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Famed unorthodox lawyer dies

Published December 13, 2006


MIAMI - Longtime defense attorney Ellis Rubin, originator of such defenses as television intoxication leading to murder and nymphomania as prostitution's cause in a frequently unorthodox five-decade legal career, has died. He was 81.

His law firm said he died early Tuesday at his Miami home.

Rubin had battled cancer for more than six years, issuing a farewell statement from a Miami Beach hospital bed last week. But he remained active in his legal practice until nearly the end, winning his last case when he got a judge to rule that a Reform Party candidate for governor should be permitted in a gubernatorial debate.

Rubin starred in one of the nation's first televised trials in 1977, launched a crusade against federal and Florida laws banning gay marriage, helped lift the TV blackout of NFL games, pioneered a battered woman's defense in Florida and helped free an innocent black man imprisoned for 21 years in his family's killing. More recently, he represented convicted child killer Lionel Tate but left the case in a disagreement over a plea bargain. In November, he got Aimee Lee Weiss off on probation in the 2001 death of her newborn son after successfully challenging her statement to police, leading prosecutors to drop murder charges.

Pasco Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb, who dealt with Rubin in the case of a confessed serial killer, said in 1993 that the lawyer was "famous for his psychobabble defenses."

The Syracuse, N.Y., native exploited a willing news media and built his own soapbox as a perennially unsuccessful candidate for state office.

But Rubin had an ethical standard that put him at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused in 1987 to allow him to drop a murder defendant when he knew the man would lie on the stand. In what Rubin considered his "proudest moment," he served a 37-day jail sentence for contempt rather than stay on the case.

"He would look at a set of facts and see things others wouldn't," said Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers president Jeff Harris. "He was always thinking outside the box. He exemplified that type of originality."

"Unlike most lawyers today, his primary motivation is not money. He just loves what he does," said Robert Barrar, Rubin's partner since 1996.

Rubin is survived by his wife Barbara, four children and seven grandchildren.

His funeral is scheduled for Thursday.

[Last modified December 13, 2006, 01:14:51]

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