Help for Navigating the Criminal Justice System

Newly-opened law firm aims to be an affordable legal resource for Latino community

Published on LatinoLA: February 12, 2009

Help for Navigating the Criminal Justice System

Just weeks after being inducted into the California Bar, newly sworn criminal and family attorney Sergio J. L??pez, a graduate of Western State University School of Law, has opened a unique practice aimed at "helping Latinos better navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system."

Housed at 1200 North Main Street, Suite 910, in Santa Ana, the Law Offices of Sergio J. L??pez describes itself as a full-service defense law firm offering in-house defense investigations and legal representation, and specializing in criminal defense, child custody and domestic-abuse cases.

Joining Mr. L??pez as a contract associate of the firm is attorney Antonio A. Cota, a 2002 graduate of Western State University School of Law, who in his six-year career as a practicing attorney successfully has advised and represented hundreds of people accused of serious crimes, at all stages of the judicial process. He also has helped many immigrants get relief from unfair convictions, which had severe immigration consequences.

A former police officer with the City of Rialto, Mr. L??pez, 32, brings to his practice an insider's perspective on the law, which he says, "woke me up pretty early to the inherent inequities of the criminal justice system. I have seen far too many legal injustices committed over the span of my career that I am certain could have been avoided with the help of a good attorney," Mr. L??pez said. He insists the language barrier, combined with ignorance of their rights and sometimes lack of resources, often lead Hispanic defendants to be funneled blindly through the system.

"My goal as a bilingual and bicultural attorney will be to provide my community with quality, aggressive yet affordable legal representation," he said. "I am also looking to offer my services pro-bono to a local community-based organization, in hopes of educating the community about their rights. I believe my background and education will be crucial in achieving it."

Born in Harbor City, Mr. L??pez comes from a long line of attorneys on his father's side, beginning with his great-grandfather, Jos?® Mir?? Cardona, who was a renowned criminal-defense and civil-rights attorney in pre-Castro Cuba. "My great-grandfather was a legal and civic force to contend with in 1950's Cuba, both before and during the early days of the revolution, where he represented some very high-profile political cases" Mr. L??pez said. "Professionally speaking, he is my role model ÔÇô a man who always refused to be on the accusing side of the courtroom, preferring instead to defend individuals from the intimidating power of the state."

Supporting Mssrs. L??pez and Cota on an "of counsel" basis will be former Riverside County violent crimes Deputy District Attorney Todd Rash, an award-winning member of the California State Bar, widely considered one of the best trial attorneys in the State. Besides having been admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and all State and Federal District
courts, Mr. Rash is also a licensed attorney in Texas. A member of the American Bar Association and American Trial Lawyers of America, Mr. Rash earned his Juris Doctorate from Southwestern University School of Law. He was recognized as Felony Trial Attorney of the year in 1992.

Before joining Mr. L??pez's practice, Mr. Cota worked for the law offices of Todd Rash in criminal-defense practices, as well as custody and visitation issues. He also defended victims of advance fee fraud (aka "Nigerian" scams), who had been further victimized by their own banks, and worked as part of a team of highly skilled attorneys representing victims of sexual assault and clergy abuse. He is Treasurer of the Whittier Bar Association for 2009.

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