He was one of those “Buffalo guys” who resembled a character from an old movie – a short, scrappy, chain-smoking defense attorney, with rumpled clothing and a distinctive raspy voice. He had a thousand opinions and a thousand friends among Buffalo’s cops, attorneys, judges and news reporters.
Adrian R. Weissfeld, who was well-known in Buffalo legal circles from the early 1960s until his retirement two years ago, died Wednesday in the Weinberg Campus skilled nursing facility, after a short illness. He was 79.
His many clients included accused killers, sex offenders, drunk drivers, bank robbers and a University at Buffalo student who went on a drunken rampage in a research laboratory, freeing 750 rats, chickens and other animals.
“Adrian would come to court dressed like Lt. Columbo. He had the worst taste in clothes I’ve ever seen. But he did a good job,” said defense attorney Michael T. Kelly, a former Erie County prosecutor. “We were the best of friends, but we had seven trials against each other and we never went easy on each other in court.”
Kelly recalled one police brutality trial that he prosecuted, with Mr. Weissfeld on the other side. Kelly was in the middle of his closing statement when Mr. Weissfeld jumped up and told the judge he needed to use the bathroom.
“Adrian gets up, walks out of the courtroom and uses the bathroom, right outside the courtroom. The jury could hear everything he was doing, including flushing the toilet,” Kelly said. “He totally destroyed the momentum of my closing statement.”
A North Buffalo native who later lived in Amherst, Mr. Weissfeld handled thousands of criminal cases in courts all over Western New York, and was especially known as a defender of police officers accused of wrongdoing.
“Adrian felt that police officers had a very difficult job to do, and he felt they sometimes got caught up in situations beyond their control, and he tried to help them,” recalled Tony Farina, a veteran newsman who was one of Mr. Weissfeld’s best friends for 40 years. “Adrian was one of those legendary figures that are disappearing from the scene in Buffalo, one at a time.”
Mr. Weissfeld for decades was one of the mainstays of “the Table” at the downtown Washington Square restaurant where many of Buffalo’s top lawyers, judges, politicians and reporters gathered for lunch, gossip, wisecracks and debate.
“Adrian would really hold court at that table,” Farina said. “There would be a lot of liberals and a lot of conservatives sitting there, and Adrian would know exactly what to say to stir up a good debate.”
His own family sometimes had arguments about the cases Mr. Weissfeld was handling, remembered Rachel Weissfeld, one of his two daughters.
“My father would always take the side of the defendant,” she said. “His philosophy was that everyone was entitled to a defense, and that every defendant is innocent until proven guilty.”
In 1971, Mr. Weissfeld successfully defended a popular Buffalo radio and television personality who used a toy gun to rob an Amherst bank of $503. In 1992, he successfully defended a Buffalo police officer who had been accused of staging a bank robbery while off-duty. In both cases, Mr. Weissfeld argued that his clients were mentally disturbed.
Mr. Weissfeld was born on Feb. 16, 1935 in Buffalo, the son of two attorneys, and raised on Starin Avenue. A star tennis player for Bennett High School, he earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Buffalo and then went on to earn a law degree from Union College Law School in Albany. He began practicing law about 1960.
He spent much of his time in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s working as counsel to the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, representing police officers who were accused of police brutality and other illegal conduct. Mr. Weissfeld defended officers in the criminal courts and battled with many police commissioners, but was also known for his skill at finding amicable ways to settle disputes.
“If a cop gets into trouble, I’m there to help him,” he told a Buffalo News reporter in the early 1980s. “These guys risk their lives for the city every day.”
Mr. Weissfeld was a colleague and friend of many legendary lawyers of his era, including the late Harold Boreanaz, the late John Condon and the late State Supreme Court Judge Vincent Doyle.
When he wasn’t working, Mr. Weissfeld loved reading mysteries and books about politics and history. He could plow through a good book in one day, and he often did, his daughter said.
He also was a huge sports fan, especially of the Buffalo Bills, the old Buffalo Braves basketball team and Canisius College basketball. He also loved spending time at Waverly Beach, Ont., or traveling to Europe with his late wife, the former Molly Bleichfeld, who died in 1996. He also enjoyed golden retrievers.
In 1994 and 1995, Mr. Weissfeld served as an expert commentator for Channel 2 News during its coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder case.
He is survived by Rachel and a second daughter, Hallie Weissfeld Brownstein; a brother, attorney Richard Weissfeld, and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave..