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Michael A. Pretl, personal injury attorney and health advocate, dies

Michael A. Pretl, a personal injury attorney, neighborhoods and health care activist and environmentalist, died of a heart attack Dec. 25 at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 76 and lived in Northwood and Roland Park before moving to the Eastern Shore nearly 15 years ago.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Hamilton on Woodbourne Avenue, he was the son of Stephen A. Pretl, an official of Slavie Savings and Loan Association, and his wife, Mildred. He attended St. Dominic School and initially thought he would join the priesthood. He attended the old St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville and earned degrees at the Catholic University of America, where he studied philosophy.

He gave up his plans to become a priest and decided to become an attorney. He earned a degree at the Georgetown University School of Law.

In 1969 Mr. Pretl became a partner at a downtown Baltimore law firm. Smith, Somerville and Case, representing pharmaceutical manufacturers, among other clients.

In a 1987 publication of the American Bar Association, he described how he had a change of heart and became a personal injury lawyer and an expert in Dalkon Shield intrauterine device injury cases. He opened a practice that specialized in IUD litigation and bought a former grocery store at 26th and St. Paul streets to house the firm known as Pretl and Erwin.

“Most people go from college to the professions and get more conservative; I was the opposite,” he said in the 1987 article. “I was conservative in college and the more time I spent working the more liberal I got. I enjoyed working in my spare time with people in the community for real estate reform on the city’s northeast side, and found out that I was really a people person, sort of against my own better judgement.”

He also said, “In the beginning of my law career I wanted to work with the law, rather than the facts, rather than with individuals. Now I am having fun righting wrongs for human beings.”

For 16 years he was also general counsel to American Urological Association.

He was also secretary-treasurer and the legal counsel of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative — Healthcare for All — a group of organizations that work to help persons gain access to health care. He incorporated the health initiative in 1999.

“He had the biggest heart you can imagine,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care Initiative. “As a legal adviser, he knew what to do and he did it in a beautiful way. He believed in protecting the Earth, the climate, preventing gun violence and guaranteeing quality affordable health care for everyone. The man was just beautiful.”

Mr. Pretl joined Baltimore’s New Democratic Organization and backed members of the Democratic Party in elections. Mr. Pretl was a past president of the Northeast Community Organization and Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and worked to keep Northeast Baltimore’s racially integrated neighborhoods stable.

Mr. Pretl was a longtime board member of the Community Law Center.

“He was actually not a founder, but he was close and overall had a 30-year history with us,” said Kristine Dunkerton, the center’s director. “He was the first lawyer to serve as our board chair … and handled [our] first case in 1988 alleging that vacant houses are nuisances and that equitable remedies are appropriate. This resulted with the court appointing a receiver and the property was renovated and occupied.”

She also said he handled the cases against 3,000 billboards in the city that did not have permits.

“He contributed thousands of hours,” she said.

He was a founder of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, which fought for laws to protect people from unlawful weapons.

After Mr. Pretl and his wife, Michele Hughes, moved to the Shore, he began helping local groups and became an environmental activist.

He was also a leader in Eastern Shore organizations including the Wicomico Environmental Trust, Lower Shore Land Trust, Nanticoke Watershed Alliance and Friends of the Nanticoke.

“He was particularly concerned about the effects of sprawl on local farmland and represented local people fighting development in agricultural communities pro bono,” said his daughter, Alexandra Hughes of Annapolis.

Mr. Pretl taught environmental law at Salisbury University. “He loved interaction with energetic young people and spent a great deal of time preparing each class for them,” said his daughter.

Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch nominated him to the board of the Maryland Environmental Trust.

He also served on the board of Friends of Delmarva Public Radio.

Mr. Pretl was a reader and enjoyed history and politics. His family said he was politically a progressive but also admired William F. Buckley and the National Review.

Mr. Pretl donated his body to scientific research.

A life celebration will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon Jan. 6 at Westminster Hall, 519 W. Fayette St. A second service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at Dove Pointe, 1225 Mt. Hermon Road in Salisbury.

In addition to his wife of 12 years, the retired director of the Life Crisis Center in Salisbury, and his daughter, survivors include three other daughters, Patricia “Trish” Pretl of Westchester, N.Y., Julia Pretl and Katherine Pretl of Baltimore; two brothers, Stephen A. Pretl Jr. of Washington, D.C., and Richard Pretl of Baltimore; a sister, Patricia Pretl, also of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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