By Armando Pastran, Jr.
Todd Bequette has been a criminal defense attorney in Alameda County for over 25 years. He was born and raised in Gridley, a small town in Northern California. He attended Georgetown Law and received his undergraduate degree from the University of the Pacific. He’s also serves annually on the faculty of the Stanford Law School Trial Skills Workshop. He represents clients in some of the most serious criminal cases in Alameda County, and is frequently in trial on homicides. His work will especially resonate with our section members who will appreciate the issues that his protagonist, criminal defense attorney Joe Turner faces in defending his clients. Mr. Bequette has managed to maintain a robust criminal practice while still pursuing his goal of becoming a writer. His first book, Good Lookin’ – A Joe Turner Mystery, won the Independent Press Award from Crime Fiction, First Place at the Chanticleer International Book Awards for Mysteries, and was a finalist for a National Indie Award for Excellence. Kirkus reviews said that Good Looking was: “A rigorous, thoroughly engrossing mystery from a writer with immense potential.” Mr. Bequette’s work will provide an entertaining read for the criminal lawyer and non-lawyer alike. Check out his first book Good Looking, A Joe Turner Mystery and his latest published work Blood Perfect, A Joe Turner Mystery. Both are available on Amazon.
How did you end up deciding on focusing on criminal defense practice?
I was a history major and realized that I didn’t want to be a teacher or work in a museum, so I decided to go to law school. Once I got to law school, the most interesting part of the law that I found was trial work. The best place to do that straight out of law school was in criminal practice. I think I could have ended up being a being a District Attorney, but the first job I got was at a firm called Minami, Lew and Tamaki working in criminal defense.
What motivated you to start writing?
I always loved to write creatively but I feel like the law sapped a lot of creativity from me because in legal writing creativity is discouraged. It is a turgid and rigid writing style. It was about ten years ago or so that I decided to start writing creatively again. It was just a tremendous outlet. I initially did not set out to write a book and I was just writing for pleasure but then eventually that writing did evolve into a book.
Do you have any advice for other attorneys who might want to tackle writing a book?
Many people have said to me that they have always wanted to write a book. I would say that when you get to the point were you really want to write a book badly enough that you will end up doing it. I think many people don’t do it because they feel like writing a book is too daunting a task. For me it was just fun, and I really can’t think of anything I’d rather do. To write a book you really got to love writing and it might take a while to do it, but you can do it if you really want to. The first book I wrote took about ten years to get done, but when I was doing it at that time, I didn’t have a plan. The second book I wrote, but the first one I got published, was over the first few months of Covid and I was able to sell that to a publisher. The second book that I had published, Blood Perfect, was actually the first book that I had written over that ten-year period that I then reworked and improved to get published.
How do you balance a busy criminal law practice with writing a book?
If you love something as much as I love to write, then you can find time to do it. There are of course times when I can’t write, like when I am in trial, or have other commitments. However, I try to find times after work, in the early morning, or whenever I can fit it in. It is a healthy mental outlet for me.
Can you describe how you get inspiration for the characters in your book?
People often ask who is that judge or attorney in one of my books. My characters are almost always inspired by, or are actual people that I have met. Often, they are a combination of people’s traits and personalities. The same is true with the plots as well. Some of the things that happen in Alameda County courtrooms are stranger than fiction. Sometimes I have to exaggerate things to make them interesting. Other times it’s the opposite, and I find myself having to tone them down to make them more believable.
How did you come up with your protagonist Joe Turner?
Joe Turner is sort of the person that I think I would be if I could stop time and come up with the perfect come back to a colleague’s joke, or with the perfect legal argument, or the funniest sarcastic line. He is sort of more of everything than I am. He is better looking, drinks more, and eats hot dogs like I wish I could. He is just a lot more of everything I am. Part of coming up with someone like Joe Turner is writing what you know. I know how a criminal defense attorney thinks and views the world.
How do you come up with the storylines in your book?
It’s sort of the same answer as to how I came up with some of the characters. The storylines are based very loosely on a case or a combination of cases. When I started writing, I loved the craft of writing itself like choosing the words. The plot was something more secondary. However, I have come to enjoy developing a plot a lot. It is so freeing to be able to change the characters and its liberating to be able to make whatever reality you want, or come up with a cool twist, or maybe even deceive the reader. I have really come to enjoy that part of writing.
What do you think that members of the California Lawyers Criminal Law Section will be able to relate to from your books?
I think they will hopefully relate to Joe Turner and his experiences because they have shared some of those experiences. For example, one of the many terrible traits of the Judge in my book was his utter refusal to make a decision. I think that every attorney has experienced that. In another example, there is one part of my book where I sort of lament the tradition of district attorneys coming in to witness the verdicts. From a defense attorney’s perspective, it is a sort of a vulture type of maneuver, and I shared that in one of the books. Recently however, a district attorney told me that in doing that they were just supporting a colleague because they know how much work goes into a felony prosecution. From my client’s and their family’s perspective however, it sometimes looks like a group of people there to cheer for a result that will be devastating for them. I would hope that the attorneys would re-live some of their own experiences and relate to Joe Turner and his plight.
Do you plan on writing another book?
Yes. In fact, one is about to make its way to the publisher.