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Mark Nissenbaum, whose legal career straddled criminal and civil law, died Jan. 24 of a heart attack at his Bernal Heights home. He was 56. Starting at the San Francisco public defender’s office as a paralegal in 1981, Nissenbaum rose through the ranks to try an array of misdemeanors and felonies, including murders, former colleagues said. Within a few months of moving into misdemeanors, he knew the ins and outs of DUI cases so well that his colleagues nicknamed him “Dr. Deuce.” “He became Doc from then on,” a moniker that sometimes prompted people at parties to inquire if he were really a doctor, said one of his early supervisors, Grace Suarez, now a solo criminal appellate lawyer. With his quick grasp of new issues as well as the way he analyzed legal questions in research, she added, “he was probably one of the smartest lawyers I ever met.” After Nissenbaum left the public defender’s office in 1988, he entered civil practice where he mixed plaintiff and insurance defense work, often focusing on asbestos. He worked at Bishop, Barry, Howe, Haney & Ryder; Long & Levit; now-defunct Wartnick, Chaber, Harowitz & Tigerman; and, for a short time, at Kazan, McClain, Abrams, Fernandez, Lyons & Farrise, before landing at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in San Francisco, where he was a partner. Friends and colleagues also remember the Temple University and Golden Gate University School of Law graduate for his devotion to his son, his love of poker, and his knack for softball. He used to play on the public defenders’ team, the Reasonable Doubts, noted Deputy Public Defender Rafael Trujillo, a close friend. His fashion statements were also striking. He wore a red velveteen jacket to court so many times that Deputy Public Defender Daro Inouye, another close friend and Nissenbaum’s former supervisor, was told to ask Nissenbaum to stop. “He was known for that jacket for a long time,” Inouye remembered with a laugh. In the courtroom, he came across as relaxed, “almost folksy,” recalled Bill Fazio, a former prosecutor and courtroom opponent. A quiet but keen observer, Nissenbaum “didn’t speak much, but when he did, he was right on point,” said friend Sean Connolly, a deputy city attorney. Nissenbaum’s appearance could be disarming, added Peter Keane, formerly No. 2 in the public defender’s office, because he wore suits two sizes too big and glasses “twice the size of Coke bottles.” Nissenbaum is survived by his former wife, Susan Barnett, and their son, Daniel Nissenbaum, of Mill Valley. A 10 a.m. memorial service, followed by an 11 a.m. graveside ceremony, is scheduled for Wednesday at the Mount Tamalpais Mortuary & Cemetery, 2500 5th Ave., San Rafael. Friends have established a trust account for Daniel Nissenbaum’s college education. Checks in Mark Nissenbaum’s memory may be made out to The Trust of Daniel Nissenbaum and mailed to the public defender’s office in care of Rafael Trujillo or Daro Inouye, 555 7th St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, 94103.

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