Jacob A. Stein, an Eminence Among Washington Lawyers, Dies at 94

Jacob A. Stein, a quick-witted Washington lawyer who won the only major acquittal of a Watergate defendant, gained immunity for the former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky to testify against President Bill Clinton and, as an independent counsel, cleared Edwin Meese 3d to become attorney general in 1984, died on April 3 at his home in Washington. He was 94.

The cause was multiple myeloma, his daughter, Julie Stein, said.

A rare second-generation Washington lawyer, Mr. Stein rose to become the unofficial dean of the District of Columbia bar. He seldom left a courtroom without earning the respect of his colleagues, the judge, the jury and even his client, the defendant, win or lose.

He successfully defended Senator Bob Packwood, Republican of Oregon, against criminal charges of influence peddling. (Mr. Packwood resigned in 1995 facing allegations of sexual misconduct.) But the senator said he would have been impressed with Mr. Stein’s legal advocacy regardless of the verdict.

“He’s the kind of lawyer that if you were indicted for murder, found guilty and hanged, you’d still think you had a good defense,” Mr. Packwood told The Washington Post in 1998.

In 1974, Mr. Stein represented Kenneth W. Parkinson, a former lawyer for President Richard M. Nixon’s re-election committee, who was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal and tried with four other campaign officials.

Weeping as he delivered his closing argument, Mr. Stein said his client had been a pawn of “confessed perjurers.” He pleaded for the jurors to consider his client’s character. “Doesn’t a lifetime, where you built it up grain by grain, weigh against that?”

The jury convicted the president’s former close aides John D. Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, the former campaign lawyer Robert C. Mardian and former Attorney General John N. Mitchell. Mr. Parkinson was found not guilty.

In 1984, a three-judge panel named Mr. Stein as an independent counsel to examine financial dealings involving Mr. Meese, President Ronald Reagan’s nominee for attorney general.

In what was regarded as a model investigation because of its breadth and brevity, Mr. Stein, after interviewing more than 200 witnesses in six months, concluded that there was no basis for a federal prosecution. The ethical propriety of Mr. Meese’s conduct, however, was beyond his jurisdiction, he said. (Mr. Meese resigned in 1988 after an inquiry into other charges questioned his ethical lapses but found no criminal wrongdoing.)

In 1998, Ms. Lewinsky was facing possible perjury charges leveled by Ken Starr, the independent counsel, for her previous denials that she had carried on a sexual relationship with Mr. Clinton.

That summer she recruited Mr. Stein and Plato Cacheris, battle-hardened veterans of the defense bar who within weeks had stunned Washington by announcing that their client had been granted full immunity from prosecution in return for her testimony that she had had an affair with the president.

“There was nothing to celebrate,” Mr. Stein told The New York Times after the deal was negotiated. “None of this called for a party. This is a tragedy.”

Jacob A. (he said the A stands for nothing) was born on March 15, 1925, in Washington to Joseph B. Stein, a lawyer, and Eva (Goldberg) Stein, a homemaker. After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1947 from George Washington University, he graduated from its law school in 1948.

“If he had to take the L.S.A.T.’s and jump through the hoops of today, I doubt he would have become a lawyer,” Julie Stein said. “His backup would have been to run away and join a vaudeville show or to become a juggler.”

An avocation was all that survived from his boyhood dream of a juggling career. “I thought that would be a wonderful life,” Mr. Stein said, “to do something to perfection.”

He married Mary Margaret Simeon, who died last year. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Joseph Stein.

By temperament, Mr. Stein played good cop to Mr. Cacheris’s bad and was so scholarly that he would routinely retreat to his windowless office a few blocks from the White House for afternoon literary siestas, when he would ignore telephone calls and indulge in 18th- and 19th-century French and English novels instead.

His sanctuary at the elegant suite occupied by Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner was equipped with a rocking chair (“the only talent I’ve got, I think is the talent for staying awake while reading,” he said) and a writing desk (“the symptoms of deposition torpor began creeping over me,” he explained, as he traveled past “the outer reefs of relevancy and beyond the cape of materiality”).

On the wall a discordant cautionary sign accompanying a mounted bluefish read: “If I’d kept my big mouth shut, I wouldn’t be here.”

Completing the décor were two pictures of Winston Churchill, a bust of Benjamin Franklin, a portrait of Oliver Wendell Holmes and a photograph of himself demonstrating his proficiency at three-pin juggling outside the federal Court House.

Mr. Stein’s personal appearance was quaintly cultivated, too. Sartorially Gatsbyesque, he wore two-toned shoes, tailor-made double-breasted suits (white in summer) with bow ties and long white flannels for tennis. (He also ran the Marine Corps Marathon when he was 59.)

Among his other cases were his defense of Dwight L. Chapin, Nixon’s former appointments secretary, who was convicted of perjury in 1974 in the Watergate inquiry; and his representation of the White House press secretary James S. Brady, who, after he was wounded in 1981 in the attempted assassination of President Reagan, filed civil lawsuits against the gunman John W. Hinckley Jr. (Mr. Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, later agreed to give Mr. Brady and others profits from a book and movie rights to his story.)

A former president of the District of Columbia bar, Mr. Stein wrote regular columns for The Washington Lawyer. They were collected in several volumes, including “Legal Spectator and More” (2007) and “Eulogy of Lawyers Written by a Lawyer” (2010).

In one column, he wrote that lawyers are typically plagued by insecurity: If they lose a case, they should have won; when they win, it was a foregone conclusion. He suggested a permanent remedy: Become a judge. “Once a lawyer becomes a judge,” Mr. Stein wrote, “he can enjoy administering self-doubt, as needed, to those friends at the bar he left behind.”