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Former Tarpon judge dies at 80

When John G. Fatolitis died Monday, three weeks after a heart attack put him in a coma, he left behind more than a wife, brother, daughter, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Mr. Fatolitis, the son of Greek immigrant parents from the island of Kalymnos, also left behind a record of achievement and community service.

"Tarpon Avenue and Pinellas Avenue will never be the same," said Mr. Fatolitis' daughter, Renee Gialousis. "Everybody knew him. And anybody who wanted advice, he was there for them."

When Mr. Fatolitis, 80, suffered his heart attack on Nov. 3, he was still practicing law from his office in the heart of downtown Tarpon Springs, where he had been city judge from 1968 to 1976. Prior to holding the top post, he spent eight years as associate municipal judge.

Mr. Fatolitis began his working life making a living with his back, not from law books.

Born in Ambridge, Pa., in 1926, Mr. Fatolitis moved to Tarpon Springs as a child and graduated from high school there. He worked on sponge boats and in Ohio steel mills, and during World War II served in the Army Air Forces.

Determined to set himself apart, Mr. Fatolitis managed to obtain several degrees that put him on a path to practicing law.

Among them was an undergraduate degree in education from Youngstown University, a master's in administration from the University of Miami and a law degree from the University of Florida.

"After law school, he applied to medical school, but my mother said it's time to settle down," Gialousis, 53, said. "He loved school."

In fact, Mr. Fatolitis did stints as a public school teacher, both in Ohio and Florida.

As a lawyer, Mr. Fatolitis was known as a zealous defender of the rights of Greek immigrants.

But in 1977, that passion got him in trouble. In a case that made headlines in Tampa Bay, the Florida Bar banned Mr. Fatolitis from practicing law after he was sentenced to three years' probation for involvement in a plan to get Greek aliens citizenship through sham marriages.

Gialousis said her father's "bulldog" approach to defending immigrants had vexed the federal immigration office in Tampa, whose lawyers set their sights on him.

"It was like a witch hunt," Gialousis said. "They tried to go after a man who never harmed a soul."

Mr. Fatolitis, whom his daughter said never believed he had committed a wrong, was allowed to practice law again in 1980.

"He was a defender of the underdog," Gialousis said. "He loved helping people."

Mr. Fatolitis was a past president of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the Tarpon Springs Parent Teachers Association and the George Washington Chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife Evelyn Fatolitis and brother Phillip Fatolitis of Tarpon Springs, three grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. One grandchild, John Gialousis, plans to become a lawyer like his grandfather.

A visitation is scheduled Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Dobies Funeral Home, 701 E Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs. A service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 36 N Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs.

Will Van Sant can be reached at 445-4166 or