Mark B. Sandground Sr., artful divorce lawyer, dies at 88

When the soon-to-be-ex-wife of one of his clients threw her husband’s entire collection of tropical fish out on their front lawn, Mark B. Sandground Sr. told his client to collect and freeze them immediately for use as evidence at trial.

He once advised another well-heeled client seeking a divorce to serve her husband nothing but frozen food for dinner for three months, to encourage the speedy end to the soured marriage.

While representing an actress in a child-custody battle, he found out that her soon-to-be-ex-husband had once posed for a nude poster in their early years of financial struggle. He had an aide track the poster down to a dingy bookstore in Hollywood and fly it back to the East Coast courtroom in time for closing arguments. Showing the image to the jury and elderly judge, Sandground feigned shock and dismay — and won his case.

“People come to me because they have confidence in my judgment,” Sandground once told The Washington Post. “I’ll do anything to win for a client.”

Sandground, a Washington-area divorce lawyer who drew media attention for his Machiavellian-embrace of winning at all costs, died Dec. 30 at a hospital in the District. He was 88.

He had been hospitalized for cancer treatment for two weeks before his death and continued to work on divorce cases from his hospital bed, said his son Mark B. “Chipp” Sandground Jr.

Four times married and three times divorced, the elder Sandground was for more than 60 years the widely known — and often unorthodox — advocate for hundreds of women and men seeking maximum settlements and minimum costs to get out of their collapsing marriages.

These ranged from multimillion-dollar demands for alimony and support payments to fights over who gets the silverware and art collections to joint custody agreements for the household dog, including the details of doggy visitation rights on alternate weekends and Wednesday nights.

Like a Machiavellian character might have advised, fear was always an effective weapon.

“People choose him like they choose a sawed-off shotgun,” a woman whose ex-husband had been represented by Sandground told The Post in 1984. Washingtonian magazine called Sandground “the bad boy of the divorce bar,” noting such office decor as the oil painting of a rat and photo of an angry Doberman pinscher. The National Law Journal profiled him under the headline “The Nastiest Lawyer in Town.” Sandground once referred to himself as “the Prince of Darkness.”

In 1988, a committee of the D.C. Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility found he had “actively and knowingly” helped a client conceal assets from an opposing lawyer in a divorce case. The committee recommended suspension from law practice for a year and a day, but the penalty was cut to a public reprimand noting his otherwise “unblemished record.”

Sandground insisted he had done nothing wrong, and Washingtonian reported that he wore the censure of others “like a badge of honor.”

Predictably, most of Sandground’s clients were moneyed enough to pay his several hundred dollar hourly fees.

Mark Bernard Sandground was born in Brookline, Mass., on June 6, 1932. His father was a parasitologist on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. He grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1952 and from the University of Virginia law school in 1955.

His marriages to Judith Hollenberg, Marcia Gurevich and Evelyn Jaeger ended in divorce and, he admitted, were largely his own fault because he was working long hours and “never home.”

In addition to his son Mark, of Washington, survivors include his wife of 26 years Judith Pugliese, Sandground.  another son, Bruce Sandground, and four grandchildren.

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