Defense Lawyer Was Known for Eloquence

By John J. Callahan
Toledo Blade
June 11, 2008

John J. Callahan, 86, a longtime lawyer known for his eloquent defense of some of Toledo's most notorious accused, was found dead Sunday in his Sylvania home.

Cause of death is pending a ruling by the Lucas County Coroner's Office, which performed an autopsy.

About 4 p.m. Friday, Mr. Callahan was a passenger in a car driven by his brother-in-law, Norman Craig, 78, which was southbound on State Rt. 25.

Mr. Craig's car and a van driven by Ronald Grolle, 58, of Wood County's Middleton Township, collided at State Rt. 582, the Ohio Highway Patrol said.

Mr. Grolle was cited for running a red light, Trooper Matt Abbey said. Mr. Craig, Mr. Callahan, and Mr. Craig's wife, Kathryn, 85, were treated at St. Luke's Hospital.

Mr. Callahan, who was still practicing law until his death, was remembered yesterday as "a superb advocate for his clients, and he could advocate while still being a true gentleman, with his great civility," said Alan Konop, a lawyer also known for his criminal defense work.

"He was a tremendous role model for young lawyers. There's only one Jack Callahan," Mr. Konop said.

Adrian Cimerman said the first murder case on which he was a defense attorney, about 1979, was with Mr. Callahan.

"He was one of the most highly respected attorneys this city has ever seen," Mr. Cimerman said. "He was one of the most optimistic men around, in spite of some of the cases he got handed."

Richard Secor, a lawyer who shared a downtown office with Mr. Callahan in the 1970s and 1980s, said, "He could outwork anybody."

Though Mr. Callahan handled other cases, he liked the challenge of criminal defense work, Mr. Secor said.

"It was always an uphill fight," Mr. Secor said.

Mr. Callahan was on the team of attorneys, with Mr. Konop, representing Gerald Robinson, the Toledo priest who was convicted in 2006 of the 1980 murder of a nun.

In the 1980s, he represented Billy Rogers, a man who was charged in the 1981 murder of Lisa Bates, 7. State courts upheld Rogers' conviction and death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 set aside the sentence and ordered the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider the case.

In August, 1987, the Ohio high court ordered a new trial. Rogers in 1989 was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 30 years.

While Rogers was awaiting a second trial, Mr. Callahan in 1988 spoke against the death penalty in a debate on the topic at St. Rose parish in Perrysburg.

"I submit we are a more civilized people, that we shouldn't reap vengeance - an eye for an eye, a life for a life," Mr. Callahan told the crowd. "I have all the sympathy for the families, for the victim. But I am not convinced that the imposition of the death penalty will deter another."

Mr. Callahan grew up in West Toledo and was a graduate of Central Catholic High School. He was a World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps and was a navigator aboard B-29s.

He received a bachelor's degree from John Carroll University in 1949 and a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1952.

He was a past president of the Toledo Bar Association and, in 1971, received the Order of the Heel award from the Toledo Junior Bar Association.

Mr. Callahan and his wife, Joyce, married in 1953. She died Oct. 15, 2001.

Surviving are his sisters, Kathryn Ann Craig, Rosemary McHugh, and Margaret Ellen LaFayette, and brother, Hugh.

There will be no visitation. Memorial services will be at noon Tuesday in St. Joseph Church, Sylvania, where he was a member. Arrangements are by the Coyle Funeral Home. The family suggests tributes to a charity of the donor's choice.


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