Prior to joining his son, Jeremy, at the Los Angeles and Ventura County criminal defense law firm of Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, Mark Lessem spent his entire career in public service.
After he graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law, Mark was admitted to practice law in California in 1972. He went to work as a deputy public defender in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office.
During the course of his career, Mark established a reputation as a highly respected criminal defense attorney. He has tried approximately 100 felony cases to verdict, including more than 15 murder trials and in excess of 200 juvenile cases.
Mark also has worked on several homicide cases that have grabbed national media attention, including the defense of a maid who was accused of murdering a Hollywood executive and a quadruple homicide death penalty case.
“I believed in the public defender’s mission, and I still do,” Mark says. “I wanted to be a benefit to other people, and working as a public defender was a way to help people and contribute. It was about more than just making a living. It was about doing something positive and, hopefully, doing something that could change people’s lives.
“I take that same attitude to my work in private practice. It’s not simply about making money. It’s about helping people through extremely difficult times in their lives.”
Mark was elevated to several important leadership roles within the public defender’s office, including serving as the head of the juvenile defense division. In this capacity, Mark oversaw a multi-million dollar budget and was instrumental in founding Los Angeles County’s first juvenile justice drug court program. This program was the first of its kind in the country and has served as a model in juvenile justice courthouses throughout the nation.
Mark also served as the Head Deputy of the San Fernando Courthouse and as a Head Deputy at the downtown Los Angeles office, where he was responsible for one of the felony trial divisions.
Additionally, Mark was the supervisor of the public defender office’s Proposition 36 attorneys at downtown central court. His role was to ensure this vital drug program was run efficiently and made available to as many clients as possible.
Mark brings to bear not only his well-tested courtroom skills but his ability to communicate clearly with clients on practical matters.
“You have to really listen to the client and establish a relationship of trust and confidence,” Mark says. “Anyone can make a decision. As a lawyer, my job is to make sure you make the right decisions.”
- University of San Fernando Valley, B.A., 1969, History; University of San Diego School of Law, 1972
- U.S. District Court