White Collar

One of the firm’s core practice areas is the defense of persons and corporate entities charged with white-collar (or economic) crimes. Mr. Lemon’s white-collar expertise has been recognized by the SuperLawyers and Best Lawyers in America publications, both of which consistently rank him as a “top-rated” San Diego lawyer in this practice area (which includes fraud crimes, tax evasion, money laundering, environmental crimes, campaign-finance offenses, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and insider trading).

Economic crimes are frequently – but not exclusively – prosecuted in federal court and are often complex, involving multiple defendants and voluminous discovery. Mr. Lemon has successfully represented numerous professionals charged in high-profile, white-collar cases, including doctors charged with tax fraud and insider trading, lawyers charged with mail and wire fraud, a hedge-fund manager charged with securities and real-estate fraud, and the president of an international telecommunications company charged with criminal contempt and wire fraud.

Like most other criminal cases, the majority of white-collar cases are resolved through pretrial negotiations. But Mr. Lemon’s commitment to thorough preparation and his willingness to try difficult cases remain the cornerstones of the firm’s successful plea negotiations.

And some cases do go to trial. In 2008 and 2009, for example, the firm represented a licensed pharmacist charged with conspiracy, money laundering, and unlawfully dispensing prescription drugs over the internet. The trial – which required special prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s computer-crimes unit and involved seven codefendants – lasted three months and resulted in a hung jury. Before the retrial, Mr. Lemon was able to settle the case for a plea to a misdemeanor with no jail time, no fine, and no criminal or civil forfeiture.

The investigations of white-collar offenses are also typically lengthy and wide ranging, involving numerous potential witnesses and other “persons of interest.” The firm has extensive experience representing individuals and corporations who have received grand jury subpoenas or who have otherwise been contacted by law enforcement.

Drug-Trafficking Offenses

For the last 15 years, Mr. Lemon has been on the front lines of the resistance to the federal war on drugs, winning numerous acquittals, hung juries, motions to suppress evidence, and appeals in serious drug-trafficking cases.

While some of these cases are relatively straightforward (a large seizure of narcotics at the border, for example) many others are the product of lengthy investigations relying upon confidential informants and electronic surveillance. But what virtually all of them have in common is that they are extremely serious offenses, typically carrying lengthy mandatory-minimum sentences.

In 2013, Mr. Lemon received national media attention by winning a nearly unanimous reversal of a conviction by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc. The conviction was overturned on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct, and the highly-charged oral argument attracted a national audience, including The Washington Post and The Atlantic. You can watch the video of the argument here and read the Ninth Circuit’s opinion here.


Cannabis prohibition is ending. The question is not “if,” but “when.” But these are uncertain times, especially for small businesses. Although cannabis is now legal under California law, it remains classified by the DEA as a Schedule I controlled substance with no redeeming medical or other value, and is still completely banned by the federal government. And while the Adult Use of Marijuana Act created a five-year window for small businesses to launch before big corporations (e.g., “Big Tobacco,” “Big Pharma,” and “Big Agri”) can apply for licenses, that head start for small businesses will necessarily coincide with a new Justice Department headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And Sessions, a vehement opponent of all things cannabis, recently announced that there will be increased federal oversight – if not increased prosecutions – during the current administration.

Accordingly, prudent members of the industry – especially those who wish to be in total compliance with California and local law – cannot afford to lose sight of the federal implications of their work. To that end, the firm – through strategic partnerships with tax, trademark, real estate, and transactional specialists – is expanding its practice areas to include all facets of cannabis representation, including medical and adult-use licensing. The objective is for the firm to assist clients in a completely new way: to help them build sustainable businesses in an uncharted era of regulation and enforcement.


The firm regularly represents defendants on appeal, primarily (but not exclusively) in federal court. Despite the fact that typically only 4% of criminal appellants obtain reversals of their convictions or sentences, Mr. Lemon has won reversals in a number of high-profile cases, including a near-unanimous reversal in a drug-trafficking case by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc. The oral argument attracted national media attention from several legal blogs (including the Above the Law Blog), as well as traditional media outlets like The Atlantic and The Washington Post. To watch a video of the oral argument, click here. To read the Ninth Circuit’s en banc opinion, click here.

Although most appeals are decided by unpublished memoranda – ostensibly because they do not present new issues of law – some are decided in “published” opinions and therefore create new law. Mr. Lemon was counsel of record in the following published opinions:

United States v. Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. 149 (2004)

United States v. Lloyd, 807 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2015)

United States v. Maloney, 699 F.3d 1130 (9th Cir. 2012),
       vacated by United States v. Maloney, 717 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2013),
       and overruled by United States v. Maloney, 755 F.3d 1044 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc)

United States v. Johnson, 767 F.3d 815 (9th Cir. 2014)

United States v. Houston, 648 F.3d 806 (9th Cir. 2011)

Garcia-Aguilar v. U.S. Dist. Court for Southern Dist. of California, 525 F.3d 1021 (9th Cir. 2008)

United States v. Kodzis, 255 F. Supp. 2d 1140 (S.D. Cal. 2003)

Grand Jury Witnesses and Targets of Investigations

The firm’s expertise in complex cases is not limited to charged defendants. During preindictment investigations of white-collar, drug trafficking, and other serious cases, law enforcement officers will frequently contact and attempt to interview “persons of interest.” Similarly, individuals and corporations will often receive grand-jury subpoenas, which may also be accompanied by an offer to sit down with agents for a “free talk.”

A person who has been contacted by law enforcement under these circumstances is usually at his or her most vulnerable. This is especially true because the agents are not required to share any information and it is relatively easy for unrepresented persons to unwittingly implicate themselves in a crime or – simply by making a statement that federal agents do not believe – to subject themselves to a charge of false statement or obstruction of justice.

For over a decade, Mr. Lemon has successfully navigated these waters for a number of clients, most of whom were able to avoid indictment altogether or to settle their cases at an early stage of the process and on favorable terms.

State-Court Offenses

Serious and complex cases are not exclusive to federal court. The firm has represented defendants in significant state-court cases, including attempted murder, home-invasion robbery, kidnapping, mayhem, and drug-trafficking.

Most misdemeanors, traffic, and other less-serious offenses are also usually prosecuted in state court, and the firm regularly represents persons charged with such offenses – including simple drug possession, DUI, and domestic violence.

RICO, Murder, and Other Serious Federal Crimes

The federal RICO statute (Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organizations) and its companion, VCAR (Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering), were enacted in the 1950s to give federal prosecutors sweeping powers to target organized crime. In Southern California, those prosecutors now heavily rely upon RICO to prosecute prison gangs, street gangs, and motorcycle clubs, as well as organizations allegedly involved in the commission of economic offenses, such as bookmaking.

The firm has successfully represented a number of persons charged in RICO indictments – both in plea negotiations and at trial. In 2009, for example, in a RICO case targeting one of two major Southern California motorcycle clubs, Mr. Lemon settled his client’s case for a plea to a single count of misdemeanor marijuana possession. And in 2013, in a RICO and VCAR case targeting several North County San Diego street gangs, his client was acquitted after an eight-week trial of every charged violent crime, including attempted VCAR murder, VCAR assault with a deadly weapon, and two firearms offenses – which would have carried a 35-year, mandatory-consecutive sentence.

Of course, federal prosecutions are not limited to economic offenses, narcotics, and RICO. The firm has represented persons charged in a panoply of other serious federal crimes, including human trafficking and murder. In 2008, for example, Mr. Lemon tried a five-defendant murder case involving members of an alleged prison gang. After an eight-week trial, his client was acquitted of all felony charges – including murder and conspiracy to commit murder – and immediately released from federal prison.