Jerome R. Lewis, a prominent divorce lawyer who was sued by a former client in a landmark legal malpractice case, died Jan. 13 of cancer, his family said. He was 91.
A skilled litigator and expert on family law, Mr. Lewis was one of Sacramento's top divorce lawyers for many years. He lectured for the State Bar of California's continuing legal education program and was a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He also volunteered as legal counsel for Planned Parenthood.
He became involved in an unseemly professional battle when a former client sued him for negligence for failing to seek half of her ex-husband's military pension in their 1967 divorce. He accused the woman's malpractice attorney of pursuing a personal vendetta because Mr. Lewis had earlier represented the attorney's wife in their divorce.
A Sacramento jury ordered Mr. Lewis in 1970 to pay his former client $100,000. Upheld by the state Supreme Court, the decision started a trend of legal malpractice lawsuits in California.
In 1978, he was identified by name in a Time magazine cover story about errant lawyers. He lost a defamation lawsuit against the magazine.
In 1981, however, Mr. Lewis said that he felt "somewhat vindicated" when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a military wife did not have a right to her ex-husband's pension.
"The highest court in the land supported my concept of the law," he told The Bee.
Mr. Lewis was widely respected among peers during a legal career that spanned more than 40 years. In 1973, he was elected president of the Sacramento County Bar Association. He served as vice president and for three years as a board member of the State Bar of California.
A gracious, outgoing man who made friends easily in all walks of life, he was active in Sacramento arts, cultural and sports groups. He was a past president of Sutter Lawn Tennis Club and he belonged to the Sutter Club.
"Jerry was a really straight shooter who always did what he thought was correct," said Burnett Miller, a former Sacramento mayor and lifelong friend. "Anyone who was familiar with him enjoyed his company tremendously."
Born in Sacramento in 1920, Mr. Lewis was one of two sons raised by Anne and Ralph Lewis. He graduated from Christian Brothers High School and UC Berkeley and served as a Navy officer.
He earned a degree from Hastings School of Law and was admitted to the state bar in 1949. He worked with his father, a lawyer, for 15 years before starting his own legal practice.
He had three children with his wife of 67 years, the former Christine Briggs. He was predeceased by a son, Jerome Jr.
Mr. Lewis won a city handball title and worked out three times a week until recently, his family said. He enjoyed playing tennis, traveling and spending time with his wife at their country home in Glen Ellen until her death in 2009.
"He had such a strong relationship with my mother," their daughter, Lin, said. "They had an amazing life together."