Eagle Scout. Army veteran. FBI agent. Criminal defense attorney for 60-plus years and counting.
From afar, Art Margulis’ career trajectory suggests a carefully plotted path, if not a master plan, perhaps the culmination of a childhood dream borne of visions of Clarence Darrow or Perry Mason.
Up close, the reality is more happenstance — if no less inspiring.
“When I started law school at WashU, I didn’t have the slightest inkling that I would be a criminal defense lawyer,” said Margulis, who in fact would become one of St. Louis’ foremost criminal defense attorneys. “I was drifting — and I lucked out.”
The University City native also earned his undergraduate degree from the “hometown” school, where his ROTC appointment led to military service between law school and his three-year FBI career in Philadelphia and Miami. The ex-agent envisioned a career as a G-man, but turned down a West Coast transfer to instead return home and raise a family.
Margulis and his wife Joyce, who will celebrate their 60th anniversary later this month, would raise four sons in UCity, two of whom would become lawyers. The elder Margulis continues to practice with his son Bill, who also earned undergraduate and law degrees from Washington University in St. Louis.
Margulis’ first job as a lawyer was with Dowd and Dowd, joining a firm whose founder Edward Dowd Jr. was also a former FBI special agent. Margulis remains an active member of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.
In his prime, Margulis was known for several high-profile cases in St. Louis, including the Dennis Bulloch murder trial and the so-called Riverport Riot, when a 1991 Guns N’ Roses rock concert at a suburban amphitheater devolved into a melee after lead singer Axl Rose jumped off stage to fight a camera-wielding fan.
Rose pleaded guilty to four counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of property damage and was fined $50,000. For his trouble, Margulis was gifted a GNR leather jacket by the volatile lead singer — and more importantly, earned plenty of huzzahs from his then 20-something sons.
“When I told them I was defending Axl Rose, all the boys at home went crazy,” he said.
Now 87, Margulis is semi-retired, enabling him to spend more time on the Westwood Country Club golf course as well as with his kids plus 10 grandchildren. Attorney son Jim is in private practice in Boulder, Colorado, while sons Tom and Art Jr. both work in finance and live in St. Louis and Chicago, respectively.
Like many of his fellow ICON Award winners, Margulis conveys a sense of humility that belies his lengthy accomplishments.
“I guess I’m still trying to figure it out,” he said. “I absolutely don’t see myself as an icon. I’m just another lawyer.”