Godfrey Isaac dies at 90; lawyer represented Judy Garland, Sirhan Sirhan

Godfrey Isaac dies at 90; lawyer represented Judy Garland, Sirhan Sirhan
Godfrey Isaac, middle, is shown in October 1975 when he was representing Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, during an appeal. (Robert Lachman, Los Angeles Times)

Godfrey Isaac always loved celebrities. As a child, he idolized Hollywood movie stars. As an adult, he defended them in the courtroom.

When Judy Garland sought an annulment from actor and fourth husband Mark Herron in 1966, Isaac argued their marriage had never been consummated.


When Francesco Quinn, actor Anthony Quinn's son, successfully fought charges in 1989 that he beat his girlfriend, Isaac told a Santa Monica jury that the girlfriend was a crazed former lover and compared her to the female villain in the movie "Fatal Attraction."

Isaac even represented Thomas Noguchi, the self-styled "coroner to the stars" as he twice fought removals from his job as Los Angeles County's chief coroner after being accused of sensationalizing celebrities' deaths.

An aggressive and high-profile attorney whose legal career spanned more than six decades, Isaac died May 8 of cardiopulmonary arrest at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his wife, Kathleen Isaac, said. He was 90.

Isaac, who described himself to the Times in 1991 as someone who was "into hustle, enthusiasm and high-energy trial work," was born April 25, 1925, in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

During World War II, Isaac served in the armored infantry with Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army, his wife said. Isaac moved to Los Angeles after the war, attending USC and earning his law degree from Loyola Law School. He was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1952.

In 1969, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors fired the high-profile and flamboyant Noguchi, who had performed Marilyn Monroe's autopsy, publicly revealed that Janis Joplin and John Belushi died of accidental overdoses and was accused of dancing in his office while waiting for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to die.

With Isaac successfully defending him in a civil service hearing against accusations of mismanagement and bullying subordinates, Noguchi was reinstated.

Isaac represented the Japanese-born Noguchi when he was forced out of office again in 1982, implying that there were racial overtones to his removal. Noguchi, who was prone to holding press conferences after celebrity deaths, lost his job as county coroner for good the second time around.

The first Noguchi case raised Isaac's stature in Los Angeles, and he frequently took high-profile cases. In 1979, he wrote a book, "I'll See You in Court," dubbing himself "Hollywood's Hottest Celebrity Lawyer."

In the 1970s, Isaac represented Sirhan Sirhan — who had been convicted of killing Sen. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968 — in his appeals.

Isaac tried to reopen the assassination investigation, claiming there was a second gunman who actually killed Kennedy and that Sirhan had been wrongly convicted. The state Supreme Court turned down his petitions. Sirhan is serving a life sentence.

In 1990, Isaac successfully represented a black professor who was denied tenure at the Claremont Graduate School because of racial bias. The professor, Reginald Clark, was awarded more than $1 million by a jury.

"The decision is a triumph over the old boys' system," Isaac told The Times.

Outside the courthouse, Isaac, who adored movies, served for years on the board of directors of the American Cinematheque.


Kathleen Isaac, a practicing appellate attorney, said she and her late husband would often leave work, grab some martinis and spend the evenings talking about court and cinema, two of their great loves.

"From the time he was a kid, he was enamored by Hollywood and movie stars," Kathleen said. "He couldn't believe his good fortune when he started meeting these people and actually started representing them. When you're a really good trial lawyer, you're sort of like an actor. He enjoyed every moment."

Besides his wife, Isaac is survived by his son, David; daughter-in-law, Jackie; daughter, Julie; and two grandchildren.