Michael Balaban was a brilliant trial lawyer with a varied and storied career that included working under Robert F. Kennedy in 1963 as assistant United States attorney and founding the Federal Public Defenders office in Los Angeles with John Van de Kamp.
He represented Anthony Russo and Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case, and one of his proudest moments was in 1989 when he represented the NAACP, pro bono, in a case that allowed people of color to join the National Elks Lodge.
“He had a deeply rooted sense of justice that guided not only his legal career but also his social and personal interactions,” said his wife, Carolyn Balaban, his wife of 46 years. “He was a man of uncommon intellect, exuberance, creativity, generosity and fearless optimism. First and foremost, he was a devoted and loving husband, father, grandfather and friend.”
Mr. Balaban, who died March 21 at their home in Santa Ynez after battling Alzheimer’s Disease for many years, was born in Chicago on Feb. 8, 1939, and moved to California in the 1950s, graduating from North Hollywood High School, where he played in the Los Angeles City Football Championship at the L.A. Coliseum in 1956.
In a 2006 News-Press article, Mr. Balaban recalled that attendance at the high school game almost rivaled the attendance at the first Super Bowl in 1967 when Green Bay played Kansas City. He was there for the historic occasion.
“Most people, as I recall, even in the press, were putting it down as a Barnum and Bailey sort of thing,” he said in the article. “The real championship was the NFL championship, which Green Bay had won.
The Packers also won the inaugural bowl, 35-10.”
After graduating from high school, Mr. Balaban earned his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and juris doctor degree from Harvard University.
In 1979, the Balabans moved to Santa Ynez Valley, and Mr. Balaban continued to commute to Los Angeles, where he practiced law for 35 years, while pursuing his passion and hobby of raising thoroughbred horses for racing with his wife.
“We proudly watched our homebred, Manny’s Prospect, named after Michael’s father, win the La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar in 1993,” said Mrs. Balaban.
Her husband also focused his humanitarian efforts in many ways.
“He said, ‘I truly believe that you can change the world for the better, one person at a time. I try to live my life by the motto, ‘Think globally and act locally,’ “ Mrs. Balaban said.
He founded the Santa Barbara County Community Relations Commission in 1991 and created Camp Unity, which was dedicated to encouraging young people to respect and celebrate diversity.
He was responsible for bringing “The Circuit,” a theater performance, to Santa Ynez Valley High School. This involved the Hispanic community and eventually traveled to 30 schools and appeared at the Theater Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2005.
Mr. Balaban, who served on the boards of People Helping People and the Santa Barbara Anti-Defamation League, was named Santa Ynez Valley Man of the Year in 2005.
“Michael’s immense energy and enthusiasm were also expressed in his athletic and adventure pursuits,” said his wife. “Golfing and bicycling around the world, ocean swimming in Hawaii and participating in the 2008 Lavaman Triathlon in Kona were among them. At 72, he participated as the oldest rider in Amgen’s race of Truth in Solvang in 2011.”
In addition to his wife, Carolyn, Mr. Balaban is survived by his children: Melissa Balaban-Wergeles, Mark Balaban, Kimberly Wright and Stephanie Holthaus; and his grandchildren: Darin, Maya, Kira, Emma, Ryan, Gillian, Jude, Lowen and Levi.
Donations in Mr. Balaban’s name can be sent to ACLU Foundation Department, 1313 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90017.