TAMPA — He enjoyed the past few years sans shirt and tie. Sans spotlight.
Attorney Manuel "Manny" Machin already had spent his share of time in the newspapers, wrapped in courthouse controversy, fending off critics, defending criminals. Now he spent his time in the quiet, relaxing at a restored 1911 log cabin on 10 acres near Citrus Park.
He threw huge football watching parties and sat in a rocker on the front porch, dreaming of building a family compound and watching grandkids scurry around.
"This was a way for him to have his release and get away," said his wife, Carina Machin. "He just decided his priorities changed a little bit."
He still practiced law, just less. Infallibly, when he slipped on that shirt and tie, the rush came back.
Mr. Machin, a colorful, controversial Tampa defense lawyer, died Monday after battling multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells, for less than a year. He was 50.
• • •
Born in Cuba, Mr. Machin (pronounced "machine") came to Tampa at age 3. From childhood, he was outspoken with the makings of a skilled debater.
He was president of his class at Jefferson High and went on to Florida State University and the University of Florida Law School. He worked for a senator before practicing law.
Criminal defense always appealed to him, and he was never shy in the courtroom.
"He sometimes used diplomacy, but you knew that if it got tough, that did not chase him away," said his friend and fellow lawyer Ralph Fernandez. "He was not an agreement sort. He chose the long, hard way."
Mr. Machin knew the law thoroughly, spoke quickly and used jokes and clever tools to make his point.
For an indecent exposure case, he brought in a beach thong and a postcard showing naked rears to prove mooning was in the cultural standard.
"As society's morals change, there needs to be a certain amount of flex in the law," he said then.
Another time, he got a case thrown out because the prosecution kept accidentally saying his client's crime happened in March instead of May.
His Cuban experience and exposure to communism had left him with a desire to defend underdogs, his wife said.
"He had a kindness that went beyond what his personal appearance showed," she said. "He could be so tough in court, yet those that knew him knew him to have a wonderful heart."
• • •
Though he had friends in the courthouse, he wasn't always lauded a hero.
Mr. Machin was widely known in Tampa for serving as the star witness in a 1990s courthouse corruption scandal — he testified against two other lawyers, telling lurid accounts of sex, drugs, bribery and case fixing. The reputation as a snitch hurt his business for a time.
"Any time you're a controversial person and you have to make difficult decisions along the way, sometimes you make friends and sometimes you make enemies," his wife said.
Separately, he came under fire when the FBI investigated him for drug trafficking and the Florida Bar suspended him temporarily amid a money scandal involving clients.
Critics and foes publicly called him a liar and a manipulator.
"No one likes criticism," said Fernandez. "In life, it's about overcoming adversity and he handled it well, as we saw in the long run. He was able to put it behind him. You just don't dwell on the negative things when there is so much positive."
He never planned to totally abandon law, even when the cancer got bad. He would talk to friends about the Supreme Court and the Fourth Amendment and Cuban government with the same authority he talked about chemotherapy.
He was happiest, his wife said, spending time with his two kids on his land. But, then again …
"He loved being at that podium. He loved commanding the courtroom. He loved getting people's attention."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.