Carole Handler with her grandson, Julius Schoenbach-Lee

There was always something of old Hollywood about noted antitrust and IP lawyer Carole Handler, 87, who died Oct. 22.

She was a legal legend in Los Angeles, where she advocated for studios, artists and others for more than 30 years. Among her most notable success was winning Marvel the rights back to the Spider-Man franchise, which it had sold for $225,000. Classic Handler, she was digging through the documents late at night when the lightbulb went off: The purchaser had not properly filed licensing of Spidey with the U.S. Copyright Office. Her discovery changed Marvel’s fortunes, laying the foundation for a cinematic universe that has earned billions.

She brought a perfectly polished presentation that captured her New York childhood and time in Philadelphia society. Her Hollywood years were one of many chapters in her remarkable journey, which began on December 23, 1935. Her mother was Marion Winter Kahn and her father, Milton Handler, an esteemed professor at Columbia Law School for 45 years, and one of the architects of modern antitrust law.

Handler graduated from Radcliffe in 1957 with a degree in History and Literature. After college, she briefly studied architecture at MIT, then earned a master’s in City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963. She went to work for Edmund Bacon on the Philadelphia City Planning Commission then moved to Minnesota in 1965 after marrying professor Peter Schoenbach. The couple returned to Philadelphia and Handler enrolled in law school at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her J.D. in 1975. She clerked for the Honorable Edmund Spaeth of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Her path, like those of many women at the time, was forged in public service and a dedication to equality and achieving rights she did not enjoy in the workplace. Her time as one of two women among 37 members of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission was captured in an article, the lead of which asked, “Tell me, what’s a beautiful girl like you doing in a place like this?” Working, one presumes.

She donned a green two-piece dress suit topped with a camel beret and took the train at 5 a.m. from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., to join the March on Washington in 1968. She wrote on behalf of the first woman to be nominated as Attorney General of the United States, Zoe Baird, whose confirmation was derailed by her childcare arrangements. As Handler wrote to The New York Times, “I am a partner in a national law firm; my children are in college. But I have been divorced with custody of my two daughters since 1978; one was then 7, the other 3. Their schools let out at 3 P.M. and noon, respectively. Like any new associate in a law firm, I had to work long hours. I could do so only by hiring full-time help ….

“No law firm at that time offered child-care arrangements. Flexibility permitting work at home was unusual and in the law, impractical. I could have taken a leave of absence, but economic need made that impossible. I did not want to leave my daughters for 10 hours a day, every day, but since it was necessary, I had to know they were cared for by trustworthy employees.”

Handler graced the partnership of numerous law firms, including O’Donnell Schaffer, Lathrop & Gage, and Proskauer Rose.

Her path, like those of many women at the time, was forged in public service and a dedication to equality and achieving rights she did not enjoy in the workplace. 

Handler specialized in intellectual property litigation in the areas of trademark and copyright and antitrust law, particularly in relation to entertainment and the media industry. She was dedicated to pro bono work and community service. Among her other notable cases was representing Irene Gut Opdyke, a Polish Holocaust Rescuer in reclaiming rights to her story. Handler was named a California Lawyer of the Year for that effort, among many honors she received.

Handler was an adjunct professor at USC law school for more than 13 years, teaching classes in Intellectual Property, Antitrust Law and Trademark Fundamentals. She served on the boards of Bet Tzedek, Public Counsel, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

She is survived by her two daughters, Alisa Schoenbach (Benjamin Lee) and Ilana Schoenbach (Erik Silber); and grandchildren Sol Schoenbach-Lee, Julius Schoenbach-Lee, Clara Schoenbach-Lee and Noah Silber.

After a lifetime in the glittering lights, Handler moved to Knoxville, Tenn., in the fall of 2019 to be near her family. She resided at Northshore Heights Senior Living at the time of her passing.