JOEL MOLDOVSKY wasn't really the king of the gypsies, but there was a high probability that if Philadelphia's gypsy population held a vote back in the day, Moldovsky would have been a shoo-in.

It was in the late 1970s, when Moldovsky was a hotshot Philly defense lawyer and the cops decided to crack down on gypsy fortune tellers.

Correction: The original version incorrectly referred to "the late F. Lee Bailey." Bailey is still alive.

Moldovsky swooped in and represented 28 of the ladies of fortune, and got every one of them off.

As quoted by the late Daily News columnist Larry Fields, Moldovsky told the judges, "Our city would lose some of its flavor without gypsy fortune tellers predicting good things for those who want to hear those encouraging words."

"The judges told the gypsies to go forth and predict nothing but joy and happiness," Fields wrote.

The fortune-teller case was made to order for the flamboyant Moldovsky, a man who liked to tool around town in a big two-toned Cadillac, dressed in a fur coat and smoking a six-inch cigar.

Joel Samuel Moldovsky, who handled some of the most headline-grabbing criminal cases of his era, "a proud Zionist who loved Israel," as his family put it, died Dec. 14, the last day of Hanukkah 5776. He was 76 and living in Netanya, Israel.

"He was able to fulfill his dream of living by the Mediterranean Sea during his retirement," his family said.

"He was respected as a superb and creative trial attorney," his family said.

In his career, Moldovsky not only represented criminal defendants, but often dealt with people he felt had been convicted and imprisoned unjustly.

"He gave hundreds of people a second shot at life," said his son, Brem Moldovsky, also a lawyer.

"He was very brilliant, very strong-willed and very funny," Brem said. "He had a great sense of humor. He was larger than life. He could be tough and abrasive and he liked to get a rise out of people.

"He had very high standards. He believed that if you're going to do something, do it right. He was very meticulous. If you went into his office you would find not even a paper clip out of place."

His father wasn't above an occasional courtroom stunt. Once during a criminal case in 1978, he called himself to the witness stand, withdrew as attorney and let himself be questioned by another lawyer.

One day in 1993, another Moldovsky son, Ari, then a third-year law student, heard his father's name called in Family Court and hurried into the courtroom where his father's client, a teenage boy, was waiting.

"You're not my lawyer," the boy said. Just then the father came in and the boy said, "I'll take you, even though your son dresses better."

This despite the fact that Joel Moldovsky emphasized sartorial diligence by his clients. "I put appearance as one of the three most important ingredients for a good defense," he told Daily News reporter Rose DeWolf in 1983. "The other two are no prior criminal record and a good attorney, preferably me."

Among Moldovsky's more prominent clients was the multiple killer Harrison "Marty" Graham, who strangled seven women and left their corpses to rot in his North Philadelphia apartment and out on the roof.

Moldovsky represented Graham in 1988 and argued that Graham was too stupid and deranged to know he had a right to remain silent before confessing.

Despite Moldovsky's best efforts, Graham was sentenced to death, although the sentence was later commuted to life.

Moldovsky was the author of The Best Defense, written with DeWolf. He had a lighthearted beef with fellow attorney F. Lee Bailey, one of O.J. Simpson's lawyers, who wrote a book called For The Defense. Moldovsky complained that people who went into a book store to find his book often were handed Bailey's.

"If either of those two guys want to sue, I'd be happy to recommend a good lawyer," Larry Fields wrote in recounting the story in 1980.

Besides his sons, Moldovsky is survived by his wife, Michal; another son, Zev, a rabbi in Israel; a brother, Irwin Moldovsky, and six grandchildren.

Services: He was buried in a private ceremony in Netanya, Israel.

Memorial donations may be made to American Friends of Laniado Hospital, 261 W. 35th St., New York, NY 10001.

215-854-5573