Hiring A Good Attorney Can Be A Matter Of Time
Never too late for a post-conviction lawyer
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Sunday, October 30, 1994
By: Sau Chan – Associated Press
ALDERSON, W.Va. – When Maureen McGinley’s lawyer couldn’t save her from 10 years in prison for dealing cocaine, she turned to Alan Ellis.
Ellis, based in San Francisco, is one of a handful of “post-conviction” attorneys who help the convicted get the most out of the federal prison system.
With Ellis’ help, McGinley’s sentence was cut to eight years and a month. McGinley, 41, is serving the last four years at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, a minimum-security prison for nonviolent women.
“I was told if you want the best, get Alan Ellis,” McGinley says.
“Our aim is to get my clients the lowest possible sentence to be served at the best place possible,” Ellis says. “Our names are written on all the bathroom walls of all the federal prisons of America.”
Ellis, 50, a defense lawyer for 25 years with offices in San Francisco and Philadelphia, started out representing Pennsylvania college students busted for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
“If their friends got in trouble, they would tell them about me.” He says. “So I wound up expanding my practice.” The benefits some of Ellis’ clients get are “Club Feds,” minimum-security facilities that appear at first glance to be luxury resorts rather than institutions for incarceration and punishment.
Ellis commands $350 an hour, but boasts: “I can do in one hour what another lawyer who might charge $175 an hour might take three hours to do.”
Gary Wallace, one of Ellis’ former clients, says Ellis helped him get released early, in April, from a minimum-security facility in Oregon.
Wallace was sentenced to 15 years in prison for one count of dealing cocaine, but Ellis reviewed his case and helped reduce the sentence by 18 months with credit for time served.
“Alan is the second-most-expensive investment you will ever make, after your house,” Wallace says. “And he may end up with your house. But good lawyers aren’t cheap, and Alan is a very good lawyer.” Wallace said he, indeed had to sell his house to pay Ellis.
Ellis says his work is necessary because not all criminal attorneys are well-versed in sentencing guidelines.
“A lot of criminal-defense attorneys might be good at trial, but they lose interest when it comes time for sentencing,” he says. “It’s not their bag. That’s where I step in.
“We look for holes in the case. I look for any attorney malpractice, judges who have made errors or prosecutors who have failed to keep their word in plea bargain.”
When Lyndon LaRouche Jr., the ultraconservative and former presidential candidate, was convicted in 1988 of defrauding the government and supporters of millions of dollars, his attorneys consulted Ellis’ firm about how to get the best sentence.
Among Ellis’ other well-known clients were former Atlantic City Mayor Michael Mathews, who was convicted of taking bribes in office, and Steven Kalish, who was convicted of running drugs with Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.
Mathews’ attorneys consulted Ellis to advise them on what kind of sentence to ask for, and Ellis helped chip down Kalish’s sentence from 14 years to 10 years.
It also helps to have six other attorneys and a social worker on staff as well as two former Bureau of Prisons officials as consultants, Ellis says.
Ellis says his firm has a policy of not taking cases it can’t win. “We have very fragile egos,” he says. No matter where or how long Ellis’ clients serve, it’s still hard time, he said.
“They’re going through the deprivation of their liberty, which is the most important thing,” he says. “They’re away from their loved ones. There is no such thing as a conjugal visit in the federal system.