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Detroit’s legal community is mourning the death of veteran criminal defense attorney Robert Mitchell.

Mitchell died Sunday. He was 91.

Mitchell continued to be a fixture at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, where fellow lawyers greeted him as “The Chief” as recently as the last couple of months.

Former Detroit News editor Judy Diebolt, who also covered Detroit’s courts as a reporter for both The News and the Detroit Free Press, said Mitchell was legendary among the city’s attorneys.

“Everyone has a story about The Chief,” Diebolt said Monday. “The Chief would have an impossible case and he would come up with what someone would think was a ludicrous (legal strategy) and win the case. No matter what, he was always inventive.”

Diebolt said Mitchell was “courtly” and a gentleman.

Judge Kenneth King of Detroit’s 36th District Court, said Mitchell was a “master” in the courtroom.

“There is no substitute for experience,” King said Monday. “He was good and well-respected. He would have the jury eating out of his hand.”

Mitchell, said King, played up his age so that he could throw his opposing counsel off. But, he added, Mitchell practiced “client control” better than many attorneys.

“Nobody could command respect like him,” said King. “He would tell a client, ‘Shut up, young man, I’m doing the talking,’ and the client would.”

King said Mitchell called him “K.K.” and came to the courthouse on a regular basis even as his health declined, greeting judges and attorneys alike.

“He would come into my courtroom every day with his walker and his oxygen,” said King. “His body failed him but his mind was still there.”

The family is expected to released more details about Mitchell’s death and funeral arrangements Tuesday.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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