LOS ANGELES — Not everybody is ready for prime time.
Least of all a pair of Southern California criminal attorneys thrust into the spotlight last week, serving as the mouthpieces for the family of the the killer couple they dubbed a kind of “Bonnie and Clyde” after Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik orphaned their 6-month-old daughter by gutlessly spraying their AR-15s at San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center, killing 14 and wounding 21 others.
Chesley had already teased the terrorist act as another false flag like Sandy Hook, he said, and then during Friday’s presser the attorney harkened all kinds of strange ideas including comparing Tashfeen Malik’s last-minute allegiance to ISIS to loathing Britney Spears music to accusing authorities of inventing the dozen pipe bombs police say they discovered in the mass murderers’ home.
Mohammad Abuershaid distanced himself from his partner’s hyperbole in an interview with The Daily Beast on Saturday.
“I never made any statements about like Sandy Hook,” Abuershaid said. “I can’t speak for him.”
Abuershaid might have been standing next to Chesley but says he’s not standing with him.
“We both stand there but we both make our own statements.”
Chesley did not return multiple requests for comment via telephone and email. The call center for Chesley's law offices funneled to one line over the weekend, where one operator informed The Daily Beast that Chesley was not available to speak to the media and probably would not in the future.
The pipe bombs? They’re real, not figments of law enforcement’s imagination, Abuershaid said. “The facts are the facts,” he said. “They reported what they found and I’m not doubting that.”
And do we know if Malik, the “stay-at-home mom” who Chesley said weighed “90 pounds,” can actually “carry a weapon,” as he doubted? Abuershaid said, “We’re still investigating that as well.”
Abuershaid said the Farook family is working with authorities.
“They have been meeting with the FBI for four days in a row,” he said. “The family is trying to help the FBI and cooperating and trying to prevent anything further from happening.”
And while they grieve over the loss of their son and daughter-in-law, they are also mourning all victims.
“The family is in shock, apologetic, and sending prayers to everybody,” he said.
Abuershaid did defend the statement made Friday that Farook felt chastised at work after donning his new Salafi-styled facial hair.
“I did say there was teasing of the beard, yes. He said that some people had made jokes about his beard.” But Abuerhsaid couldn’t pinpoint when or how long ago this bit of frustration was discussed with Farook’s family.
Chesley’s problematic history as an attorney didn’t start with the Farooks, though.
Nicole Salazar says his law firm botched its defense of her and her husband after they got in a spat in April that turned aggressive and saw police called. The Salazars were arrested for felonies including multiple counts for assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.
Within a week of being bailed out by Nicole’s father, the couple received in the mail a flyer sent to each of them from the Law Offices of David S. Chesney. They decided to reach out and after speaking with the receptionist they made an appointment.
“We were supposed to meet [Chesley],” Russell Salazar said.
Instead the accused couple sat down with a lowly paralegal who took their paperwork and made copies and sent them on their way, they said.
The Salazars still retained Chesley’s firm, but they regretted it once they began getting harassed by the man they’d fought weeks ago.
“I asked the caseworker, ‘What do we do from here?’ and they told me just stop calling the cops and ignore him,” Russell Salazar said.
They say they never met or heard a peep from Chesley.
“Never spoke to him or met him. Nothing through email, on the phone or text—no means of communication,” she said.
Then came their court date. The lawyer assigned to their case, according to Russell Salazar, blew the morning session and called the bailiff to let his client know he would be arriving long after lunch. By this time Russell and Nicole Salazar’s charges increased and their bail shot up from $30,000 to almost $200,000 each. They knew they were going to be headed to jail unless their lawyer could help them.
The attorney finally made it to the courtroom but quickly informed the Salazars that he was out of his league.
“The person who ended up representing us was with a different department at the law firm and said he wasn’t really experienced in this kind of law,” Salazar said.
Still, the attorney gave it a shot and after conferring with the judge he told the Salazars, “‘Look, they’re going to raise the bail amount. There’s nothing I can do. You guys are going to have to go into custody,’” according to Russell Salazar.
It took Nicole Salazar breaking down into tears before the judge, telling her story about how their two disabled children would be almost destitute without their mother’s care. The judge permitted her to remain free, but Russell was headed to jail for two weeks.
Their lawyer allegedly went missing in action after that court date, Salazar said, only to reappear after Nicole Salazar told him they wanted to take their case to trial.
“She had sent him a text saying, ‘We’re considering taking it to trial,’” Salazar said. “She got a call the next day from him saying it would be $20,000 each to take this to trial and if we didn’t pay they wouldn’t be able to help us.”
They soon backed off the trial plans and each took plea deals for probation.
Meantime, the family was subjected to an unrelentless demand for being $50 in arrears for their legal bills.
“I just got out of jail maybe a week before that and I asked them, ‘Let me get on my feet and get going,’” Salazar, who works as a customer care representative, said. “They told me, ‘You better pay this amount or we are going to get a warrant out for you.’”
That’s when Salazar’s wife took to Yelp and posted a harsh review.
“Worst law firm ever I didn’t even do anything but they didn’t want to show the proper evidence for my case. Laywer [sic] was late every time and didn’t know what he was doing. Now because I didn’t know I still owed money they don’t want to finish my case so I wasted a lot of money,” she wrote, adding the firm “pays people to write good reviews online. They are rude and don’t care about you only your money.”
Then Chesley wrote his own review of Salazar, which a Yelp rep confirmed to The Daily Beast is the lawyer’s account. The rep pointed to resources for businesses to go where they might solve the grievance discretely, instead of starting an imbroglio online. The California State Bar encourages attorneys who may be criticized online to tread carefully, going so far as to say “it may be inappropriate for the attorney to provide any substantive response in the online forum, even one that does not disclose confidential information.”
Chesley said Nicole Salazar waived attorney-client privilege by making a “false public complaint against our office” so it was “is necessary to refute the false complaint.”
“The truth is, we did an absolutely fantastic job of handling this case and this review is a complete misrepresentation of the facts and the level of service we provided,” Chesley wrote. “The client hired us because they were being charged with 6 counts of multiple felonies, felony Assault with a Deadly weapon (knife), felony Assault with a Deadly weapon (metal pole), Assault with a Deadly Weapon (metal sign) 2 Counts of Battery with Serious Bodily Injury, and felony Criminal Threats."
Chesley went on, saying the case was hopeless at first.
“The original offer on this case was for a 3 year state prison sentence. This 3 year state prison was the offer we received from the District Attorney, but we found this offer to be unreasonable and instead vowed to fight tooth and nail for the client (as we do for all of our clients) to help her avoid jail time,” he wrote.
So Chesley and his lawyer weren’t neglecting the case, he claimed, and in fact managed to work “tirelessly” for three months and claim they appeared on it five times “to negotiate a deal” that dropped all the felonies to a single misdemeanor, “no jail time” and a little community service and anger management classes.
“In spite of our handling this case virtually for free (the client paid less than half of the fee they owed us for our services) and our victory... this user decided to thank us by writing this false and absurd review,” he wrote.
Roger Bracken confirmed he was assigned to the Salazar case in an interview with The Daily Beast and disputed some of their allegations as essentially “buyer’s remorse.” Bracken neither confirmed nor denied the Salazars’ accusation that he was tardy or that he didn’t deal with the billing. He did say that Chesley’s firm “is one of the least expensive firms in Southern California” and that $20,000 to go to trial didn’t comport to other trials he had participated in.
Overall, Bracken said he’d “earned them” plea deals and some community service and probation in spite of Nancy Salazar’s prior convictions (including a 2000 guilty plea for assault with a deadly weapon).
Bracken said he managed to get the Salazars a plea deal from “six felonies to one misdemeanor.”
“It was a fairly egregious act,” Bracken said of the melee. And there was some compelling evidence against his clients. “The prosecution had witnesses and officers and personal [victims],” he said.
Bracken, who had covered the North Valley for Chesley’s firm during his six-month tenure before leaving, said he stands by his lawyering.
“I followed the instructions of my clients and I did my best.”
For Chesley to go after his wife with such venom and reveal details about her criminal case in public (while her case remains open) is unconscionable and dangerous, Russell said.
“I had already been done with my plea. She’s the one with the pending case.”
The David Chesley that client Tamara Martinez knows is anything but a self-absorbed attorney. Martinez said she hired Chelsey once for herself in a case involving domestic violence and another for her daughter, who was facing an undisclosed charge.
“The David you see on TV is the same one I know,” Martinez told The Daily Beast. “I was so impressed when I hired him the first time that I tried to get him for my daughter, though she was assigned a different lawyer in his office.
“He’s tough and direct and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him.”
Salazar said he reached out to Chesley’s law firm to protest the public disclosure and a standoff ensued. “I told the caseworker that they’re breaking confidentiality,” he said. “And I asked if they could take it down because there is still a pending case.”
Salazar said the caseworker refused and even went on to say, “‘The only way we will take it down is if you take down your negative review.’”
He ensured the law firm that he wasn’t going to be intimidated.
“I told them, ‘You know what, I’m not going to take it down. It was our view and we had a right to put it up there.’”
Salazar hopes that his wife’s case isn’t compromised as her plea deal won’t be finalized until Dec. 2, 2016.
“At any point that this turns around and goes against us we can sue them,” he said. And the couple said they made sure Chesley’s law firm was on notice.
They allegedly weren’t moved to change anything online.
And it’s been radio silence since. “That was the last communication we had with them,” Salazar said.
— With additional reporting by Dana Kennedy