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Jack B. Rubin, whose career as a criminal defense lawyer in Baltimore spanned more than half a century, dies

Jack B. Rubin, whose career as a criminal defense lawyer in Baltimore spanned more than half a century, dies
Jack Rubin loved to cook. “I must have a hundred cookbooks, French, Indian, everything,” he said. (HANDOUT)

Jack B. Rubin, whose career as a colorful criminal defense lawyer in Baltimore spanned more than five decades — and who when he wasn’t in the courtroom was at home preparing gourmet meals for family and friends — died Aug. 9 from Parkinson’s disease at Arbor Place in Rockville. The Pikesville resident was 78.

“Jack was a giant at the criminal defense bar, and we won’t see his like again,” said District Court of Maryland associate judge Flynn Marcus Owens.

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“He was able to get amazing results and had the complete respect of every judge he went in front of, state’s attorneys, and opposing counsel,” Judge Owens said. “He got results in criminal cases that no other attorney could get. It simply defied logic, he was just that good.”

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill, who is the lead criminal judge for the county, is a longtime friend and legal colleague.

“Jack was a real gentleman and a top-tier criminal trial lawyer,” Judge Cahill said. “He had earned the respect of judges and prosecutors throughout the state. His courtroom skills were unmatched and always managed his most difficult work with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. His death is a loss to the criminal trial bar.”

“Colorful is a good word to describe Jack,” said Staci Pipkin, a former city prosecutor who joined Mr. Rubin’s firm in 2014 and two years later became a partner in Rubin & Pipkin PA. “I’ve known him since I was a baby prosecutor.”

“Jack was larger than life, and I always referred to him as a rascal,” Judge Cahill said.

Jack Barry Rubin, the son of Morris Rubin, a boxing manager and owner of Martini’s Lounge, and his wife, Ida Rubin, a Stewart’s department store sales associate, was born in Baltimore and raised on Garrison Avenue in the city’s Pimlico neighborhood.

A 1957 City College graduate, Mr. Rubin obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1961 from the University of Baltimore, where he earned his law degree in 1964, and was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1965.

A natural and gifted talker as he was growing up, Mr. Rubin got his first job at 13 selling shoes for 60 cents an hour at a Lexington Street store where he earned a 1 percent commission. While in law school, he investigated child abuse cases for the city, sharing a desk with then-social worker and later senator Barbara A. Mikulski. He sold clothes on Sundays and scrubbed floors at the Maryland Cup Co.

After graduating from law school, he practiced personal injury law for six months, but found it was not to his liking, so he chose instead to do criminal defense work.

“From his childhood, and from his child abuse work, he had an easy rapport with people from tough neighborhoods,” according to a 1992 account in The Baltimore Sun.

“On occasion, he finds the job less legal work than social work, putting in long hours disentangling a client’s life. On occasion, Mr. Rubin said, he has a client who, presumption of innocence aside, he finds it difficult to abide. 'I’m not a potted plant. Sometimes you say to yourself during a trial, “God, I can’t wait for this case to end, because I don’t want to sit next to him any longer,” ’ ” he told The Sun.

Like most criminal defense attorneys, Mr. Rubin received his fee up front.

“If I were representing the president of General Motors, I could bill by the hour and be confident I’d be paid,” he told the newspaper. “But if a guy gets 15 years, he’s not going to write you a check from the Fallsway Apartments,” his nickname for the state penitentiary and Baltimore City Detention Center that overlook the Fallsway.

He eschewed wearing bow ties after a psychologist informed him that a bow-tied lawyer is talking down to the clients.

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“Mr. Rubin calls himself a ‘street kid from West Baltimore.’ His speech is peppered with profanity. He calls some clients ‘baby,’ as in ‘Listen to me baby; under no circumstances should you talk to the police,’ ” reported The Sun.

Regarding clients as diverse as drug dealers and murderers, Mr. Rubin was fond of saying, “I have never acquitted anybody. If making the state prove its case is unreasonable, I’m unreasonable," and “Truth of the matter is, the better a reputation you get, the worse the cases are.”

“It’s hard being a criminal defense attorney and being liked,” said Ms. Pipkin. “When I was leaving the prosecutor’s office, Jack said, ‘Do you really want to do criminal defense work?’ and I said yes, and after a three-hour interview, he hired me.”

Mr. Rubin compared his profession to that of an obstetrician.

“People have babies in the middle of the night, and people generally get arrested at night,” he explained in The Sun interview. “Drug raids are at night or early in the morning. Bar fights, knifings, shootings tend to be after dark. I get three or four calls every day between midnight and the start of the working day.”

Mr. Rubin had a reputation for bluntness, once explaining to a judge that his drug dealer client was not that. “He’s an idiot, frankly, your honor. That’s what he is.”

“You always knew here you stood with him,” said a daughter, Baltimore Circuit Judge Julie Rebecca Rubin.

“He’d call a client an idiot to their face and they’d laugh,” Ms. Pipkin said. “He really liked interacting with clients. He gave them legal advice and life advice such as who is the girlfriend they needed to drop, where’s the job, and the friend they needed to stay away from.”

Mr. Rubin relished the courtroom action.

“He was so relaxed in court and was a presence,” Ms. Pipkin said. “He was a total ethical gentleman and was really good at his job and was a fierce advocate for his clients. He didn’t fight people — he fought the legal system. It was never personal with Jack. He’d listen to opposing counsel’s arguments all week, and when it was over, would slap them on the back and ask them to go to lunch.”

“As an attorney, he was the best cross-examiner I ever saw. He was just a natural,” Judge Owens said. “And he got the best results from opposing counsel.”

“When I was in law school, a homework assignment for the criminal clinic was to go and watch my father do a cross examination. He was a master at it,” Judge Rubin said. “But he did not take himself seriously.”

For most of his 52-year legal career, Mr. Rubin practiced from an office in the Court Square Building on Lexington Street, where he had a view of the vans disgorging that day’s prisoners going to trial at the courthouse entrance.

“He’d look out the window and when the vans arrived, Jack would say, ‘Well, I best get going to court now,’ ” Ms. Pipkin said with a laugh.

Mr. Rubin’s door was always open to former clients who had paid their debt to society and dropped by to thank him for changing their lives.

“They never needed an appointment,” Ms. Pipkin said. “He’d ask how their lives had changed and they’d tell him they had gone to college, got married, started a business, went to culinary college and opened a restaurant. And he’d remind them that when they first walked in they were a mess, a train wreck. This was the part he loved the most hearing that they had changed."

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“He was an exceptionally compassionate lawyer,” his daughter said.

“Old clients, appellate judges, and everyone in between came to Jack’s funeral,” Ms. Pipkin said.

As Mr. Rubin’s health began to decline, he turned over his clients to Ms. Pipkin.

“Otherwise, he would have done this job to the last minute,” she said.

He retired in 2017.

When Mr. Rubin’s daughter announced her intention to attend law school, her father tried to talk her out of it.

“He put his head in his hands and said, ‘Have I taught you nothing?’ ” said Judge Rubin with a laugh.

“I wanted to go to law school because both of my parents were lawyers, and he was very protective of me when I was in law school,” she said.

When he left his legal cares behind him at the end of the day, he relaxed preparing gourmet meals in the kitchen of his Pikesville home. He was also a self-taught wine aficionado, his daughter said.

“He was obsessed with the food culture,” his daughter said.

“You can put your brain on the shelf,” Mr. Rubin explained in the 1992 interview. “I must have a hundred cookbooks, French, Indian, everything.”

Mr. Rubin, who was a world traveler, enjoyed attending the symphony and opera, watching classic Hollywood films, and studying World Wars I and II.

He was a member of Beth El Congregation.

His wife of 35 years, the former Carol Denton, a lawyer and social worker, died in 2000.

Funeral services were held Monday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

In addition to his daughter, who lives in Canton, Mr. Rubin is survived by another daughter, Mara S. Rubin of Rockville; a brother, Gary Rubin of Baltimore; a sister, Rochelle Goldstein of Baltimore; two grandchildren; and his companion of many years, Erika Bowen of Baltimore.

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