LOS ANGELES – He's short, quiet and usually wears a bow tie to court. Attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach (search) may not be animated or flamboyant, but actor Robert Blake (search) hailed him as a godsend and a lifesaver after being acquitted of murder and murder solicitation charges.
Singing his praises at a news conference, Blake laid a kiss on the forehead of the 5-foot-6, 60-year-old Schwartzbach, thanking him for his hard work.
"God brought him into my life," Blake said. "He'll never be rich and he'll never be famous ... but by God he can save lives and that will keep him warm on any cold night in his life."
Schwartzbach, who has handled several major criminal cases, was the fourth lawyer hired by Blake. The first two left after the '70s television star persisted in giving interviews to TV news reporters. The third, Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search), who now represents Michael Jackson in the singer's child molestation trial, would only say he quit because of irreconcilable differences with Blake.
It was an associate of Blake's who contacted Schwartzbach. The actor and the attorney spent four hours together at their first meeting and "instantly clicked," Schwartzbach said.
"Through the process we learned to trust each other," Schwartzbach said. "He's a complicated guy and a sound bite never will really capture who he is."
Before the Blake case, Schwartzbach's most famous client was Stephen Bingham, a radical lawyer who was charged with smuggling a gun into San Quentin Prison in 1971. Black Panther Party member George Jackson used the weapon in a failed escape attempt that left Jackson, three guards and two other prisoners dead.
Bingham fled the country and lived abroad for more than 13 years before returning and facing trial. With Schwartzbach as his advocate, he was acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges in 1986.
The youngest of three children, Schwartzbach graduated from George Washington Law School in Washington. He began his career in Detroit, moving to the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1970s, and now lives in Mill Valley, a scenic community north of San Francisco.
Schwartzbach, nicknamed the "badger" by Blake, considers himself an intense competitor.
"He's not Gerry Spence (a celebrity attorney who wears cowboy hats and buckskin jackets). He's not Godzilla. He does his job," Blake said of Schwartzbach.
During Blake's trial, Schwartzbach employed a low-key approach, in contrast to prosecutor Shellie Samuels. He spoke softly, often in whispers, and his cross-examinations were detailed and methodical.
He injected touches of humor into otherwise grim proceedings and was the butt of his own jokes, making fun of his short stature and his advancing age. He was polite to his opponent, although he and Samuels sometimes traded good-natured jibes in the courtroom.
Once, when Samuels suggested he stop objecting and sit down, Schwartzbach joked, "Is that a black jacket or a black robe you're wearing?"
In a bold move, he played a videotape of Blake's TV interview by Barbara Walters to allow the "Baretta" star to testify without taking the stand and risking cross-examination.
Schwartzbach was hampered by what he called "difficult experiences." Burglars broke into his apartment and stole a laptop computer with information about the case. It later turned up at a pawn shop and two people were arrested. Police said the theft had no connection to the trial.
Kidney stones sidelined him for a couple of days during the trial.
The hardest part for him, he said, was being away from his wife, Susan, for nearly a year. He didn't see much of his 23-year-old son, Micah, either.
The case did put Schwartzbach into the national spotlight and he was contacted by people he hadn't seen in years, including two women whom he described as "first-grade and seventh-grade girlfriends."
As for the future, he wants to take a vacation with his wife and continue representing those who are wrongly accused of crimes.
"The case was a great deal of work and it took its toll on me emotionally and physically," Schwartzbach said. "I'm obviously very happy with the outcome and I get to have my life back."