A few years ago a rumor circulated around town that longtime Bangor attorney Julio DeSanctis was dead.
My phone rang off the hook at the office as I furiously tried to track down the information. Then I got an e-mail that in effect said, “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. My best to you and yours, Julio.”
Five years ago this week I was in the process of reporting a rather lengthy feature story on Julio, one of Bangor’s most unique and controversial characters, as he and his wife prepared to leave the area.
I’d conducted a few interviews but had several more to go when one day my pager went off as I sat in a courtroom at the Penobscot County Courthouse.
Recognizing the number as coming from the hospital, I rushed off to return it.
“Hey, Renee,” came Julio’s booming voice. “There’s been a little twist in things. I’ve got cancer. … It’s in my spine, … so if you want to finish this story, you might want to get up here.”
This week my office notified me that Julio was looking for me, so I gave him a call.
He had two pieces of good news to share. The first was that his daughter Francesca was going to be sworn in to the Maine Bar Association next week, and the second was that he and his wife, Joan, were moving back to town from New Jersey.
That was good news for me, because in my opinion the place hasn’t been the same without him. Julio’s the kind of guy that people either love or hate. I’m rather fond of him myself even though he once wrote me a letter calling me vile names and threatening to sue me.
We got past that.
I once saw him and Penobscot County District Attorney Chris Almy get into a huge fight on the courthouse steps over whether one of Julio’s clients could enter the courthouse. The police had to be called to break it up.
It was certainly not the only run-in the two men had over decades of legal practice, yet when he heard DeSanctis was leaving, Almy said, “I truly wish I could convince him not to go.”
It’s unclear exactly how the Maine Bar Association feels about his return to Maine. He’s been brought before them a few times for complaints of attorney misconduct. Julio can be a little blunt. He once called a client a beady-eyed pervert. When he stood before the bar they asked him why he called his client such a thing.
Julio replied dryly, “Because his eyes are too close together and he has sex with children.”
Once during closing arguments at a trial in Penobscot County Superior Court, Julio stood before the jury and said, “Face it, ladies and gentlemen, my client is nuts.”
He’s been known to take leather jackets or beat-up pickup trucks for payment and was respected by judges for taking on clients that no other lawyer was willing to represent.
He once told me: “Some people don’t like me because some of the people I represent have done reprehensible things. There’s no doubt about that. The problem, however, is that everyone deserves representation. That’s our system, and if lawyers wouldn’t take these cases on, then we’d have a real mess on our hands.”
And then there’s his wardrobe. Julio is not a suit-and-tie sort of attorney. He’s more of a cargo pants and well-worn Birkenstock sort of guy, and while judges may have shaken their heads many a morning when Julio entered the courtroom, most simply got used to his way and accepted him the way he was.
Those were the kind of stories I expected to hear when I wrote that story five years ago. What I discovered, however, was an entire other side to him.
For example, most people don’t know about the inordinate amount of time he spends helping out at church. His wife is a minister and will soon be serving the United Methodist Church and the Stillwater Federated Church in Old Town. At her former church in Brewer, DeSanctis was chief cook and bottle washer and sang to parishioners at church suppers.
He’s been a steadfast volunteer at Mechuwana, a Methodist church camp in Winthrop for more than 20 years. He is deeply spiritual, yet swears like a pirate.
Yes, Julio DeSanctis most definitely has a softer side.
His battle with cancer continues. The chemotherapy has taken his famed thick and unkempt mane once, but it has grown back.
He’s anxious to get back to Maine and plans to practice part time. He’s most excited about watching his daughter’s legal career begin. It should be fun. She has a big pair of Birkenstocks to fill.
Renee Ordway can be reached at email@example.com.