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Rick Halprin: Requiem for a defense attorney

Rick HalprJoey 'The Clown' Lombardo's lawyer talks media. Sun-Times library

Rick Halprin, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo's lawyer, talks to the media. Sun-Times library

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Updated: July 10, 2013 6:36AM

Life, on a good day, can be messy.

Rick Halprin knew that better than most.

The colorful and accomplished Chicago defense attorney took his own life with a handgun on Tuesday morning just before sheriff’s deputies arrived to serve an eviction notice on his Hyde Park condo.

Were friends shocked?




About 115 of us met at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen on South Jefferson Thursday for his memorial service.

Manny’s, you ask?

A Jewish deli was as close to a synagogue as Rick was going to get.

The eulogies flowed.

One old pal, attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin, said he’d gone searching for a quote to use. He knew it best not to invoke the Bible or the Torah. He chose instead Albert Camus’ “The Rebel” in which one line, he said, jumped out.

“Better to die on one’s feet,” wrote Camus, “than to live on one’s knees.”

Halprin, a bantam-sized former Marine with a booming voice, loomed large in the courtroom. He spent decades defending high-profile clients in headline cases. Corrupt politicians, murderous mobsters, and Chicago’s deadliest gang, the El Rukns.

He was a superb lawyer.

But he’d be the first to tell you that his personal life was a wreck.

Three divorces.

Crippling back pain.

And failing finances.

“Rick faced many trials,” said his attorney-sister Judith Halprin, “in and out of the courtroom.”

But there are many ways to take the measure of a man’s life. And looking at the people who filled the dining room of this iconic Chicago deli spoke volumes.

There was acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro, supervisor of many an Outfit prosecution, in the same room with Joe and Michael DiNatale, who represent the family of imprisoned mob boss Joey “The Clown” Lombardo.

There was Rick Bueke, who defended infamous police commander and torturer Jon Burge. There was the former federal prosecutor, David Weisman, who won Burge’s conviction.

And there was lawyer Joe “The Shark” Lopez in full, flamboyant, sartorial splendor under the same roof with the monochromatic, buttoned-down Chicago inspector general, Joe Ferguson.

If this respectful coming-together happened in Congress, you’d call it bipartisan.

If it occurred in Springfield, you’d call it a miracle.

But this was Chicago’s legal community. And it was something to see. Including the quiet presence of Jennifer Mars, wife of the late, pit-bull federal prosecutor Mitch Mars.

In the Family Secrets trial of old, cold mob killers, Mitch sent every one of them to prison, including Rick’s client.

Rick wept when Mitch died.

Mitch’s widow was there to mourn and celebrate Rick.

And comfort Rick’s daughter, Eden, whom he loved even more than the law.

At 73, on the night before his death, Rick told best friend and former law partner Bill Murphy that he wanted to close his eyes and not wake up.

He ended up granting his own wish.

Living and dying on his own terms.

On his feet, not his knees.

Peace, my friend.

At last.

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