Motown lawyer, TV personality Henry Baskin, dead at 88

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Henry Baskin was the kind of attorney who would fight for his clients in the courtroom and maintain lifelong friendships with the opposing counsel outside of it. 

"He was a brilliant lawyer. He was always prepared. And he would go to the ends of the world to advocate for his client," said family law attorney Edward Gold. "We could fight like cats and dogs when we had a case. But when it was over, we were still friends." 

Anchorwoman Fanchon Stinger and attorney Henry Baskin attend the CARE House of Oakland County's 13th annual Circle of Friends held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham,  Jan. 29, 2009.

Mr. Baskin, a lawyer, legal activist and television personality known for representing Motown icons, pioneering entertainment and media law practice in Michigan, and working to make complicated legal topics accessible to the public, died Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in his Bloomfield Hills home. He was 88. 

Mr. Baskin died peacefully in his sleep with his son, Marc Baskin, and his daughter, Dana Baskin-Coffman, at his side, said his son. Mr. Baskin had a heart attack in September, Baskin said.

Often referred to as the state's "first major entertainment lawyer," Mr. Baskin practiced at Baskin Law Firm, which he founded in 1958, for more than six decades and had active cases up until his death, according to his son. 

"He was very charismatic, kind of lit up a room when he went into it," said Baskin. "People seemed to be drawn to him, and he cared about the underdog."

Mr. Baskin was one of the founders and former chair of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, which awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Henry Baskin in court in May 2014.

Among a sprawling list of accolades in his career, including being recognized as one of Michigan’s most influential lawyers by the periodical Lawyers Weekly and as one of the Best Lawyers in America for more than a decade and a half, he was presented with the 2002 Champion of Justice Award from the State Bar.

In his work, Mr. Baskin pushed for new standard contracts in the music industry, representing the likes of Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and Barbra Streisand throughout his career. These, his son said, were "clearly a highlight of his career" to him. 

As an attorney, he also worked in intellectual property law, information technology, defamation, right of privacy and broadcasting licensing, among others. He handled the first biracial custody case in Michigan, sued a Rhode Island governor over paternity, and tried the first grandparent custody case. 

"Of course, he loved the media and the media loved him," said Gold, who knew Mr. Baskin for 50 years. "He represented most if not all of the anchors on the various stations in Detroit."

He represented media personalities and became something of a media personality himself. For more than a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he hosted "Due Process," an award-winning local television program on Detroit public television station WTVS, at the time Michigan's longest-running public affairs program.

On the program, Mr. Baskin featured prominent lawyers, legal experts and public figures to explain to the viewer how to navigate complex legal matters.

Episodes helped viewers understand their rights, covering interactions with landlords, doctors and home intruders while also providing information on custody in divorce cases and the debate around gay marriage and transgender rights. 

"He was very proud of the show," said his son, adding that people would often stop the family on the street when they were out with Mr. Baskin to thank him for covering topics that were relevant to them. 

Henry Baskin with his parents, Gladys and Max Baskin in 1985.

Family, friends and colleagues all attested to Mr. Baskin's philanthropic work as well. His son said the impetus for involving himself in so many charities and doing pro bono legal work was his own upbringing in poverty, as the son of first-generation immigrants who had to rely on donations and welfare checks to survive. 

Mr. Baskin founded two organizations, the Mental Illness Research Association and the Family AIDS Network. He also worked with, among others, the Association Against Children’s Substance Abuse, Variety-The Children’s Charity, and served as a board member of Haven, an Oakland County organization helping victims of domestic violence.

"Variety is so very grateful for the time and attention that Henry dedicated over two decades in order to enhance the lives of children. His generous support of Variety has touched nearly every core program," said Michelle J. Murphy, the organization's executive director in a statement. 

"Henry’s energy and enthusiasm were a constant in all of his endeavors, and he will be greatly missed by so many. Our hearts are with his family at this difficult time." 

Linda Solomon, a photojournalist who described Mr. Baskin as a "dear friend I could always count on," said what people knew about his philanthropic work did not scratch the surface of how much he really did, a sentiment his son echoed, saying even he was not aware of some of it. 

Solomon also said it was just an extension of how generous he was with his time and resources in his private life. 

Birmiingham attorney Henry Baskin chats with former Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson at the  Circle of Friends luncheon at Townsend Hotel on Aug 9, 2013.

"He would go .out of his way to just help anyone who called him, who sent him an email, who sent a text. He was there, no matter how busy, and you never, ever had that sense. He always was available."

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Baskin is survived by his sister, Carolle Hampson; and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are private.