Helping Defense Attorneys Creatively Extricate Addicts from Harm’s Way
With criminal lawyers like Michael Nasatir, Mary Masi, and Gilbert Geilim on his Board of Advisors, not to mention former Citibank CEO Michael S. Knapp, it’s clear John Tarasi came up with a winning concept when he created “Sober Guard.” The new company provides services to clients facing legal issues because of substance abuse.
“We exist to make the job of the attorney easier, not to replace him or her” says John, a tall, lanky crew-cut Pittsburg native. “My goal is to fill a gap, to do what no lawyer has time to do. I can help by appearing with the attorney and defendant in court and saying: ‘Your Honor, I vouch for the defendant. This person is serious about changing his/her life and taking the steps to do it.’ It makes a very powerful impression on the judge.”
John has been working in recovery for ten years. He attributes the beginning of his own sobriety to an enlightened Santa Monica judge who sentenced him to drug court instead of jail. John spent eight months at the non-profit Clare Foundation; while still a patient he began running the Clare Men’s Center. After completing treatment, he worked as group facilitator for the City of Santa Monica’s inpatient program at Clare, and did individual counseling for both of Clare’s primary care programs.
One day while speaking at St. John’s Hospital he met David Milch, creator of the TV series NYPD Blue and segued to TV production for three years. While working for Milch’s Red Board Productions, he co-wrote (uncredited) with Milch the pilot for the acclaimed HBO series “Deadwood.”
He left the entertainment world to start Soba Sober Living in Malibu with Greg Hannley, which they eventually expanded to include a licensed treatment center.
“I saw people coming in with legal issues,” said John. “Because of my personal experience with the law, I realized I could help them. “
Sober Guard was officially launched several months ago. One of the first clients was a well-known actor who had recently completed treatment at the Malibu Beach Recovery Center. Once he graduated from our residential program, John kept him out of jail by making sure he attended all of the anger management classes and domestic violence counseling sessions the judge had mandated. Additionally he convinced the judge to sentence the actor to a “creative” type of community service that John believes was a true service to Los Angeles – teaching acting to youngsters in the inner city.
“I try to match talents of my client to community needs. Judges like that and the communities benefit. Picking up trash is more humbling but does not make someone feel he is ‘giving back.’”
John works all over the country, advocating for clients because he believes that treatment is better than jail and jail better than prison.
“I had a client with seven cases before the same judge,” he recalled. “He came to California, I got him into treatment and 1-2 months later I flew back to New Jersey with him. The judge with impressed. He asked me: ‘You came 3,000 miles to vouch for him and tell me the letter from this rehab is accurate?’ When I assured him this was indeed the case; the judge dismissed all seven misdemeanors and fined my client a mere $250.
“It happens frequently. In fact, it happens all the time. Every time we accompany a client and his or her lawyer to court, the sentencing goes better. Judges tend to put more faith in the defendant because a Sober Guard representative is at their side. Our clients get easier deals, less time, and stay out of jail. Sometimes I can get judges to reduce a client’s probation time by half.”
Lawyers like him, he believes, because under John’s care their clients don’t re-offend. Bondsmen like him because he makes sure the defendant shows up in court. Judges like him because John gives them confidence that they won’t dismiss charges only to read in the newspaper the following day that the freed defendant blacked out while driving and killed an innocent party.