Maureen Bessette is an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California. A former chief of the Oakland Branch Office, Maureen is responsible for prosecuting white collar cases including fraud, environmental crimes, and money-related criminal cases. A former legislative assistant in D.C. and trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, she is a graduate of Suffolk University Law School.
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
I grew up in a beautiful, rural town in southeastern Massachusetts and lived a relatively idyllic childhood spending lots of time outside swimming, canoeing, and biking. I learned early on that fairness, equality, and the environment were some of the things that mattered most to me. When I was in my senior year in college I decided to apply to law school, based in part on comments from my high school teachers. When I graduated from law school I was humbled to be appointed an Honors Attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Section in Washington, DC, where I was able to travel throughout the US to enforce our country’s environmental laws.
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
I would be running a bookstore/café with my best friend from college.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first admitted to practice?
Early on I wish I had known how critical it is to work well with people on the opposite side of a dispute. I’ve learned that lesson and find that it is much easier to work out a resolution to everyone’s satisfaction by working together.
What is the biggest challenge facing you as a lawyer today?
As a federal prosecutor, I believe that there has been a gradual erosion of public trust in law enforcement and prosecutors. I think it’s important to try and restore the public’s faith in our justice system.
What is your favorite part of being a lawyer?
I love investigating cases and find it endlessly fascinating how and why so many privileged people commit white collar crimes.
What is your dream vacation?
A summer abroad in Italy with my husband and kids.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It’s about a murder that occurred in the summer of 1961, in a small town in Minnesota. It is told from the perspective of the 13 year old boy who lived through it, 40 years after the fact.
What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
I think people are surprised by the fact that I am genuinely nice. I come from a small town where everyone knew everyone and people were kind to each other. I still have that small town belief in being kind to others.
What person, living or dead, real or fictional, would you like to have dinner with?
Pope Francis. I think he is the rare leader who focuses on what is truly important in a real, apolitical way and makes change happen because of that.
Why did you decide to be an ACBA member? What is the greatest benefit of membership?
I joined ACBA to expand my legal world outside of federal prosecutors and defense attorneys. I find that this is the greatest benefit of being a member.