Steven Altig, a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer, “defends” K

Recently I’ve been involved in a criminal law situation in Nevada. I’ll skip the exact details. I’ll call the accused “K”.

Although none of us will ever be involved, God forbid, in a criminal legal situation such as K was, there are few painful lessons we learned.

Mr. Steven M. Altig Esq. works for the law firm Wolfson and Glass in Las Vegas, NV. He was chosen to represent K. When we hired him and paid him his not inconsequential retainer, we were moderately hopeful that he would be capable of finding ways to get K. off altogether or get him a reasonably short sentence. What we found out instead to our dismay was that his role was little more than to grease the skids of K’s precipitous descent into the bowels of the NV penal system, probably never to emerge.

Steve’s a good lawyer in his own way. He can answer all the legal questions pretty good. He has very lawyer-like looks and appears dapper in his pricey suits. I don’t know if he’s ever really successfully defended a hard criminal case but in any case in retrospect that was clearly not his objective in K’s case.

Altig and Wolfson have a good niche they are working. There’s no money in the human trash segment. And to get the big bucks you actually have to do creative, aggressive lawyering, something Steve long ago figured out he wasn’t well suited for, or capable of. What better vein to mine, then, than the guilty middle-class arrestee whose family wants the lawyer in a well-tailored suit, and has some money that can go to buy some of Steve’s overpriced hours and those overpriced suits?

Hardball defense lawyering could also hurt a defense lawyer’s relationship with the District Attorney and his deputies and assistants, and Mr. Altig doesn’t want to do that. It won’t do to get on their bad side, when you’ll be seeing them again and again. We saw Mr. Altig out in the hallway outside the courtroom bantering with the assistant DA assigned to K’s case and having a grand old back-slapping, horse-laughing time. The good relationship with the DA is all the more important, of course, if your plan is to eventually move over to their side and work your way up there, although of course I have no way of knowing if that is something Mr. Altig thinks about.

In case 02-C-185170-C, State of Nevada v. K, Mr. Steven M. Altig was particularly uninspired. For instance, there was potential arraignment delay claim that if successful could result in the charges being entirely dropped. Although those charges were entered in 1996, Nevada made no claim against K until 2002. The delay, depending on how you look at it, could be said to be due either to the state where K was previously incarcerated not informing Nevada of the fact that K was in their custody when it came out during the course of K’s incarceration there that he was involved in potential criminal proceedings in Nevada; or, to Nevada failing to make a simple query against a national database into which Vermont had in fact made the necessary entries. In the former case, K has no delay of arraignment case, since the delay must be the fault of Nevada. In any case, K has no claim under delay of arraignment if the delay did not work to the detriment of his case. Mr. Altig did in fact make the motion for dismissal based on arraignment delay and that motion was duly denied by the Honorable Kathy M. Hardcastle of Dept. IV of the District Court, to whom K’s case had been assigned. To a better lawyer, that would have been hardly more than an opening skirmish. To Mr. Altig, that was the most he could do for his miniscule retainer. He spent the rest of the time explaining to us, when he bothered to talk to us at all, about how there was no more juice to be squeezed out of this claim and the die was cast.

Another separate delay issue was the delay in going to trial. Granted this delay was asked for by our side, but a strong lawyer could have gained leverage here as well.

Mr. Altig did not bother to talk to anyone from the family for the period of six months before the trial, in spite of any number of phone calls, letters, and e-mails. It’s not too surprising he didn’t, because he had no strategy, no plan, no idea, other than standing by and looking the other way as K got flushed down the drain into a lifetime to be served in the Nevada state penal system. Unfortunately, K, with whom Altig did meet with some regularity, was not in a position to manage his lawyer well. He was unable to stand up for himself and push for what he believed in and sabotaged himself with periodic bouts of guilt where he thought it was just and right for him to be punished.

A smarter, more creative, or more aggressive lawyer would have reached the conclusion that I finally reached belatedly—that there is no possibility of making anything happen at the lower judicial levels. Nevada is a tough state to start off with and this judge had a “hanging judge” mentality and the DA had assigned one of his toughest young gals to the case. The judge did not bother with any constitutional niceties. She told Mr. Altig, and by extension K, that she had every intention of sentencing him to the most severe sentence permitted by law for his offense. (This was before the trial, and thus of course before any sentencing process.) Steve’s response—should I let you guess?—was not to reserve this information for use in an immediate appeal based on prejudicial behavior by the judge, nor to advise us that we might want to consider going to trial and taking the long sentence but then gaining good appealability based on a potential error on the part of the judge in choosing a sentence inappropriate to the gravity of the crime—but rather to use this fact against K in discussions with him, and with the family, in an attempt to get K to take the unreasonable plea bargain of 15-45 that he finally did accept.

In additional discussions about whether to take the plea bargain or go to trial, Steve advised K and us that the judge was inclined to react with particular severity to any decision by K to go through with the trial since this would condemn several of his young victims to relive their experiences on the witness stand. At the time he said this it seemed to make some sort of perverted sense; but in actuality this is just another abuse of judicial power (and hence appealable issue)—a judge threatening a defendant with negative consequences for exercising his constitutional right to a trial.

Perhaps the most egregious example of Altig’s utter incompetence was his handling of the jury instruction issue. A charge existed in Nevada in 1996 which could reasonably be construed to cover K’s behavior, a much less serious charge, for which the sentence is 1-5. All that was necessary was to get the judge to give the jury instructions to consider this charge, and then make the relevant case to the jury. Admittedly a long-shot strategy, but arguably the only reasonable chance K had to avoid getting locked up for decades. Altig made the specific point to me that if the judge refused to give that instruction then he would have grounds for appeal. This was something he had been telling me as far back as a year ago.

In practice, this strategy evaporated in the course of five minutes sitting in the courtroom with lawyers and DAs and judges conferring in the hallways and in their chambers. Steve suddenly informed K and us that he had asked the judge and she had answered that she was going to refuse to give that instruction. Instead, there was another potentially lesser charge which she was willing to give the jury instructions to consider but wait a minute: if K was found guilty of an aggravated version of that charge, he could actually face life in prison with no possibility of parole! At the time, it seemed like we were being presented with some kind of alternative which of course the drastic worst case forced K to reject; in retrospect, the judge was simply laughing in our faces with her ridiculous non-proposal. What Altig forgot to remind K, or us, of in the frantic minutes of negotiations, was that the only way to take advantage of the judge’s refusal to give the jury instruction for the original less-serious charge was to go through with the trial, then appeal. Instead, it got turned into another reason to plead guilty and accept a sentence only marginally better than the worst K could have gotten by going through with the trial and getting the most severe possible sentence.

One last issue concerns the admissibility of “prior” convictions. It turns out that K did have a conviction for a similar offense—but that offense occurred after the one in question. Nevertheless, the judge ruled that it could be admitted into evidence as a “prior” conviction. Welcome to the world of Kafka, where a “prior conviction” doesn’t actually have to be “prior”. Altig’s weak-kneed response to this ruling of the judge was to opine thoughtfully that the judge was probably right and there was not point in pursuing the issue. This is another appealability issue that evaporated once K accepted the plea bargain as Altig recommended.

The difference is that going though a trial would have preserved all of K’s grounds for appeal, while pleading guilty preserved none of them. This huge difference was neatly skipped over by Mr. Altig in his recommendation to K that he accept the plea bargain.

Another index of the utter bankruptcy of this system is that K was given approximately one hour to make a decision which could make a difference of decades in the length of time he is incarcerated. Lawyers for both sides were pacing back and forth. When is he going to make up his mind? The judge can’t wait all day, now. She repeatedly peeked out impatiently from her chambers into the courtroom—when is that guy going to make up his mind, anyway? During this process, the family was allowed a total of one five-minute discussion with K with one person (me), within earshot of the court officials and lawyers for both sides.

It’s deeply disturbing to me that people like Altig populate our criminal justice system and prey on criminals by taking their money and raising their hopes while actually they are nothing more than accessories in the system by which these defendants are swept away to languish for decades in the penal system.

11 Responses to “Steven Altig, a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer, “defends” K”

  1. 2 Says:

    Unfortunately, I retained Mr. Altig in 2003. He missed an important appearance on my behalf because he was “out of the area.” I am in the process of informing the State Bar of Nevada how unhappy I am with Mr. Altig’s efforts.

  2. Thomas Hubbard II Says:

    Unfortunately, I retained Mr. Altig in early 2007. He has never handled my case properly and has missed important court filing dates. He has filed motions that I have never even seen and has refused to provide me a copy of. He has not called me back for over 3 months, depite over 30 calls to his office and cell phone. My cases and money are in limbo, I can’t even represent myself b/c he has not withdrawn from the case. I am in the process of asking for a refund and if that does not take place I will file paperwork with the State Bar of Nevada on how unhappy I am with Mr. Altig’s efforts and requesting a refund through them.

  3. Thomas Hubbard II Says:

    Unfortunately, I retained Mr. Altig in early 2007. He has never handled my case properly and has missed important court filing dates. He has filed motions that I have never even seen and has refused to provide me a copy of. He has not called me back for over 3 months, depite over 30 calls to his office and cell phone. My cases and money are in limbo, I can’t even represent myself b/c he has not withdrawn from the case. I am in the process of asking for a refund and if that does not take place I will file paperwork with the State Bar of Nevada on how unhappy I am with Mr. Altig’s efforts and requesting a refund through them.

  4. Law iz Law Says:

    wow what a deadbeat i just dont understand how a lawyer can act like that its disgraceful for all lawyers

  5. Aimee Marie Says:

    Well I must say something way different As I hired Mr Altig in December of 2007 and I must say that it was the best thing I could of ever done Mr. Altig has worked so hard for me and everyone else that I know of. I think that he is by far the best attorney ever.And I would refer him any day of the week before i would anyone else.And how dare any of you to say disgraceful the shoe must fit for you to be talking all this crap

  6. gregg Says:

    I retained Mr. Altigs services over two years ago and although I was honestly worried at first maybe beacause of what seemed like a lack of preparation on his part I must say I was dead wrong. Once court precedings were underway this rush in judgement quickly dissipated, not because I was found not guilty on a 1-5yr sentance but because of the way he fought for me in court. His quick wit and constant barrage of my accusers was what saved me from false imprisonment. He worked with me financially and I was able to pay what I could when I could.


    Mr. Altig was a customer in a neighbor’s business and was recommended to me to help me with a few speeding tickets.

    His office handled those two and 3 others to my COMPLETE SATISFACTION!

    During that time, I was unfortunately arrested on a felony drug possession charge which he also helped me resolve.

    The SKINNY OF IT IS – END RESULT – CASE DISMISSED COMPLETELY which SAVED MY ASS as I work in Gaming and that conviction would have bared me from employment in Nevada in Gaming.

    Mr. Altig was VERY Professional and attentive to my needs. He answered hi personal CELL PHONE on weekends and late at night when i had questions…. find an attorney that does that in 2011.


  8. Ruth Dziadon Says:

    My son and I hired Steve Altig to handle some traffic vilations such as driving without a valid registration and insurance( Non moving violation) sort of. I Paid him $175.00 and later another $175 which was to be the total cost for him to reduce the $675 fines and pay them within the $350 we paid him. He owed my son a favor so he agreed to settle for this amount. We trusted him until law enforcement came knocking at our door to take my son to jail. Repeated attempt to contact Steve even while the officers were at out doorstep failed and my son went to jail and he did nothing to bail him out. It has now cost us over $6,000 to pay those fines, thanks to his neglect. It is my understanding, per the State Bar that he was being indicted, what a surprise!

  9. Dumb ass Says:

    Mr. Altig is a horrible lawyer and very unreliable. Don’t stop here, keep looking. He gets paid and then stops.

  10. Eric P. Says:

    Steve has been my attorney for 7 years. The honest truth about Steve is: yes, he is flakey. BUT when he gets in the courtroom he gets shit done. I’ve handed Steve two impossible cases. One criminal, one family. And he has done and is doing the impossible. And he’s always been very generous with me on $ matters.

  11. Dissatisfied in Suburbia Says:

    In my attempts to reach Mr. Altig, I always felt like he must be dodging the mob.
    Even the receptionist answering calls at his firm is evasive and suspicious, even after telling her I was related to his best friend.
    Heck, I have been to his house, sat in his living room, sat by the pool and I can’t even find out if he is still employed there or get a message to him?

    I’m not even sure what firm he is with now. (and our common interest is now deceased so I can’t ask him)

    Who in the world, is he hiding from?
    Maybe his disgruntled customers!

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