Michael Morchower, a flamboyant Richmond criminal defense lawyer whose headline-generating representation of rascally clients earned him the moniker “Magic Mike,” died Sunday at a nursing home in Farnham on the Northern Neck. He was 79 and had been in declining health for several years.
Mr. Morchower, a Bayonne, N.J., native with an urban patois that endured despite six decades in the South, took as clients accused killers, drug dealers and scandal-stained politicians.
From the 1970s until his retirement in 2012, his practice thrived, built around protections for criminal defendants carved out by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“He’d go to court — the guy was guilty — and he could get him off. That was his strength,” Learned D. Barry, a veteran Richmond prosecutor, said of Mr. Morchower, an adversary in homicide cases for over 30 years. “I don’t think he spent hours and days preparing a case. He just used common sense.”
At 6-foot-3, his dark hair swept back, a white handkerchief jutting from his suit coat pocket and favoring convertible sports cars with a “Magic M” vanity license plate, Mr. Morchower was difficult to miss — a swashbuckler in a city where lawyers usually are mannered and given to understatement.
“He was a fighter,” said John W. Luxton, who practiced with Mr. Morchower for nearly 40 years. “He would fight with the police. He would fight with the prosecutors. Somehow he wouldn’t make it personal. He had a lot of friendships with people on the outside he would fight in the courtroom.”
Before private practice, Mr. Morchower was an FBI agent, posted to its New Orleans office, an assistant U.S. attorney in Richmond and a federal magistrate, supervising arraignments and bond hearings.
Luxton said Mr. Morchower’s government service imbued him with an appreciation for defendant rights, because “he had seen a lot of the abuses.”
Mr. Morchower’s high-profile clients included former Richmond Councilman Henry W. “Chuck” Richardson, whose political career was derailed by drug charges, and two men convicted in 1977 of flying 3 tons of marijuana into Hanover Airport — a case for which Mr. Morchower won a new trial after a federal court agreed jury selection was flawed.
Mr. Morchower, the youngest of three sons born to a couple in the real estate business, was educated at New York Military Academy and the University of Richmond, which he attended on a basketball scholarship, and its law school.
Mr. Morchower, who lived in Weems in Lancaster County, is survived by his wife, Kathy; a son, Todd, and a granddaughter. Another son, Randy, died in 2015.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.