Fred Thiagarajah is a criminal defense attorney who practices in Orange County, CA. His typical cases include DUI/DWI, domestic violence, homicide cases, theft, violent crimes, drug crimes, and sex crimes. OC Metro Magazine has ranked Fred as one of the top DUI defense attorneys in all of Orange County and Riviera magazine has twice named him as one of the “power attorneys” for all OC in criminal defense. According to Awo, the world's largest legal directory, Fred has an outstanding score as a criminal defense attorney, ten out of ten. In 2012, Super Lawyers also listed him as a Rising Star for criminal defense in Southern California.
The attorney was born in Sri Lanka and came to the United States when he was three-years-old. He attended Pomona College and graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology. In 1999, Fred earned his J.D. from University of Southern California. He credits his father for being supportive and inspiring. Fred also recognizes that without his father's guidance and support he wouldn't “be the man I am, nor the attorney I am” today.
Fred is married to an attorney and likes the fact that he can discuss his cases with his wife. The couple has a ten month child, and Fred occupies most of his free time with his infant. When the attorney has time, he enjoys reading both fiction and non-fiction. Fred highly recommends reading Ender's Game, a science fiction novel written by Orson Scott Card. The defense advocate also enjoys eating “new and different types of food.”
Pro Bono Work, Non Profit Organizations, and Being a Mentor
Does Fred do any pro bono work? He answered, “I always try to have at least one active pro bono case at all times and sometimes I have paid cases that become pseudo-pro bono cases. For example, I currently have a vehicular manslaughter case where my client cannot afford my fees for trial. I have told my client and his family that I will handle the trial pro bono because I do not want to leave the client in the lurch before trial and it's incredibly important that the client receive the best possible representation given the seriousness of the charges.”
The attorney understands “the difference between clients who cannot afford to pay and clients who simply want to negotiate a better rate, and unfortunately, this client falls into the former category. I have always subscribed to the belief that I can do good and make money at the same time, but I don't want a client's inability to pay to interfere with my representation in serious cases.”
Fred participates in non-profit organizations. He's “the former President of the South Asian Bar Association of Southern California. I was on the board of that organization for several years, and even though my term as President ended this last June, I am still actively involved in the organization.”
The attorney has had several mentors over the years. He described how “one of the great things about the Santa Clara District Attorney's office was the fact that senior attorneys were assigned as mentors to junior attorneys and the office in general cultivated an atmosphere that encouraged junior attorneys to seek advice from senior attorneys.”
He continued to say, “When I left the District Attorney's office, I sought out a few established criminal defense attorneys and asked them for their thoughts on setting up a practice. All three were remarkably helpful, but one of them, Eric Geffon, I have relied upon for advice throughout the years.”
Fred understands how important having a mentor can be. He stated, “I have gone out of my way to mentor newer attorneys and law students. I formally participate as a mentor through organizations like the South Asian Bar Association, the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and through law schools such as my own alma mater and the law school at UCI. I also actively offer guidance to any attorney or law student who needs assistance.”
Fred's Successful Law Career
Why did Fred decide to become an attorney? He said, “Like the children of many South Asian immigrants, I chose law school because I couldn't get into medical school. However, I am firm believer in the idea that good things will often result from bad experiences and my inability to qualify for medical school was a blessing in disguise because I absolutely love being a lawyer.”
Fred was asked if he received any awards or participated in any internship that influenced him to go into the law. The attorney stated, “Although I participated in speech and debate throughout high school and college, I rarely won any awards, which actually made me question my abilities as an orator. I realize now that I was a late bloomer. I did an internship in law school at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office that heavily influenced my decision to enter criminal law after I graduated law school.” The attorney added, “Specifically, that internship is what compelled me to become a prosecutor.”
What intrigued Fred to work at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office? He admitted it was luck. The future defense advocate had a friend working at the D.A.'s office and since both of them shared the same interest and are quick witted, Fred started working at the same office. They focused on serious sex crimes and Fred learned by helping prosecutors prepare for cases and watching their trials.
Fred reflected on his most memorable law school experience. He proclaimed, “I participated in the Moot Court program at our school, and I was the runner-up in our law school tournament. My success at Moot Court gave me enormous confidence in my abilities as an orator and as an advocate.”
The defense attorney also discussed his first job experience he landed after he graduated from USC. He claimed, “I didn't find a job for several months and when I finally found a job at a small law firm, I hated the job so much that I was ready to quit after three months. Before I could actually quit, I was fired.”
Fred thought since it was his first position right out of law school, he had to “take work seriously and had to do well and grind it out.” However, Fred's father told him there is no rule at your first job where you have to stay because it was miserable. After speaking with his father, the defense attorney learned a valuable lesson and “decided that job satisfaction was more important than money.”
In 2000, Fred started working for the District Attorney's Office. By 2004, he left the DA's office and started his own law practice in criminal defense. What did Fred learn at the D.A.'s office? The confident attorney stated he learned everything about criminal law. He learned how to negotiate and plea bargain. Fred is also proud of the fifty jury trial experiences he had in four years.
The attorney continued to say “once you know the other side you can be good at the other and vice versa.” He was talking about prosecutors and defense attorneys. Fred finally mentioned that he grew as an attorney and as a person while he worked at the D.A.'s office.
Fred acknowledged that the best part of his job is the joy he receives when he helps someone who is fearful about the criminal justice process and he/she received an excellent outcome. The attorney stated, “Their gratitude makes my day.”
So what does Fred have a knack for? He asserted, “I have developed a reputation as a criminal defense lawyer that is savvy about immigration consequences for clients who are not citizens. I have knack for negotiating plea bargains and getting my clients exactly what they want.”
Fred revealed his strengths and weaknesses as an attorney. He said, “At the risk of sounding immodest, I have several strengths. I am an excellent orator, which may not be as important in other areas of the law, but is very helpful in criminal law. My analytical mind is helpful in dissecting cases and researching the law, and my personable nature keeps me connected to my clients and often helps in negotiation with opposing counsel. And my desire to get the best results possible always compels me to go the extra mile.”
The attorney noted his weakness and stated, “My primary weakness is my inability to separate my work life from my home life. This probably doesn't undermine my advocacy on behalf of my clients, but I would count it as a weakness to the extent that it's a weakness in any job.”
Fred has had many successful cases, but he highlighted two cases he thought were special. The first case he recalled was about a professor of engineering. The professor was accused of a sex crime and Fred went to trial and defended his client. It took the jury less than one hour to decide that the professor was not guilty.
The defense attorney's second case was about a woman accused of abducting her son. The prosecutor wanted to lock Fred's client away for two years, but the persistent defense counsel fought for a three month house arrest ruling. Fred's client still writes to him and the attorney pointed out he likes to help people who cannot help themselves.
There was one other case Fred mentioned. He said, “I had my first homicide trial last year. The trial lasted four months and was the single biggest undertaking in my career. The experience was invaluable and I look forward to more homicide cases.”
Why was this the biggest case for Fred and what was so fascinating about homicide cases versus others? He replied it was the biggest case of his career because of the scope of charges and how long it lasted. The defense advocate took off from work for four months and hired his brother-in -law to run his practice. Fred explained that the District Attorneys in the case were two of the smartest in Orange County and he went “toe to toe with both of them.”
Although Fred was not pleased with the verdict, as his client was sentenced to life in prison, he had informed his client that the evidence against him was overwhelming. The attorney said he was proud of the effort he put into the case and had no regrets on how he handled it.
Fred likes homicide cases over others since it “represents the pinnacle of what's at stake.” He acknowledged that homicide prosecutors will be the best attorneys but Fred wants the best prosecutors because he will learn from them. Fred also stated it is a “mark of greatness to beat attorneys who are better than you.”
What does Fred think about the field today and what would he change about it? The veteran attorney who has thirteen years of legal experience announced, “The practice of law is so broad that it's tough to offer an opinion about the field as a whole. I would, however, like to see our State Bar adopt harsher penalties for those attorneys that commit ethical violations.” Fred continued to say, “Attorneys have enormous responsibilities to their clients and to the court. It is an honor and a privilege to practice law and those that violate their responsibilities should not be let off lightly. Integrity is an integral part of my practice and it's a shame that most people think an honest attorney is an oxymoron.”
Is it common for attorneys to commit ethical violations? If they do, what should be the punishment? Fred made it clear that most attorneys are great and honest. He said the public perception of attorneys is that they are terrible because they defraud their clients. Fred candidly mentioned how some attorneys took drugs and consumed alcohol. He articulately stated how other professions hold individuals to a higher standard, and wondered why attorneys couldn't be held to similar standards. Fred would like to see attorneys who register a third offense disbarred. He believes there should be a “shorter leash and longer stick” when it came to disciplining attorneys.
Where does Fred see himself in five years? The straight shooting attorney declared, “It's tough to predict what will happen in five years. I have had major shifts in my career and my personal life within five year spans. In 1994, when I graduated college and was applying to medical schools, I never contemplated that five years later, in 1999, I would be graduating law school.” The defense attorney added, “In 2000, when I joined the Santa Clara District Attorney's office, which is in Northern California, I never imagined that five years later I would have my own criminal defense firm in Southern California. I am trying to keep an open mind about the future and to take advantage of any opportunities that come my way.”
With all the shifts in his career, it seems like Fred has been on a roller coaster ride. On the contrary, the attorney said life is a journey and noted the “shifts were smooth.”
If Fred was not a lawyer, what would he be doing? He said, “I'm not sure, but I would always be trying to help people out. If I won the lottery tomorrow and never needed to work another day in my life, I would still continue doing criminal defense. I love my job that much.”
How does he want to be remembered? The attorney stated, “I would like to be remembered as a good attorney, but that's not nearly as important as being remembered as a loving son, brother, husband and father.”
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