Buyer BEWARE when dealing with Mark Werksman and Steve Meister from the Law offices of Mark Werksman.
Mark Werksman had been recommended for retention dealing with some juvenile matters involving my son a few years back. Though the matters were satisfactorily resolved, it's important to note the reputation of his firm did more in negotiating deals with Prosecutors than savvy legal skills.
In other words, the deals that were cut were what any public defender could've arranged for the particular crimes alleged.
Fast forward to Spring of '06, and Mark Werksman was called regarding 2 serious felony counts against my son, which were strikes charges. I called Mr. Werksman and set up a meeting, with the understanding that we would be retaining HIS services for the agreed upon price of $45,000.
During that meeting, Mark Werksman brought in an associate of his, Steve Meister, and introduced him as someone who would be 'HELPING' him on this case.
Until that moment, I had never heard of Steve Meister, nor knew a thing about his legal background or professed areas of expertise. At NO point in time did Mr. Werksman EVER represent, or state neither implicitly or directly, that Steve Meister would be assigned the case on a full time basis, nor did we agree to his sole representation of my son.
As time progressed, it became apparent that Steve Meister would be the sole legal counsel assigned by Mr. Werksman to the defense of my son. As soon as this became apparent months down the road, I put a call in to Mr. Werksman to voice my displeasure that it appeared we had essentially been duped by a typical 'bait 'n switch' tactic one would likely expect from a used car lot but not from a law firm.
He assured me that he "would be working with Steve" on the case, of which we saw no actual evidence of his involvement by either his presence (except for some informal chat in his office one time) or alleged legal prowess in any discernable capacity.
It's important to also note that the Ventura County public defenders office had my son's case for the first few months, and had conducted enough investigation to be the counsel of record for the preliminary hearing. In my opinion, they had done a fine, yet incomplete job, with their investigation before being relieved by the Law offices of Mark Werksman.
A few of their significant findings revealed:
1) The ATM photos of the suspect sent out were deemed inconclusive, yet it was apparent the suspect pictured in the photos was NOT my son to those who know him. Matter of fact, we KNEW who the pictures were of, and gave the name of the boy to the public defender.
2) The public defender and lead investigator visited this boy in Folsom state prison and stated that he "All but confessed" to the crime, while exonerating my son.
3) The public defenders office also uncovered a gas station attendant who saw this boy 10 minutes later in a similar looking jacket and hat as was seen on the ATM photos, and reported that he was the SAME ONE who used the stolen credit card to make a purchase 10 minutes after the crime.
4) The public defenders office also got a statement of recantation from a victim that my son was the person who pulled a gun on her, and identified the boy in Folsom as the one who did it. She later recanted that statement after lead detectives were informed that she had shown signs of uncertainty.
ALL of this information was passed on the the Law offices of Mark Werksman and Steve Meister, with little or no apparent follow up done from what was handed to them.
Matter of fact, the best we could tell, Steve Meister didn't even call the gas station attendant as a defense witness initially and never met with ANY defense witness until the morning of their testimony
A week before the trial, Steve Meister had tried to cut a deal with prosecutors but was denied. I spoke with him on the phone right before the prosecutors rejection came, and he seemed to be in a state of panic.
10 minutes into Steve Meisters opening, it was apparent we were screwed by what appeared to be an unconfident and uncertain trial lawyer. My take on it was that Steve Meister didn't actually have much actual TRIAL experience as a defense lawyer in front of a jury.
I immediately emailed Mark Werksman that night, only to receive the typical condescending reply of "Steve's a great lawyer, you don't know what you're talking about, and we're the experts here" blah - blah - blah.
As the trial unfolded it, a few things became apparent:
1) Steve Meister added little, or NOTHING, to the investigative phase of the case that hadn't been turned over to him by the Ventura county PD's office.
a) The ATM photos hadn't been sent out for enhancement.
b) He admittedly hadn't even VISITED the scene of the crime to get a better perspective. His lack of familiarity led to his apparent confusion when asking the victim to describe distances and placement of his vehicle.
c) When citing an inconsistency in the victim's preliminary testimony to his testimony on the stand during trial, he was so unfamiliar with the preliminary testimony that he came and asked ME to find the statement in the document.
d) Steve Meister asked my 15 year old daughter DURING the trial to go down to the library in the courthouse and print off MAPQUEST directions from the scene of the crime to where the credit card was used 10 minutes later, to give him a better idea of the distance.
Seems reasonable to me that a prepared Attorney would show up in court with that information.
e) For some unknown reason even to this day, Steve Meister REFUSED to submit my wife's subpoenaed cell phone records AND insurance paperwork to corroborate her testimony. His answer was always "They're not necessary...we're doing fine".
Whoever heard of a lawyer withholding evidence that could ONLY serve to HELP his client?
I suspect Mr. Meister failed to submit both items to the prosecution during discovery, and was worried about entering something that could land him in trouble for springing it on the court during trial.
The bottom line: The VERY winnable case was lost -by an attorney we never asked for, but who was foisted upon us by Mark Werksman, himself.
Upon further review of Steve Mesiters bio, he worked in the prosecutor's office until 1998, and then listed as a "Media/Political Aide, City of Los Angeles, 1999 - 2002". Some time in 2002, he switched to becoming a criminal defense attorney, and 4 short years later was entrusted with this 2 strikes case by Mr. Werksman.
Today, this 20 year old boy sits in prison doing someone else's time for the next 15 years due to what I believe were Unethical, Careless and deceptive law practices ... unless a successful appeal is rendered.
One more note of caution, so as no to excuse what's being said as nothing more than a distressed fathers venting.
In search of an appeals lawyer, 2 separate, highly experienced appellate attorneys had negatively commented to me regarding the overall competency of what one described as a 'boutique law firm'. One stated he was 'under whelmed' with the cases that came to him on appeal that emanated from the Law offices of Mark Werksman.
I suppose if you're a high profile person with a lot of money, this firm's clout can get deals done on your behalf. However, my experience and observation has been that if your case is assured of going to trial, there are far more competent trial lawyers to consider.
One last indisputable and telling fact about the Law offices of Mark Werksman: After the guilty verdict was rendered, my wife and 4 daughters were visibly and discernibly distressed.
Yet, Steve Meister chose to remain at the defense table while they wept and wailed their way out of the courthouse...never ONCE stepping forward to offer comfort or condolences of any kind.
Matter of fact, the next time we heard from ANYONE with the Law offices of Mark Werksman was 9 days later.
Let me repeat that:
They had essentially lost a patient on the operating table, yet waited 9 days to make ANY form of contact with the family. Even then, they acted like they were doing us a favor by agreeing to appear at the sentencing...coupled with a thinly veiled solicitation to turn more money over to them to handle my sons appeal if we wanted.
Any way you slice it, if you were to go and purchase a Rolls Royce, and the dealership delivers a Mercedes, you're not taking delivery on what you contracted for.
The dealership can claim a Mercedes is a great car all they want, however, the ONE thing they can't claim is that it's a Rolls Royce.
In the above scenario, the customer would be entitled to a refund if the dealership was unable, or unwilling, to deliver a Rolls.
In this case, we're unable to have a do-over with whom we originally solicited for legal representation of my son's case.
Given the circumstances, the 'compassionate' law offices of Mark Werksman (They like to project) would feel compelled to refund the entire $45,000 to be
applied to the appeal of this case.
However, my experience tells me their 'compassion' will become subordinated to the "Business Law offices of Mark Werksman" in the form of a strong rebuttal, or lawsuit, for being truthful and going public with my experience in dealing with their law firm.
Whatever repercussions come from alerting the public to this law firms practices will be worth it, if it spares one family the agony we've been exposed to by this law firms business practices.
Once again: Buyer Beware...and check the fine print on whatever contract you sign with them, regardless of what your prior relationship has been with Mark Werksman.
You've been warned!
Agoura Hills, California