BANGOR, Maine — Legendary attorney Julio Vincent DeSanctis III died Friday at Eastern Maine Medical Center after a nine-year battle with cancer. He was 67.
DeSanctis was a solo practitioner who was a fixture in the courthouses of northern Maine for more than three decades beginning in the 1980s when he and family moved to the state from Pennsylvania.
Only judges during formal court proceedings addressed him as “Mr. DeSanctis.” Outside the courtroom, he was always Julio. When he ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2008, his bumper stickers and signs read simply, “Julio!” Everyone who knew him understood and agreed with the exclamation point.
“Julio had a short-lived career as one of the world’s most interesting taxi drivers before turning his attentions to what would become his lifelong pursuit, driving other attorneys, judges, clerks, cops, witnesses and criminals nuts,” his family wrote in his obituary. “In what could only be described as a ravenous desire for justice — and perhaps a bit of just always wanting to be right — Julio stood head and shoulders above the crowd. After over 35 years of defense work his reputation for pugnacity and as a champion of the underdog is unparalleled.”
R. Christopher Almy, the district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, called DeSanctis “a real fighter in the courtroom and a great lawyer who stuck up for the little guy.”
“He really knew how to try a case,” Almy, who sat opposite DeSanctis in hundreds of cases, said in a telephone interview Sunday. “I had a lot of respect for him personally and professionally. I’m really going to miss him.”
A New Jersey native, DeSanctis was a fierce advocate for his clients, fellow Bangor defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein said Sunday.
“He taught me to be clear and honest with clients,” he said, “and not to lead clients to believe things just so they’d feel about the situation they were in or themselves.”
DeSanctis could be blunt and gruff, but he also was kindhearted and always willing to sit down with new lawyers to share his years of knowledge and experience. Silverstein said.
“Julio was a consummate storyteller,” he said.
One of his favorite cases involved the defense in 1997 of man accused of operating a canoe while intoxicated during the Kenduskeag Canoe race the previous year. DeSanctis called fellow attorney Hillary Billings to testify as an expert witness to show his client, who had been the bowman, was not in control of the canoe.
DeSanctis argued that it is the sternman who pilots and navigates the canoe. The trial ended in a mistrial when the jury, after being sent back to the jury room twice, failed to reach a verdict.
Born Dec. 4, 1943, in Vineland, N.J., DeSanctis grew up in a household of women, including six younger sisters. He attended Vineland High where he excelled in wrestling, earned a bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College and a law degree from the University of San Francisco.
DeSanctis began his law practice in the late 1960s in San Francisco fighting to end the Vietnam War before moving on to Atlantic City, N.J., to help get narcotics addicts into rehabilitation programs instead of jail, according to his obituary.
He married his high school sweetheart, Joan Beverly Donohue, on Aug. 27, 1966. Now the Rev. Joan DeSanctis, she is the pastor at Old Town United Methodist Church and Stillwater Federated Church.
Julio DeSanctis taught Sunday school at the churches his wife pastored. There, he quoted Scripture the way he cited case law in a courtroom.
“He was a walking, talking Bible,” Elizabeth Curtis, 11, of Eddington said Sunday. “He could finish any Bible verse.”
After Sunday’s service, led by an interim pastor, a congregant played taps to honor him. Children and adults gathered in the church parking lot, clutching red, helium-filled balloons. Many of them had scribbled notes to DeSanctis across them.
“Dear Julio,” Elizabeth wrote, “I hope you like your new home. We were honored to have the time that we had with you. Love, Lizzie. P.S. Say hi to God for me.”
The balloons floated over Stillwater Avenue, intended as a symbolic tribute to his spirit.
“Julio was very much a man of conviction,” Silverstein said. “Nobody’s going to replace him. We can fill the void but we can’t fill his shoes.”
Visiting hours will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m.-noon Wednesday at the Old Town United Methodist Church, 744 Stillwater Ave. A service of celebration will be held at noon at the church followed by a reception.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Cancer Care of Maine, 33 Whiting Hill Road, Brewer 04412, or the Joan and Julio DeSanctis Memorial Fund at Camp Mechuwana, P.O. Box 277, Winthrop 04364.