mmitchelson.jpgMarvin Morris Mitchelson, a divorce lawyer for the rich and famous, died on Sept. 18 of cancer. He was 76.
The Detroit native was the only son of immigrant parents. Mitchelson served in the Navy as a medical corpsman, then earned degrees from UCLA and Southwestern University School of Law. He opened his own Los Angeles law practice in 1957.
After handling a wide variety of cases, Mitchelson earned national attention in 1963 for winning the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Douglas v. California, which guaranteed legal representation for indigent defendants appealing their sentences. However, it was his skill at deftly negotiating divorces that earned him a place among the Hollywood elite.
In his first celebrity divorce case, Mitchelson represented Pamela Mason, actor James Mason’s wife. She won a $1.5 million settlement, which was an unheard of amount in 1964. Over the next four decades, Mitchelson worked on cases involving Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hugh Hefner, Robert De Niro, Mick Jagger, Joan Collins and Mike Tyson.
Mitchelson also represented Michelle Triola, Lee Marvin’s former live-in girlfriend, when she sued for half of the actor’s $3.6 million income. Although the couple never wed, Triola felt she was entitled to these assets. In 1976, the California Supreme Court ruled that unmarried, cohabitating partners could legally seek property and assets upon separation if a written or oral contract existed, and that judges could determine whether cohabitating conduct equaled an implied contract. The Marvin v. Marvin case led to the coining of the phrase “palimony.” Triola eventually won a judgment for $104,000, but the state appeals court later overturned it.
Mitchelson’s high-class hobnobbing and jet-set lifestyle ended in 1988 when the State Bar of California charged him with six incidents of misconduct. Sotheby’s sued him for more than $1 million, then the Internal Revenue Service went after him for back taxes. He was convicted in 1993 of four felony counts of tax fraud for hiding nearly $2 million in income. After exhausting all of his appeals and declaring bankruptcy, Mitchelson served two years in federal prison, where he ran the law library and wrote appeals for inmates. The California State Bar allowed him to resume his law practice in 2000.
Mitchelson was married to the same woman for 45 years.