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Michele Akemi McKenzie

Michele Akemi McKenzie

B.A., Smith College
J.D., Stanford Law School

Michele McKenzie joined Scott Trial Lawyers as a partner in 2019. From 2000-2019, Ms. McKenzie devoted her career to federal public defense at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., serving as a Trial Lawyer, Trial Team Leader, Supervisory Attorney, and First Assistant.

As a Supervisory Attorney and First Assistant, Ms. McKenzie’s litigation practice evolved to focus on systemic attacks on federal prosecutions in the Southern District of California. For example, she challenged the chronic underrepresentation of racial minorities on federal juries, resulting in the en banc decision United States v. Hernandez-Estrada, 749 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2014) and a positive change in law governing these racial diversity challenges. Her litigation highlighting the outdated and incorrect language used in federal Juror Qualification Questionnaires resulted in a national revision in 2014. Beginning in 2011, she coordinated the attack on the government’s repeated failure to promptly present arrestees to court leading a federal judge to find arrestees were being held in “substandard conditions” and that there had been a “substantial failure to comply with [Fed. R. Crim. P.] 5(a)(1)(A) in the San Diego Division” in United States v. Minero-Rojas, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127193 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 3, 2011). When these delays resurfaced again in 2015-16, Ms. McKenzie again coordinated a response to challenge the repeated failures to bring arrestees timely before a federal magistrate judge as required by law. See, e.g., United States v. Lauina, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127193 (S.D. Cal. April 18, 2016). These challenges resulted in increased transparency in the location and condition of pretrial arrestees awaiting their initial appearances allowing for advocacy and access to counsel for those most vulnerable to government neglect. In 2018-19, she worked to track and combat repeated overstays of jail sentences of detainees in the Southern District of California (over thirty detainees spent over two-hundred days in custody when they should have been released). Her work led local officials to reevaluate how they tracked and monitored who should be in custody and who should be free. Ms. McKenzie shared the benefit of this experience in training and supervising attorneys at the Federal Defenders’ office, and she spearheaded all of the office’s attorney recruitment and hiring efforts since 2006.

Michele is a recognized leader in the legal community as well. She was Editor-in-Chief of the three-volume treatise Defending a Federal Criminal Case in both 2010 and 2016. The DFCC has been lauded as “the most up-to-date and comprehensive federal criminal defense practice guide available” and is relied upon by federal public defenders and practitioners nationwide. Ms. McKenzie also served on the Southern District’s magistrate judge Merit Selection Panels since 2003—evaluating candidates for the last six magistrate judges vacancies and considering the reappointment of six sitting magistrate judges.

Michele graduated from Stanford Law School with distinction in 2000, and received her undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1996 magna cum laude. Her practice focuses on federal criminal defense and fighting for the little guy in civil litigation.