C. Rabon Martin (1944-2010)

by Shawna Lewis


A true Midwestern man, Rabon Martin was a wild hobbyist, a tough man of the law and a sweet admirer of his people and land—not to say he didn’t have his quirks.

“I heard he was the best lawyer in town, so I called him to ask about working for him,” says Ian Shahan. “All he said was, ‘Meet me downtown for drinks. I’ll be in a red Jaguar convertible with a blonde in a baseball cap.’”

He thought Martin was joking, but he showed up to find exactly that. “I asked if he wanted to see a resumé, and he just said, ‘No, I think we’ll get along fine.’”

Shahan worked closely with Martin from that moment on. “Rabon was always go-go-go. Everything, all at once, all the time.”

More than just one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Oklahoma, Martin was also a writer, pilot, athlete, bungee jumper, vintage car collector, motorcycle rider and sailboat skipper. Martin was voted Tulsa’s favorite newspaper humorist for his rants on local laws and establishments in the Uptown News, under the pseudonym “Debonus Dementis,” latin for “the demented one.”

He also managed to write his own obituary for Tulsa World, detailing these and other hobbies.

“Never much for religion,” Martin writes, “I believed in the importance of living one’s life as gracefully and stylishly as possible, under the four rules I formulated to govern my own conduct and which I often recommended to others: 1. Don’t hit anybody with a stick. 2. Don’t steal their stuff. 3. Take good care of yourself first. 4. Help out whenever you can.”

Shahan remembers Martin’s strong devotion to his principles. “There’s not enough people who refuse to stand by while the strong tread on the weak.,” he says of Martin’s criminal defense work. “Rabon knew there were some punishments that didn’t fit the crime. A lot of people who commit crimes are just people who made a mistake. Rabon wouldn’t stand by and let that guy serve decades of punishment because of one little slip-up.”

With a soft spot for drug users, Martin often defended them, feeling they didn’t deserve punishment if they weren’t hurting others. Shahan explains, “A homeless guy with ten dollars worth of crack in his pocket will get years in prison while violent criminals will get far less. Rabon couldn’t stand that. At the Tulsa Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, he was always discussing drugs—especially meth, because that’s been such a major drug in Tulsa lately.”

Martin was also a proud member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, where he served as State Coordinator.

Martin’s loyalty to his clients led him to the Supreme Court several times. Arguably the most famous is when he defended a man held in contempt of court for yelling “chicken shit,” and won on the basis that nobody had told him he couldn’t say it.

“Rabon was very intelligent in court,” Shahan recalls. “It enabled him to not have to scream at people or try to intimidate them.”

Though the ruling has since been overturned, Martin also got seat belts declared unconstitutional after his son was ticketed for not wearing one.

Martin’s vigor led him to varying levels of fame and notoriety. “At one point he was talking with Morgan Freeman, the actor, about making a movie or a television show about his life,” Shahan says.

Martin’s friends and coworkers remember him walking around in big fur coats, bowling shoes without socks, and other eye-catching outfits from time to time. “It was just one of those things for him,” Shahan sighs. “Rabon wrote his own rules about what was appropriate.”