Welcome to Trial Lawyer Talk. In this episode we speak with Ginger Ortiz, a wonderful criminal defense attorney from San Luis Obispo. Ginger discusses a powerful case which reveals her courage, caring and storytelling. Ginger has a lot to teach us.
Transcript for Trial Lawyer Talk, Episode 6, with Ginger Ortiz
Scott Glovsky: Welcome to trial lawyer talk. I’m Scott Glovsky and I’m your host for this podcast. Where we get phenomenal trial lawyers from around country to tell interesting stories from their cases. Today, we’re very lucky to have with us Ginger Ortiz. Ginger’s a phenomenal criminal defense lawyer San Luis Obispo. After many years in the public defender’s office there, she started her own private practice and does all kinds of criminal defense: felonies, DUI’s, etc.
Last time, I talked about some themes, and I’m going to continue to do that. We talked previously about caring, and today we’re going to talk about following your gut instinct. As trial lawyers, when we’re in trial, we need to be fully present with our full selves, with our sense of humor, with our worries, with our love and caring for our client and the juror, and our sense of being present and in the moment. I think you’ll see from Ginger’s great story, that Ginger is someone who exemplifies courage and caring, and is just a truly a phenomenal person and lawyer. So let’s get started.
Welcome to trial lawyer talk, we’re very fortunate today to have with us, an amazing, amazing criminal defense lawyer from San Luis Obispo, Ginger Ortiz. Ginger, first thank you very much for taking the time to be with us.
Ginger Ortiz: My pleasure.
Scott Glovsky: Can you tell me about a case that had profoundly impact on you?
Ginger Ortiz: So many of my cases have profound impacts on me, but one that stands out is a woman that I represented, who was being accused of domestic violence, or at least abuse on her ex-husband and his girlfriend. She came to me because she was facing both a probation violation, as well as these new charges. Her ex-husband was interviewed by the district attorney’s office.
I was told privately by the DA, that her husband was very compelling and very convincing, and they were sure that client was the problem. Of course, in my knowing her, I thought that was not only completely absurd, but that her husband was just a really good manipulator.
Ultimately, we got a resolution that she could live with, which was simply probation violation and a very minor charge on the new case. Because when her ex-husband realized that the amount of jail time and the other conviction was going to cost her job, that meant his children were going to be without benefits, health benefits.
So it was at that point he started to back down and say, I really don’t want her to lose her job. That threat of her losing her job, which means he would have to then pay for their benefits, or the children would lose their benefits, was enough to get him to back off.
Some time went by, we saved her job, and within probably six weeks of resolving the case, she got served papers in the mail, via a family law case. Wherein her husband was saying that she wasn’t fit to raise their children, and he wanted them removed from her, and she not be allowed to have any visitation with the kids, because she was an abuser, she was a batterer.
She came to me, and she begged me to help her. At that time, I don’t know whether I had done any family law cases, but I believed her. I needed, for myself, to get in the way of his continued manipulation of her. So I allowed her to hire me. I charged her as little as I could, because I knew she didn’t have a lot of money. And I prepared response…
Scott Glovsky: When you say as little as you could, give us a flavor.
Ginger Ortiz: I might would charge $200/hour if I was actually in court. I would charge $20 to prepare documents. I knew that this was wrong. I knew that it was his manipulation, and it was shameful to me that she would have to spend money to defend herself against lies, that that was going to cost her money that she could use for her children’s swim lessons.
Scott Glovsky: How did you know that they were lies?
Ginger Ortiz: I trust my gut a lot. In getting to know her through the criminal case, I learned a lot about their past history together. There was an event that had happened in their life that really constituted rape. He was so good at manipulating her, that after she went to law enforcement with the allegations, he crafted a response that she could take back to law enforcement and say, when I said this, this is what I meant, and how she could explain it was all a big misunderstanding by her.
So he was very good at manipulating her. When I read her original police report, I was so shocked that the district attorney’s office had ultimately decided to reject the case…
Scott Glovsky: The rape case against him?
Ginger Ortiz: Yes. When it was so clear that not only had he done that by virtue of his comments in the police report, but then by his manipulation of her to get her to recant. It was just so obvious to me, what he was doing. I was very trouble by the fact that the district attorney’s office, either didn’t care enough, or they didn’t feel like they could win the case, or rather than lose a case they’d rather not file it at all.
So I had some background, I had some context, so I started representing her family law case, and the judge was concerned about this increased abusive behavior by her. Gave dad more time with the children, so her custody time was dramatically limited right out the gate, which is very upsetting for her. I think what made it more upsetting for her was the knowledge that her children were now with this man, who was incredibly manipulative, and her pain at that thought of her children being harmed by him in this way.
So within a very short time, he was not successful in getting new charges filed against her, based on his allegations that she was abusive and that she was doing things to the children, such as sending them to school with moldy food, and that her punishment of them involved putting them in a bedroom and locking them in with the lights off.
When child welfare services started investigating, they said we went to her house and this bedroom door doesn’t lock at all. So we think that whatever the children were disclosing was an exaggeration, it really didn’t bear out. They went to the daycare provider and learned that all the food was appropriate every time it came. There was no moldy food. So they said, we’re able to say that we don’t think this abuse is occurring.
The next thing that happened was, we got a call from child welfare services, that the children were saying that their mother was being sexually inappropriate with them. We got the paper with the suggestion that there was this sexual inappropriate behavior, which then, we tried responding to, but it raised alarms everywhere. Child welfare services interviewed the children and said, they’re really not saying what they disclosed at school. So we’re going to evaluate that out as well, we don’t think that’s happening.
When dad wasn’t getting the response that he wanted, he pulled the children out of the daycare, that said we don’t think that mom is doing any of these things, and put the kids in a different daycare. When he filled out the paperwork for the children, didn’t list their mother as a contact person. And in fact said, there are ongoing custody proceedings, and mom isn’t supposed to be able to have any contact that she wants with the kids, it has to be within the guidelines.
He was doing everything he could to isolate the children, and really isolate them from her. He didn’t do anything that we knew of per se, but what happened next was, that daycare disclosed that the children had come to staff saying our mom is abusing us. The kids would how a bruise, or would make a declaration about mom being physically abusive.
When dad didn’t get eh response he wanted, he moved the kids another time, to a different daycare. This time, the disclosure was very explicit in terms of sexual abuse. We touch mommy here, and we watch movies on the TV and mommy’s boyfriend does this. Which of course, concerned everybody, because these were very explicit and detailed disclosures.
I believe I might have been uptown. I think I was actually out investigating another case in a different part of the community. I got a phone call from mom saying, law enforcement is here, they want to interview me with respect to these sexual allegations, and I don’t know what to do.
I told her something that scares the heck out of me, I don’t even know exactly why I did it, but I told her, I trust you. I trust that you will be honest with law enforcement. I think if they have an opportunity to meet you, they’re going to be convinced that you’re telling the truth. I said, I completely trust you, and I trust that you can do this. She said, okay, I think you’re right.
So she called law enforcement, and she started talking to them about answering their questions. A very explicit exposure that the kids had made was that they had touched mommy in her fluffy hairy spot.
Law enforcement said, what do you have to say about that? Mom said, well I’ve been having a complete Brazil wax for the past three years, and I don’t have a fluffy hairy spot, and this is the name of the person that does it. She can tell you that, I have been consistent for the last three years.
There was a very huge aha moment for law enforcement, and they called the person who had took care of mom’s wax needs. She confirmed that mom was diligent about having the Brazilian wax done. So there was this turning of the tide if you will, that somebody was telling these kids what to say.
At that point, family court services started their own investigation, and law enforcement really felt… We were able to provide them with this earlier rape allegation that mom had made and then recanted. They started to see that as a manipulator that he was. And they were able to that dad was employing his current girlfriend to prompt the children to go into school and say something bad about mom.
So we fought the case for about a year. We had a series of hearing, and a series of allegations, and a series of opportunities for mom to really defend herself against each of these allegations. We got to the place where it was very obvious to the judge what was happening, and the judge made a ruling. He didn’t terminate dad’s rights, but he only allowed the dad to see the children supervised. And he only allowed him to see the children one hour every other week supervised.
There were a lot of things about this case that were very impactful for me. But one of them was that these children were being removed from the circumstance where they’re dad’s need to hear something bad about mom was so strong, and their need to take care of dad, by giving him this information was so strong that they didn’t have any defenses against it.
While I was defending my client, while I was defending her interest, and while I was trying to maintain her relationship with her children, I guess the bottom line for me was these children were being abused, because it’s so hard to know whether a child is fantasizing, or being fantastical, or exaggerating, or telling stories, it’s so hard to discern where a child’s imagination is versus where they’re being pushed and manipulated to be. It’s so hard to prove that, how do you prove that?
I think one of the other very big pieces for me, was a healthy fear of dad, because he was working in the community that I live, and I was certain that he knew where I lived. I was certain that this was someone who would go to some real extremes.
Scott Glovsky: What do you mean?
Ginger Ortiz: To get what he wanted. Well I was of the opinion that he had raped his wife, and had so much control over her that he was able to make her recant. He was dangerous. I started joking, if I disappear this is the person you need to investigate. Something happens to me, this is the person that you need to investigate. I started telling… I told my ex-husband. I told some of my friends. I told some of my colleagues. Something happens to me, this is the name you need to be aware of. So he was intimidating.
Scott Glovsky: That must have been incredibly scary.
Ginger Ortiz: I think the piece that was so scary to me, was that if he had been successful in getting anybody to believe that these sexual allegations were true, my client would have been facing probably a 15 to life term. Which would have meant that he was available to raise the children, which mean that he would be available to abuse and start a whole new cycle of abuse with his children.
I’m experienced enough criminal defense lawyer to know that when kids make these kinds of accusations, they’re very, very hard to fight. I think there was reluctance in their mother to put them through more. There was reluctance on her part to have them interviewed, to have them re-interviewed, to have them brought into court perhaps to be questioned. The dynamic was so profound, and she had been abused by him too, and she was fearful of what it all meant. There were times when she didn’t want to fight, because she just knew ultimately she would pay.
So it was just a very complicated situation. But in the end, I knew that he was very angry at me for what he perceived as my taking his children from him. Of course, I knew that it wasn’t good lawyering, he did it all to himself. I was just there luckily believing in my client, and continuing to show the court who she was.
But I think the bigger piece for me, the bigger take away for me, was that I was able to stand tall next to this woman, who was then able to stand tall next to her children, and really get just outcome for their sake. So I guess my strength gave her the strength to stand up to her abuser and protect her children.
So the gratitude piece for me is that if I had not taken her case, where would she be? If she couldn’t have afforded a lawyer, where would she be? And if she couldn’t find a lawyer who believed her and trusted that she was strong enough to stand up to this, where would she be, and where would her children be?
Scott Glovsky: I have to say, when you first started to tell this story and you were talking about the repeated allegations of sexual abuse, my mind immediately started to wonder, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and perhaps feel guilty about that. But you stuck in and fought for your client in a situation where, certainly the outward appearance, and everyone you would talk to about it, would think that your client is guilty. Where did you get the resolve inside of you to do that?
Ginger Ortiz: I knew what he was capable of, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice her and her children, it wasn’t going to happen on my watch. It didn’t matter she couldn’t afford to pay me, it wasn’t going to happen on my watch. I knew what was going on. This wasn’t a case to make a professional career on. This was the kind of fact pattern that nobody talked about, it wasn’t public, she didn’t want to make it public, because she didn’t want herself exposed, or her children exposed. It’s not the kind of case that makes some kind of headline.
Scott Glovsky: Well sexual abuse is the kind of case we all want to look away from and pretend doesn’t even exist.
Ginger Ortiz: Or we want to say, yay, they caught this person. Right? We want to ride on the white horse and say, we’re stopping somebody from abusing their children. I think that when you know that something’s right, it’s like having the bell rung, you can’t walk away from it. You cannot allow… There would be no way for me to sleep, knowing that I did not help this person. I feel that’s why I became a lawyer, to help people.
So there was never any kind of option. I was taking on a case, I felt over my head, I felt like I didn’t understand the evidence roles in family law. But in the process of that, I also felt this tremendous freedom to continue to remind the judge, this is my first time doing this kind of case. So it gave me this latitude to push all the boundaries in court, and to really try to expose what was going on. I had TLC training at that point.
Scott Glovsky: TLC is Trial Lawyer College.
Ginger Ortiz: Correct, yes. So the understanding, that if somebody’s not being troubled by your work, or being angered by your work, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. Right? It’s that negative response that lets you know, I’m probably doing something right here, and having the freedom to just continue to push against the tide on this case.
I think it was once in a lifetime cases, where it was just the fight, it was the right fight, and I was the right person for the fight because my client trusted me. She chose me to be the person in the fight for her. She trusted that I could do it, that I would do it, and that together we would protect her children.
Scott Glovsky: How did that make you feel when that case was over?
Ginger Ortiz: It was complicated. I felt bad that he lost his children. There was some amount of recognizing that we hurt him badly, or he hurt himself badly. I protect people, I don’t play the role of prosecutor, I don’t play the role of needing to exact punishment from somebody. I play the role of defending people. So that put me in a bit of an awkward position.
But at the end of the day, I had earned my clients trust. She calls me out of the blue and wants to talk. She wants to go to lunch together. She wants to give me a ride on her motorcycle, which I so far have been able to decline gracefully. Just knowing that somebody had our back, I think has really allowed her to move forward to a more empowered place, or from a more empowered place.
Scott Glovsky: What are three word that your best friend would use to describe you?
Ginger Ortiz: Fight, compassion, and more fight.
Scott Glovsky: What are three words that the most obnoxious, rude, lawyer on the other side of a very contentious case would use to describe you?
Ginger Ortiz: She’s deluded by her clients. She’s a true believer. She’d rather love criminals than love the good guys.
Scott Glovsky: What would you like your headstone to say when you’re gone?
Ginger Ortiz: I’m not a very big person, I’m only 5’2″, and when I was a child my dad used to say, you know honey, there’s probably a lot of people who can knock you down, and I want you to remember that all you have to do is hit them really hard, one time. Even if they knock you down, and they keep you down, hit them hard at least one time. Because they will never forget that you were willing to fight back, that you stood up to it. Maybe something like that, she stood up to it.
Scott Glovsky: Well Ginger, thank you for doing what you do, for fighting for people, for being an awesome lawyer, and mentor for other lawyers. Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today.
Ginger Ortiz: Thank you.
Scott Glovsky: Thank you for joining us today for trial lawyer talk. If you like the show, I’d really appreciate if you could give us a good review on iTunes, and I’d love to get your feedback. You can reach me at www.scottglovsky.com. That’s S-C-O-T-T-G-L-O-V-S-K-Y. com, and I would love to hear your feedback.
You can also check out the book that I published called Fighting Health Insurance Denials, a primer for lawyers, that’s on Amazon. I put the book together based on 20 years of suing health insurance companies for denying medical care to people. It provides a general outline of how to fight health insurance denials. Have a great week and we’ll talk to you in the next episode.
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