Friday, July 25, 2008


While sitting in my office yesterday, the cell phone rang. Caller ID said Stewart was calling.

Some background:

Before the ink was dry on my Bar license, Stewart, and his mother became my clients at the public defender's office. Stewart had his 2nd DUI, and Mom had either a DUI or some traffic issue, can't remember.

They were unlike a lot of public defender clients. They came to my office several times for meetings, and we always had nice conversations. Mom claimed to be a painter and said she was going to paint me something.

I resolved both their cases, no jail, just some probation, etc...

Mom gave me the ugliest painting I think I ever saw, but it was her painting and the first gift I ever received as a lawyer from a client. I remember getting some crap from my supervisor about receiving a gift, and as a result, hung it right in my office.

Stewart continued to get into minor trouble. I left the PD's office and helped Stewart for little or no money. Mom came to me with an occasional "can't pay rent can you talk to my landlord" problem.

When I was in the PD's office, they were clients with a case. When I left, I realized they were alcoholics and Stewart as well a drug addict.

Stewart got his 3d DUI, it involved a minor fender bender. He went with the public defender, but when Stewart showed up 9 minutes late to his trial and the judge took him into custody, forcing a waiver of his speedy trial right, he came up with a little bit of money and hired me.

I appealed on some pretty weak case law and a stronger argument in my mind that what the judge did, "just wasn't fair." An appellate judge agreed, and dismissed Stewart's case.

Stewart's Mom died, I found out a few months later when Stewart called about some leak in his condo. He didn't tell me about Mom, I had to ask. He was in and out of labor type jobs, setting up convention halls for meetings and shows.

Finally, he caught a break. He sold his condo and made a $70,000 profit. He took it easy, his new found fortune in hand, and didn't work, for 4 years.

A possession of cocaine case made him a convicted felon after all these years of me helping him to dodge even the hint of a misdemeanor on his record. He didn't hire me for that case, not wanting to spend some of his fortune on a decent attorney's fee.

After that conviction, I didn't hear from Stewart. He was tired of me yelling at him about being a "loser," even though he always called, and always told me "I need to hear this."

When he called yesterday, I didn't pick up. I knew I'd listen to the message later and hear either about his new arrest, or legal matter not worth pursuing under any theory.

So I listened to the message.

It wasn't Stewart.

It was his drug addict girlfriend calling to tell me she found him dead.


She told me about his last few months of life. I felt like I was watching the movie "Leaving Las Vegas" all over again.

Stewart's at the medical examiner's office. No family. No money. Awaiting an autopsy.

Stewart died a junkie.

I always liked him though.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit