Q&A for Joseph Tully
- Q: Joseph, in your new book, “California: State of Collusion,” you write about abuses of power in the courts and in law enforcement. What compelled you to write about this?
Tully: What compelled me to write about this is that I’ve seen so much injustice in my almost 20-year career. The perception of what people think is happening in courts versus the reality is a very wide schism right now. I think the average member of the public, if they were to be exposed to the reality of the situation, how police officers really handle most cases, how prosecutors handle cases, and how cases are dealt with in courts, would astound people. So, I’ve seen a lot of people struggle to make sense of the system that is so unfair on its face. And, that’s my answer.
- Q: Why do you think the state of collusion exists?
Tully: Our legal system is based on checks and balances, and when it’s balanced, it works. But, today, things are out of balance. For instance, in court we have a prosecution, defense, and we have judges. Those judges are supposed to be neutral arbitrators. They’re arbiters of the situation. But, judges can’t win reelection unless they have the support of law enforcement and the support of the DA’s office. And, so, there’s, naturally, a built-in incentive for judges to be in favor of law enforcement and to favor prosecution. And, there’s a disincentive for judges to favor defendants.
If a judge were to be labeled “too sympathetic” for defendants, they would not win re-election. So, on one hand, judges have incentive to side with law enforcement and the prosecution and the disincentive to side with defendants. So, there are inequities, and things are out of balance.
In addition, prosecutors get away with a lot in the courtroom when it comes to clients, and with law enforcement, in general, there’s a lack of accountability and a lack of a system of accountability. The checks and balances which normally are what we rely on to keep a fair system, politically, socially, economically, they don’t exist in the criminal justice system nowadays.
- Q: How do you think the state of collusion has changed, particularly, is it worse today than when you started your career as a defense attorney?
Tully: It’s definitely worse today than when I started in 1999. When I think of what happened in 2001, and think of how our country has changed since that happened, we have a lot more security, a lot more police presence in our lives, and a lot more government in our lives. With that, the court system, too, has changed. When I first started, if the DA violated an accused speedy trial rights, if it was a felony, cases would get dismissed at preliminary hearing. If there was a statute of limitations issue on a misdemeanor case, it was almost a given that the case would get thrown out. But, now, none of those are true anymore.
I heard an older attorney once talk about, “You know, it seems like every week we lose another tool for defending someone.” “Corpus delicti” is an ancient legal idea, and that has to do with, “You can’t convict someone just based on their statements alone. You need proof to back it up.” But, the law every year gets more and more favorable to the prosecution and more and more hostile to somebody who’s accused of crimes.
- Q: You don’t mince words in the book. You call some cops “sociopaths” and pull back the curtains on backwoods judicial deals. How did you decide to use such strong language?
Tully: I decided to tell it like it is. And, like I said, I like your phrase of “pulling back the curtains” because I would like to see a change for the better. That can only happen once people are aware of the problem and aware of the situation. So, I’m not intentionally using strong language. I’m telling it to the best of my ability exactly how things are. It might be blunt, and it might be to the point, but it’s the truth of what’s going on today.
- Q: Where have you seen examples of this, first in the courtroom and, second, out and about with law enforcement and out in the real world?
Tully: In my 19 years, I have been in front of three officers on the stand – three. And, I can remember them distinctly, who were so honest they told the truth on every single question that they were asked, and they didn’t hesitate to do so, and they refused to exaggerate, no matter how much the prosecution or judge tried to goad them into exaggerating. Other than that, every other police officer has, on some level, succumbed to “us versus them” mentality. It’s not a truth and untruth, or justice and injustice situation. It’s “us versus them.” They’re the good guys. They wear the white hats, and the end justifies the means. So, if they lie or shade something, or include something that’s not true in their testimony, it’s okay because, in their minds, they’re allowed to do that. Or, that they’re on one team, and whatever they have to do or want to do to beat the other team, that’s what they’re going to do.
- Q: You are a criminal attorney with more than 15-years experience, and you write some tough stories of what you’ve seen. Are you concerned about going back into the courtroom after saying what you say about the courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement?
Tully: I’m not concerned. When I wrote the book, I made the decision to tell it like it is and to shine a light on the problems I see. And, my hope in doing this is that the good people on the bench, the good people who are prosecutors, the good people who are in law enforcement, will have a stronger voice. Right now, the mentality and the culture is for maybe the good people to keep quiet while the others, perhaps with a more vicious mentality, dominate the culture. I would like for the good people to be able to speak up.
Another thing that I want to talk about is this. So, on my business card and on my letterhead, I have a Latin phrase, “Fiat justitia ruat caelum,” which means, “Let justice be done though the heavens may fall.” And, that’s something that I decided early on that I was going to adhere to in my criminal defense practice. And, I have applied it to my book, “Let justice be done though the heavens may fall.” I’m going to tell the truth, and the bad people might have something to fear. But, the good people should feel empowered to speak up and make changes for the better.
- Q: What do you see as the solution to the collusion you described in the book?
Tully: Number one, shining a light on what’s going on and making people aware about it, and bringing up a discussion and a dialogue. As attorneys, judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys, and law enforcement, society puts a special designation on us. We hold, or can ideally hold, positions in society that are respected in some way. We have to live lives that earn that respect. As attorneys, as members of the Bar, and as law enforcement who take an oath to protect and serve, we all need to elevate ourselves and change the narrative, get back to law enforcement protecting and serving, get back to “and justice for all,” get back to a fair trial, due process, those sorts of things. People need to be aware of the issue and discuss it and change the narrative.
- Q: Your book talks about California and a state of collusion which exists there. Is California unique or do you see similar states of collusion in other places?
Tully: I’m licensed to practice law in California State courts, and I am also licensed to practice federally. So, I have done cases on the east coast. I’ve done cases on the west coast. I’ve done cases north and cases south. And, I think that the factors which contribute to the collusion, that contribute to the imbalances in our judicial system now, exist all over the country. I don’t think California is unique. I think there might be some better places. I think there might be some worse places.
- Q: A 2017 Gallup poll about confidence in police found that overall confidence in police had returned to a 25-year average after dipping lower in previous years. Fifty seven percent of Americans said they had a great deal, or quite a lot of, confidence in law enforcement. What do you say about their confidence? Is it misplaced?
Tully: I don’t think it’s misplaced, but let’s look at this. Fifty-seven percent, if this is somebody in sixth grade, they know that 57% isn’t even a “D.” It’s an “F.” So, I would like for there to be 100% confidence in law enforcement. I want things to get better. I want the best and brightest in law enforcement to rise to the top and be rewarded for their good and honest work and their dedication to the institutions they’re sworn by oath to protecting and serving. I don’t think confidence is misplaced, but I think three, four, years ago when videos started coming out about police officers and shooting and dishonest behavior as uncovered by other surveillance video, their reputation dipped according to the public because they’re starting to see, for the first time, that police officers are human beings. They can lie just like anyone else. They can cheat just like anyone else. They can have faults just like anyone else.
However, I think, lately, some of the uptick that you might see in support of police officers is really a reaction, people reacting to perceived bad actors on the other side -- people who are protesting police officers. Again, I’m not protesting police officers. I’m speaking the truth about the system and factors which lead to imbalances in justice. I like good police officers. I like honest police officers. I want those officers to be the example of how all other officers should be.
- Q: What do you believe someone should if they face legal challenges in a state of collusion?
Tully: My biggest fear is not a guilty person getting off scott free. You don’t need to worry about that. My biggest fear, these days, is an innocent person getting convicted, or somebody who’s guilty of a lesser thing getting convicted of much more severe things because the DA is applying a sticker shock theory to their case or throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. Unfortunately, the best way to defend yourself within the court system is to get a really, really good lawyer and to give them a lot of resources. Sometimes translate to money. So, a really good lawyer who has resources behind them to spend the right amount of time and to hire the experts to do the investigation is the best way to represent yourself in a court of law. And, I know that’s not accessible to everybody, but that’s the best way to defend yourself.
- Q: What do you think is the most important message “California: State of Collusion” readers should get from your book?
Tully: The most important message is this: What you see on TV every night, that law enforcement are the good guys, the prosecutors are the good guys, and that judges are fair, and that criminals are everywhere, and that criminals are getting off on technicalities, and that defense attorneys are sleezy people who lie, cheat, and steal to get their guilty guy off, just simply isn’t true. It’s fiction.
This is just like how people sort of know now that CSI doesn’t solve murders in 30 seconds by getting the DNA off a bullet fragment. What they think is happening in courts, the reality is not like on TV, and it’s not like what you see on the news. It’s not like what you see on the news or on fictional TV shows. And, that good people are getting beaten down and crushed by the system every day and that the system needs to change, and it needs to change right now for the better.