Lisa J. Marchese, 55
Maine Deputy Attorney General and Criminal Division Chief
When Maine’s deputy attorney general Lisa Marchese was in high school, she thought about becoming a dentist.
“I thought I wanted to be one but it didn’t last once I went to college,” said Marchese, a Bangor native. “I went to UMaine at Orono. I took one biology course and realized it wasn’t for me.”
Marchese changed her major to pre-law, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A Maine prosecutor for more than 28 years, Marchese was sworn in as deputy attorney general and chief of the Criminal Division of the Attorney General’s Office last August. She is the first woman to lead the criminal division, which oversees the prosecution of many high profile crimes in Maine, including homicides and financial fraud cases.
“It’s a fascinating and challenging job,” said Marchese. “I’ve been primarily in homicide since 1997. Now I’m more involved in a wide range of areas, including financial crimes like tax and securities fraud. It’s been interesting and a bit of a learning curve. I have a lot of day-to-day correspondence from folks asking questions about the process or talking about a case. In my previous position I would get a case, do the work and prosecute it. Now my role is much greater in scope.”
After graduating from the University of Maine, Marchese received her law degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H. Maine Women had a chance to talk with her recently about what drew her into the legal profession and what it takes to make it as a prosecutor.
Q: How did you get into the field of law?
A: The summer between high school and college I worked as a secretary at the Penobscot County District Attorney’s office in Bangor. The job was really interesting. After the first few classes at Orono, I switched to pre-law and graduated with a degree in political science. During college I interned at a law office. I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor. I applied to district attorneys and the office of the Attorney General after law school. The Attorney General’s office offered me a position. I was hired to instruct law enforcement officers at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and handle conflict cases from the District Attorney’s office. In the early ’90s, I became a drug prosecutor. In 1994, I was appointed as the state’s drug coordinator. I prosecuted welfare fraud for a few years and in 1997 started prosecuting homicide cases.
Q: Did you have a mentor or an individual that was helpful to you?
A: I’ve had several mentors over the years, most have been members of the criminal division in the Attorney General’s office. When I started out I was just one of two women in the division. Fernand LaRochelle, who was the chief of the criminal division of the Maine Office of the Attorney General and is now deputy district attorney for Kennebec County, was a mentor, as is Bill Stokes, whose position I took (Marchese replaced Stokes, former chief of the criminal division, after he was confirmed as a Superior Court justice by the Maine Senate last year), and Charlie Leadbetter, who is retired from his position as head of the criminal appellate division and now volunteers for the AG’s office working with Maine’s criminal statutes and rules. In more recent years, women had become my mentors including several judges and Attorney General Janet Mills.
Q: What does it take to succeed in your field?
A: You have to like to be in the courtroom. We try a lot of cases, especially in homicides. Most go to court and the stakes are high. So you’d better like to be there. You also need a sense of fairness and a good work ethic. We work long days, nights and weekends. My belief is you have to love what you do. You’re not going to be good at anything if you don’t like what you’re doing. For me, each case is like a reading a new novel every day.
It’s also public service. You represent and help victims as a prosecutor. In homicide cases you are helping families, who have suffered a loss, in their quest for justice. And you’re keeping criminals off the street for years when they are convicted. To me it’s a noble profession.
Q: What advice would you offer to women interested in your line of work?
A: There are many unhappy lawyers. My suggestion is, know what you’re getting into. Become a paralegal, or intern, so that when you have finished law school you’ll have a sense of what you’ll be doing on the other side.
If you want to be a prosecutor, recognize that you’re not going to get wealthy. It’s hard work. Do it for the right reasons. To all young lawyers I say, if you want to be a prosecutor, be patient. Work hard and eventually you can get into a DA’s office. Stay committed and keep trying. It is a rewarding and fulfilling career.
Q: What is the most meaningful part of your work?
A: First I find it meaningful because it’s helping families in homicide cases find justice. But the other aspect has to do with my work as chair of the Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel. Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of progress by the public to understand domestic violence. The more awareness is raised the better. It’s great to look back and see how far we’ve come and to see advocacy groups and law enforcement working together to end domestic violence.