Posted on Wed, Dec. 13, 2006
Ellis Rubin, lawyer of unusual defenses, dies at 81
Miami, FL attorney Ellis Rubin, who was constantly in the news because of well-known clients and unconventional tactics, died at age 81.
Ellis Stuart Rubin, the publicity-loving Miami lawyer whose unconventional defense strategies and high-profile cases kept him in the headlines for decades, died of cancer Tuesday 12 Dec 2006 at 81 in Miami,FL.
In a Miami Herald interview from his hospital bed last week, he acknowledged he was dying.
''I'm afraid this is it,'' he said. ``I just wanted to say goodbye to everybody.''
He was practicing nearly to the end, having successfully argued that Max Linn, a Reform Party candidate for governor, should be included in the final Florida gubernatorial debate in late October.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Rubin was a World War II Navy veteran and longtime reservist who took part in the Bikini Atoll atomic-bomb tests.
He earned degrees from Holy Cross College and the University of Miami law school.
Rubin gained national fame in 1977 for the defense he mounted for 15-year-old Ronny Zamora, who had been accused of killing an 83-year-old Miami Beach woman.
In Florida's first nationally televised trial, Rubin sought to blame television violence. But the judge wouldn't allow the strategy, and Zamora went to prison.
''The TV intoxication case, if that defense came up now, it would be an entirely different story,'' said Rubin's partner for the past 11 years, Robert Barrar, a one-time Oklahoma prosecutor.
He called Rubin ``innovative and intelligent. He . . . fought hard for his clients. In a lot of respects, he was ahead of his time. . . . Other lawyers have used [the TV intoxication] defense successfully all over the country.''
By the time Rubin used it, he was already well known. In the 1950s, he was attached to the state attorney general's office, assigned to investigate the Communist threat in Florida -- a task that led muckraking journalist Drew Pearson to call him ``the Joe McCarthy of Florida.''
In a 1954 questionnaire for The Miami Herald, Rubin noted that he'd been named ''one of five outstanding young men'' in the state by the Florida Junior Chamber of Commerce ``in recognition of work against communism and the defense, without pay, of many indigent persons accused of crime.''
Two years later, he ran unsuccessfully for state attorney as a Republican, touting his role as special assistant to the state attorney in disbarment proceedings against Leo Sheiner, a Miami attorney who invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked in court if he'd ever been a Communist.
In the 1960s, Rubin argued against racial discrimination in church-affiliated schools before the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1970, he led demonstrations against school busing for desegregation.
He ran unsuccessfully for Miami Beach mayor in 1969.
In the '70s and '80s, he fought the NFL's policy of blacking out televised games in a 75-mile radius if they weren't sellouts 72 hours before kickoff.
In an infamous 1991 case, a Tamarac couple named Jeff and Kathy Willets, accused of running a sex business out of their home, pleaded guilty to 35 prostitution-related charges. Rubin argued unsuccessfully that taking Prozac had turned Kathy Willets into a nymphomaniac.
His ''proudest moment,'' according to a press release by his son, Guy Rubin, a Stuart lawyer, came in 1986, when Rubin went to jail for 37 days for contempt of court because he had refused to represent a murder suspect he knew would perjure himself.
''To order any attorney to sit and watch with apparent approval while his client commits forbidden acts to a jury does nothing less than order the lawyer to be a knowing instrument of totally unethical and dishonest conduct,'' Rubin told the court. ``Silence here is participation; it is cooperation with evil.''
Guy Rubin said through a publicist that family members wouldn't be talking to the press until after Rubin's funeral.
''An icon is gone,'' Guy Rubin said in the release. ``The man who made a career of speaking for those who needed a public voice has spoken his final words.''
Last week, Rubin's widow, Barbara Storer Rubin, told The Miami Herald that her husband's will to live had baffled doctors, who had told him he wouldn't last until November.
The couple resolved to keep Rubin's illness from the public and often took him to and from Mount Sinai disguised in a hat and scarf.
Despite a posted ''no visitors'' sign on his hospital room, a few bold souls sneaked in for autographs, which Barbara said delighted her husband.
Doctors diagnosed him with transitory bladder carcinoma about six years ago, he said last week. It spread to his prostate and right kidney, which was removed last May.
At the time, doctors told him he had six months left.
Barrar said that Rubin's courting of reporters was an attempt to ``even the tables.
'If you take a look over the years, his contact with the media flowed from a response to the sheriff and state attorney's office. When they made an arrest, they'd hold a press conference [during which] the prosecutor was getting his side out to prospective jurors. We've always tried to get our clients' side out.''
Rubin was a pioneer in understanding the importance of bringing publicity to his cases, said State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle.
''He always had a corner on that insight from the very beginning, before the rest of the world caught on,'' she said. ``He was truly one of the first to understand how to make the legal system seem interesting to the rest of the world.''
About his sometimes off-the-wall defenses, Fernández Rundle added: ``You have to respect anyone who is true to their beliefs, whether you agree with them or not.''
Among Rubin's recent controversial cases: Lamoy and Joseph Andressohn of Homestead, accused in 2005 of starving their infant son to death by feeing him only raw foods.
Rubin represented Joseph, while Barrar represented Lamoy.
They successfully argued that the baby was killed by a congenital defect.
Rubin also represented Aimee Lee Weiss, the Tamarac teenager charged in the drowning death of her newborn son.
A Broward Circuit Court judge recently tossed her confession because of faulty Miranda-warning language.
He represented Lionel Tate, convicted in the 1999 killing of a young playmate, during a subsequent case: robbing and assaulting a pizza delivery man.
But Rubin dropped out of the case last April, saying that Tate wouldn't listen to him.
Rubin's headline-grabbing tactics often drew criticism from other lawyers.
''Most people, frankly, sneered at Ellis and considered him an excessive publicity hound,'' said Miami lawyer Edward Carhart, a former chief Miami-Dade prosecutor.
``But he's had some very successful litigation, and I can't remember him ever backing off from a battle.''
Richard Sharpstein, a fellow Miami criminal defense attorney, said Rubin's novel defenses sometimes overshadowed his legal mind.
''He's renowned for his ability to seek out the media, but he was an extremely bright, brilliant lawyer,'' Sharpstein said.
Sharpstein thinks some of Rubin's theories, like the ''television intoxication'' defense, were better than they were given credit for.
''There was Ellis, 30 years ago, talking about how this violent act might be related to Kojak,'' Sharpstein said.
``And look at today, with all the violent video games and movies and music videos. I don't think he could have been more on-target. . . . ''
In addition to his widow and son, Guy, Rubin is survived by son Mark Rubin, daughters Kimberly Rubin and Perri Newman and seven grandchildren.
The funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 1920 Alton Rd., Miami Beach.