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Ezekiel Cortez

Law Offices of Ezekiel E. Cortez
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Ezekiel Cortez
Law Offices of Ezekiel E. Cortez
San Diego,

Ezekiel E. Cortez is a Board Certified Federal Criminal Law Specialist certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. He has dedicated his law practice to federal criminal defense and related federal criminal maters, for over 30 years. Emerging from law school as a career federal criminal defense attorney, Mr. Cortez has devoted himself to the defense of those under pre-indictment investigation and those under indictment by the Federal Government. Mr. Cortez is committed to the underdog, the persecuted, the voiceless, and the outnumbered in federal courts nationally. He began his federal criminal defense career as a federal criminal defense lawyer in 1983 at the then nationally preeminent Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., vigorously defending people who could not afford to hire a lawyer. As a highly experienced and determined defender of constitutional rights, Mr. Cortez regularly handles difficult cases in the notoriously difficult area of post-conviction Habeas Corpus litigation. Since 1988, he has handled unique cases involving a variety of legal defects, including prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, lawyer malfeasance, and other constitutional violations. In this difficult area of last resort, he has successfully accomplished the vacating of life sentences in three separate difficult cases that had been considered lost causes. Because of his recognized creative and vigorous commitment to criminal defense, Mr. Cortez is often the attorney to whom clients turn when they believe they have run out of options. Mr. Cortez also handles selected federal civil matters and serves as a consultant to lawyers in the creation and direction of case strategy in federal criminal matters and select federal/state civil matters that involve constitutionally significant federal issues. Mr. Cortez's legal ability and ethical conduct have been rated as AV® Preeminent Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell. For decades, Mr. Cortez has been recognized by The Best Lawyers In America - the preeminent standard of excellence for the legal profession. The prestigious, national, yearly survey of the U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers/Best Law Firms has selected Mr. Cortez's law firm for this distinguished honor since 2010, including the 2017 Edition. He has been listed annually in San Diego Magazine's "Best Lawyers In San Diego" since 2001, described as one of only a handful of elite criminal defense lawyers once described by the magazine as the type of lawyer that other attorneys would go to if they needed a [federal criminal defense] lawyer. Mr. Cortez has also been selected by Super Lawyers continuously since 2007 in the White Collar and Corporate Counsel categories and described there as one of the Seriously Outstanding Top 5% in his field. In 2015, Super Lawyers named Mr. Cortez as one of the Top 50 lawyers in San Diego. He is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers, Top 100 Criminal Defense. As an ambassador for his profession, Mr. Cortez was twice awarded Fulbright Scholarships in 2004 and in 2005 by the U.S. State Department to teach the American system of adversarial jury trial techniques to Chilean defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges at the University of Concepcian, in Concepcian, and in Temuco, Chile. Mr. Cortez has taught Criminal Justice Administration at San Diego State University and assisted in the same academic area at Moscow University (MGU) in Moscow, Russia. He has also taught trial skills and techniques as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and California Western School of Law, and has taught advanced trial techniques to experienced trial lawyers for CACJ, NACDL, ACCESO and various trial institutes.

Awards and Achievements

  • Fulbright Scholar, 2004 and 2005
    • Adjunct Professor: California Western School of Law, 1990; University of San Diego, 1989-1990
    • Contributing Author:
    • "Defending a Federal Criminal Case," Federal Defenders of San Diego, 1985-1988 editions;
    • "Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties 2008," Routledge Taylor & Francis Group; "Criminal Defense Tools and Techniques," Thomas Farrell, James Publishing, Editorial Board.
    • "Caveat Advocatus," When They Turn the Tables on You: Potential Federal Criminal and Civil Pitfalls in the Path of the Unsuspecting Civil Litigator, Inside the Minds Series, Aspatore Books 2015-16 Edition (Thomson Reuters).
    • Best Lawyers in America (continuously listed since 1996)
    • Current Member, Lawyers Disciplinary Committee, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California
    • Past Member (10 years of service), Magistrate Judge Selection Committee, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California
    • Past Member (13 years of service), Board of Directors, Federal Defenders of San Diego and Appellate Defenders, Inc.
    • Past JNE Commissioner, California State Bar
    • Successfully passed the GED high school diploma equivalency examination after being expelled from high school.

Bar Admissions

  • California, 1984
    • U.S. Supreme Court, 1990
    • U.S. Courts of Appeal: First, Second, Fifth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits
    • U.S. District Courts: Southern, Eastern, Central and Northern Districts of California; District of Baltimore; Eastern District of Michigan; District of Colorado.


  • J.D., University of San Diego, 1983
    • B.A., Political Science, California State University at San Diego, 1980
    • A.A., San Diego City College


  • English
    • Spanish
    • French - Conversational Only
    • Italian - Conversational Only

Professional Associations

  • State Bar of California
    • Lifetime Member, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
    • Criminal Defense Lawyers Club of San Diego
    • Lawyers Club of San Diego, President's Circle

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