John Sakellaris

John Sakellaris, a Maryland attorney, died July 31 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 71. (September 24, 2011)

John G. Sakellaris, an attorney who practiced out of an office in the World Trade Center for many years and handled cases related to asbestos, died of a stroke Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Hunt Valley resident was 71.

Born in Piraeus, Greece, he was the son of George Sakellaris, a stonemason, and his wife, Anna Eliadis, who was a seamstress and owned a dress-making business. The family moved to Baltimore's Highlandtown community when he was nearly 5 years old.

"My father was a true American success story. He came from a family of little means and did not speak English until he went to elementary school in Baltimore," said his son, George Sakellaris of Baltimore.

Mr. Sakellaris was a 1961 graduate of Polytechnic Institute, where he was a halfback on the school's football team. He also wrestled. He earned a scholarship to the University of Virginia, where he earned an engineering degree. He immediately entered the University of Virginia School of Law, earned a degree and passed the bar.

For about three years, he practiced corporate and tax law in New York City on Wall Street.

In 1970 he returned to Baltimore and took a post as an assistant United States attorney.

"I recall him as a young, extremely competent trial lawyer," said former U.S. Attorney for Maryland Stephen H. Sachs, who was later Maryland attorney general. "He worked for me, and he obviously had a taste for public service."

Mr. Sakellaris worked on the federal case against Texas Rep. John V. Dowdy who was accused of accepting a bribe related to a government investigation of a Silver Spring construction firm. The congressman served a prison term on a perjury charge.

After leaving the federal post, he worked alongside a brother at the Sakellaris Construction Co. on 25th Street.

Mr. Sakellaris then became a partner in the firm of Bernstein, Sakellaris and Ward in the World Trade Center on Pratt Street. He handled civil and criminal litigation cases and was the firm's expert in suits involving corporate asbestos liability.

"My father was always an important counselor to friends, family and clients throughout his career. He gave solid advice," said his daughter, Joy K. Gaslevic of Mays Chapel, who is also an attorney. "He was a good mediator and a staunch advocate. He conveyed his positions effectively and civilly. Whether you worked with him or against him in a case, you would find him to be competent and kind."

One of his former law partners, Peter D. Ward, a Towson attorney, said Mr. Sakellaris was well regarded on the federal Criminal Justice Act Panel, a group of lawyers who provide legal counsel to those who cannot afford representation. Mr. Sekallaris sat on the panel.

"John had an incisive mind when it came to a legal problem," said Mr. Ward.

Family members said Mr. Sakellaris enjoyed his work and remained working up until his death.

He was a member of the Maryland and Virginia state bar associations as well as the Federal Bar Association. He was active in the University of Virginia Alumni Association and the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.

He also played golf regularly and had a vacation home near Bethany Beach, Del.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Greek Orthodox Catherdal of the Annunciation, 24 W. Preston St., where he was a member.

In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife of 43 years, the former Deanna K. Melonas, a retired Baltimore County Department of Education reading specialist; a brother, James G. Sakellaris of Hunt Valley; a sister, Sophia Recachinas of Silver Spring; and five grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com