ST. PETERSBURG — As a child, Michael Ohle often asked his father why he was defending yet another shady character.
Accused rapists, drug smugglers and murderers all sat beside Bob Ohle at one time or another. Some went away forever. Others walked free.
"I'd say, 'Dad, he's guilty,' " recalled Michael Ohle, 38. "He'd say, 'No, he's presumed innocent.' "
Armed with that conviction, Mr. Ohle went to work selecting juries — the most critical part of any trial, he said — and drew them in during voir dire with talk about the presumption of innocence. He used a soothing, almost hypnotic cadence that made people want to listen.
Taking on clients whose odds seemed stacked against them delighted Mr. Ohle, who pushed himself and everyone he cared about to do their very best. It was that kind of passion that drove him through more than 200 jury trials, most of them while working for himself.
Mr. Ohle died Monday at home, the likely result of congestive heart failure, his family said. He was 68.
"He was not a big firm kind of guy," said Anne Ohle, his wife. "He didn't want someone else telling him what to do."
Though he wasn't above the occasional shouting match with prosecutors in depositions, in court Mr. Ohle observed all written and unwritten forms of decorum.
"Bailiffs loved him. Judges loved him," said Michael Ohle, a lawyer who joined his father's firm in 2001. "I had instantaneous respect just from the Ohle name."
Away from court, he made up his own rules.
"He must have 100 suits. He dressed to the nines," his wife said. "At home he would be in a dirty T-shirt and say he looked fine to go to the Publix."
They married in 1996 after dating for 10 years. Mr. Ohle was a romantic, she said, insisting on opening every door and buying her flowers for no particular occasion.
Bernard Robert Ohle was born in Pittsburgh. A scratch golfer and a Catholic, he chose Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., because it was the only Jesuit liberal arts college with a golf course, his wife said. Mr. Ohle graduated from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham. A marriage to Karen Enlow lasted 18 years and produced two sons.
After law school, Mr. Ohle worked for his uncle, the late well-known Pinellas County lawyer Joe McDermott, who represented more than 50 defendants eligible for the death penalty.
McDermott influenced his nephew to go for broke. "It wasn't just, 'How are we going to work this out?' " said Michael Ohle. "It was, 'What is it going to take to win?' That gave me a unique perspective, because a lot of lawyers aren't that way."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.