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Criminal defense attorney Leon J. Mezzetti, Jr., has dedicated more than 30 years to defending clients charged with criminal offenses, including DUI, throughout Northern California. Before starting his California criminal defense law firm in 1979, Mr. Mezzetti worked as an Alameda County deputy district attorney where he learned what the state looks for in criminal cases. He now uses that experience to develop a strong defense for his clients.
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Lee Mezzetti / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a Lawyer. Nobody's perfect.
He started his career as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, is one of the most experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys in Alameda County.
His firm handles cases all over Northern California. He's an experienced pilot and he's an experienced scuba diving Lee Mezzetti, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Lee Mezzetti: Well, thank you. Nice to talk to you for sure.
Louis Goodman: Well, I've always enjoyed talking to you. We've known each other for a long time. You were a practicing attorney when I first came into the [00:01:00] District Attorney's Office back in the early eighties.
Lee Mezzetti: Yes. Time has passed quickly, Lou, it's unbelievable. You know, we go way back. That's for sure.
Louis Goodman: And you'd been in the DA's office before that.
Lee Mezzetti: Right? Well, years began. I actually began clerking the summer law clerk in Hayward, under Dave Dutton in the summer of 1975.
And then in 1976. And then I began January of 1977 for just two years, ended in 1978.
Louis Goodman: Okay, well, let's, we'll come back to that in a minute, for right now, where's your office located now?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, I have some branches. The main nerve center is Fremont, California.
Louis Goodman: And how long have you been practicing law?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, this is my 44th year.
Louis Goodman: Wow. That's incredible. Where are you from originally?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, I was conceived in [00:02:00] California, but I was actually born where the family originated from in Muskegon, Michigan. That's in Western, Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. It's just a few hundred miles North of Chicago.
Louis Goodman: Did you grow up there?
Lee Mezzetti: No, I was raised here.
It was by happenstance. I actually was born back there. My grandfather fell ill, so my mom was taking care of him. Went back to see her father, my grandfather and I was born there.
Louis Goodman: So where did you go to high school?
Lee Mezzetti: Mission San Jose High School in Fremont.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience?
Lee Mezzetti: That was good, you know, I played some sports.
I had some friends and this and that. I was in the group of nerds, basically, we'd go into the library and do some work. Back then we had what they call it a modular system where it was kind of like college, where you had breaks in between classes. And I was such a nerd. I was actually able to get some homework done; you know.
Louis Goodman: You know, we had that same [00:03:00] system and that's what I used to do too, because I hated carrying the books off. So I sort of looked at it like a job, you know. While you were at school, you'd take care of work.
Lee Mezzetti: Sure.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from high school in Fremont, where did you go?
Lee Mezzetti: I went to UCLA.
That was for four quarters. Oh, I was homesick, and I missed my friends. So I ended up transferring for the last eight quarters up to UC Davis. I think it was a better fit. And I graduated there.
Louis Goodman: Did you like Davis?
Lee Mezzetti: I did have my little old blue bicycle, had some buddies. We had a lot of intramural sports and activities.
It was, you know, about 90 miles away from my home and my parents, like in Fremont, but it was a way, but not too far away.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about going to law school?
Lee Mezzetti: Oh boy, probably junior to senior year. And I was [00:04:00] sort of carried along by my peers. I was very intimidated at the prospect of going to law school, quite frankly, Lou.
And some of my friends said, Oh, we're going to law school and okay, and you know, I didn't want to be an outlier. And so I kind of followed along and so the. LSAT and the like, and, that’s how I got into it.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family say when you told them you wanted to go to law school be a lawyer?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, they thought it was a great idea because I like to argue a lot. I remember my mother being said, well, that's what you should do. What really? We had a little argument there, but yeah, they thought it was a great idea actually.
Louis Goodman: And where did you go to law school?
Lee Mezzetti: Santa Clara.
Louis Goodman: What'd you think of that?
Lee Mezzetti: I thought it was great.
I had a lot of good friends because I had a roommate, I had attended Davis with him. And so we roomed [00:05:00] there. We met some great guys and we all loved sports. You know, we weren't exactly the intellectual types who would sit in the front of the classroom. We would sit in the back in our t-shirts and, you know, go play ball, have a beer.
We did a lot of study and we did work, but I really, I thought it was difficult law school flood different than college, but the personal experiences were very good. And Lou, believe it or not back then, Santa Clara, they had the undergraduate campus, of course, but they were off on Wednesdays. So Tuesday night was a big night at Santa Clara.
So we'd go over to, oh, what did they call it? And those clubs, have a beer on Tuesday evenings, you know, and it was, it was pretty cool. Back then we could unwind a little bit.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I've talked to a few people, went to Santa Clara. People tend to like it there.
Louis Goodman: Well, when you graduated from Santa Clara, [00:06:00] what did you do?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, I became a law clerk in summer of 75. I went up and interviewed before that with big, at the time, one of the head honchos at the DA's office in the building in Oakland, you know, right near Lake Merritt. So I went in summer of 75 and worked as a law clerk under Dave Dutton. Dave was the head of South County.
And I worked there in the summer of 75 in the summer of 76.
Louis Goodman: You ultimately got hired in as a Deputy.
Lee Mezzetti: I did. Yeah. And I started in, I did pass the bar. Thank goodness. And I started in January of 1977.
Louis Goodman: Where did you work?
Lee Mezzetti: Oh, I worked in Fremont. You sit down to Fremont, a little old office and the old building off of Mowry and Peralta.
So I started in there.
Louis Goodman: Who were the judges?
Lee Mezzetti: We had Judge Jay in department three, Judge [00:07:00] Pucci in department two, and Judge Perley in department one.
Louis Goodman: That was classic frame of it.
Lee Mezzetti: Wasn't it? Classic? Yeah, it was really something. Lou, you could walk into the clerk's office and just pull a file. Or just walk into the Judges’ chambers.
We were all friends and it was really something when I think back. A lot different than it is nowadays.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Lee Mezzetti: You know, Lou it's, I think it's the people. I think we're all people, and that's the thing you interact with people, all sorts of personalities types and everything else.
I think that's what draws me to it is the people, the interaction with people.
Louis Goodman: So if a young person was coming out of college, do you think that you would recommend going to law school?
Lee Mezzetti: I think so because you don't have to become a lawyer, you know, you can, it's a very broad-based education. You can do a lot of different things, being a lawyer [00:08:00] and then running a private practice as you well know.
It requires a very strong stomach. Quite frankly, there is the business end of things. There's the law end of things. We constantly deal with emergencies as you well know, Lou, so you have to have a strong stomach that's for sure. So I would recommend it, but that they, as they say in Italian, eyes opened before you get into it.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I think that's really good advice. Speaking about the business of practicing law, let's just talk about that a little bit. How's that gone for you? And how's that sort of matter different from your expectations about it?
Lee Mezzetti: I think it's more difficult quite frankly. And especially nowadays, I don't think I'm very good at that and the things, quite frankly, I don't like it very much having to collect fees from people.
People are, can be in dire straits, and then you have your hand out collecting fees. The accounting part of it, [00:09:00] all the paperwork, I really don't like that part of it.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I don't think most of us, you know, went to law school really wanting to be, you know, be businesspeople or really wanting to, you know, run a collection agency.
Lee Mezzetti: That's right. That's exactly what it is. Yes.
Louis Goodman: But to some extent that really is part of it. If you're in private practice.
Lee Mezzetti: It certainly is.
Louis Goodman: How about the practice of law? I remember talking to you and you once said that you wanted to make an appearance in every courthouse in the state of California. How far along have you come with that project?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, pretty far Lou. I estimate I've gone to well over 60 different jurisdictions. And back when I had the airplane and the Piper based in Hayward, and then the Cessna 1. based in Livermore, I would occasionally fly to court. Visalia, Red Bluff, you know, Willows and the like out of the way [00:10:00] areas. A little bit of So Cal I've done some cases down there, but I tell you it's become a lot more difficult with all this COVID.
Louis Goodman: Well, things are going to be different. There's no question about that going forward.
Lee Mezzetti: I think so. And now obviously you do have the Zoom, BlueJeans, Skype, etc. So you can be off site, but once again, things there's a lot of variability as to Court's how they do thing and actual things in courtrooms as well.
Variability, they change things, the use of email, it's a lot different. So a lot more difficult to travel.
Louis Goodman: What are you noticing courts that are outside of Alameda County? I mean, any experiences that kind of stand out.
Lee Mezzetti: Well, yeah, I go out to the Valley quite a bit and they're kind of old school in many ways.
And I really like that. Even now you do have technology, but I find that you can get into court fairly easily. You know, it's a bit of a drive, but everybody [00:11:00] seems to be pretty nice out there in the Valley and they know. I have a branch, for example, in North Stockton. And I'm really not there very much, but I'm not mistreated. I'm not hometown as we say. And so I do like it out there. I do.
Louis Goodman: Can you think of a case that really went well for you, where you think you really helped out somebody deserving?
Lee Mezzetti: Yeah, I can. One comes to mind. I had a client go to prison. It was a Fremont Court case. And, you know, downside risk was huge.
My client actually went to prison, but it was for a lot less. And he actually sent me a thank you card Lou from prison. So I received this I'm, you know, with trembling hands and thinking, Oh, this can't be good, but it actually was good as a nice guy. [00:12:00] And you just love a guy like that. No. Yeah, he was very thankful and because I've had to go the other way as well, and Oh, sure.
Oh yes, indeed. So that was one. That was a feel-good situation.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Lee Mezzetti: I'd kick it right back to before mid-March. I really liked the way it was done before, where we had collegiality, I would see my peers such as you. I don't run into them as much.
And I kind of miss everybody Lou. I'm a little maudlin about it, but it's a, yeah, I may see you on the screen, but it's not the same.
Louis Goodman: Well, yeah, I mean, I think so. I mean, I think eventually we'll get back to going to court. We'll certainly more than hopefully a semblance of it.
Lee Mezzetti:. Yes.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Lee Mezzetti: There's a lot of variability. I think it is in general, but I'll [00:13:00] tell you, I think you've been there too as have our colleagues. You know, you look at the waiver form, you read the constitution. You're presumed to be innocent, but, you know, there's a sense that there's a presumption of guilt nowadays, especially.
Louis Goodman: Have you had any mentors as you've gone through your career, some relationships that you think were really important in terms of kind of focusing what, where you wanted to go.
Lee Mezzetti: Yeah. You know, attorney Bob Domino. I met him. He was actually Pro Tem and Hayward court Judge Marsh’s department downstairs. If you remember that, Lou and he was a civil attorney and he did a little criminal based in Fremont, he and his partner Van Bishop, who had been with OPD for a while with that police department.
And they took me in, and I ended up, you know, having an office, having an office sharing arrangement with Domino and Bishop, and then van Bishop ended up moving back to his home state of Idaho. So was Robert Domino and his wife, [00:14:00] Kathy. And, you know, they just took care of me. Cause I didn't know the first thing about really practicing law, putting out your shingle, trying to get people in.
You know, to pick up cases and the like, and he, and then his wife definitely mentored me.
Louis Goodman: What's your family situation like, and how's that affected your practicing law? Or how has your law affected your family situation?
Lee Mezzetti: While my son was just helping me and he's very good at tech and setting me up the computer interfacing with you.
So he's been a good help traveling a bit file papers, pick up things for me, little investigation. And then Maya was good with the marketing. I don't know, marketing, but she kind of set us up. We do a fair amount of internet marketing. They've been understanding. Cause you know, I'm not the kind of guy to sit in one place all the time.
I just get kind of go stir crazy, especially nowadays. So they [00:15:00] understand. I like to be involved in a lot of activities. And of course doing what we do, we are kind of like emergency responders, Lou, you know, you, you have a schedule, but then it goes out the window when there's an arrest someone's in jail or whatever.
And they're pretty understanding off I go.
Louis Goodman: I know you've traveled quite a bit. Tell us a little bit about your travel experience.
Lee Mezzetti: Well, I've been to Mexico many, many times, especially the Baja. And I just love it down there. It's not too far. The people are just great, and my Spanish is very good. It's not native for sure.
And they know I'm a gringo and they tolerate me, but I've done that. And I've been to yeah. Italy for what? Three times. I do have cousins there in the area of Rome, the same name Mezetti. But the phone book in Rome, it's like Smith, there are hundreds of them.
[00:16:00] Yeah. And so that's a pretty cool thing, you know, and I do have a friend down his wife from Milano and they're over there. They're coming back here, but I interface with them, but yeah, I traveled around Italy and my Italian's good. It's not great at school taught, but I do it on my own. So that was pretty cool.
I've been to Germany. I know German to some extent. I know it pretty well actually. I've been to England, Holland. Haven't been to South America yet. I would really like to go there and all the islands, Hawaiian Islands, the Caribbean did some diving really like those places. Of course.
Louis Goodman: Well, let's talk a little bit about diving.
I know that you enjoy scuba diving into some interesting locales for that.
Lee Mezzetti: Yes. Now I haven't done it lately to you. We did. I have these cousins in San Diego who, these guys are just adventures. They love to fly surf, dive, [00:17:00] free dive scuba. We used to go for abalone up North, you know, free diving. That was really great.
And then a lot of scuba in Baja, even off the Pacific side, you'd go for, we'd get these big fish. these big lobsters. And I really enjoyed it. I started in Monterey and if you can dive Lou Monterey. It's cold, low visibility. If you can dive there, rough water, you can pretty much dive anywhere, you know?
Louis Goodman: Well underwater forests.
Lee Mezzetti: Yes. The kelp beds. If you dive monastery beach that's Carmel River State Beach really is a place where they have the, the kelp growing and water though. But you'd go out. We'd kick out maybe, yeah, 100 yards, 150 yards, and there's a huge drop off, but it's just beautiful. You swim through a forest. And sea fish and yeah, it's really something.
Louis Goodman: Now you're also a pilot. You have a small plane?
[00:18:00] Lee Mezzetti: Yes. Began in, I took the ground school, the last Ohlone College ground school in 1995. And I began training. I was scared to death. To be honest with you. I did find in the ground school. I love geography, weather numbers, all that stuff.
But then my, once again, my peers kind of carried me along. Oh, we're going to do flight training in Hayward I was scared to death, but I started in and, you know, broke down the task bit by bit, had some good instructors and kind of got the hang of it and was certified to the flight review December of 95.
And I flew for 22 years and high wing, low wing. So I really enjoyed it.
Louis Goodman: What kind of airplanes?
Lee Mezzetti: Well, there were Pipers and they had a, I actually rented a Grumman Tiger, a sliding canopy at a Hayward. I flew up to Red Bluff one time for a case, but I owned individually and with my cousins, a real pro one of the San Diego cousins, a flight [00:19:00] instructor, instrument, instructor, jet, all that.
And we had a Cherokee six, which is a low week six-seater a great Baja plane. You could pack a lotta people in, weight into it and take off land on dirt strips. Then a couple of Cherokees, one eighties, the low wings. Then the latest plane was the 172 with a 180 horse. It's an enhanced engine. And that plane, what a great airplane.
I'm still on co-owner but now it's down in Montgomery Field with my cousin in San Diego. Well, my daughter's up in Reno. I've flew that Sierra crest. You know, 11, 12,000 feet, many times weather permitting. You got to really watch out, especially in the mountains. So I canceled quite a few flights. You got to be careful, you know.
Louis Goodman: I remember you once said to me, I I'd rather be down here wishing I was up there than up there wishing I was down here.
Lee Mezzetti: Correct. That's a classic saying in aviation. Yes, indeed. [00:20:00]
Louis Goodman: Well, I've always remembered it from you saying it.
Lee Mezzetti: That's right. That's right. That kind of says it all.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn't be a lawyer, what do you think that you would choose to do for work?
I'd be a linguist. I just love, I guess my number one, passion is foreign language. I really just love it. It's the people part of it. I'm fascinated with words and then different languages. How the words kind of, you can see one in one language and it's kind of similar to another language. And of course you could be somewhere else, you know, I would have gone, maybe I didn't know how to do it, but I think I maybe would have gone into the foreign service or something like that. I think that could have been pretty interesting.
Louis Goodman: What kinds of things keep you up at night?
Lee Mezzetti: Bad client. Clients who, you know, they're never satisfied, or they criticize say I'm not doing a good job or whatever during the day.
I [00:21:00] can handle it. Okay. But boy, Lou, I think I'm a bit of a coward in the dead of night, you know, or two or three in the morning. Oh, I forgot to do this. Or that guy is going to call me or whatever, then you'd start tossing and turning, you know? So yeah. That's, that's the worst. I think.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you came in some real money, you know, a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Lee Mezzetti: I would give a lot of it away. I'm not kidding you. I would just take care of a lot of them people. I really would do that. I would stay in the game, I think, but I would work less. Maybe be more selective. You know how it is. We start off at zero, Lou, every day in private practice.
Okay. And so maybe, yeah, especially you look at when COVID hit at mid-March, right? The phone is not ringing. So then finally someone needs your help, but you can [00:22:00] tell it's a difficult case. The guy's difficult, for example, so, well, I'd better take the case. I have to keep the lights on. And Oh boy, I, I think 5% or so of the clients suck up 95% of your emotions.
I really feel that way. That can be the most serious case in the world. If the client's a nice client, you're kind of okay. You know, so that is something that's difficult. I would stay in the game, I think. But then you wouldn't have the, the worry about am I going to make it or not? That's what I would do.
I back off a little, slow down the speeding train a little bit that I'm on, but I'd stay in the game if I could.
Louis Goodman: So if you had a magic wand, you could wave it over one thing in the world, legal or otherwise,what do you think that would be?
Lee Mezzetti: It's an easy choice for me, everybody get along. I just, quite frankly, especially nowadays Lou, I [00:23:00] don't understand people.
You for example, you strike me as the same kind of guy in regard to the issue of how you treat people. If someone's nice to me, I don't care, man, or woman, I don't care race. I don't care about religion. I don't care about gender, anything. I like that guy or gal. If the person's nice to me and mine and treats me right.
And I don't know why people can't get along.
Louis Goodman: My comment on that. I remember when I was doing the calendar back in the old Hayward department 501.
Lee Mezzetti: Yes.
Louis Goodman: And Greg Gibeson and I were in there. And, you know, everybody came in to talk to us about their cases. And I always remember you coming in. Well, first of all, you were always very pleasant, very nice, easy to deal with, but you also, you kind of always had a plan for your case, for your client [00:24:00] and you would say, Well, here's how we could resolve this here. And you wouldn't ask for things that were grossly unreasonable. You would end what you would, you would come up with a plan, with a way of going forward with it. That was kind of a win-win thing. And when I first left the DA's office, and even now, when I deal with DA’S and judges, I want you to know that you really are one of my mentors, as far as that kind of stuff is concerned, because I, I really learned something from you then.
Lee Mezzetti: Very kind of you say that I certainly have my warts that's for darn sure. Don't always keep my cool and all of that, but you've always practiced this with sportsmanship.
I call it, you don't do anything to win. Whether it's in sports, whether it's in the courtroom, your word has to be, and that's the way you practice, you know, it just the [00:25:00] right way to do things. I think. So. Thanks for saying that.
Louis Goodman: Lee Mezzetti, thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. I really appreciate your time. I really appreciate your wisdom and thanks so much for being a friend.
Lee Mezzetti: Well, thank you, Lou, for this and for being Thank you.
Louis Goodman: That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make this show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey.
I'm Louis Goodman.
Lee Mezzetti: I think this job is tougher than fishing for crab [00:26:00] in the Bering sea in the middle of January.