Joseph G. "Bodie" Finnerty Jr., a highly regarded trial lawyer who headed DLA Piper's litigation department and oversaw expansion of the firm to Philadelphia and New York City, died Thursday of Alzheimer's disease at Copper Ridge assisted-living facility in Sykesville. The former longtime Guilford resident was 76.
"Joe was an outstanding lawyer and was the firm's heavy lifter and go-to guy. It is no wonder that he became its top litigator," said J. Joseph Curran Jr., former Maryland attorney general. "You could tell that he was enthusiastic about his work and he was a real gentleman."
"Joe was one of the best trial lawyers of his generation," said Roger Meltzer, co-chairman of DLA Piper US LLP. "Anyone who saw him in action, or read his briefs, came away stunned by his mastery of the profession."
He added: "Time and time again, Joe was responsible for ... high-profile and high-stakes victories on behalf of clients in a diverse range of industries and jurisdictions."
The son of Judge Joseph G. Finnerty, who had served for a decade on the Municipal and District courts, and Sara Virginia Finnerty, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Newland Road in Guilford.
After graduating in 1954 from Loyola High School, he earned a bachelor's degree in physics in 1958 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.
Upon graduation, he was awarded the Celanese Graduate Fellowship in engineering physics at Cornell University, which he attended for a year before deciding to pursue a career in law.
Before entering law school, Mr. Finnerty, who had been commissioned a second lieutenant after serving in ROTC during his college days at Loyola, served with the Army's Ordnance Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground and at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.
After being discharged from the Army, Mr. Finnerty enrolled in the University of Maryland School of Law evening division, while clerking for Criminal Court Judge Joseph R. Byrnes.
He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1963 with honors and the highest academic average in both the day and evening divisions, and was elected to the Order of the Coif. When he took the Maryland bar examination later that year, he scored the highest mark.
Mr. Finnerty began his career that year with Piper & Marbury, which later became DLA Piper. In 1966, he left the firm when he was named a partner at Gallagher & Evelius.
One of the firm's clients was the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and a year later, Mr. Finnerty was named executive director of the newly established Maryland Catholic Conference, which represented the Archdiocese's interests before the General Assembly and Baltimore City Council.
Mr. Finnerty left the Gallagher firm in 1971 when he became general counsel to the Ryland Group Inc. In 1972, he returned to Piper & Marbury as a partner, and the next year was named chairman of the firm's litigation department, a post he held until 1991.
In addition to overseeing the firm's litigators, he routinely handled cases that ran the full gamut, at trial and on appeal. His area of expertise was focused on product liability and professional malpractice cases.
Mr. Finnerty was regional counsel for General Motors and successfully defended the automaker in thousands of actions based on allegations of improper brake design.
He also represented Johns Hopkins Hospital in malpractice cases. In another product liability action, he successfully defended Dr. Hugh Davis, a Hopkins medical school researcher and inventor of the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device, in more than 5,000 cases filed in all 50 states and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Finnerty's work also included professional liability cases for physicians and hospitals, franchise disputes, lender liability, environmental regulations, reinsurance agreements, employment disputes and commercial contracts.
He oversaw the firm's expansion to Philadelphia in the early 1990s and to New York City, where he was managing partner, in 1995. By the time he returned to Baltimore in 2006, the New York operation had expanded to 173 lawyers, most of whom he had personally hired.
"He was an essential part of the fabric of DLA Piper and an important part of our history," recalled Mr. Meltzer. "It is no exaggeration to say that without his leadership and business sense, the firm would not be where it is today."
In 1967, Mr. Finnerty was appointed to the Baltimore City Liquor Board by Gov. Spiro T. Agnew, based on the recommendation of Mr. Curran.
At the time, said Mr. Curran, despite the passage of public accommodation laws, many white bar owners refused to serve African-Americans, which resulted in racial tension over segregated bars.
Mr. Finnerty, the only lawyer on the three-man panel, was the architect of an order, effective immediately, that forbade discrimination at city bars and taverns on the basis of race, color or creed, under the threat of license revocation.
"There was a bar at Greenmount and North avenues in a predominantly African-American neighborhood that refused to serve them," said Mr. Curran.
"One night Joe was downtown at a dinner when he got a call and showed up at the bar dressed in a tuxedo. He asked the bartender if he intended to serve a drink to an African- American customer," said Mr. Curran. "And when he said no, Joe said, 'All right, then I am here to take your license.' At that point, the bartender asked the man, 'Sir, what will you have, and the first drink is on me.'"
Gifted with a convivial and gregarious personality, Mr. Finnerty, who had been active in city Democratic politics for 40 years and had served as campaign treasurer for Mr. Curran, kept a bust of Robert F. Kennedy in his home.
He was a communicant of St. David's Episcopal Church, 4700 Roland Ave., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Mr. Finnerty is survived by his wife of 24 years, the former Deborah Barrett; two sons, Joseph G. Finnerty III of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Thomas P. Finnerty of Stevenson; five daughters, Alice Ann Martin of Columbia, Kathleen F. Curtis of Baltimore, Dr. Sara F. Kelly of Norwell, Mass., Eileen F. McCoy of Denver and Bridget P. Finnerty of South Hadley, Mass.; a sister, Carolyn Ann Finnerty of Parkville; and 19 grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Alice Ann Fannon ended in divorce.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun