Real-life ‘Defender’: Lawyer Saggese helps inspire hit CBS dramaWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Marc Saggese leads a complicated life. He’s one of the country’s most prominent defense lawyers, practicing in Las Vegas. He’s the inspiration for one of the lead characters in the new hit CBS drama “The Defenders.” He served as a captain in the army.
The more one learns about the young attorney, the more one finds to learn. For example: Saggese currently has a 3-0 record as a professional boxer.
“I was training — to stay fit, and stay focused — and the trainer I had was a professional boxing trainer,” Saggese said in an interview. “He gave me some compliments, and some commentary related to the fact that I hit as hard as, and could compete on an entry level with, some of these pros he trains.”
Years after he first competed as an amateur, Saggese got his first professional fight in North Dakota, followed by two more. That 3-0 record? All first-round knockouts.
“Boxing is very much like being a lawyer. It’s you against the other side. There’s one other opponent. You’re responsible for all your well-done things, and you’re also responsible for all your errors and shortcomings and losses,” he said. “And it is very much a fight, being a lawyer.”
It’s not a fight Saggese has to face alone. He and his partner, Michael Cristalli, have practiced together in Vegas since 2004. Both men grew up in the same city — but, strangely, never met until they both lived in Las Vegas.
“I had flown out to Las Vegas to set up shop and a practice,” Saggese said of his arrival in 1999. “I met up with a family friend, who was from Michael’s and my home town of Utica. And this individual said, ‘You’re a young guy here in Las Vegas, you’re an attorney from Utica, there’s someone else here just like you.’”
Saggese and Cristalli arranged a lunch, and learned the connections between the two of them ran deeper still. Their mothers grew up together. Marc’s great-grandfather had traveled to America in the 1920s — with Michael’s grandfather.
“Come to find out, he just lived a couple miles from my house his whole life.”
The firm of Cristalli & Saggese has been a staple of the Las Vegas legal scene for more than five years now. They had semi-regular dealings with the media relating to various cases, so when a documentary crew asked to shoot at their firm for a film, the pair had no problems.
“They were much more passive, much more flies-on-the-wall. They would be with us at 7 a.m., they would be with us at midnight. You just kind of get used to them being there. You’d forget that they were there half the time. So, we were comfortable very quickly with that type of passive filming.”
The documentary crew was originally telling the story of their client, but the interaction between the two lawyers was so compelling, Cristalli and Saggese were soon pitched the idea of a reality show/docudrama centered on them. That show, however, would be done in by logistics before ever reaching the air.
“CBS determined, correctly, that there would be some difficulty with filming open cases and active clients, and then airing the issues on TV. It would affect the outcome of the case; there would be a lot of liability. So they determined that it would be best if they could dramatize the issues, and dramatize the clients, and dramatize Michael and I. And we agreed wholeheartedly.”
Saggese said that he and his partner are very involved with the making of “The Defenders.” The partners had a say in many levels of the show’s development, right down to choosing the actors who would portray their televised counterparts.
Saggese admitted to being very critical of actors being considered to play Pete Kaczmarek, the character based on himself. Until, that is, he was sent Jerry O’Connell’s picture.
“I saw it and went, ‘I love that guy! He’s great! I love it! Awesome!’,” Saggese said. “And I remember sharing it with Cristalli — going in his office and saying, ‘Hey, look!’ with my laptop in hand. I showed him my laptop and said, ‘That’s the guy.’”
Since its premiere, “The Defenders” has dominated its Wednesday time slot and has already been picked up for the full season. Saggese said he thinks the show brings an important element to legal dramas that usually tend to focus on prosecutors.
“I’m sick of that formulaic nonsense, because it’s not true. It is one half of the legal world. But on TV, it’s like a hundred percent. So, to have the show be successful, it really means a lot to me, because finally, people will see defense attorneys — or just attorneys in general — as likable people.” O