Divorce Lawyer Marvin Mitchelson Dies

Monday, September 20th 2004, 9:55 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Marvin M. Mitchelson, a divorce attorney to the stars, often joked that he was a poor example for his clients: He was happily married for 45 years.

Mitchelson, who pioneered the legal revolution known as ``palimony'' and counseled scores of celebrities through messy break-ups, died Saturday after battling cancer, his longtime publicist Sy Presten said Sunday. He was 76.

Mitchelson pioneered palimony with the Marvin vs. Marvin case that made him a household name in the 1970s. In that case, Mitchelson won a $104,000 award for Michelle Triola Marvin, the live-in lover of actor Lee Marvin.

Mitchelson fought for and won her right to bring the lawsuit and would say later that the day she was allowed into court was the day marriage and family law changed forever.

The award was later overturned, but the concept of palimony was upheld by the California Supreme Court. It came to signify a new social order for unmarried, cohabitating partners, which Mitchelson often quipped was ``'a commitment with no rings attached,''' Presten said.

``He established a very important precedent and others will benefit from that even now that he has passed away,'' said fellow family law and celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who faced Mitchelson in the legal arena several times.

Following the Marvin vs. Marvin case, Mitchelson's practice steered toward the glamorous. He won a then-astonishing $1 million settlement in his first celebrity divorce case representing actor James Mason's wife, Pamela.

He represented actress Joan Collins and model Bianca Jagger in high-stakes divorces; won millions for the ex-wife of billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and took on a Saudi Arabian sheik, Mohammed Al Fassi, in a lawsuit that spanned two decades and ended with an order for the sheik to pay his estranged wife $270 million.

Mitchelson's life and career, however, took a dive in 1993, when he was convicted and jailed for evading taxes on some $2 million in income. The state bar suspended him and he was forced into bankruptcy.

Mitchelson would recall later how he wept during his first day in federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, and his determination to survive the sentence.

He became a prison appellate attorney and helped gain freedom for three inmates. He also helped others learn to read and write and started prison French and opera clubs.

When he was released from prison in 1997, Mitchelson returned to law, working as a consultant for other lawyers until his license was restored in 2000.

``I've been through a load of stuff,'' Mitchelson told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview. ``I always believed you do the best with what you have.''

Mitchelson is survived by his wife, Marcella, son Morgan, and sister Marian Gertner.