Michael J. Markowitz



After several years cutting his teeth as a criminal prosecutor, attorney Michael J. Markowitz joined Bill Gagen in private practice in 1985, forming the cornerstone of one of the region’s most formidable criminal defense teams.  With his unique mix of diplomacy and doggedness, Mr. Markowitz has amassed an excellent track record of success in and out of the courtroom.

Certified by the State Bar as a criminal law specialist since 1992, Mr. Markowitz has tried dozens of cases and handled virtually every type of criminal matter, including DUIs, assault, drug sales, corporate fraud, rape and murder.  His approach is to jump into a case early, investigate and mitigate, utilizing the top investigators and experts to counter the one-sided police reports and level the playing field.  His approach has earned him the loyalty of his clients and the respect of his peers.  Mr. Markowitz was selected for inclusion in California Super Lawyers in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, a designation reserved for just five percent of the attorneys in the state.

Friendly and forthright, Mr. Markowitz is liked and trusted by juries, judges and fellow lawyers.  Yet when it comes to protecting his clients’ rights, he won’t hesitate to take the unpopular position, even when it means waging war on police and prosecutors.  He will find and expose police error, prosecutorial misconduct and procedural mistakes.  Through an active motions practice, he has great success in suppressing evidence, leveraging his negotiating position and having counts and cases dismissed.  He will not tolerate unfair tactics by the government.  In 2009 he moved to recuse the entire Contra Costa District Attorney’s office as biased against his client and fought for sanctions against the prosecutor for his misconduct in the case.  While recognizing that settling a case may often be in a client’s best interest, he has the insight and experience to know when it’s time to take the fight to trial or seek justice on appeal.

Mental Health and Competency Expert

With a large portion of his practice dedicated to serious felonies, Mr. Markowitz has developed a unique expertise about the mental health issues that often underlie criminal behavior.  He has been designated as an expert witness on client competency issues by several judges, called on to testify about the complex statutory scheme and the standards by which a defendant is deemed competent to stand trial.  This knowledge and experience have placed him in a unique position to help his clients who suffer from mental health or substance abuse problems.  With his solid understanding of the interplay between mental illness and criminal procedure, he has helped guide many clients to the appropriate rehabilitative services and succeeded in having their criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

Civil Practice

On the civil side, Mr. Markowitz has won numerous favorable settlements and verdicts for his clients in personal injury cases.  One of his earliest cases was also one of his most publicized.  In 1984, he represented the late John “The Tooz” Matuscak, the 6-foot-8, 290 pound Oakland Raiders star who was sued by a male stripper after a bar brawl.  Using the refrain, “big pockets, not deep pockets” Mr. Markowitz took the case to trial and won.  Since then, he has had great success in favorably resolving numerous personal injury cases.

Professional Activities

Mr. Markowitz was admitted to the California State Bar in 1982.  He was certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization as a Criminal Law Specialist in 1992.  He has served as Judge Pro Tempore in the Juvenile Division of the Contra Costa Superior Court, and has served as an arbitrator and mediator for the Contra Costa County Superior Court.  He is admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Northern and Eastern Districts of California.

Mr. Markowitz is active in numerous legal and professional organizations, including the Contra Costa County Bar Association (board president, 2000), the Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association (board president 1993), the Contra Costa County Conference of Delegates, the Contra Costa County Judicial Evaluation Committee (2000-2004), the Contra Costa Bench-Bar Committee, The American Bar Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, California Public Defenders Association, and the Robert G. McGrath American Inn of Court.

He is currently chair of the Criminal Conflict Program of the Contra Costa County Bar Association.  As a longtime member of the panel, he continues to take on appointed cases from the court in furtherance of his commitment to provide top-notch defense to indigent clients.


Mr. Markowitz got his first taste of criminal law in the late 1970s, when he went to work for Janet Reno, then Florida’s Attorney General, as a paralegal in the consumer fraud unit.  He went to law school two years later, enrolling in Golden Gate University and earning his law degree in 1982.  He became a member of the California Bar in 1982 and joined the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office soon thereafter.  After more than two years of trying misdemeanors and felony cases, Mr. Markowitz joined Bill Gagen on the other side of the aisle, allowing him to pursue his true calling: criminal defense.  He is also a member of the Board of The Kennedy-King Memorial College Scholarship Fund, Ltd.

Mr. Markowitz lives in Walnut Creek with his wife.  He has two adult sons, both who continue to reside in the Bay Area.  He is an avid reader and he and his wife enjoy travelling.