Jack Doherty's final close

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Jack Doherty walked through the Allegheny County Courthouse or down any Pittsburgh street, he was a man in his element, with a foot in both camps, legal royalty at peace among the folks he loved and never left behind. And when he died this month at 78, this titan of Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers left a legacy of great stories and a finer sense of justice.

Growing up in the Lower Hill District, the son of an Irish firefighter father and an Italian mother, Jack managed to combine street smarts with book smarts and quickly became the guy to call if you found yourself in a jam. And call they did, from the alleged bosses of what was then considered to be organized crime, to the habitual goof, to the guy who stumbled across that sometimes cloudy line between right and wrong.

Bill Manifesto, one half of Doherty & Manifesto from 1975 to 1992, says his partner never lost track of his roots, always hanging with the guys he grew up with, playing cards and telling lies to each other, just like when they were kids. Outside the office, Jack commanded the street, calling out greetings in Italian or Yiddish or Arabic, the languages of his old neighborhood.

He had his cerebral side, the intellectual curiosity that kept lawyers up all night, surrounded by books back when they still used books. But he rarely showed that side to outsiders, so as not to detract from that scrappy street fighter reputation that knocked so many prosecutors back on their heels.

After Jack retired from criminal defense work to become chief disciplinary counsel to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he reflected on his partnership with Manifesto. Explaining their successful run, he said: “Our styles were different. Let me put it this way, if I were guilty I'd probably hire me. If I were innocent, I'd want Bill.”

As a prosecutor, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning and Jack were often adversaries — and became lifelong friends. “He was the quintessential lawyer, the perfect embodiment of analysis, adroitness and fairness, all with an incredible wit. And he was as good a friend as you could ever find,” Manning said.

Bobby Del Greco, a prominent defense lawyer in his own right, was a young former prosecutor just out on his own when Jack became his mentor. Del Greco said: “Jack was always teaching, whether he was in a courtroom, a classroom at Duquesne Law School or giving advice to someone in trouble. He had an unerring sense of justice.”

So they gathered last week at Epiphany Church to say goodbye. Lawyers and clients, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, good guys and tough guys, all Jack's friends, joined his family to share some hearty laughs and shed some tears.

Just a few days earlier, Jack's son John, an attorney, had sent them this message:

“My Dad completed his closing argument this afternoon and rested his case peacefully, at 2:16.”

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill. Email him at: SabinoMistick@aol.com

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