Combs Waterkotte Interview Part One

Combs Waterkotte is Missouri’s Leading Criminal Defense and DWI Law Firm, with over 10,000 successful cases handled. This interview serves as an introduction to our firm and is part of a five-part series designed to educate, inform, and assist you during a stressful time.

Interview Transcript

Scott Michael Dunn: Welcome to the Power of X. Today, I’ve got Chris Combs and Steve Waterkotte with us, of the Combs Waterkotte Law Firm in St. Louis. We’re excited to have them here. They are a part of the Hexxen family of companies. Today we’re going to talk about some important facts that have to do with what to do, when to do, how to deal with, when you’re in trouble, which is a great thing to have some terrific legal support when you’re having a difficult time.

Now, I appreciate you guys coming in. It’s great to have you. I’m excited to have you because we’ve done some research. Now, Hexxen has evolved a lot in SEO, digital design, web design, and Hexxen media, which is some video work that we do for many of our clients.

But today, we wanted to bring you guys in so that we could get a feel for what we have seen in the Google world [and] the questions that people have when they reach out to law firms and attorneys, or if they do Q and A’s. So we’re going to cover a few topics, ask a few of those questions and see if we can’t explain things to people so they can better understand what to do, when to do it – and sometimes what not to do is a big part of it.

So, who is Combs Waterkotte?

Steve Waterkotte: Combs Waterkotte is what we believe is Missouri’s leading criminal defense firm. We’re a full service criminal defense firm. We go statewide from every corner of the state. Obviously, Chris and myself are the managing partners. We have Matt Brown, who’s an associate attorney, but also a 14 year seasoned attorney, former prosecutor, very seasoned trial lawyer. And then we have four full time support staff. Again, we’re a full service criminal defense firm. And what I mean by that is, we do everything from something as minor as a traffic ticket, all the way to the most serious of felonies. Murder, rape, robbery, sex offenses, and anything in between. We handle that.

In addition to our criminal defense practice, which consists about 95 percent of what we do, we also handle order of protection cases, which are also known as restraining orders. We also handle university discipline cases, so cases in which a student at a university is getting disciplined, whether it’s academic reasons, plagiarism, things like that, or could be Title IX violations, frat hazing and things like that.

That kind of gives you a nutshell of what Combs Waterkotte is. We believe we provide superior service to any other firm. And when I say that, I mean client communication. I think that is the hallmark of every case. I think that’s also probably the biggest complaint of all of our clients. “I don’t know what’s going on with my case. I don’t hear from my attorney. They don’t call back.”

Chris Combs: They get stonewalled by a receptionist or a paralegal.

Steve Waterkotte: Right. And so I think we are extremely accessible. Everyone’s going to get a call back that day, get an email response that day. I think that has to be one of the things that separates us from anyone else.

Scott Michael Dunn: Of course. That’s important. If you don’t take care of your clients, they generally don’t come back.

Is it often that your clients keep coming back to you on a consistent basis?

Steve Waterkotte: Yeah. And that’s probably the most flattering thing is when somebody can come back to you, right? You did something good for them, or they refer you to a friend or a family member. When somebody gives us a referral, that is probably one of the biggest token of appreciation. We did a good job for them. They feel comfortable sending a friend or a family member to us to help them in a time of need.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s a big deal. If somebody goes to their family, and they’re like, “Hey, these guys have what it takes.” That’s a big statement.

Steve Waterkotte: It is. When somebody says, “Hey, my son – “

Scott Michael Dunn: When you trust somebody with your kids, or with your mother. That’s a big deal.

Steve Waterkotte: It is. Again, we provide excellent communication. We’re very accessible. All of our clients, within our firm – Chris’s clients have his cell phone number. We answer the phones on weekends, nights. The fact of the matter in this business, things happen outside of nine to five.

Scott Michael Dunn: Sure do.

Steve Waterkotte: So, if somebody’s in a jam or in trouble or an arrest is made, and it happens on a weekend, we respond. And we have the resources within our firm to do that. Because like I said, we have three full time attorneys, four full time support staff. So that’s helpful. And, it’s big for somebody to have that kind of staff and resources behind them [for] each particular client.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s fantastic. I have a question for you, Chris. Both you guys, actually. Do you have a case? You know, the case? Like, “Wow, this is the case that just is mind blowing.”

Chris Combs: Currently I have a pretty interesting case. My client’s charged with kidnapping and assault second. He has two co-defendants. It’s gotten some media attention because it is a number of people who are members of a church in the city. They practice Christianity, but one of the members of the church was having some sort of mental breakdown and was confined to a room.

Scott Michael Dunn: Was this during an event at the church?

Chris Combs: Yeah, they were doing like a 30-day fast and people were coming in from all over the country. My client was in the military, he served abroad. It’s a he said, she said case, so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns, But when you’ve got kidnapping, and you’ve got religion, and you’ve got people who are speaking Swahili that immigrated here from the Congo, it’s kind of a conundrum.

Scott Michael Dunn: That seems full.

Steve Waterkotte: Armed service guy as well. Military.

Chris Combs: Yes. Absolutely.

Steve Waterkotte: And I will say on that case, I’ll brag about Mr. Combs here. It has, like he said, caught a lot of media attention due to those things that he just mentioned. So it’s been featured in People magazine, Time magazine, all the local stations. It’s got that kind of sex appeal.

Scott Michael Dunn: Well if networks like it or magazines like it, it’s sexy. The way you described it, it’s got a whole bunch of media-friendly stuff. It’s just the awful things, of course. All of them included together and some roped into some unfortunate circumstance. And boy, the media loves that.

Chris Combs: This is a unique case. No doubt.

Scott Michael Dunn: Well, exciting. We’re excited to hear the progress of it. We’ll meet back up and have another conversation and find out how things are going. How about you, Steve?

Steve Waterkotte: I have a case. We’re about 90 days from trial. It’s in Crawford County. Steelville is the county seat there. So we’re about three months out from trial.

It’s a case in which my client, a 20 year old kid. No prior offenses, by all accounts just a wonderful kid. If I could have him as a client in every case, he’s just wonderful. In any event, he was at home this past November, getting ready to go deer hunting. Him and his buddy, the opening week of deer season, which is big in that part of the Missouri. And so [he] and his buddy were about to go deer hunting. He lives in a remote area, like most do in that county. Not a lot of traffic where he lives. And all of a sudden a vehicle pulls down his gravel road as they’re loading up the truck to go deer hunting. Of course, they’re in camo and have their rifles and such. And, his mother happened to be there dropping something off and they were all about to depart to go deer hunting.

Mom says, “Do you know these people?” “No, I don’t know ’em. Are you expecting anybody?” Everybody was clueless as to who these people were.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s frightening.

Steve Waterkotte: It is. And this was 11AM, noon, something like that. You just don’t stumble on a house like this.

Scott Michael Dunn: And you probably didn’t miss a turn.

Steve Waterkotte: Exactly. you’ve got to find the house, right? Your intent is to go to that house. In any event, they pulled down this little gravel road. They all look at each other puzzled. At which point they say, “Hey, leave. Your trespassing. There’s a “No Trespassing” sign.” Mom is leaving and the vehicle that came in is backing out. Ultimately, words are exchanged, the three occupants in this unknown vehicle are cussing out mom and son for essentially telling them to leave, “You’re trespassing.” And at which point, it turns into my client shooting at the vehicle.

He claims, and his mother claims, that they pointed a gun. And so this verbal exchange escalates to a situation where one of the occupants in that vehicle pointed a gun at my client or his mother. Of course, they claim that that didn’t happen. My client fired a single shot into the vehicle. [The bullet] entered the vehicle and struck one of the occupants of the vehicle. She had to be airlifted.

He is charged [with] four counts of felony assault first degree, which is the highest class. It’s an A felony. Excuse me – three counts of assault first, one for each occupant. Three counts armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon. There’s seven charges total. You’re looking at – if you did the math on it, you’re probably looking at somewhere in the ballpark of –

Scott Michael Dunn: A couple of life sentences.

Steve Waterkotte: Certainly. 175, 200 years, whatever the math is. So, it’s going to be a strong case in my opinion of self defense. We will be asserting a defense of self defense and defense of others. Which, you can do in Missouri, defend another person as if it’s yourself.

Scott Michael Dunn: Of course. I don’t know that. It sounds right to me. They’re on your property, right?

Steve Waterkotte: And that’s what we’ll put before the jury. The three occupants in the vehicle are – after we had an investigator dig into their past, they’re not the most savory people. They weren’t there delivering Girl Scout cookies. One of the occupants had 30 plus felonies.

Scott Michael Dunn: I mean if they had Girl Scout cookies, it wouldn’t have been a problem. It would have been a nice gesture. Well, at least the bullet didn’t hit the Girl Scout cookies.

Steve Waterkotte: We wouldn’t be talking about it.

Scott Michael Dunn: At least the bullet didn’t hit the Girl Scout cookies, cause that would be a major loss.

Steve Waterkotte: Certainly. So in any event, he’s out on bond, fortunately, because that’s always number one in any case, is we got to get him out. And so fortunately we were able to get him out just after Thanksgiving, I think he was in there a week. We got him out on a very reasonable bond, low bond amount.

He has a lot of support in the community. Our client does. Like I said, when I met with him at the jail for the first time and – I don’t know how many countless hundreds of people over your career we’ve seen at the jail. In this one in particular, you could just see – some of our clients have been in and out of jail. They know nobody wants to be in jail, right? We never had a client say, “Hey, I’m behind here. Do your thing.”

Chris Combs: Never, ever. No.

Steve Waterkotte: Nonetheless, there’s some clients that [are] a little more accustomed to that.

This kid, you saw the fear in his eyes. You saw the absolute devastation of this predicament that he’s in. So, it’s our job, it’s my job, as the lead attorney here, to save this kid’s life. It’s an awesome responsibility. It’s a stressful one. But, one that I cannot wait to get into the courtroom on. I am chomping at the bit to get this case in front of a jury.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s exciting.

Steve Waterkotte: 12 jurors in Crawford County, which are a lot of good folks, down there. And they’re rural, gun, mostly second amendment people, landowning people, that say, “Hey, if somebody’s going to come on my property that I don’t know, and [I] say, “Get out of here.”

Scott Michael Dunn: You make a decision when you enter someone’s property.

Steve Waterkotte: You do. And a lot of those folks have that mindset. So I am very, very eager, chomping at the bit. In fact, we’ll get this from arrest to a jury in less than a year, which is almost unheard of.

Chris Combs: It is unheard of.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s fantastic.

Steve Waterkotte: I mean in St. Louis County, we’re probably looking at two years before a trial. On the first court date, I said, “We’re setting this for a jury trial.” Because we had a plea offer on the table for 15 years.

Scott Michael Dunn: I love your enthusiasm. I generally don’t see that.

Steve Waterkotte: I am jacked. Chris will tell you about this. He goes, “How’s this set for a jury trial?” I came back on the first court date in circuit court. So, a case starts in associate circuit court. We had a preliminary hearing and it gets into circuit court. And I came back to the office. And he said, “You set this case?” It’s just almost unheard of.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s awesome.

Steve Waterkotte: But it’s not a very complicated case, despite all these things happening. I said, “Hell yeah, I’m setting to get this in front of a jury as quickly as possible.” Because we got to keep in mind, while this case is going on, this looms over somebody’s head. It affects their life. It affects their sleep. It affects everything they do.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s emotional damage.

Steve Waterkotte: Imagine you have something hanging over your head. If he’s found guilty, I mean it’s game over. He’s looking at, again, up to whatever crazy amount of years. So, I am jacked up about this.

Chris Combs: [He’s] very passionate about this case.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s awesome. It’s exciting to hear how enthusiastic you are. I think that’s amazing.

Steve Waterkotte: And then I’ll say this. That is one thing that we do at Combs Waterkotte is we try cases. That’s the things that get me jacked up.

Scott Michael Dunn: Play to win.

Steve Waterkotte: It is. There’s a lot of attorneys – and Chris can comment on this as well as – there’s a lot of attorneys that the thought of a trial never comes to mind. Or you know they’re not trying a case.

We had our associate – I say it almost with quotations, “our associate,” because you think of a third year guy out of law school. He’s a seasoned guy, a former prosecutor himself. We had our associate two weeks ago that tried a case in northwest Missouri, by himself. Our client [was] facing three life sentences and he got a “Not Guilty” on all charges.

Chris will agree, I think, and you can comment on this, that’s I think another thing that separates our firm. When we get a case, we’re looking at the finish line. The trial. It’s how we can get to talking with our client about goals. How do we get to where we need to be? In some cases it’s a plea, of course, but on cases like this, when you’re charged with serious A [and] B felonies, there’s not a lot of middle room.

Scott Michael Dunn: Pleading means you’re doing time.

Steve Waterkotte: In many cases, you can get probation as well. A D felony or something, you’re probably getting probation and either a plea might be the best. It’s not to say we try every case, we don’t. But we are not afraid to try cases and I think that goes to show you, our associate attorney – I don’t think there’s a single firm in the state – I’m convinced of this – that can send their associate attorney across the state, solo, with a guy facing three life sentences, and walks the guy “Not Guilty” on all charges.

Scott Michael Dunn: Wow. Give him a ribbon or something. You should get medals every time you have a big case.

Steve Waterkotte: I think that’s one of the things too, about our firm, in terms of a trial, we’re not afraid to take the gloves off and mix it up when it needs to be done.

Chris Combs: Without a doubt, there’s a lot of criminal defense attorneys obviously in the area. However, there’s not many that will, I wouldn’t say there’s not many –

Steve Waterkotte: A handful.

Chris Combs: There’s a handful that are willing to try cases. A lot of attorneys are trying to work out deals.

Scott Michael Dunn: Is it paper pushing attorneys?

Chris Combs: Not necessarily that, but it’s a lot to try a case. That’s the only case you’re working on for weeks leading up to it. And then when you’re in trial, you’re not working on any other file. There’s just not many firms that are equipped to do it.

Steve Waterkotte: “Equipped to do it” is the key. Going back to resources. If you’re a solo shop and you’re in a trial, you’re not tending to other clients and your other business. When Chris said, “Equipped to do it,” that’s exactly what I alluded to about having the resources in place. Having a fantastic support staff, a seasoned, seasoned, paralegal, an associate, and then two managing partners. We’re equipped to do it. It doesn’t shut down our firm when somebody is trying a case. When I talked about the resources, I think that goes right in there.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s great. I think that’s overlooked, often when folks just kind of flip through the book or Google for an attorney, that’s overlooked. You don’t think about, “Does this attorney actually have the time and resources to try this case and properly handle it? Or are they just going to take the money?” Be like, “I’ll do my best, but this one pays more, that one pays more.” And it sounds like you guys look at the case more as important than anything else that you’re doing. By your enthusiasm.

Steve Waterkotte: And I’ll correct you there. We don’t look at it as the case. We look at it as the client.

Scott Michael Dunn: The client, that makes sense.

Steve Waterkotte: That’s a huge distinction. That guy to somebody or a prosecutor or a judge might be a name on a piece of paper.

Scott Michael Dunn: Sure.

Steve Waterkotte: To us, that is a person. They have a family. What they did wrong or allegedly did wrong, they deserve a defense.

Scott Michael Dunn: Right.

Steve Waterkotte: So it’s not a name. It’s not a case. It’s a human being. It’s a client who has a family that loves them. That has children waiting on them. Or a mother and father.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s so huge. I’ve had to call attorneys before and it’s terrifying. Already because I’m in a position that I don’t know what to expect. Because I don’t know how to deal with this. This isn’t something I do every day, right? So you’ve got to make the phone calls and then you talk to somebody and you just have to take it for granted that what they’re telling you is accurate. And not only that, how do you determine if they’re the right attorney? Which is terrifying too.

Chris Combs: It’s very tough. I tell clients often, ehen you’re dealing with one of the most difficult times of your life, if you’re charged with a serious crime, all you can do is do your research and meet with [different attorneys]. It’s like having a surgery with the doctor. You want to sit down with a couple doctors and hear ’em out and do your due diligence, and then you’ve got to make a decision.

Scott Michael Dunn: But you’ve got to trust them.

Steve Waterkotte: I got a call the other day on a murder case. I said, “Do your homework and do your research and look at prior case results. Look at our case results.”

We never would ever bad mouth another attorney. That’s not our job to do. My job is to say, “Hey, this is what I can do. This is what Chris can do. This is what we collectively can do for you.” I urge clients all the time. If my own child was in trouble – like Chris said, you go to various doctors, you make an informed decision. I say, “Do your research.”

There are some questions that I would always implore a client to ask. What part of criminal defense is their practice?

Scott Michael Dunn: Sure.

Steve Waterkotte: There are a lot of attorneys that do personal injury. They do contracts or divorce stuff, family law. We specialize – like I said, 95 percent [of our practice] is criminal defense. You can almost say virtually all of it because the orders of protection are even quasi criminal. So I say, I ask them what percentage of criminal defense work comprises their practice.

Look around, like I said, about the support staff. Do they have the support staff and the resources to handle your case if it’s a serious one? And arguably most importantly, does that attorney try a case? Ask them when they last tried a case. Because if you ask me that I’ll say I tried a case seven months ago.

Scott Michael Dunn: You’ve been ready to try one.

Steve Waterkotte: And I’m ready to try one. Our associate just tried one. Ask them if they tried it when the last time they tried case? When’s the last time they got a “Not Guilty” verdict.

Scott Michael Dunn: These are important questions.

Steve Waterkotte: They are. And I had no problem telling that prospective client at the time when they came to see us, giving them this information. I feel if they do their research and ask the pertinent questions, I feel Combs Waterkotte is positioned to come out on top on that when they search around. As they should. Like Chris said, if you’re going to have a major surgery, you’re going to go, “Hey, I’m going to talk to another doctor. I’m going to talk to this guy and consult with some family if they’ve had the same surgery.” It’s due diligence and they should. And I feel like Combs Waterkotte’s position to come out on top on that.

Scott Michael Dunn: Well, not only to come out on top because of your experience, 10,000 plus cases, but then to come out on top because of your relationship with Hexxen, which gives you more opportunity to reach more people.

Chris Combs: Absolutely.

Scott Michael Dunn: So let’s jump in to some questions. These are the questions, the Q and A stuff, that we’ve compiled.

Check out the Combs Waterkotte Interview Part 2 for DUI/DWI and criminal defense FAQs.

If you need Missouri’s leading criminal defense team to defend your rights and freedom, speak to a criminal defense attorney today at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online for a free case review.