Seeing Life Through A Unique Lens Of “Justice”
Written by Anthony Ewart
it was through “Word of Mouth” that I found out about Atty. Matthew Murillo, and like everyone else who’s come into contact with him I’ve become part of his “justice league,” which is a growing number of Angelenos who believe he is one of the few lawyers in our city who genuinely understands and cares about “Justice.”
Like any great mythology Matthew’s interest in law started very early – ninth grade. His brother, who is four years older than him, had started to rebel against authority and got into trouble with the law. Matthew witnessed firsthand how hard it was for his mother to find a lawyer who was actually concerned about his brother’s case and wasn’t just after their money. They were forced to use a Public Defender and Matthew watched as his brother literally slid down into “the system,” and the “at risk youth” statistics added one more number to its spreadsheet.
Matthew’s brother vividly described his experiences in the legal system to him and the seed for becoming a Criminal Defense Attorney was planted – in high school. While most of us were fighting over dating and jealousy and who was cheating on whom, Matthew was thinking about ways he could improve our legal system and impart fairness to people who always seem to get trapped in its matrix.
During Matthew’s freshman year as an undergrad he interned at a Police Station in the forensics unit which provided him with invaluable knowledge on investigating criminal cases: literally what it takes to convict or exonerate someone accused of a felony. Matthew discovered that his suspicions about justice not being fairly distributed were correct, not the forensics unit in and of itself, but the system as a whole. In his junior year of undergrad he started working for a “group home,” helping teenage boys with criminal records. Matthew thought he might end up practicing Juvenile Defense because as he told me during our interview here at Sunset Gower Studios: “Everybody deserves a second chance, especially with kids. With 14 or 15 years olds they may end up doing something wrong, maybe get in a fight, which can ultimately lead to some kind of a battery charge and expulsion which isn’t good for their record. You don’t want one mistake in school to affect the rest of their adult life.”
Matthew worked with the kids in the group home for almost two years, talking with every one of them, and told me they were all amazing teens with great personalities – they just made mistakes.
After graduating Matthew went straight to Law School, still believing he would be a Juvenile Defense Lawyer. His first year of law school he interned at a Juvenile Defense Firm, which confirmed his love of the field, but in his second year he took a job at a Criminal defense Firm in Riverside who specialized in D.U.I. cases – little did he know that this would be the legal field to crystalize and define the legal aspirations that he dreamed about as a young teenager.
Imagine this: you’re at a party with your friends or family, celebrating an occasion and having a fun time – but outside the club or restaurant, officers are waiting for you to leave so they can follow you and pull you over for D.U.I. Sound like “profiling,” it is, and it does happen – not all the time, but would you like to be the guy who left the bachelor party and five minutes later is stopped by officers and accused of D.U.I.? These are the kind of stories Matthew saw firsthand, and why his focus gradually shifted from only helping kids to including “Adults” in his Criminal Defense pursuit.
What you have to understand about Atty. Matthew Murillo is that he’s able to empathize with and understand literally anyone. He’s proud of his immigrant background and grew up with a younger brother born with cerebral palsy, so discrimination is something he’s been “defending” for as long as he can remember. In Matthew’s own words: “I have a unique lens of justice.”
Owning his own Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law practice came natural to Matthew; his parents started a business when Matthew was still in high school and Matthew has an older brother who owns his own construction company – entrepreneurship runs in the family.
One of the main advantages to Matthew’s law practice is his accessibility. You can burn a lot of minutes on your phone plan trying to track down most attorneys in Los Angeles to find out the status of your case – Matthew is a lawyer who understands how frustrating it is to be clueless on where you stand legally, and the negative effect this can have on your disposition and outlook, so making himself available to his clients is a priority. Every one of Matthew’s clients has his personal email and cell phone number so the lines of communication with him are always open many of his clients even prefer texting with him, though they rarely use the term “lol.”
HW: “Matthew, you’ve been very successful as a sole practitioner of Criminal Defense and Personal Injury; what do you do (strategically) different than other attorneys in Los Angeles?
ATTY. MATTHEW MURILLO: First of all, thank you for saying that. With Criminal Defense it’s all about communicating well with the District Attorney. If it’s not a good case for trial I want to do everything to work out the best deal for my client, which includes lightening their punishment. I’ll never take my client into a trial that I know they can’t win.
HW: So, honesty is a big part of your practice.
ATTY. MURILLO: Absolutely. I don’t believe in trying to “strong arm” the D.A. or being confrontational with them unnecessarily – my priority is working out an optimal settlement for my client. So, having a respectful “working relationship” with the D.A. is paramount. The District Attorney has to believe that I’m a “man of my word,” so when I speak about my client they know I’m telling the truth about the facts of the case.
HW: And the facts are everything.
ATTY. MURILLO: They are, and investigating my cases thoroughly is the cornerstone of my practice. I can’t get the best deal for my client unless I really know what did and didn’t happen.
HW: You’d think all attorneys would do that but I know many just want to get clients in and out of their office as quickly as possible – it’s a paycheck and a revolving door.
ATTY. MURILLO: That’s right, but what’s important for me is the life of my client, and everything really begins with the arrest report – that’s all the D.A. has initially so the more detailed and comprehensive my investigation of the arrest report is, the better I’ll know if the police respected my client’s constitutional rights in their arrest.
HW: And if they didn’t?
ATTY. MURILLO: Then I file a “motion to suppress” whatever evidence was gathered unconstitutionally or illegally. In essence, I’m asking the judge to strip away the evidence the D.A. will need for their case which gives me more leverage in working out a deal for my client or obtaining an outright dismissal of the case.
HW: I’ve watched a lot of “Law & Order” so I know the D.A. and the arresting officers don’t always see eye to eye on the arrest report.
ATTY. MURILLO: No, they won’t, which is good for my client, and that’s why it’s important for the D.A. to trust that I’m going to do an extensive investigation on that initial arrest report.
HW: You primarily deal with Personal Injury, Criminal and D.U.I . cases, so when you’re reading the arrest report you’re looking for valid reasons why the police stopped your client, because we talked earlier about officers who sometimes stake out clubs or restaurants where they know people are celebrating. What are some of the crazy excuses cops have for stopping people?
ATTY. MURILLO: They rarely vary. In one case, an individual was pulled over because the arresting officer said they “hesitated” to drive when the traffic light turned from red to green.
HW: I’m sorry, you said they were accused of “hesitating” before driving on a green light. That was the “probable cause” the police had.
ATTY. MURILLO: Hard to believe, but the Court thought so. In another case, an individual was pulled over because the arresting officer “thought” they saw my client throw a cigarette out of their car window.
HW: I imagine they brought in “CSI” to recover it off the road. Sounds like you can dismantle a lot of these arrest reports fairly quickly.
ATTY. MURILLO: And others I really have to dissect, but the bottom line is this is my job and I love what I do. I’m passionate about pursuing justice for my clients and making sure everyone gets their due process. I know what it’s like for people who, financially, aren’t able to hire the “best” representation and fall through the system.
HW: And you’re there to catch them.
ATTY. MURILLO: That’s right. I’m here to catch them.