William W. Cahill Jr., a retired trial attorney who was a founder of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, died of heart disease Tuesday at his Timonium home. He was 79.
Born in St. Louis and raised in Baltimore's Govans, he was a 1944 graduate of Towson Catholic High School. Mr. Cahill earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Loyola College, where he played baseball and football. He received a law degree from Georgetown Law School, where he later taught trial skills.
Admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1950, Mr. Cahill was a Maryland Court of Appeals clerk for a year before joining the Baltimore firm Weinberg & Green.
"Bill was known as someone who reveled in trying a case," said Baltimore Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger. "He was an orator with a skillful command of language who spoke in a booming voice. He could move you like a poet."
Mr. Cahill was a partner in the law firm, where he practiced from 1951 until 2002, after the firm had become Saul Ewing LLP.
As a young lawyer, he defended the installers of temporary seating that collapsed in 1952 at the 5th Regiment Armory, where ice skater Sonja Henie was to perform. Three hundred spectators were injured.
In 1986, he successfully defended Brian Tribble, who was accused of selling drugs to Maryland Terrapins basketball star Len Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose that year.
"What was most disarming about Bill was his wit," said Robert L. Flanagan, a former legal associate who was most recently Maryland's transportation secretary. "That humor made him an excellent advocate, and under it all was a kind and gentle man."
Mr. Cahill served in the Maryland National Guard and was called out during the rioting in the city in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Cahill also served on a task force that investigated the deaths of Kent State students gunned down by soldiers in the Ohio National Guard, and he successfully defended an Army noncommissioned officer named in the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai during the Vietnam War.
Friends said that because Mr. Cahill did much pro bono legal work for the poor, he attracted the attention of Gov. Marvin Mandel, who chose Mr. Cahill as one of two trustees of a public defender system, the office that supplies lawyers to those who cannot afford legal representation. Mr. Cahill sat on its board until June 2006.
Mr. Cahill was president of the Bar Association of Baltimore City from 1974 to 1975 and had served on the Maryland State Bar Association's board of governors. He was elected to the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Mr. Cahill sang in a light tenor voice and appeared in Paint and Powder Club musicals. He was the group's president from 1967 to 1968.
He was a founder of the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity in Timonium and a member of St. Ignatius Church downtown.
A Mass of Christian burial will be at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, 200 Ware Ave., Towson.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, the former Patricia McVey; three daughters, Denise Cahill and Tracey Poletis, both of Towson, and Kathleen Cahill of Lutherville; his brother, retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr.; and four grandchildren.