Jay Robert Olian headed the Florida State Attorney General’s office in Miami, was an assistant state attorney under Janet Reno, and even argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in a high-profile 1972 case.
One might think that in retirement, the successful lawyer would travel, enjoy the opera and Broadway musicals, stroll Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, keep up on sports and politics, and spend time with his wife of 57 years and their two children and four grandchildren.
And, of course, he did all of these things.
But Olian, who died at 84 on Aug. 5, also kept on studying and teaching legal courses at his alma mater.
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“Bob was a really active member,” said Julia Cayuso, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami where, for the last 10 years, Olian was on the curriculum committee and taught legal topics and a series of classes on the Supreme Court. He also put together a speaker’s series. When he wasn’t teaching, he was taking history, music and language classes — Spanish and Italian.
“He was very engaged and engaging. His classes were popular,” Cayuso said. “He had a wide array of interests and brought a lot of passion and intellect. Our institute will really miss him.”
Olian was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up on Miami Beach and its basketball courts at Flamingo Park. At 16, he graduated from Miami Beach High in 1949. At the University of Florida he was a nationally ranked debater. He earned his doctorate in speech and ancient rhetoric and moral theory from Northwestern University and law degree from the University of Miami.
In the mid-’50s, Olian served in the Army as an Italian-English interpreter in Italy. Olian was a debate coach at New York University and UM, where he was also an associate professor in the speech department before beginning his legal career.
One of his career highlights was his legal victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1972 case of George Milton, a budding boxer who was indicted for first-degree murder in 1958 for deliberately driving his car into the Miami River to kill his pregnant fiancée so as to collect on an $8,000 insurance policy.
Milton had confessed, was remanded to Dade County Jail to await trial, and advised by his attorney not to speak to anyone about his case. The state, however, assigned a police officer to pose as a cellmate. There, Milton boasted to his “fellow prisoner” that he had committed “a perfect crime” because he left no witnesses. At the trial, the officer testified.
Milton, who was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, tried unsuccessfully to have that confession thrown out and his conviction overturned. The Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts did not concur with that. Olian successfully argued that Milton had been under the advice of counsel and chose to ignore his lawyer, wasn’t intimidated by the police since he didn’t know his “cellmate” was a policeman and, in speaking about his involvement, had known what he was doing.
Olian’s survivors include his wife, Lynn Olian; children, Joanna Skubish and Michael Olian; and grandchildren, Jake and Will Skubish and Joshua and Ciara Olian.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Riverside Gordon at Mount Nebo Kendall, 5900 SW 77th Ave. Donations in Olian’s memory can go to the American Parkinson Disease Association, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.