Daddy Lessons – Philadelphia Weekly
In a previous column, Republican candidate for Philadelphia district attorney, Chuck Peruto, told me how late legal legend Richard Sprague had influenced him as a lawyer.
There was another local legal legend who also influenced A. Charles Peruto Jr, – his late father, A Charles Peruto Sr.
I contacted Peruto and asked him what kind of man and defense lawyer his father was.
“He was a workaholic, like me. He was a completely honest man. His word was his link. District attorneys and U.S. prosecutors he dealt with knew this. So if he told them anything, that was the real deal, ”Peruto said. “He taught me that you can’t get slippery or sleazy in any transaction, otherwise you’ll get a reputation for being slippery and sleazy and you’re not going anywhere. It was very valuable advice.
During his career, Peruto Sr. has successfully defended police officers, businessmen, judges, gangsters and others in many high-profile cases. But his son noted that, like many famous lawyers, his father rose to fame by losing a case. Peruto opened up about the 1964 case of Jack Lopinson, a downtown nightclub owner who hired a man to murder his wife and business partner.
“Ironically, it was against prosecutor Dick Sprague. The prosecution had it all. They had the hitman that Jack Lopinson hired. They made the accused’s girlfriend tell him that he was going to kill his wife so that they could get married. It was a deal that was going nowhere, but it put my dad on the map. ”
In another case that made international news, Peruto spoke of his father defending Tony Boyle, the president of the miners’ union who murdered his union rival. Peruto lost that case, but his son proudly said that later his father was the only lawyer to beat Sprague in a murder trial.
“They were a thorn in each other’s side,” Peruto said. “They were very competitive back then, but they got very friendly as they got older.”
Sprague endorsed his former rival’s son for DA just before he passed away last April at age 95.
“My father hated politics, but he had the idea of running for the legislative elections in 1969,” Peruto said. “But he got approved for the job of city comptroller, which he never wanted to be. He never campaigned and he hated it. He really wanted to be a district attorney, ”Peruto said.
“I am the only one of his five children to have watched him in court. In high school, college, and law school, I just couldn’t get enough. It was a better education than anything you could get in law school. It was like going to law school twice.
How would young Peruto describe his father’s manners and technique in court?
“You read articles about it, but when you watch an essay you don’t get the full picture,” Peruto said. “Depending on what the guy is charged with, where the trial is going, what county, he’s a different kind of lawyer.” He adapted to the case. He could be a comedian in one case. It might be too dramatic in another. It depends on the facts.
Would that also describe the style of young Peruto?
“I believe him.”
I asked what life and law lessons his father imparted that helped him become a successful defense lawyer and perhaps a good prosecutor.
“It’s not just what he taught; it’s me imitating what he’s done, like his manners and facial expressions. Sometimes you don’t even ask a question. Choosing a jury is of paramount importance, and he really spent a lot of time with me choosing a jury and cross-examining it. I learned a lot about cross-examination at the table. You couldn’t lie to the man, ”Peruto said. “I never realized how far ahead I was in the practice of law. I started choosing jurors the day after I was sworn in. I tried a jury trial before I tried a trial without a jury.
Finally, I asked Peruto how his campaign for DA was going.
“It has improved a lot. It was really a disaster after the primary because Carlos Vega took such a beating, and no one wanted to help me. They thought it was a lost cause, ”Peruto said. “But now I’m gaining momentum every day. I’m tickled pink with the approvals I get from well-known law enforcement and other people.
Peruto said if his father, who died in 2013 at the age of 87, was alive today, he would support his son’s candidacy for DA
Peruto said that when people complimented him on his testing ability, he always said to himself, “You haven’t seen anything unless you’ve seen Senior.”
Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here weekly. You can contact him via pauldavisoncrime.com.