Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Lisa Steinberg

Joel B. Steinberg

Joel Steinberg (AP)
Joel Steinberg (AP)

Joel Barnet Steinberg was born May 25, 1941. He grew up in the Bronx, but his family moved to the City of Yonkers, a northern suburb of New York City, when he was a teenager. He attended Gorton High School in Yonkers graduating with a distinctly mediocre record.  Next, he enrolled in Fordham University, where he graduated with a political science degree in 1962. Steinberg then attended New York University Law School until dropping out in 1964.

He joined the Air Force the next year. He served overseas until he was honorably discharged as a lieutenant in March 1968.. He resumed law school and eventually graduated in 1970. He was admitted to the bar without taking the bar exam under a special program that made an exception for students whose studies were interrupted by military service. His grades though were less than average and some of his friends later commented about his ability as a lawyer. One of his early law partners, Brian C. Baker, said, "I'm not sure you could become friends with him, ultimately. The word manipulative comes up most in my mind." According to those that knew him, Steinberg was often withdrawn and sometimes hostile. Some friends recounted situations in which they described Steinberg as verbally abusive to women.

But there were also good things to be said about Steinberg. He was once described as "warm, fatherly and generous." A fellow attorney who knew Steinberg for 17 years said: "I think everybody who knew him is shocked." During his early career in the 1970s, Steinberg concentrated on criminal law, including many drug cases. That specialty was not unusual since the docket of Manhattan was filled with drug cases. His talents as an attorney, though, were less than spectacular.

One of his clients recounted that Steinberg himself was an avid drug user. "He was constantly talking about drugs, asking everyone to get him drugs," said John Novack, accused of drug smuggling. "We were scared to death."  Steinberg denied this and said Novack was making "a last ditch effort to get out of jail." Another lawyer told The Daily News that Steinberg was "nice enough, but a little eccentric. He was something of an oddball."


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