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Winning Ticket

Rachel Bachrach

Matis Wolfberg is one of those people you’ve probably met, but don’t want to admit how you know him. As an experienced criminal and traffic violation attorneys in the tri-state area, he’s the address for knocking down a fine or getting a criminal charge reduced to a moving violation — his chassidic garb notwithstanding. And he probably knows you, too. “I always say a person either was my client, is my client, or will be my client.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

lawerThe packed courtroom is abuzz even as cases are being presented. People in the crowd murmur constantly, speaking anxiously to loved ones and clarifying details with the public defender. One couple sits with a toddler and a newborn in a double stroller, desperately trying to keep both of them quiet so they won’t all get sent from the room.

At 10:12 a.m., the judge calls for the public defender to discuss the next case on the list. There is no response, because the public defender has stepped out of the courtroom. After a slight pause, Matis, who is seated in the crowd, clears his throat.

“Ah, Mr. Wolfberg,” says the judge, signaling.

Matis is pleased he has caught the judge’s attention, and he rises. At 6 feet, in a lange reckel with his long beard, peyos, and thick velvet yarmulke evident, Matis looks imposing and only slightly out of place.

The young man sitting to his right also stands. They approach the podium in front of the judge together, Matis’s hand on the young man’s shoulder. There are a few puzzled looks from the crowd, but Matis, the judge, and the courtroom staff don’t notice.

The judge peers at his papers to refresh his memory and proceeds to read the charges. The young man — the defendant — fingers his tzitzis and responds to the judge’s questions quietly. “Yes, sir … Yes, sir.”

Matis and the assistant district attorney — the prosecutor — converse in hushed tones. Matis’s voice sounds more suited to lazy small talk than to a New York lawyer who spends his days in court. The ADA offers to reduce the criminal charge, and Matis nods. The ADA details the offer for the judge, who checks if Matis agrees and then announces the reduced charge and fine.

“Thank you, Your Honor,” says Matis, his voice ringing clear as a bell through the room.

At 10:15, Matis and the defendant, who could have been sent to jail and charged a hefty fine, are out the door. The charges have been reduced to a noncriminal conviction and a $220 fee and surcharge, and the defendant is free to go home.

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time — the police officer assumed he was guilty by association,” Matis explains as he walks him of the courthouse.

Once outside, the two of them take a few minutes to review the case. Then the young man pulls a reckless driving ticket from his wallet.

“Can you help me with this, too?” he asks.

“Sure, call me and we’ll discuss,” replies Matis. After all, he doesn’t only represent people in criminal court dealing with charges like drunk driving, shoplifting, theft, and anything drug-related. Much of the chassidish lawyer’s time is spent dealing with traffic tickets, and how he got there is an interesting story.


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