Attorneys have sent letters to registrants for many years. In the past, the rate and regularity of those letters has been slow and uneven. In the past, such letters were often sent after an important case was decided by a state or federal court.
That appears to be changing now as the rate and regularity at which attorneys are sending letters to registrants has increased significantly. In addition, some attorneys are even sending letters to registrants in a different state.
In California, the rate and regularity of attorneys sending letters to registrants appears to be increasing significantly. Many of those letters attempt to explain the new Tiered Registry that was signed into law late last year. This is a law that will not go into effect until 2021, three years from now, and could be revised several times before then.
Some of the letters sent by attorneys to registrants are clumsy. Others contain false and/or misleading statements. For example, a recent letter sent by an attorney to thousands of registrants in southern California falsely claims that 90 percent of registrants “will no longer be required to register and/or be posted online for life.” The same letter also falsely claims that most registrants may be removed from both public and police registries “10 to 20 years after their conviction.”
Why would an attorney send a letter containing false claims and misleading statements? The answer, almost always, is money. The attorney is primarily interested in generating business, not in explaining the law, reforming it, or helping you personally.
In addition to false claims, there are many other dangers to be found in letters from attorneys. For example, the letters are often full of fine print that registrants who are desperate to be removed from the punishment of the registry may overlook. It is not uncommon for some attorneys to “promise” they will help a registrant obtain a Governor’s pardon. This means that the attorneys will prepare a file on behalf of a registrant and send it to the Governor. It does not mean, however, that the Governor will actually grant the pardon, because no California Governor, regardless of party, has ever pardoned a registrant.
Second, the letters could result in financial losses, as well as a loss of confidence in other, ethical attorneys who have the best interests of registrants in mind. Finally and most importantly, the letters could result in a loss of hope for registrants and their families.
So what can you do if you receive such a letter? First and foremost, use common sense. If an attorney’s letter includes claims that appear too good to be true, they probably are. If a change in the law really did produce good news for registrants, an attorney’s marketing materials are probably not the only place you would hear about it. If you are still interested in what you read, share the letter with a trustworthy and knowledgeable person before responding to it. This could include another attorney in your area, since no single attorney can guarantee a result, or claim to be your only option. Finally, you could also share the letter with the State Bar of California, which as an ethics hotline for such matters. Attorneys are required to advertise truthfully and with integrity, and you have a right to demand that they do so.
— by Janice Bellucci
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