Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Victor Pellegrino

Lawyer Victor Pellegrino mastered DUI defense

TAMPA — Even before lawyer Victor Pellegrino uttered his first words in court, everyone knew he was there. Wearing a crisp suit with the perfect handkerchief, Mr. Pellegrino would plop his briefcase on the defense table and set up shop. He even brought a cup to hold his pens.

Prosecutors feared facing Mr. Pellegrino on driving-under-the-influence cases, which were his expertise. They made up most of his practice over a career of more than 30 years.

"Whenever we had a trial against him, all the misdemeanor prosecutors would come out and watch," said Nick Nazaretian, a former prosecutor who is now a Hillsborough County circuit judge. "It was kind of a David-and-Goliath thing.

"You had to have your 'A' game," he said.

Mr. Pellegrino, whose preparation and persuasive style helped him win a majority of his DUI cases, built a reputation as one of the nation's best lawyers for people accused of drinking and driving.

He died late Thursday of bladder and lung cancer. He was 60.

He defended clients whose actions appalled the community, including some who had confessed to DUI manslaughter. He challenged every aspect of a DUI arrest, from the reason his client was pulled over to the reliability of the breath test. His methods irked groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving — but they worked.

He advised other lawyers on how to defend DUI cases, and was the current dean of the National College for DUI Defense, an organization he helped start.

"He was highly competent, very well versed," said Michael Cohen, a law partner to well-known Miami DUI lawyer Richard Essen. "I would say if you had to pull 10 lawyers from anywhere in the country in terms of DUI defense, he definitely was in the top 10."

He had a near-photographic memory, said 15-year law partner Ronnie Crider, 61. "He was able to see or read something and then remember it, whether it was a minute detail about a case or personal information about a client. Then he was able to pull that out of his memory and use it."

Mr. Pellegrino, who grew up in Tampa, revealed his knack for organization as a child, said Irene Matye, Mr. Pellegrino's sister. "When my mom folded his clothes, he wanted to arrange them in the drawer himself," she said.

He was equally picky about juries. He asked potential jurors about everything from their reading habits to the bumper stickers they put on their cars. "If you're going to have jurors on your panel who do not drink and drive and don't like anybody who does, you are going to lose your case," he said in 1987.

He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1977, the same year he graduated from Vermont Law School. In a Tampa case in 1983, he successfully argued that radio frequencies interfered with the Breathalyzer.

He got scores of breath-test results thrown out, either because the machines had not been tested or the regulations on how to test them were vaguely worded. In 1988, he got a case thrown out because the state had changed the name of the testing machine slightly without adding the new name to its list of approved machines.

He challenged all aspects of an arrest.

"Very often it's a matter of degree, of crossing a line," said Clearwater lawyer Denis deVlaming, a friend of 25 years. "Vic often would say to the state, 'My client didn't cross that line, and you're going to have to prove it.' "

Nazaretian carries a memento from his earliest days as a prosecutor, after he saw Mr. Pellegrino in action — a cup to hold his own pens. "I said, 'I want to be that guy,' " the judge recalled.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

>>Biography

Victor Julius Pellegrino

Born: Aug. 17, 1948.

Died: June 4, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Brenda; father, John; mother, Amelia; sisters, Irene Matye and her husband, Brian, Diane Guerra and her husband, J.D.; daughter, Stephanie Sweeney and her husband, Dave; sons, Victor and his wife, Andrea, and John; three grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews.

Service: 1 p.m. Friday; St. Lawrence Catholic Church, 5225 N Himes Ave., Tampa.

Lawyer Victor Pellegrino mastered DUI defense 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 7:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa poll rates streets, flooding, police-community relations and transportation as top public priorities

    Blogs

    A city of Tampa online survey of the public's priorities for the next 18 months rated improving streets and easing flooding as the top priority of nearly 89 percent of respondents.

    Survey results
  2. Video shows women violently beating another in apparent Pasco road rage incident

    Crime

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Two women are accused of dragging another woman out of her car window and beating her unconscious at a Pasco County intersection in an apparent road rage incident, according to the Sheriff's Office.

    Shelley Lyn Gemberling, 49, and Alicia Nikole Scarduzio, 20, are accused of pulling another driver out of her car and beating her in a Pasco County intersection. (Pasco Sheriff's Office)
  3. Top 5 at noon: Out of sight, out of mind: a Times investigation; PolitiFact: what's at stake in the tax debate? and more

    News

    Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:

    Aaron Richardson Jr. talks to voices in his head at his father's bail bond business in St. Petersburg. Richardson has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   TIMES]
  4. It's not a game, but the names are all the same in this football family

    Footballpreps

    TAMPA — A coach yells across the field into a scrum of blue-and-white clad football bodies at Jefferson High: "Kim Mitchell! Kim Mitchell, come here!"

    These twins are not only identical, but they have almost identical names. Kim Mitchell III, left, and Kim Mitchell IV are  talented football players at Jefferson High with Division I-A college offers. Kim  III wears No. 22 and plays cornerback while Kim IV wears No. 11 and plays safety. (Scott Purks, Special to the Times)
  5. Did Hurricane Irma speed the end of Florida orange juice?

    Agriculture

    Hurricane Irma plundered Florida's orange belt, leaving a trail of uprooted trees, downed fruit and flooded groves worse than anything growers say they have seen in more than 20 years.

    A large number of oranges lie on the ground at the Story Grove orange grove in the wake of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 13, 2017, in Lake Wales. [Photo by Brian Blanco | Getty Images]