Oakland County trial attorney Richard Lustig dies

by Ann Zaniewski

Oakland County trial lawyer Richard Lustig’s long list of notable clients included a man whose tip led the FBI to a horse farm to search for Jimmy Hoffa and defendants in famous federal drug cases.

Mr. Lustig, 73, died Monday due to complications from a stroke. He lived on Cass Lake.

Mr. Lustig for decades was a fixture in courtrooms throughout metro Detroit, often representing clients whose alleged crimes made headlines.

Born and raised in Detroit, Mr. Lustig graduated in 1961 Mumford High School. He got his Juris Doctor in 1968 from Wayne State University.

Mr. Lustig loved the law. From early on, he was captivated by the concept of individual liberty, said his son, Dov, an attorney who shared offices in Birmingham with his father.

Mr. Lustig played a key role in the creation of the National Criminal Defense College in Georgia. He was eager to share his love for the art of persuasion with others, Dov Lustig said. He was intelligent, curious, empathetic and, at times, mischievous.

“Feared by many prosecutors, he was respected by all who knew him professionally and always carried himself with respect and dignified grace while defending the Constitution he loved so dearly,” his son said in an e-mail. “He was known to have contentious and fierce battles with young prosecutors in court and then secretly follow up with letters of praise to their boss.

“He was famous for finishing a trial in the morning in federal court, and picking a jury in Oakland County that very same afternoon.”

Attorney Neil Rockind, who attended high school with Dov Lustig, said he admired Mr. Lustig.

“Growing up, we all wanted to be Richard,” Rockind said. “That continued into my early days as a lawyer. Richard was just the coolest, baddest cat around. He was confident, he was sophisticated, he had the biggest cases, he seemed to be fearless. And he was cool.”

Some of Mr. Lustig’s notable clients included Donovan Wells, a convicted drug smuggler who told investigators that former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa was buried on an 89-acre horse farm in Milford Township, leading to a dig that left the FBI empty-handed.

He also represented Steven Kado, a man convicted of killing his ex-wife with a splitting wedge, and Joshua Campbell, who struck and killed a Bloomfield Township police officer on I-75.

“It was a great issue of proximate causation in an accident, but a very sensitive case involving the death of a police officer at the hands of someone allegedly intoxicated by alcohol,” Dov Lustig said of the Campbell case. “He was a staunch believer in the right to counsel, without regards to popularity or political implications. … He tried the case, beat the ‘causing death’ element, and the client was simply found guilty of drunk driving.”

Mr. Lustig was an avid Detroit sports fan who especially loved the Pistons. He had front-row season tickets — something he got from a famous client, bookmaker Henry (The Horse) Hilf.

Services were Wednesday at the Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield. Interment was at Clover Hill Park Cemetery.

In addition to his son, Mr. Lustig is survived by his daughter, Marni Lustig; stepchildren Katie Rose Pawlowski, Kristy Shaheen and Lesley Eisenberg; a brother and a sister; two grandchildren; several nieces and nephews, and his ex-wife, Bernice Lustig.

Contact Ann Zaniewski: 313-222-6594 or azaniewski@freepress.com

via Detroit Free Press