By

Chris Fialko

Whenever I have a consultation with a businessman or professional who has been contacted by the FBI or some kind of law enforcement, the conversation always comes around to this question:

Won’t it look bad if I hire a criminal defense lawyer?

The short answer is no. Simply, firmly, no.

To clarify, the reasons are many, but here are some of them:

  • Good cops and good prosecutors know that smart businessmen always consult a lawyer if they are contacted by law enforcement.  In private, FBI agents are always amazed that so many people just go ahead and answer questions without first seeking the advice of an attorney.
  • Lying to a federal agent is in itself a crime. (See 18 United States Code §1001.) It’s super important to either tell the whole truth or simply refuse to answer questions. You are much better off getting a criminal defense lawyer to help you decide whether to talk, than to take the risk of answering in a way that make the feds think you are lying.
  • Even if you tell the full truth, what you divulge may contradict something you’ve declared in the past. This often comes up when someone tells the truth to an FBI agent about an asset or income, but a prior tax return treated the asset or income differently.
  • White-collar cases do not develop quickly. Taking a week or two to consult with a lawyer will not piss off the government, nor will it change the outcome of the investigation.

Chris Fialko represented a businessman who received a subpoena to testify in a federal criminal trial in Charlotte.  Fialko reviewed hundreds of emails and documents in order to understand the facts involving the client, and then met with him for many hours preparing for both the direct testimony and likely cross-examination.  Chris helped the client understand that even though it is easy to tell the truth, it is hard to understand and clearly answer questions from prosecutors and defense lawyers inside a courtroom in the heat of a trial.

 

A few years ago, I instituted a new rule: before going to trial or sentencing, I visit the client’s home and have dinner at the kitchen table.

Why?

Because I learn so much more about the client. I see how he interacts with family. I see photographs on the wall. At dinner I hear family stories about the client. I learn nicknames, habits, and anecdotes.

In African-American homes, word gets out that the lawyer is there and friends and neighbors drop by. No matter how dire the case, there is something about a meal at the kitchen table that brings out some laughter and joy of life. (It has to be at the kitchen table, not the dining room table.)

If the case is heading to trial, then after dinner becomes a bull session, brainstorming. No matter how much I’ve studied discovery before, I get a new insight or two from these sessions.

I had a case in a rural mountain county once, and only when a neighbor dropped in (I think for some free dessert) did I learn who the likely “reliable informant” was, and why the guy was likely unreliable.

Our criminal justice system de-humanizes the accused. They are called “suspects” or “perpetrators” or “defendants.”  I need to humanize each client. Actually, re-humanize them for the jury or judge.

North Carolina 2020- Super Lawyers

Top 25 Charlotte

AN ALPHABETICAL LISTING OF THE CHARLOTTE AREA LAWYERS WHO RANKED TOP OF THE LIST IN THE 2020 NORTH CAROLINA SUPER LAWYERS NOMINATION, RESEARCH AND BLUE RIBBON REVIEW PROCESS

Cooney, III, James P., Womble Bond Dickinson, Charlotte

Culp, Heather W., Essex Richards, Charlotte

Davis, Edward B., Bell Davis & Pitt, Charlotte

Derr, Tricia Morvan, Lincoln Derr, Charlotte

Fialko, Christopher C., Fialko Law, Charlotte

Fuller, III, Robert W., Robinson Bradshaw, Charlotte

Greene, Michael J., Goodman Carr Laughrun Levine & Greene, Charlotte

Kutrow, Bradley R., McGuireWoods, Charlotte

Lam, Christopher C., Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Charlotte

Lagress, S. Luke, Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, Charlotte

Marcus, Robert R., Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Charlotte

McDowell, Valecia M., Moore & Van Allen, Charlotte

Miller, Jr., John R., Rayburn Cooper & Durham, Charlotte

Moss, Jr., Joseph W., Erwin Bishop Capitano & Moss, Charlotte

Owens, Jr., Raymond E., Higgins & Owens, Charlotte

Pantazis, Annemarie, Wilder Pantazis Law Group, Charlotte

Rayburn, Jr., C. Richard, Rayburn Cooper & Durham, Charlotte

Richey, Alice Carmichael, Alexander Ricks, Charlotte

Van Kampen, Joshua R., Van Kampen Law, Charlotte

Wester, John R., Robinson Bradshaw, Charlotte

Wyatt, III, James F., Wyatt & Blake, Charlotte

A couple of years ago, I walked into a Superior Courtroom in North Carolina that I hadn’t been in for a long while.  Sitting on the bench was a judge that I hadn’t seen in an even longer time.  This judge and I had been on opposite sides and fought cases against one another when he was just a prosecutor in the 1990s.

Upon spying me, the judge shouted, “Well, how the hell are you Counselor Fialko?” Caught off guard in the full courtroom, and without thinking, I replied, “Your honor, I’m just trying to defend the Constitution one client at a time.” He laughed, and said, “I see how that could be a full-time job.”

Since that day, I’ve been using that catch-phrase often, whenever I meet someone new or see someone I haven’t seen in a while. While I say it mostly to be funny and break the ice, it also serves as a barometer: the people who laugh and appreciate the comment tend to understand the crucial role of a criminal defense lawyer in our society. On the other hand, if my quip is greeted with frowning silence, I become immediately wary.

Thanks for reading.
-Chris Fialko

1 2 3 7