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Don’t Take a Chance on Chance Oberstein

July 28, 2011

Fred Thiagarajah

Chance Oberstein was a former deputy public defender from Los Angeles County who had sex with a 16-year old girl while he was working as a deputy public defender.  He was convicted in 1998 after a jury trial.  I remember the day he was convicted — I was a law school student working as an intern at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.  I had the good fortune to work closely with Deputy District Attorney Irene Wakabayshi, who prosecuted the case.  As her legal assistant, I spent months meticulously going over the evidence with her and helping her prepare a case against Mr. Oberstein.  I was lucky enough to sit with DDA Wakayabayashi at the counsel table during the trial.  In trial, Mr. Oberstein testified that he didn’t know the girl was under age, and then when he found out she was underage, he stopped having sexual relations with her.  The phone records completely undermined his story and a jury convicted him of felony sex with a minor, felony sodomy with a minor and felony oral copulation with a minor.  He had been having an affair with this girl (he was married at the time) for over a year.  He was sentenced to a year in jail, probation and life-time sex-registration.  His license to practice law was suspended following his conviction and in 2001, he resigned from the practice of law.  So far, everything makes sense.

Mr. Oberstein made significant progress since his conviction.  He managed to terminate probation early, get his charges reduced to misdemeanors (very impressive) and get his convictions expunged.  But Mr. Oberstein still has to register as a sex-offender.  So now, Mr. Oberstein is seeking a certificate of rehabilitation which is a legal document that will release him from his obligation to register as a sex-offender.  However, Judge Goethals recently denied his request and when Oberstein appealed, the appellate court found in favor of Judge Goethals.  I’m rather surprised at Mr. Oberstein’s accomplishments, but this is not outside the realm of what’s reasonable.

Here’s where things get screwy.  Even though he is a registered sex-offender, Chance Oberstein somehow managed to get reinstated as an attorney in 2008.  WTF??  How does a registered sex offender re-acquire the privilege to practice law?  How does the State Bar even contemplate this as a possibility?  Are our legal standards so low that even a sex-registrant can become a lawyer?  I’m guessing that murderers and gang-bangers can’t be too far behind.

If Mr. Oberstein did manage to get his certificate of rehabilitation, which is an incredibly difficult thing to obtain, then I’d have no problem with him becoming a lawyer.  (Although, I’d never hire him for anything).  But how does he to get to become a lawyer while registering as a sex offender every year?  This is why our image is in the gutter.  We have no standards.

And then if that’s not crazy enough, someone actually hires Chance Oberstein to work in their law firm.  Who in their right mind would hire this guy to work in their law firm?  I don’t know Brian A. Newman but I just took a look at his website.  He doesn’t advertise Mr. Oberstein as an employee of his firm.  I guess even Mr. Newman recognizes that advertising the employment of a registered sex offender is probably not good for business.  Word of advice Mr. Newman — you probably shouldn’t assign any statutory rape cases to Mr. Oberstein.

As you can tell by this posting, I am very disturbed by these events.  We are in a profession that serves the public trust and it is a privilege to practice law, not a right.  And any abuse of that privilege should be treated harshly.  As a profession, we coddle lawyers who abuse the system, when we should be disciplining them.  The State Bar should never have reinstated Chance Oberstein while he continues to be a registered sex offender.


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