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Defenders at Heart

By Shane Nelson | May 8, 2023

May 8, 2023

Defenders at Heart

The Freedman Firm fights for clients in white collar and other criminal cases.

Ashwini Mate and Michael Freedman at The Freedman Firm office in Los Angeles Photo Credit: Justin L. Stewart / Special to the Daily Journal

Trial lawyer Michael G. Freedman spent four years working as a federal prosecutor, but he's always felt more comfortable representing defendants.

"I'm a defense lawyer at heart," Freedman explained. "I like meeting people on the worst day of their life and helping them chart a strategy forward to make the best of a bad situation. ... I like helping people in crisis. I like fighting for them."

The son of a prosecutor, Freedman said his interest in criminal cases developed early.

"I grew up in L.A. during the era of the O.J. trial and the Menendez trial and all this high-profile criminal law," he recalled. "I always found that stuff fascinating."

A 2011 graduate of UC Hastings College of Law, Freedman clerked for 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson before joining Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow PC. There he spent four years tackling a range of criminal and civil white-collar defense cases. But Freedman decided working for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles was the best way for him to gain the specific legal work experience he was after.

"It's hard to do federal criminal law," Freedman said. "For me, it seemed the government experience would be really helpful. ... I wanted to be in court and to learn how to try a case and test myself, and I was really fortunate. I did eight trials in just under four years at the U.S. attorney's office."

Toward the end of that run in 2020, Freedman started to think about opening his own criminal and civil defense firm, and after spending nearly a year working at another defense firm, he opened The Freedman Firm in Los Angeles in May 2021.

"The practice I have now is generally representing individuals in all types of criminal cases," he explained, noting he tackles both federal and state criminal matters. "I focus on white collar, but I also do the full range of criminal, and there are not many people with my background doing that. ... And I do a good amount of civil, as well, for individuals and smaller companies."

Home to three lawyers, The Freedman Firm also features a former federal public defender from the Central District: Ashwini S. Mate, who joined the litigation boutique this spring.

"Several current and former trial attorneys in the federal defender's office recommended Michael, which I found surprising since he's a former federal prosecutor. Not that we can't be friends, but it's rare," Mate said with a laugh. "But they really sold me on how ethical he is, how smart he is and how he really does care about providing clients with the best defense possible."

A 2009 UCLA School of Law graduate, Mate spent more than a decade working in the appellate unit at the federal public defender's office in Los Angeles, an assignment she said gave her an opportunity to be creative.

"In the criminal defense world, you're usually facing a wall of law that's against you, and the odds are really stacked against your clients," Mate stated. "But when you get into the nitty-gritty of the law and all the technicalities, there are ways you can argue and fight for your clients. You just have to be creative, and I loved that. I found that so fulfilling and satisfying."

Mate said she joined Freedman after nearly 13 years as a federal public defender because she was looking to expand her legal horizons and learn about other areas of law. Much of the work she's been doing on cases so far for the boutique has been research intensive and involved a great deal of motion writing for a range of matters.

"Michael is really good at trial strategy; that's where he really shines," Mate said. "And since I have more than a decade's worth of legal research and writing experience, I feel like we really compliment each other well."

Freedman noted his firm has already been involved in several high profile cases, including working with a New York based law firm to defend comedian and actor Bill Cosby in a California civil sex assault trial last year. She also signed on last week to help with ex-movie producer Harvey Weinstein's appeal of his recent California criminal conviction and a sex assault lawsuit filed this year. Jane Doe 1 v. Harvey Weinstein, 23SMCV00591 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Feb. 9, 2023).

"I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues at the [New York-based] Bonjean Law Group to vindicate Harvey Weinstein -- both in his criminal appeal following his trial and in the civil case brought by Jane Doe 1," Freedman said.

Los Angeles defense attorney Reuven L. Cohen has known Freedman since he was at Bird Marella. Cohen opposed him in a high profile case while Freedman was a federal prosecutor for the Central District.

"Michael's an awesome lawyer and an awesome person," Cohen said.

The two were on opposite sides in 2020 on a compassionate release matter involving Juan Carlos Seresi, a then 73-year-old who spent 30 years in prison following a 1990 conviction for money laundering and conspiracy involving $300 million in cocaine trafficking proceeds. A subsequent federal investigation revealed previously withheld evidence likely would have "altered at least one juror's assessment" and "put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict," according to court documents filed by Freedman and the U.S. attorney's office. USA v. Juan Carlos Seresi et al., CR 89-190-SVW (C.D. Cal., filed July 29, 2019).

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson granted Seresi's motion for compassionate release in November 2020 -- thanks in no small part to efforts made by Freedman, Cohen said.

"A lot of prosecutors talk a lot of shit about wanting to do justice," Cohen said. "Mike Freedman did justice, and he did it not just on that case. He really was an incredibly honorable prosecutor -- maybe the most honorable one I've ever worked with. ... He saw something that was glaringly wrong and just got down to business and handled it. I can't stress enough how anomalous and shocking and brave what he did was."


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