Ellis Rubin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ellis Rubin (left) and a client in 1980.

Ellis S. Rubin (June 20, 1925 – December 12, 2006) was a Jewish American attorney in Miami, Florida who gained national fame for handling a variety of highly publicized cases in a legal career that spanned 53 years. He was famous for his innovative defenses and his propensity for handling lost causes. Rubin won the first case in Florida using the “battered woman” defense. He also worked to free a man, James Richardson, who had been imprisoned for 21 years for fatally poisoning his seven children,[1] and created the nymphomania defense in a case involving prostitution.[2]

The Washington Post characterized Rubin as "a Miami lawyer with an affection for the disenfranchised and an outsized knack for publicity in the tradition of P. T. Barnum [... who] capitalized on the flamboyant characters and outrageous crimes endemic to South Florida to present innovative and often unprecedented legal defenses".[3] Some fellow lawyers believed he lowered the image of the profession, and Judge Wayne L. Cobb, who handled the case of a confessed serial killer whom Rubin was defending in 1993, said Rubin was “famous for his psychobabble defenses.”[2] Some thought he defended too many lost causes. Throughout his career he took on over 5,000 civil and criminal cases.[4]


Rubin was born in Syracuse, New York, served in the Navy in World War II, graduated from Holy Cross College, and then received a law degree in 1951 from the University of Miami School of Law. He was admitted to the bar to practice law in Florida and before the United States Supreme Court.[5]

During the 1950s, he worked for the state attorney general's office as a special Assistant Attorney General investigating communism, and was asked to establish a policy for dealing with "subversive activities" in Florida.[6] In 1955, he published a "red book" on the communist movement in Florida, which provoked a bill in the Florida Legislature giving investigators of subversive activities wide subpoena powers, the right to hold secret hearings, and to offer witnesses immunity.[7] In the 1960s he argued against racial discrimination in religious schools before the United States Supreme Court. In the 1970s he led protests against the use of school busing as a solution for desegregation.[3]

His first widely publicized case was the nationally televised Ronny Zamora trial in which he used the innovative "TV Intoxication" defense. He continued trying variety of cases with eye-catching headlines. However, he also handled low keyed cases, many pro bono, making it clear that money-making was not his goal. His politics changed with the times. For example, he supported Anita Bryant's anti-gay rights crusade in the 1970s, but later became a strong advocate for gay rights, having decided he was wrong, filing six lawsuits by 2004 challenging Florida's ban on gay marriage.[4]

Rubin ran unsuccessfully for public offices such as governor, mayor, judge, congressman, and senator more than a dozen times but was not taken seriously as a contender and never won.[3]

Notorious cases[edit]

Ronny Zamora[edit]

When Rubin defended 15-year-old Ronny Zamora in 1977, for the murder of his 83-year-old neighbor in her Miami Beach home in a robbery, the trial was one of the first ever nationally televised. Zamora's defense was that he was intoxicated by violence on television. The defense became known as the "TV Intoxication" defense; Zamora claimed he could not tell the difference between fantasy and reality because of his obsession with Kojak and other violent shows since the age of five.[8][9]

Rubin tried unsuccessfully to provide evidence of the damaging effect of TV on young minds by issuing subpoenas to the TV star of Kojak, Telly Savalas, and to nationally known experts on the relationship between violence and TV. When Zamora was convicted and sentenced to life, he unsuccessfully appealed his sentence, blaming Rubin for the TV intoxication defense which he claimed made a joke of his trial. The federal appeals court ruled that evidence against Zamora was overwhelming and that Rubin had made the best of a weak case; the defense had in fact helped Zamora by focusing attention on Zamora's deprived background.[2]

Zamora was released from prison in 2004 after having served 27 years in prison.[9]

Bobby Joe Long[edit]

In July 1986, serial killer Bobbie Joe Long announced that Rubin had agreed to become his new court-appointed attorney for the sentencing hearing for Long's conviction for the Simms murder. At the hearing, Rubin shocked the courtroom by introducing Long's confession to a tenth murder in March 1984. Rubin's tactic was to portray Long as a mentally ill man who needed help rather than the death penalty. Rubin also introduced new evidence of Long's childhood exposure to pornography, sleeping with his mother until he was thirteen and seeing her have sex with other men. These experiences, Rubin said, were responsible for Long's perverted adult sexuality. Rubin also presented evidence of Long's head injuries as a child and young adult to support his defense that Long was predisposed to murder due to irresistible impulses. However, the jury voted eleven to one in favor of the death penalty.[10]

Rubin handled some of the numerous appeals for Bobbie Joe Long, who was arrested in 1985 but who has engaged in a series of appeals involving numerous jurisdictions and agencies.[11][12][13]

Contempt of court[edit]

In 1984–1985, Russell Sanborn was charged with first degree murder. Sanborn was represented by three attorneys at different times, each of whom withdrew from the case. Ellis Rubin requested to represent Sanborn pro bono. However on the date of the trial, Rubin petitioned the court to withdraw, implying strongly that Sanborn was planning to give false testimony and he would not defend a client who would lie on the stand. His petition was denied, and Rubin sought certiorari by the Third District Court of Appeal, which also denied the petition. When the case was rescheduled, Rubin again sought to withdraw on the same grounds and again was denied and ordered to proceed to trial. When he again refused, the court issued a contempt order (affirmed on appeal in Rubin v. State) denying review of the district court decision and denying Rubin's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Rubin was ordered to serve 37 days in jail for contempt of court.[4][14]

Jeff and Kathy Willets[edit]

His most infamous case was his defense of Jeff and Kathy Willets in 1991. The Willets were accused of operating a sex business out of their home. Rubin argued in their defense that Kathy Willets was driven to prostitution by nymphomania brought on by side-effects of the antidepressant, Prozac, forcing her to need sex with as many as eight men daily. Her husband, a deputy sheriff, was impotent and videotaped his wife's sex acts as a form of therapy. Despite this original defense, both were convicted.[3] The lawyer for the prosecution was Joel T. Lazarus who shortly afterward was appointed a judge.

Lionel Tate[edit]

Rubin was hired as the fourth attorney for Lionel Tate, who at that time was on probation for the murder of a playmate, six-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999 when he was 12.[15] As Rubin portrayed the scenario, Tate, a 12-year-old professional wrestling fan, was only imitating the sport's body slams when he accidentally killed his playmate. Tate had been convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence in 2001, from Rubin's nemesis Joel Lazarus, at the age of 14. His conviction received worldwide attention as the youngest American ever sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned upon appeal and he entered a plea agreement that freed Tate in January 2004.

In 2005, Rubin agreed to defend Tate on charges of robbery of a pizza delivery man. Tate pleaded guilty to armed robbery in a deal that spared him a life sentence for violating probation.[16] Rubin threatened to resign from the case, after Tate, without informing Rubin, wrote a letter to the judge trying to retract a plea bargain, a bargain that would have removed the possibility of two life sentences. Simultaneously, Tate claimed his mother physically abused him and that he was now suffering flashbacks and posttraumatic stress disorder. This case was described as "like a soap opera" by a television reporter.[17]

On March 1, 2006, Rubin was the defense attorney in Tate's pizza robbery trial.[18] In April of the following year, Tate filed a motion to have his 30 year sentence vacated on the grounds that his former attorney (now deceased), Ellis Rubin, was incompetent.[19]

Gay rights[edit]

Rubin, who supported Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade in the 1970s, later became a strong advocate for gay rights. He filed a lawsuit in Federal court under the Defense of Marriage Act to attain recognition of a lesbian couple's Canadian marriage.[20] By 2004, Rubin had filed six same-sex-couple lawsuits, four in Florida state courts, and two challenging federal same-sex marriage laws. Since Florida is one of the least tolerant states toward same-sex marriages, Rubin has been criticized by activists for his aggressive, "scorched-earth" tactics by frustrated gay rights advocates.[21]

Other cases[edit]

Sample of other cases:[22]

  • Ellis Rubin vs. Joseph Robbie (1975) – Rubin brought suit to lift NFL sanctioned TV blackouts of Super Bowl Games and allow regular season games to be viewed when all the tickets were sold.
  • Lisa Faye Keller vs. State of Florida (1986) – Defendant bludgeoned her 70-year-old father to death outside his condominium, September 1986.
  • Virginia Barrett vs. Port St. Lucie Sheriff Office (1997) – Mother's suit against Port St. Lucie Sheriff's Office for the death of her son Anderson Tate Jr. on December 4, 1996 while he was in custody at the St. Lucie County jail.
  • Amiee Lee Weiss vs. State of Florida (2002) – Teenager tried on charges that she killed her newborn son, stuffed him in a backpack, and dumped him in a can.
  • Gorman Roberts vs. State of Florida (2002) – Charged with pushing 5-year-old boy into a canal after the boy slipped out of his home in February 2002.
  • Rubin represented the parents in the so-called "Vegan Baby Death" who were accused of aggravated manslaughter. Their five month old infant allegedly died of malnutrition, being fed only wheat grass, coconut water, and almond milk.[23] They were acquitted of those charges but convicted of four counts of child neglect.[24]
  • Rubin represented the family of Frank Valdez, a Florida inmate who was beaten to death in prison.[25]
  • Rubin represented Kendall Truitt, a United States Navy sailor investigated by the Navy in connection with the USS Iowa turret explosion. Leaks to the media by the Navy and the Navy's Naval Investigative Service implied that Truitt had a homosexual relationship with another sailor, Clayton Hartwig, and may have assisted in or caused the intentional detonation of the battleship's gun turret. After Rubin began representing Truitt, the Navy backed off of its insinuations against Truitt.[26]

Famous clients[edit]


  1. ^ "Groundbreaking attorney Ellis Rubin dies at 81". Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  2. ^ a b c "Ellis Rubin, 81, Lawyer Known for ‘TV Intoxication’ Defense, Dies". The New York Times. 13 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  3. ^ a b c d Sullivan, Patricia (14 December 2006). "Outspoken Lawyer Ellis Rubin, 81". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  4. ^ a b c "Psychobabble’ lawyer Ellis Rubin dies at 81". MSNBC. 12 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  5. ^ "Ellis Rubin - Bio". Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  6. ^ Report on Investigation of Subversive Activities in Florida by the Special Assistant Attorney General, State of Florida, in cooperation with the American Legion Department of Florida. March, 1955. p. 6.
  7. ^ "Fireworks Loom at Hearing for Florida Red Probe Bill", Orlando Sentinel, May 16, 1955, p.1.
  8. ^ "Unconventional Lawyer Ellis Rubin Dies". CBS News. 13 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  9. ^ a b "Zamora to go free today, 27 years after 'TV intoxication' murder trial". 1 June 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  10. ^ "Bobby Jo Long - The Classified Ad Rapist". Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  11. ^ "Summary of offense and trial". The Commission on Capital Cases. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  12. ^ "Robert Joe Long a/k/a Bobby Long, Appellant, vs. State of Florida, Appellee". Florida State University Law School. 30 June 1988. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  13. ^ "Robert Joe Long a/k/a/ Bobby Long v. State of Florida". Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  14. ^ "THE FLORIDA BAR, Complainant, v. ELLIS S. RUBIN, Respondent". Florida State University Law School. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  15. ^ "Lionel Tate Gets Ellis Rubin As New Defense Attorney". NBC6.net - South Florida. 8 December 2005. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  16. ^ Aguayo, Terry (3 March 2006). "Youth Who Killed at 12 Will Return to Prison, but Not for Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  17. ^ "Ellis Rubin Resigns & Lionel Tate Claims Mom Abused Him". WFOR - South Florida. 4 April 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-08. [dead link]
  18. ^ "Lionel Tate Faces Robbery Trial". ABC News. 16 April 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-08. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Lionel Tate attorneys say previous lawyer wasn't competent". Channel 7 Fox News. 13 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  20. ^ "Ellis Rubin to File First Federal Lawsuit to Recognize Lesbian Couples' Canadian Marriage". Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies in Religion and the Ministry. 11 August 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  21. ^ "Florida suit challenges federal marriage law". 21 July 2004. Retrieved 2007-11-09. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Ellis Rubin, Past Cases". Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  23. ^ "New Defense In Vegan Baby Death - Parents Accused Of Malnutrition Say Birth Defect Killed Their Child". CBS News. 20 January 2005. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  24. ^ "Vegan couple cleared in baby's death but guilty of child neglect". CourtTVNews. November 9. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  25. ^ Bragg, Rick (29 July 1999). "F.B.I. Joins Investigation Into Florida Inmate's Death". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  26. ^ Thompson, Charles C., II, A Glimpse of Hell: The Explosion on the USS Iowa and Its Cover-up", W.W. Norton, 1999, p. 257–260.

External links[edit]