5 Things I Wish I Could Tell Myself at 22: With Melissa Lewkowicz of “Reasonable Doubt”
“Growing up, I had a hero. She was strong. She was passionate. She had conviction! She always fought for what was right, told the truth in her loudest voice and possessed the highest level of integrity. She is who I aspire to be like; she is my mother.”
I had the pleasure to interview Melissa Lewkowicz. Melissa is a successful Criminal Defense attorney and Reality TV personality who starred on the first season of, “Reasonable Doubt”, on Investigation Discovery (ID). On the nail-biting, fascinating show, which had extensive critical acclaim and great ratings, Melissa worked with retired homicide detective, Chris Anderson, to re-examine real-life murder cases. With over a decade of experience in criminal law, Los Angeles-based Lewkowicz currently serves as a Partner at the Law Offices of Chester & Lewkowicz. Specializing in Criminal Defense, she works zealously to defend clients who have been accused of misdemeanors and felony offenses, ranging from DUI’s to homicide. In addition, she is admitted to practice law in California, New York, and New Jersey. In 2017, “Super Lawyers” called Melissa Lewkowicz a “Rising Star” as one of their “Top Rated Criminal Defense Attorneys in Los Angeles.” Melissa is a guest correspondent on CNN.
What is your “backstory”? Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be an attorney?
Growing up, my parents hosted weekly dinner parties. They would fill our table with the most colorful characters imaginable, but it was one regular guest that stuck out. My mother’s high school boyfriend was a criminal defense attorney. He would regale us with stories about defending the falsely accused. He seemed to be just a man, but as a child, hearing his stories of battle against the State, I was sure he was a superhero in disguise. I knew then what I wanted to be… a superhero just like Ira Chester! Today, Ira is my law partner at Chester & Lewkowicz and even though I’m older now, I still believe he has a cape stashed away somewhere… and I still want one just like it.
Did you ever imagine that your law degree would give you an opportunity to be on a TV show? Or CNN?
I did not go to law school to be on TV. As a criminal defense attorney who has spent the last 10 years in the trenches, my real life is gritty, not glitzy. In reality, my home away from home is the courtroom and the jails beneath them. However, when I was offered a chance to potentially effect great change by exposing grave injustices and the pain those injustices cause — I jumped at the opportunity.
What is the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you while filming ‘Reasonable Doubt’?
I tend to lean forward when I am enthralled by a story and its teller. To prevent this, I was tied by a bungee cord to every chair I sat on during filming.
As you can imagine, tying me up generated great fodder for comedy.
Have you ever met a famous person while living/working in LA? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
NOBODY wants their name coming out of the mouth of a criminal defense attorney. Even a benign story about a criminal lawyer running into so and so (insert celebrity name here), could turn into the scandal of the week. “Why was so and so with her? I wonder what so and so did?” Privacy and confidentiality are sacred to me — and I never kiss and tell.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I’ve always been inspired by the stories of people who succeeded against all odds. Einstein overcame a learning disability to change the world. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him that he was “too stupid to learn anything” before he invented the device that would light up the world! People like these are the walking, talking reminders that with enough passion and conviction, anything is possible.
Who do you aspire to be like one day?
Growing up, I had a hero. She was strong. She was passionate. She had conviction! She always fought for what was right, told the truth in her loudest voice and possessed the highest level of integrity. She is who I aspire to be like; she is my mother.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a criminal defense attorney, I am able to offer hope to one family at a time. As a television personality, I’ve been able to reach a wider audience, offering hope to families all across the world. Both these roles have afforded me the opportunity to contribute to the good of mankind, which is how I define success.
What are your “5 things I wish could tell myself at 22 (or a younger me)” and why?
1. Your ego is not your amigo. Do not let it make decisions for you. To elaborate on this would require me to tell you all about my 20’s, but I plan to take those stories to the grave.
2. You can rest when you’re dead.
In my 20’s I thought, I’ll get through law school, take the bar and it’ll be smooth sailing from there. What I didn’t anticipate was that after the NY State bar, came the NJ bar, then the CA bar, then the immense responsibility of defending the falsely accused. At 22, I did not know how much commitment and dedication came with my chosen profession, maybe knowing too much at 22 would have discouraged me from finding my calling.
3. HEALTH is the ONLY thing that REALLY matters.
In Court, I am a warrior, who fights for justice daily. I go to battle and often wage war for my clients. Unfortunately, armed only with an arsenal of legal expertise, I found myself completely powerless when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.
My own mother was about to go to war and I could not battle for her! The next year of my life would be spent sitting beside her in a chemo ward — where I would learn the most valuable lesson of my life. The only thing that really matters is good health. Without it, we cannot do the good we were meant to do, or teach the lessons we were meant to teach. Without it, we cannot effect change.
4. You have the power to effect change. I took a religion class during my first year of college, in which each student was asked to lecture about their own religion. When I got up to speak about Judaism, a classmate stood up, hailed Hitler and walked out. The class was hushed in awe. The teacher, dumbfounded, did nothing. So, I followed him. I followed him out of class, then through the halls, until he finally turned around. Eye to eye and almost nose to nose, I asked him “Have you ever met a Jewish person?” He responded, “No.” So, I smiled, held out my hand and said “Hi. I’m Melissa Lewkowicz.” To this day I don’t know why he shook my hand. Maybe it was his own uncertainty of his position, or maybe it was the look in my eyes — but after sharing experiences and really listening to one another, I learned that with tolerance, I had the power to effect change. I didn’t know that, in my younger years, but I now know that diversity can breed knowledge, if we listen.
5. Prove them ALL wrong! My college counselor advised me to “Save your money and buy yourself some shoes.” Last year, I saw that same counselor in Court. There she was, up at the podium, overwhelmed and confused. I asked both her and the Court for permission to help. After getting her case dismissed, she said “Thank G-d you were here!” to which I responded, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t buy those shoes?” Words are incredibly powerful! Too powerful to misuse! Her words, the words of a woman who barely knew me, played over and over on the reels of my mind, discouraging me daily. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have let her words empower me!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Without pause I say Judy Sheindlin, A.K.A. Judge Judy. Named one of the most trusted people in America, the honorable Judge Sheindlin is the master of dispensing truth with conviction.
Our lunch would begin with light conversation, but would quickly turn to me pleading with her to mentor me. Judge Sheindlin, if you’re reading this, I am available for lunch whenever you are — my treat!