Steven J. Lustgarten 9/8/14 09/08/14 12:49:29 AM
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|Steven J. Lustgarten
Feb 19, 1928 - Aug 25, 2014
The rain had been relentless. Then, just before 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, August 27, the downpour let up.
Grave-side services for Steven J. Lustgarten began at Fisher Farm Cemetery. When it was over, mourners got back in their cars and the heavens opened up again. Yes, the heavens smiled on Steve and his loved ones.
The Omaha attorney spent all of his 86 years, except for those years in the U.S. Navy during WWII, in Omaha. He was a star basketball player in both high school and college. He earned both bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Nebraska Omaha, then graduated from Creighton University School of Law.
Out of his 50-year law career, Steve shared the last 36 of them with his law partner, Donald A. Roberts.
Roberts clerked for Steve when he was in law school, from 1973 to 1975.
“We’ve been partners since 1978. We did it on a handshake in the basement,” Roberts recalled. “He was a great teacher and mentor.”
Steve Lustgarten was a trailblazer.
At a time – in the 1970s – when not many lawyers wanted to handle divorce cases, Steve welcomed all comers. “Back in 1978, he was one of three or four lawyers in town who were doing divorces. He accepted all kinds, not just high end ones. Ephraim Marks, Warren Zweiback and Steve were some of the best known divorce lawyers in the city,” Roberts remembered.
Steve’s son Michael, who has spent the past 29 years as a partner in the law firm of Lustgarten & Roberts, P.C., L.L.O., said his father set the standard for divorce law that still stands today. He pioneered the use of exhibits and methods of documents evidence.
“Family law was, and is, our specialty.” Steve had few hobbies; his work was his life, Michael said.
Son Michael recalled taking a bus as a “little kid” to his dad’s downtown office. “I guess I started to realize then that I wanted to be a lawyer like him.”
He said that his father was a no-nonsense guy who represented his clients well. “He required honesty and integrity not only of himself but of his opposing lawyers. Dad taught Don and me and all the lawyers who clerked here all about family law.”
His skills were acknowledged by his peers, who awarded him the highest “AV Preeminent” rating from Martindale-Hubbell®.
“He’d never admit it,” Michael said, “but he had accomplished a great deal from the time he was a bartender in South Omaha to establishing precedent in divorce law.”
Even at 86, he continued to come into the office nearly every day.
“The past five years he was not practicing actively. When he felt he could no longer withstand the rigors of the courtroom, he stepped down from that. But he came in to the office virtually every day, usually for half a day,” Roberts said.
“You could always set your clock by him. Lunch was 11 to 11:20, and that was when we’d tell him about cases and he’d tell us what he thought. Despite some health challenges, his mind remained sharp right up until the end.”
His partner paused on a question posed to him, then answered, “If I had to pick four words to describe Steve, they would be honesty, integrity, tenacity and loyalty. He had great humor and humility. He loved to hear a good joke and to tell a good joke. He even liked jokes that were not so good.”
Roberts, who was certainly in a position to know, said his partner had “a great work ethic and he was always prepared. Law school might teach you the law, but Steve was knowledgeable in the practical, hands-on, street-smart side of the practice too.”
Somewhat wistfully, his longtime friend added, “I don’t think there’s anyone else I would have wanted to practice with. We never had a cross word.”
He and his wife of 62 years, Thelma, raised two son, Scott and Michael, and a daughter, Jill. While their son, Michael, followed in his dad’s footsteps their daughter wasn’t far behind. She worked for many years as a bailiff at the Douglas County Courthouse, and still works there part-time.
The family suggests memorials to Beth El Synagogue or the Rose Blumkin Home.
– By Lorraine Boyd