John J. Duffy Jr., a flamboyant Chester County criminal defense attorney whose reputation for courtroom heroics was matched by his avocation to helping scores of suffering alcoholics and addicts find treatment and recovery, died on February 1, 2019. He was 85.
In courtrooms throughout the Philadelphia area, Duffy was known as a gifted storyteller who deftly humanized his clients and as a brilliant and relentless cross-examiner who often left the prosecution’s witnesses stammering. His standing was built on defending a string of high-profile murder trials and he remained a sought-after homicide defense lawyer throughout his five-decade career.
In the summer of 1964, Duffy traveled to Mississippi in the wake of the murders of three civil rights workers that came to be known as the Freedom Summer murders. Duffy took depositions for about a month on voter suppression and stayed in different homes every night due to threats against the group of lawyers who had responded to calls for volunteers from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. As he returned from Mississippi, Duffy serendipitously met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was arriving there.
Duffy’s life took a sharp turn in 1974 when, after a series of legal and personal struggles, he acknowledged his own alcoholism and entered an alcoholic rehab center then known as Chit Chat at the behest of his own criminal defense lawyer, John Rogers Carroll. Suspended from practicing law for several years, Duffy and his family grew closer during tough times, supported by their investment in a family-operated luncheonette in Paoli, and by Duffy's earnings as a law clerk working for Carroll.
On the day his license was reinstated, Duffy triumphantly ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum Rocky Balboa-style, and within weeks he and Carroll formed a boutique criminal defense firm, Carroll, Creamer Carroll & Duffy. While at that firm, Duffy played a lead role in the 1980 legal defense team representing a handful of politicians in the storied ABSCAM scandal.
Together with Carroll, who was also a recovering alcoholic, Duffy began focusing on helping others to find the gift of sobriety. They formed a lawyers-only AA meeting that became the seed for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a nonprofit that became a model for lawyers' assistance programs throughout the nation.
In more than 44 years of sobriety, Duffy harnessed the storytelling skills he had honed in courtrooms to tell his own story in AA meeting rooms of how he hit bottom and won his life back one day at a time. He also worked closely with the rehab that had saved his life, which was later renamed the Caron Foundation, serving on Caron‘s board for more than 30 years, including two years as a Chairman. The Gill-Duffy Alumni House will carry his name on campus.
In 2009, Duffy received the Osceola Wesley Award from the Chester County Drug Court for his contributions to the “recovery of people gripped by addictive demons.” Duffy had returned to West Chester after the Carroll firm dissolved, and he formed a new firm that was ultimately known as Duffy & Green.
A father of seven, grandfather of 19 and great-grandfather of six, John James Duffy Jr. was born and raised in West Philadelphia, attended West Catholic High School and served in the U.S. Air Force before attending LaSalle University and Villanova University School of Law.
It was while stationed in London in 1952 that Duffy met Bridget Cotter and the two married there before returning to Philadelphia in 1953. By the time Duffy graduated from law school in 1962, the couple had two daughters and three sons. Two more sons were born by mid-1965.
John and Bridget divorced after 31 years, and he was remarried several years later.
Duffy’s June 6, 1986 marriage to Marie DelVecchio, a healthcare professional, was a transcontinental ceremony, with a judge in Chester County officiating by phone while the newlyweds were in Normandy, France, beginning their lives together on the anniversary of D-Day.
Among the many notable cases in his career, Duffy in 1981 defended one of the Maragos brothers who, along with four others, were accused of rigging the Pennsylvania lottery's daily number in an elaborate scheme that involved injecting paint into the ping pong balls used to randomly choose the winning numbers. The scam came to be known as the Triple Six Fix, because the winning number was 6-6-6. All of the Maragos brothers avoided jail time by agreeing to testify against the accused mastermind of the scam, Nick Perry.
Duffy is survived by his wife, Marie; his two daughters: Bridget Wilson and her husband, Barry; Jane Maughan and her husband, Bill; and five sons: Casey and his wife, Christine; Seamus and his wife, Cathy; Shannon; Fitz and his wife, Tarra; and Shavin and his wife, Wendy; 19 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Relatives and friends are invited to his visitation, Thursday February 7, 2019 from 9-11am at the St. Agnes Church 233 West Gay Street West Chester followed by his Funeral Mass at 11am. Interment will be at the St. Agnes Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Duffy Family Endowed Foundation; Caron Treatment Centers 243 N Galen Hall Road Wernersville, PA 19565.
Arrangements by DellaVecchia, Reilly, Smith & Boyd Funeral Home, Inc. 610.696.1181 www.DellaFH.com
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