In a previous column, Republican candidate for Philadelphia District Attorney Chuck Peruto told me how the late legal legend Richard Sprague had influenced him as an attorney.
There was another local legal legend that also influenced A. Charles Peruto Jr, – his late father, A Charles Peruto Sr.
I reached out to Peruto and asked him what kind of man and defense attorney his father was.
“He was a workaholic, such as I am. He was a man who was completely honest. His word was his bond. The district attorneys and U.S. attorneys that he dealt with knew that. So if he told them something, it was the real deal,” Peruto said. “He taught me that you can’t get slippery or shady on any dealings, otherwise you’ll get a reputation for being slippery and shady and you won’t get anywhere. It was very valuable advice.”
In his career, Peruto Sr. 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 became famous by losing a case. Peruto spoke about the 1964 case of Jack Lopinson, a Center City nightclub owner who hired a man to murder his wife and business partner.
“Ironically, it was against prosecutor Dick Sprague. The prosecution had everything. They had the hit man that Jack Lopinson hired. They had the girlfriend of the defendant say that he was going to kill his wife so that they could be married. It was a case going nowhere, but it put my father on the map.”
In another case that made international news, Peruto spoke of his father defending Tony Boyle, the Mine Workers Union president who murdered his union rival. Peruto lost that case, but his son said proudly that later his father was the only lawyer to ever beat Sprague in a murder trial.
“They were a thorn in each other’s side,” Peruto said. “They were very competitive back then, but then they got very friendly as they got older.”
Sprague endorsed his former rival’s son for D.A. just before he passed away last April at 95.
“My father hated politics, but he had an idea to run for D.A. in 1969,” Peruto said. “But he was endorsed for city comptroller, which he never wanted to be. He never campaigned, and he hated it. He really wanted to be the district attorney,” Peruto said.
“I’m the only of his five children who watched him in court. Through 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 the younger Peruto describe his father’s courtroom manner and technique?
“You read articles about him, but when you watch one trial, you’re not getting the full picture,” Peruto said. “Depending upon what the guy is charged with, depending upon where the trial is, what county, he is a different kind of lawyer. He adapted to the case. He might be a comedian in one case. He might be overdramatic in another. It depends on the facts.”
Would that describe the younger Peruto’s style as well?
“I believe so.”
I asked what lessons in life and law his father passed on that helped him become a successful defense attorney and possibly a good D.A.
“It is not just what he taught; it is me emulating what he did, such as his mannerisms and facial expressions. Sometimes you don’t even ask a question. Picking a jury is of paramount importance, and he really spent a lot of time with me on picking a jury and cross-examination. I learned a lot about cross-examination at the dinner table. You could not lie to the man,” Peruto said. “I never realized what a head start I had practicing law. I started picking juries the day after I got sworn in. I tried a jury trial before I tried a non-jury trial.
Finally, I asked Peruto how his campaign for D.A. was doing.
“It has vastly improved. 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 endorsements that I’m receiving from well-known law enforcement people and others.”
Peruto said that if his father, who died in 2013 at the age of 87, were alive today, he would be supporting his son’s candidacy for D.A.
Peruto said that when people compliment him on his trial ability, he always says to himself, “You didn’t see anything unless you saw Senior.”
Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. You can contact him via pauldavisoncrime.com.