John J. Duffy Jr., 85, of West Chester, a Chester County criminal defense lawyer known as much for his courtroom manner as his efforts to help fellow alcoholics face down their addiction and go on to recovery, died Friday, Feb. 1, of pneumonia at St. Martha’s Manor in Downingtown.
In courtrooms throughout the Philadelphia area, Mr. Duffy was known as a skilled legal tactician and a gifted storyteller who deftly humanized his clients and mesmerized juries with his charm.
“John was a giant of a defense lawyer,” said attorney William H. Lamb of Lamb McErlane in West Chester. “He and I tried many cases against each other. No one had a better touch with juries than John. He leaves a legacy that will not be matched.”
“Gregarious by birthright, Mr. Duffy had a sort of roguish Irish charm to him,” Lamb recalled. “He had that gift of gab that endeared him to juries.”
On more than one occasion, after hearing Mr. Duffy’s opening argument, Lamb thought, “How do I match that?” Lamb would try to snap the jury out of his opponent’s spell by returning “to the facts.”
Mr. Duffy built a reputation as the defense counsel in a string of high-profile murder trials and remained sought after in homicide cases for a half-century ending in 2015. His license plate read “ACQUIT.”
Born in West Philadelphia to John J. Sr. and Jane Bowers Duffy, he was a member of a large Irish American family. He completed St. Thomas More High School, and was a 1959 graduate of La Salle University and a 1962 graduate of Villanova Law School.
In 1964, he went to Mississippi to work against suppression of African American votes at the call of then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. As he left Mississippi, Mr. Duffy met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Duffy defended one of a group of gamblers who in April 1980 rigged the Pennsylvania Lottery’s Daily Number to come out as 6-6-6 in a scandal known as the Triple Six Fix.
Most of the table tennis balls used in the TV drawing were injected with white paint, making them heavy. The three "6″ balls without paint were lighter and floated to the top of air machines used in the drawing.
The gamblers won $1.2 million by buying up tickets in advance. “The defendants attracted attention by holding up the line at convenience stores,” Mr. Duffy told son Shannon. Caught and charged, the gamblers avoided jail time in 1981 by agreeing to testify against the accused mastermind of the scam, TV announcer Nick Perry.
Mr. Duffy’s life took a downward turn in 1974 when he began associating with his clients. He was charged with assault at a bar, causing a disturbance in West Chester, and conspiring with some clients in the handling of a stolen car.
He was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the latter crime in Common Pleas Court, had his law license suspended for several years, and served prison time. While there, he redirected his life.
He completed the 30-day treatment program at the Caron Foundation in Berks County. Afterward, he joined Caron’s board and made 1,000 referrals to the facility over the years
On the day his license was reinstated, he dashed up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Rocky Balboa-style. Soon, he joined the law firm of Carroll, Creamer, Carroll & Duffy. Later, he joined with attorney Joseph R. Green Jr. in Duffy & Green.
Green said that although Mr. Duffy was known for his flair, “the things that were most important to him were quiet and not done for aggrandizement. They were to help people.”
He cofounded the Pennsylvania chapter of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and was a member and trustee of International Lawyers in Alcoholics Anonymous.
In 2009, he received the Osceola Wesley Award from Chester County Drug Court for his public-service work. When Chester County District Attorney John W. Carroll presented the award, there was a standing ovation.
Mr. Duffy married Bridget Cotter in 1953. They had seven children before divorcing in 1984.
He was married in 1986 to Marie DelVecchio. In addition to his wife and son Shannon, he is survived by daughters Bridget Wilson and Jane Maughan; sons Casey, Seamus, Fitz, and Shavin; 19 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A visitation starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at St. Agnes Church, 233 W. Gay St., West Chester, will be followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass. Interment is in St. Agnes Cemetery.