Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
The man who arguably was the best criminal defense attorney of his time in Philadelphia has been alternately described by legal observers as “brilliant,” “pugnacious,” “shrewd,” “generous” and, most accurately, “mercurial.” The best descriptor probably changed depending on which side of a courtroom you sat relative to A. Charles Peruto Sr., a master strategist and feisty storyteller who, for 50-some years, seduced juries and dominated Philadelphia’s legal world.
Peruto made his name winning improbable victories for prominent and sometimes improbable clients (See also: Nicholas DiPiero, the former textile union boss accused of bribing Mayor Wilson Goode and others with $18,700 worth of clothing, and John E. du Pont, the murderous millionaire), tormenting prosecutors and judges with his oft-aggravating but always irrepressible wit. After watching a judge spend half an hour informing his client what rights he was about to forfeit by pleading guilty, Peruto cracked that “a trial would have taken longer.”
Tight with all the local pols, possessing a mouth just vulgar enough to be endearing but more than clever enough to be dangerous, and never above arguing every last semantic detail to death, Peruto was the classic Philadelphia lawyer. Active in his law practice until 2009, he died at age 86 on Dec. 17. He is remembered by a legion of high-profile attorneys as a teacher and a magician in the courtroom.
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