Ex-rocketeer 'as is' lawyer: Redlands man changed jobs when Norton closed

By Tim Grenda; The Press-Enterprise

Originally Published on August 21, 2000
by The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA),
EAST VALLEY Edition, LOCAL Section, Page B01.

August 21, 2000 (SAN BERNARDINO, CA) - It may not take a rocket scientist to be a defense attorney, but Mark Cantrell has been both.

Before becoming a private-practice attorney six years ago, the 48-year-old Redlands resident was a project engineer at TRW Corp., working on classified military missile programs at the former Norton Air Force Base.

When the base was moth-balled in 1993, Cantrell embarked on a second career fighting for people in court.

"Being a criminal defense attorney is a very honorable profession," Cantrell said. "Other than soldiers and armies, the defense bar is what keeps this country free. We protect the rights all those people fought and died for."

Cantrell is a staunch supporter of the public's right to a fair trial. His business card reads: "Mark Cantrell, Purveyor of Due Process, Legal Advice 'As is' -- No Refunds."

"I don't win or lose cases," he said. "The jury's verdict, guilty or not guilty, is not a measure of how I did my job. I just want to make sure that justice is done."

Attorneys, judges and others who work with Cantrell in the San Bernardino County courts call him "a man of principles" who has earned a reputation as a fair and honest attorney.

"If all attorneys were like him, there would be no jokes about attorneys," said sheriff's Deputy Dave Sears, a bailiff at the San Bernardino courthouse.

Cantrell was born in San Bernardino to a construction-worker father and a mother who wrote songs, plays and fiction. He is the second oldest in a family of three brothers and a sister.

He has never married, but 17 years ago, Cantrell adopted two sons, who were brothers. One is now in the military and stationed on the East Coast. The other lives and works locally, he said.

Cantrell also considers his sons' older sister, whom he did not adopt, part of the family. He sees himself as an unofficial grandfather for her children, ages 5, 4 and 6 months.

Two years after graduating from San Bernardino High School in 1970, Cantrell began working as an emergency medical technician and later as a paramedic in San Bernardino.

He majored in mathematics at Cal State San Bernardino and went on to earn a master's degree in math from the University of California, Riverside, in 1985.

Cantrell then went to work at TRW in the firm's advanced strategic missile systems program, working on a missile design that remains classified to protect national security, he said.

He also worked for a short time in the mid-1980s as a scientist at Hughes Aircraft, he said.

In 1988, Cantrell became a rocket scientist by day and law student by night, attending classes at Citrus Belt Law School in Riverside. In 1992, he passed the California Bar exam, which is required for all practicing attorneys.

As the Cold War ended and Norton was closed by the federal government in 1994, Cantrell fell back on his law degree and went into private practice in Rialto.

His office specializes in criminal, family law and personal injury cases.

Cantrell, a self-described "Reagan Republican" who dreams of someday being elected to the United States Senate, earned the nickname "Rambo" a few years ago when he and a co-worker confronted two teens who were fighting outside his Rialto law office.

Cantrell used a martial arts move to subdue one of the youths while an investigator who worked for him controlled the other, he recalled.

"Everyone told me afterwards, 'You're such an idiot; you could have been killed,' " Cantrell recalled. "But I'd just had enough. I was sick of these punks thinking they ran the streets." A longtime boxing fan who fought as an amateur in college, Cantrell sponsors youth who train at Lara's Boxing Gym in downtown San Bernardino.

After discovering the small gym a few years ago, he sparked a conversation with its owner, Francisco Lara. Cantrell agreed to help pay the high cost of the sport -- the gym's monthly membership fee, gloves, shorts and shoes -- for some of the young underprivileged boxers who train there.

Cantrell now sponsors about six young boxers at the gym, Lara said.

"Sometimes he doesn't even know the kid," Lara said. "He's a good man. I wish there could be more men like him."