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Defendants Dress for Success Before Judges and Juries

Courts: Clothes not only make the man, they can make or break criminal cases, attorneys say. Many keep spare clothes on hand for their clients' day in court.

November 03, 1996|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"He had never worn a suit except for the time he took his girlfriend to the prom," Olson said, explaining that to dress him up more would have seemed artificial.

The sentencing of Reyes, the Oxnard woman who admitted to killing her abusive husband, was another case in which attorneys had to pitch in to help a client who could not afford new clothes.

"She only had one dress she would wear on Sundays," said Farley, her attorney. "But it was too tattered to wear to court."

Before Reyes' sentencing hearing, Farley e-mailed her colleagues at the courthouse asking if anyone had clothes Reyes could borrow. Nearly everyone responded, Farley said, and she took a complete wardrobe to the jail for Reyes to try on.

In some cases, attorneys turn to a small closet tucked away in the back of the public defender's office to outfit their clients. The Clothing Room, as it is known, holds a collection of attorney hand-me-downs, including about 70 dress shirts, a few neckties, shoes and various pairs of dark-colored pants.

"You come in here and try to find something your client will look good in," Dahlstedt said, gesturing to the racks of wrinkled shirts.

But in the best-case scenario, a defendant's family comes to the rescue. For an upcoming robbery trial, the defendant's sister sent Dahlstedt a beige-and-blue silk shirt and matching pants.

It's a nice outfit, the attorney says, but there's another consideration.

"I always like to have my clients wear white," he said.

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