Rancho Santa Fe resident again named one of San Diego’s ‘top criminal attorneys’

By Joe Tash

You might say Paul Neuharth Jr. has the best of both worlds. He splits his time between San Diego, where he runs a successful criminal and administrative law practice, and his ranch in Oregon, where he raises Black Angus cattle.

Recognized this year, and for the past several years, as one of San Diego’s top criminal attorneys by the San Diego Daily Transcript, Neuharth, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, focuses mostly on narcotics and driving under the influence cases, and also is a recognized expert on issues related to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The 3,000-acre ranch near the town of Bend, in Central Oregon, is a place where Neuharth can get away, either to prepare for a complex legal case, or to clear his mind by cutting down trees and brush, as he recently did with his three teenage sons.

“I’ll go to the ranch because I’m not going to be disturbed there,” Neuharth said. “I can completely immerse myself in the case.”

Neuharth, 51, has run his law practice as a sole practitioner since 1990, and now employs three support staff and an associate attorney. While the bulk of his practice takes place in downtown San Diego, he also must travel around the country to defend clients in federal narcotics cases.

Neuharth put himself through college at UC Riverside and law school at the University of San Diego by working as a police officer, mostly on graveyard shift. For seven years, he worked for the California State University Police, and was assigned to San Diego State University.

During that time, he was sometimes loaned to the San Diego Police Department’s narcotics team, and he earned seven commendations for his work, including the arrest of a felon on the FBI most-wanted list.

Working as a police officer allowed him to make enough money to pay for school, and also gave him a much better understanding of the finer points of police investigations, insight that is helpful to him as a criminal defense attorney. He also served as a union representative during his law enforcement days.

“It was a really good way of paying for law school and giving me a good idea of what area of law I wanted to go into,” he said. “I did enjoy the work. I still have lunch every month with the officers I used to work patrol with.”

During his legal career, Neuharth has flown below the radar when it comes to media attention, both for himself and his clients, preferring to focus his energies in the courtroom.

“I really try to find a back entrance to a courthouse, so I won’t have my clients subjected to cameras,” Neuharth said.

Along with defending his clients from criminal charges, Neuharth also helps them with such issues as driver’s license suspensions arising from the criminal cases. In one recent case, he helped a client regain the right to own a gun following the disposition of a criminal charge.

He has had three cases published, meaning they are established as precedent for future similar cases.

Neuharth, who has represented clients in narcotics prosecutions throughout his legal career, said many of those who oppose the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana and other controlled substances have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Agencies such as the federal Drug Enforcement Administration receive a portion of budgets through asset forfeitures and fines levied against those they arrest, Neuharth said.

“They get to keep this money,” he said. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest.”

For example, he said, many states, including California, have decriminalized possession of marijuana, and have also passed medical marijuana laws. However, he said, medical marijuana providers can be prosecuted on felony distribution charges under federal law.

“It’s a financial reason, not a public policy reason” why federal drug laws remain in conflict with the laws of many states, he said.

Neuharth is engaged to Breanna Parton, a college student and mom. When he’s not in a courtroom, law office or chopping down trees on his ranch, he enjoys travel, “really good red wine,” archery and fishing.

He would like to see a bar association form in Rancho Santa Fe for attorneys who either live or have offices within the Covenant.

He doesn’t plan to expand his practice, because he likes having direct control over his cases, which has allowed him to deliver positive results for his clients.

“I love what I do,” he said.

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