Bob Ravitz died
Robert "Bob" Ravitz, Oklahoma County's longtime chief of its public defender's office, died Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (NonDoc)

Robert “Bob” Ravitz, the longtime chief public defender in Oklahoma County, died today at age 71.

Highly regarded in the state’s legal community and known as “boss” to his former employees even after they left the public defender’s office, Ravitz graduated from the Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1976. He became Oklahoma County’s lead public defender in 1987, and he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Cooper v. Oklahoma, a case where the nation’s highest court unanimously ruled that Oklahoma’s standard for determining competency of a defendant was unconstitutional.

Ravitz also had a hand in educating future lawyers in the classroom. The 71-year-old served as an adjunct professor at OCU, focusing on trial practice, capital litigation and criminal procedure.

Ravitz was also frequently honored by his peers in law. Ravitz was the recipient of the Oklahoma Defense Lawyers’ Association’s Clarence Darrow Award in 1996 for his handling of the Cooper case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ravitz also received the Angie Deebo Civil Liberties Award for his contributions to civil liberties in 1985. In 2001, Ravitz was awarded the Barry Albert Award and, more recently, the Opio Toure Champion of Justice Award.

‘Bob Ravitz was a true public servant’

Bob Ravitz
Flanked by Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, Oklahoma County chief public defender Bob Ravitz shares a laugh with Oklahoma administrator of the courts Jari Askins during an Oklahoma State Senate interim study Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Tres Savage)

Ravitz reportedly died from a heart attack early Tuesday, news that shook Oklahoma County’s legal community.

“Bob was my go-to resource on criminal justice issues and my true friend in life,” said Jari Askins, Oklahoma’s administrative director of the courts. “He advocated vociferously to correct deficiencies in the justice system, but he always stood for doing the right thing. No shortcuts.”

Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna said she and her office’s employees are holding Ravitz’s family close to their hearts after learning of his death.

“Bob Ravitz was a dedicated public servant who worked tirelessly for so many years on behalf of his clients,” Behenna said. “Bob was a lawyer’s lawyer. He was always very well prepared, well researched and passionate in his advocacy. Bob was humble, gracious, kind and a good man.”

Former Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Ravitz “demanded that fair play and honest interaction rule the day.”

“Bob Ravitz was a true public servant. He gave his full measure every day to make this world a better place,” Prater said. “For decades, as others came and went, Mr. Ravitz was in the Oklahoma County Courthouse building relationships to assure that all parties were treated well by our criminal justice system. He truly was responsible for holding that courthouse together, even in the most challenging of times.”

Prater, who retired in January 2023 after 16 years leading the District Attorney’s Office, called Ravitz “a dear friend.”

“Criminal defendants certainly benefitted from Bob’s involvement in their cases, but unknown to many, he was focused on the just treatment of everyone. He would not stand for the mistreatment of victims, law enforcement officers or any other person. He dedicated his life to this purpose,” Prater said. “On a personal note, Bob was a dear friend. Whether I agreed with him or not on any given issue, I always knew that Bob was doing what his heart drove him to do. I never questioned his honesty, his dedication, his ethics or his character. I appreciate his friendship, his counsel and his example.”

Clay Curtis, a criminal defense attorney with Overman Legal Group, worked for Ravitz in the county’s public defender office for nearly seven years. He called Ravitz “a legal giant.”

“Bob Ravitz has been a champion for the less fortunate throughout his career as the Oklahoma County public defender. He has helped countless people navigate the legal system and fight against the seemingly endless powers of the state of Oklahoma,” Curtis said. “He has influenced policy at every level in our state and county, and in doing so he made the world a better place. He has not only helped thousands of defendants, but hundreds, if not thousands, of lawyers as well. We are all better for it. He was a great lawyer, but more importantly a great man.”

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Scott Rowland and Ravitz were good friends who were supposed to have lunch Friday.

“In my 30 years in and around criminal law, I have met some high quality individuals, but none more so than Bob Ravitz. He was a pillar of a lawyer and man. His legal acumen was legendary around the courthouse, and his integrity is what every young lawyer and law student should aspire to,” Rowland said. “When I was a prosecutor, I tried cases against him, and having him as a noble adversary was a pleasure. He never attacked witnesses or lawyers. He attacked injustice wherever he found it. He would fight like a tiger for his clients, always well within the bounds of ethics and integrity, and because of lawyers like him justice would most often prevail in any case he was associated with.”

Rowland said that when he was first assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County, he entered into many agreements with Ravitz on cases, some with the highest of stakes.

“It never once occurred to me to write it down except to help my memory, because his word as a lawyer and a man was as good as solid gold,” Rowland said. “For the past 30 years, Bob Ravitz has done a lot more for criminal justice in Oklahoma County than just serve as chief public defender, and filling the void he leaves in that system will simply not be possible.”

A county’s chief public defender serves at the pleasure of its judges. While an official decision on Ravitz’s replacement is pending, Brigitte Biffle has been named interim chief public defender for Oklahoma County. After a brief stint at Overman Legal Group, Biffle recently returned to Ravitz’s office to serve as his first assistant.