culprit’s parents. In that case, five students pinned the victim down, encased him ankles-to-shoulders in plastic wrap and bound him tightly with duct tape, including layers over his mouth. They mocked and threatened him for more than an hour. The students and their parents were held financially accountable for bullying allegations.

Hazing is a problem, and there are several things you can do to help prevent hazing, according to stophazing.org.

  • First, understand what hazing is and be able to recognize it.
  • Second, take responsibility, when you see it occurring or when it happens to you, by speaking up and reporting it immediately.
  • Third, make others aware of what hazing is and their responsibility for preventing it.

Coincidentally, Sept. 22 to Sept. 26 this year is National Hazing Prevention Week, which is an opportunity for campuses, schools, communities, organizations and individuals to raise awareness about the problem of hazing, educate others about hazing, and promote the prevention of hazing.

If you suspect hazing has taken place, it’s important to take these tips into account:

  • Never downplay the situation. Treating the issue as a serious situation is very crucial, and will determine how the coaches, students and community will react to this situation.
  • Never assume a case is an isolated incident. The probability of it being isolated is slim to none.
  • Take the opportunity to redefine the coaches, faculty, administrators, and student’s cultural thinking.

At the same time, keep in mind that there are ways to prevent hazing, especially in school settings (courtesy of the Minnesota State High School League).

  • Ask coaches and faculty what you can do to prevent this from happening at your school.
  • Increase supervision, especially in locker rooms. Have the locker room remain locked unless a coach is available to supervise students.
  • Instruct coaches and athletes that locker rooms are not a place for students to hang out.
  • Make the subject of hazing a big part of the pre- and post-season meetings so that all boys and girls in all athletic events will have a chance to discuss it.
  • Have regular meetings with administrators, coaches and faculty to talk about the issue and possible prevention tactics.
  •  Develop clinics that will help coach’s foster positive relationships and respect on their teams.

If you or someone you know has been hurt in a bullying or hazing incident, it’s also important to contact an attorney. If you have any questions about a hazing case, call Chain Cohn Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website Chainlaw.com.