BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Michael C. Lukehart, a defense attorney whose dry wit and keen intellect were on display for more than three decades in Kern County courtrooms, has died. He was 67.
Lukehart, who retired in 2017, died Tuesday following a two-year battle with cancer, said Alexis Lukehart, his wife of 40 years.
Alexis Lukehart said she appreciates the outpouring of support from the community.
Several colleagues recalled his remarkable track record and relentlessness in the courtroom, and expressed admiration for the unabashed pride he had in his family.
Defense attorney H.A. Sala called Lukehart one of the most talented, tenacious and effective criminal defense attorneys to ever practice law in Kern.
“‘Luke’ was relentless in the pursuit of justice for the accused and fought with the heart of a lion,” Sala said. “He tried countless cases and achieved unprecedented results which stunned prosecutors and delighted his clients.”
“He will be missed,” Sala said.
Defense lawyer David A. Torres said Lukehart was smart, hardworking and ethical beyond reproach. But more importantly, Torres said, he was a great human being who put family first.
Lukehart, Torres and attorney H.A. Sala were invariably the last to leave board meetings of the local criminal defense group, Torres said. They took time after the meetings to discuss and strategize their respective cases.
Eventually, though, the talk would gravitate toward their children. Torres said the love Lukehart had for his two sons and daughter was evident in how he gushed about them.
“I always knew what Michael’s sons and daughter were doing with their respective lives because Mike would let us know while beaming with tremendous pride,” Torres said.
Superior Court Judge Brian M. McNamara, a close friend who for years had lunch with Lukehart every Friday, called him the “consummate defense attorney.” Highly regarded by everyone, he had a unique but effective courtroom manner, McNamara said.
For example, before court was in session he would tell the prosecutor exactly what he planned to do, McNamara said. It would sometimes throw the prosecutor off, make them think he was pulling a trick and do the opposite of what he said.
But that wasn’t the case. Lukehart had enough confidence in his ability that he didn’t mind sharing his strategy, McNamara said. His attitude was, “You can’t stop me anyway,” the judge said.
Lukehart opened his own practice in 2008 after years spent honing his craft in the Public Defender’s office.
The California Public Defenders Association in 2002 named him “Defender of the Year” in a statewide honor, one of many he received during a career filled with nearly 300 felony jury trials, including death penalty cases.
McNamara said the award was the ultimate validation, a signal moment in a stellar career and one that shone a positive light on the Kern legal community.
“He represented all of Kern County just by the fact he made us look better,” McNamara said.
Funeral arrangements were pending.