About Mark Stephens

Mark Stephens served as the elected Public Defender for the Sixth Judicial District (Knoxville) for 29 years. He left that position on November 1, 2019 to return to private practice and to work to promote The Justice Initiative, a non-profit Mr. Stephens founded in 2015.

Mr. Stephens practiced law in the private sector for nearly 10 years before committing to public defense services. He dedicated his career to building the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office into a national model of holistic, client-centered representation.

Mr. Stephens has served as President of the Tennessee District Public Defender’s Conference and Chair of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Defense Commission. He served for two years as Chair of the National Association for Public Defense and currently serves on the Steering and Executive Committees of that organization.

He served for eight years as a member of the Board of Directors for Gideon’s Promise. In 2011, Gideon’s Promise presented him with the Stephen B. Bright Award in recognition of his contribution to the effort to improve the quality of indigent defense in the South.

Mr. Stephens is a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

On the state level, Mr. Stephens is a member of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL), which twice awarded him the prestigious Robert W. Ritchie Award (2000 and 2007), and he is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association.

On a local level, Mr. Stephens is a member of the Knoxville Bar Association (KBA), which in 1995 presented him with the Law and Liberty Award for his efforts in the advancement and protection of law and liberty. In 2002, Mr. Stephens was presented with the UT Pro Bono award for outstanding contributions to the Innocence Project. In 2016, Mr. Stephens was awarded the Governor’s Award by the KBA for his work in developing the Community Law Office. In 2017 he was selected to become a Fellow of the Knoxville Bar Foundation.

Since 2004, Mr. Stephens has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he teaches Trial Advocacy. In 2017, Stephens was named the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Member by the Law School.

In 2019, Mr. Stephens was selected to become a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Education
1971-1975
Culver-Stockton College
BS Degree, Business and Economics

1977-1979
University of Tennessee
College of Law
Juris Doctor awarded December 1979

Prior Work Experience

1980 – 1982 Private Practice
1983 – 1986 Assistant District Attorney General
1986 – 1990 Private Practice
1990 – Elected as the first District Public Defender for the Sixth Judicial District (Knox County). Re-elected 1998, 2006 & 2014.
2019 – The Law Office of Mark E. Stephens

Service
Served as President of the Tennessee District Public Defender’s Conference
Chaired the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Defense Commission
Founded and Chaired the National Association for Public Defense
Served for 8 years as a Board Member of Gideon’s Promise
Adjunct Law Professor – University of Tennessee College of Law
Advisory Board Member – Tennessee Innocence Project
Board Member – Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Founder – The Justice Initiative
Admitted to Practice Law
1980 – Licensed to practice in all state courts in the State of Tennessee
1983 – Admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee
1986 – Admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court
Professional Memberships
American Bar Association (ABA)
Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL)
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
Founder/Member of the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD)
Tennessee Bar Association (TBA)
Fellow – Knoxville Bar Association (KBA)
Fellow – American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL)
Awards
Stephen B. Bright Award from Gideon’s Promise in recognition of his contribution to the effort to improve the quality of indigent defense in the South

Two-time recipient of the Robert W. Ritchie Award from the TACDL

Law and Liberty Award from the Knoxville Bar Association

UT Pro Bono Award from the University of Tennessee College of Law

Governor’s Award from the Knoxville Bar Association

Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Member – University of Tennessee College of Law

Types Of Cases Handled

Mr. Stephens has extensive experience in criminal defense representation. During his nearly 40 years of practice, Mr. Stephens has tried more – or as many – cases as any practicing attorney. Mr. Stephens has extensive experience in representing persons charged with violent crime, including over 75 jury trials.

Mr. Stephens is highly qualified to represent individuals charged with any criminal offense.

Mr. Stephens handles civil cases as well, including civil rights violation cases.