Think you’ll never need a defense attorney? Think again. In fact, think back only to the last party or Carolina Panthers game you attended. Did you have a few drinks? Did you drive home? It doesn’t matter if you felt fine or drove fine. If you had gone through a sobriety checkpoint you might be facing criminal charges. Not only would you face mountains of inconvenience, a financial drain and personal embarrassment, but you might also find yourself in jail with a permanent criminal record. The results can be devastating. As you’re walking a straight line and touching your nose, having a competent defense attorney suddenly becomes priority number one in your mind. Choosing the right law firm can mean the difference between having that night morph into one of the worst nights of your life or just a bad memory. The law firm of Goodman, Carr, Laughrun, Levine & Murray has seen it all – and then some. If you’ve got a shot at redemption, they’ll find it for you.
Goodman, Carr doesn’t advertise. The attorneys figure their works speaks for itself. If they do a good job, their clients will pass their names on. If they don’t, they won’t. Considering that they all have very full client schedules, it’s a good bet those cards are changing hands. George Laughrun, one of the firm’s partners, simply gives each client two business cards, one for the client and one for a friend. Many clients do a double take when they realize Laughrun’s home number is on the card.
“I don’t mind giving out my home number. Our founder, Arthur Goodman, always stressed the importance of us being accessible to our clients,” he explains.
The firm’s clients come from all walks of life, from top executives, doctors and high-profile local athletes who find themselves in sticky situations to teenagers in trouble and repeat offenders. They all deserve their day in court, Laughrun asserts, and a defendant’s chances of getting a fair shake increases with an experienced, client-centered lawyer by his or her side.
The firm handles criminal charges; family, divorce and child custody issues; corporate law; civil litigation; personal injuries; and real estate transactions for businesses and private citizens. Even in the simplest cases, having a good lawyer, one who can see the future ramifications of each decision, can make a real difference in the outcome.
If you get a speeding ticket, hiring a low-priced lawyer may be less expensive to start but it often ends up costing you more in the long run. The attorneys at Goodman, Carr always focus on the best long-term outcome for their clients. If you have a speeding ticket then your lawyer may successfully request a “prayer for judgment,” (PJC) which won’t count as a conviction, but the courts will only allow one PJC per household every three years. So if your teenager already has one on record, it’s all for naught. What’s more, if you drive for a living the Department of Motor Vehicles will not recognize a PJC for a commercial license. The bottom line is that new lawyers may not be aware of all the nuances of the law and may steer you toward a quick solution that will only lead to headaches in the future.
Goodman, Carr looks out for its clients’ best interests in other ways, too. If you put a call in to the firm, expect a call back from your lawyer, not a receptionist, paralegal or even another attorney. The lawyers meet with clients early in the morning and late in the evening to schedule around typical working hours. Consistency and accessibility are what often sets this firm apart from other local law firms. The attorneys offer most services at a flat rate, rather than on an hourly basis. They also work with clients on payment plans and don’t charge for initial consultations. If you wind up paying a little more in the front end, you often make it up after the case is closed.
“A DWI conviction can cost a client $10,000 over the course of a few years,” Laughrun says. “Once they get past the attorney’s and legal fees they’re facing cab fare for a few weeks, higher insurance premiums and may even lose their job or not get a job because of the conviction.”
Although media attention is good for a law firm, it’s bad for clients and Goodman, Carr works hard to stay out of the spotlight. They don’t take a case to trial unless they’re relatively sure they can win (or a client insists on it) and they keep their cases out of the media whenever possible.
“The best lawyering job comes when the case never makes it to the papers,” Laughrun says. “We have to put our egos aside and do what’s best for the client.”
Arthur Goodman Jr. and Sol Levine (father of current partner Miles Levine) founded the firm in the '60s and vowed right from the start to build it on experience and trust. Carr joined the firm in 1969, Miles Levine joined in 1977, Laughrun joined in 1982, Murray joined in 2000 and Greene came on board in 2003. Combined, the firm’s attorneys have more than 130 years’ legal experience. Interestingly, Laughrun, Murray and Greene all started out as prosecutors. This gives them a distinctive edge in the courtroom, Laughrun says.
For one thing, they know how the system works from the inside out. They know the judges, the police officers and the district attorney’s staff. Laughrun has been on a series of police ride-alongs to see first-hand what happens when drivers are stopped for a variety of reasons.
“I know exactly what they’re looking for in a DWI case,” Laughrun says. “They’re looking for slurred speech, red, glassy eyes, trouble getting out of the car or fumbling while looking for your driver’s license. I also understand how the whole process works when they’re prosecuting someone. I get cases heard expeditiously and get a good deal from the prosecutor. I can get a bond hearing done in 24 hours and I know how to get a warrant stricken so a client doesn’t get picked up and held over the weekend. Experience goes very far in this business.”
Laughrun and his colleagues are also well acquainted with law enforcement officials through their extensive Fraternal Order of Police defense work. They’ve served officers who shot suspects, were disciplined or fired. This relationship building allows the attorneys to get to know the officers, which serves their clients well in the courtroom. Laughrun stresses that all the partners hold a deep respect for the police force.
“I’ve seen what they do first hand and I’m here to tell you I wouldn’t want their job,” Laughrun says. “Although we’re often on different sides in the courtroom I have a lot of respect for the work they do.”
Experience has also taught the partners exactly what the district attorneys are looking for to ensure their clients are treated fairly. A good, thorough lawyer will verify that a case has credible witnesses, a valid search and or valid reason for a traffic stop. Without those things, the case is full of holes. Laughrun has also learned over the years not to burn any bridges in the district attorney’s office or within the police department. If something is revealed to him out in the hallway, he doesn’t use it to embarrass or humiliate an officer once he has him on the witness stand.
“Not only would the lack of integrity ruin my relationship with that one officer but there’s a ton of other officers that are going to hear about it and they’re not likely to give me much in the future,” he says. “I think we’ve got the respect of the officers and that they’re going to treat us fairly.”
The partners at Goodman, Carr are not easily intimidated, something that’s important in this media-savvy age. Clients need someone to ensure that the district attorney’s office doesn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to public pressure. We have one of the fairest district attorneys in the country, in Laughrun’s estimation, but constant media bombardment can be very powerful in people’s minds. Having a criminal record is difficult to conceal these days, too.
“We keep in mind that people can check our client’s criminal record in minutes online,” Laughrun explains. “Heck, employers are checking to see if candidates are posting on Myspace.com you think they’re not checking criminal records? A one-time offense in college – underage possession of alcohol for example – can prevent you from getting a job after you graduate.”
Not everyone thinks the attorneys at Goodman, Carr are heroes and the partners are well aware of the image they can sometimes carry with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Laughrun is friendly with Cheryl Jones, president of the Charlotte chapter of MADD and realizes that her heart is in the right place. He just wishes anti-DUI organizations would focus more on treatment than punishment. The way he sees it, even a first offender would gladly trade seeking treatment for having to face legal proceedings. If he has a substance abuse problem, it’s nipped in the bud. If he doesn’t, he’s got nothing to lose and will be discouraged from driving under the influence again.
Nearly three quarters of those convicted of driving while impaired are either heavy drinkers or alcoholics, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and most collision fatalities occur with drivers who have at least one prior conviction. Mandatory substance abuse assessment and treatment for DUI offenders is listed as one of the center’s preferred preventative measures.
Stigma is not the only challenge Laughrun and his colleagues are facing. DUI laws are set to become much more stringent in December. As it stands now, if a driver blows a .08 or higher on a Breathalyzer test that’s considered part of the evidence against him but doesn’t necessarily lead to conviction. After December 1, 2006, changes in jurisdictional discretion will almost guarantee conviction for people who register over the legal alcohol limit, regardless of how they behaved or performed during field sobriety tests. In fact, Laughrun, a certified Breathalyzer operator, suspects sobriety tests other than the Breathalyzer will be used much less frequently at traffic stops.
“It’s hard to say how this will affect people stopped at sobriety checkpoints, but I am worried that more people who were not clearly intoxicated will be convicted after this legislation comes into effect,” Laughrun says.
Goodman, Carr has faced may law changes over the years and will meet this one head on and, as always, with the best interest of its clients in mind. The firm opened 4,500 cases last year, its best year yet, and has seen a healthy 10 to 15 percent growth curve over the past few years. As the partners look toward the future, they are committed to keeping the practice small enough to maintain a personalized feel. They are considering bringing in a bi-lingual lawyer next year who would specialize in offering services aimed at Charlotte’s growing Hispanic community, including handling immigration law. The current attorneys have got enough to keep them busy for now, though, although Laughrun’s not complaining.
“I’m here by 6:30 a.m. most mornings and I work about 65 hours per week,” he says. “I also work at least a little bit most weekends. But that’s OK with me. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I truly love my work.”