S. Rifkind; Lawyer in High-Profile Cases

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Simon Rifkind, a lawyer whose list of clients included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Pennzoil and Holocaust survivors, and a jurist who heard California’s battle with Arizona over Colorado River water rights, has died. He was 94.

Rifkind, who had recently used a wheelchair because of his frailty, died Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.

Born in Meretz, Russia, on June 5, 1901, Rifkind moved to New York with his family in 1910. He was educated at City College of New York and Columbia University, and spent seven decades in law, renowned as a trial lawyer.

Rifkind served as a U.S. District Court judge in New York for nine years, but resigned in 1950 claiming he could no longer live on the $15,000 annual salary.


In 1956, he was appointed special master by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Colorado River water dispute in San Francisco.

Close to the Kennedy family, Rifkind was named by President John F. Kennedy to his Railroad Commission and later represented Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in her legal battle to stop the publication of William Manchester’s 1967 book “The Death of a President.” He also handled her case against celebrity photographer Ronald Galella, and gave her daughter Caroline a summer associate job in his law firm.

Rifkind worked as an adviser on Jewish affairs for the Army in Europe during 1945 and 1946, earning the Medal of Freedom. He helped uprooted survivors of the Holocaust in Germany and Austria and appealed for more assistance to them.

At age 85, Rifkind was one of six lawyers who argued on behalf of Pennzoil in one stage of its legal battle with rival Texaco in 1986.

Pennzoil was successful in persuading the Texas 1st Court of Appeals to uphold a judgment that required Texaco to pay $10.53 billion in damages.

The court found that Texaco had interfered with Pennzoil’s plan to buy three-sevenths of the Getty Oil company and the case was settled for $3 billion.

Rifkind was the person who first reported the mysterious disappearance in 1930 of a New York Supreme Court judge named Joseph F. Crater after the judge got into a cab outside a New York restaurant. Crater was never seen again.