Nowak's Lawyer Gains Reputation as 'Smart and Aggressive'

By Sarah Lundy | Sentinel Staff Writer. Jim Leusner of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Posted February 9, 2007

Donald Lykkebak doesn't shy from high-profile cases. So it was no surprise to see him in court Tuesday representing Lisa Marie Nowak, the NASA astronaut accused of attempted murder.

In his 36-year legal career, the prominent lawyer has represented defendants accused of selling missiles to Middle Eastern countries, a Disney executive's wife accused of stealing $1 million and a 540-pound man who claimed obesity drove him to traffic in cocaine.

Lykkebak is known as one of the best criminal-defense lawyers in Central Florida. And when Nowak's family called Monday, he jumped on the case.

"He's smart and aggressive," said Robert Buonauro, an Orlando defense attorney who has known Lykkebak for more than 30 years. "He will look at every legal avenue to determine what defenses are available."

Lykkebak, a former assistant state attorney, was thrust into a storm of national media coverage in 1991 when he defended 19-year-old Edward Humphrey, an early suspect in the massacre of five college students in Gainesville.

"Most [lawyers] wouldn't come near the case because of the negative press," said Humphrey's brother, George, who lives in Houston. "He saw my brother had nothing to do with it and was willing to take the case and help.

"Before Donald Lykkebak, Ed was on a course to the electric chair," George Humphrey said Thursday.

Lykkebak helped clear the teen, and authorities eventually convicted Danny Rolling, a drifter from Louisiana, of the murders. He was executed in October.

Lykkebak -- an avid snow skier who is married and has two adult children -- did not return messages or e-mails Thursday.

The 60-year-old was born in Fairbury, Ill., earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1968 and received his law degree from the University of Florida in 1970.

From 1970 to 1973, Lykkebak was a U.S. Marine Corps captain assigned to the Judge Advocate General's Corps.

His law firm's Web site notes that half of his legal practice is "devoted to defending people from drug trafficking and possession charges."

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws lists Lykkebak as among the 570 lawyers on its legal committee -- attorneys who specialize in drug defenses, said NORML executive director, Allen St. Pierre.

"Donald in our view is one of the top lawyers in Central Florida," St. Pierre said.

In 1989, Lykkebak wrote an opinion column for the Orlando Sentinel about how the justice system has little to no effect on the country's drug problem.

"Drug abuse is a national health issue that prohibition has made into the criminal problem of current magnitude. Neither I nor others advocating legalization intend to promote drug use," Lykkebak wrote. "But I will no longer keep my silence when thousands are imprisoned for possession of a drug proven less toxic then aspirin."

Rick Jancha, a federal drug prosecutor in Orlando, faced Lykkebak in court many times in the past 17 years before entering private practice last week.

"He's a very worthy adversary," Jancha said. "He always represented his clients very zealously and very honestly."