Preston A. Pairo, Howard criminal defense attorney, dies

Preston Abercrombie Pairo Jr., a flamboyantly colorful Howard County criminal defense attorney who embraced the music of both Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra with equal fervor, died Oct. 10 of cardiovascular disease at his Ellicott City home.

He was 83.


"Pres was a lovely human being and a kind man. He epitomized the best of what you wanted a lawyer to be and always tried to do the right thing," said Howard County Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, a friend and colleague for more than 20 years.

"He was a very affable man who didn't pull any punches. He was very straightforward and it was obvious that he and his clients had a very good rapport," she said.


"He was in front of me a number of times and Pres was a very astute and excellent lawyer. He was a man of principle," said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge Frank E. Ciccone.

"He was a fine gentleman and a man's man. I loved and respected him and he always gave lots of young lawyers a helping hand," Judge Ciccone said.

Mr. Pairo, the son of a lawyer and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Liberty Heights Avenue. After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1945, he served in the Navy for a year aboard the destroyer USS Beatty.

After World War II, Mr. Pairo earned a pre-law degree in 1948 from the University of Baltimore, and his law degree, also from UB, in 1951. He was admitted to the Maryland Bar that year.

Mr. Pairo was a law clerk in the city solicitor's office from 1948 to 1951, and later was a Baltimore City assistant state's attorney from 1954 to 1958.

While working in the legal research department of the city solicitor's office, Mr. Pairo was elected the "Most Captivating Man in Maryland — 1950."

Two of the nine judges were Jean Crow, Miss Maryland of 1949, and Pat Tyrrell, a local beauty queen. The Baltimore Sun reported that it was 'beauty, brains and brawn" that combined to get Mr. Pairo the title.

"Holy smoke. I'm dumbfounded," Mr. Pairo told the newspaper at the time.


A Democrat, Mr. Pairo, who represented the Fifth District for two terms, served in the House of Delegates from 1951 to 1954.

In the 1950s, Mr. Pairo joined his father in law practice at the Court Square Building at Lexington and Davis streets in downtown Baltimore.

"I first met him in the late 1960s, when we shared office space in the Court Square Building," said Edwin Shapiro, who now practices law in Towson.

"He was almost a Damon Runyon character and loved being in the thick of things. He had a certain bluster but beneath that bluster was a man who would do anything for anybody. I know it's a cliché but he'd give a person the shirt off his back," Mr. Shapiro said.

"He was extremely colorful and a robust personality who always had a smile, a joke and a wisecrack. He was also a great practical joker," he said. "But when he got angry, you knew that too."

Mr. Shapiro, who shared a love of Frank Sinatra, said that one of the prominent features of his late friend's office was a large framed picture of Luciano Pavarotti.


"He had a wide variety of friends from all walks of life. He was not a shy guy and when Pres entered a room, you knew it," Mr. Shapiro said with a laugh.

"There's no doubt about it, he was a raconteur," said Judge Gelfman, who admired the way Mr. Pairo treated his clients.

"He took the time to get to know them and their families. He thought it was a good idea to be able to give the judge some flavor of who the person was standing before the court," she said.

"He was being attentive in doing his job as a lawyer and trying to portray the defendant as a human being including their failings and potential," Judge Gelfman said.

Judge Gelfman said it was little known that Mr. Pairo handled many pro bono cases during his career.

"He did lots of them," she said.


His son, Preston A. Pairo III of Woodbine, joined his father in the practice of law in 1983 when father and son established Pairo & Pairo LLC in Ellicott City.

"I guess you could say it's a genetic defect. I was drawn into the law," Mr. Pairo said with a laugh.

He recalled going to the courthouse as a youngster to observe his father in court.

"He was like a bull in a china shop. Blustery. Aggressive. Impatient. He wasn't like that at home but that was his courtroom persona," his son said.

Mr. Pairo said his father retired three years ago but still was of counsel to the firm.

"We were not a silk stocking firm," the son said. "I think he missed the era when deals were struck with a handshake between attorneys. Today, it's a 50-page agreement, and two weeks later after signing it, one of the parties wants out."


Mr. Pairo was considered the dean of the Howard County Bar Association and had been a member and former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association.

He was a member of the Boumi Temple and the Royal Order of the Jesters.

Mr. Pairo had been a boxing fan for years. He also was a traveler and a gourmand.

He enjoyed vacationing at his Ocean City condominium.

At Mr. Pairo's request, services will be private and his ashes will be spread in the Atlantic Ocean off Ocean City.

Also surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Carol May Rupprecht; a brother, Richard Pairo of Ocean City; two nieces; and a nephew.