Joseph Santo Oteri


Raconteur and Trial Lawyer

Joe Oteri died peacefully at his home in West Newton on November 22, days after celebrating his 90th birthday. His life, however, was rarely peaceful but gratefully filled with fellow criminal trial lawyers (certifiable), page one criminals (allegedly), a big Sicilian family (loving, naughty) and a loyal cast of Marines (the best of the best).

Raised in Southie by his mother, Pauline Zangla Oteri, he attended BC High, BC and BC Law. Triple eagle (actually three-quarter eagle). He had a ‘beef’ with a classmate, threw a punch, the guy ducked, and the hit landed on a Jesuit priest standing behind; thus, senior year at Cathedral High. Joe enlisted in the Marines on his college graduation day and drove to Parris Island for boot camp. Though he wanted desperately to lead troops in battle, his superiors pulled him off the ship to Korea making him a JAG officer. This led him to BC Law. His divorce lawyer days ended when shot three times on the steps of the courthouse by his client’s husband, a Boston cop, who proceeded to shoot his wife then himself.

His legal career spanned 70 years, worldwide. He appeared on the original PBS ‘The Advocates’ with many appearances on ‘Good Morning America.’ ‘The Joe Oteri Show’ earned him a Peabody award. He always intentionally said the most outrageous things on air, knowing that the audience wanted a rascal, not a bore…bleeps galore. Though TV appearances entertained him, trial law captured his heart and mind. He tried the first case to legalize marijuana in 1967 and won an acquittal in the first case to use PTSD as a criminal defense in 1980. Juries presented the greatest thrill and challenge, and he charmed them one by one leading to many dozens of jury acquittals and a well-earned reputation as a legendary criminal defense lawyer. He argued twice before the Supreme
Court of the United States.

Joe’s generosity, intelligence combined with street smarts, kindness (unless he didn’t like you), sense of humor and story-telling talent were legendary. A dyed in the wool democrat, he bragged of his love for Bill Weld (R) and support for Charlie Baker (R). He wanted his epitaph to read “he’s got no change coming.” His favorite words contained four letters.

Among the large family he adored and who will forever love him, are his wife Debbie Sampson (he was her world), his daughter Paula Mulcahy (Paul Mulcahy), his grandchildren Jacklyn Ward Frontiero (Dave Frontiero), Catherine Mulcahy, Andrew Mulcahy and his great-granddaughter Elliana. He was predeceased by his first wife Ann Driscoll Oteri.

He was larger than life, and his escapades will be rehashed and celebrated in 2021 with Bombay Sapphire martinis (no more than 2 each!) and Pasta E Fagioli from Limoncello. Please give to your
favorite charity in his memory or to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. For online condolences, please visit bostoncremation.org

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13 Condolences

  1. Callie Coetzee on November 29, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    I am going to miss our conversations, Joe always had the most interesting stories and he had time for anyone, no matter who they were.

    Thinking of you Debbie

    Callie
    M/Y Zoom Zoom Zoom crew member



  2. STEVE SALTER on November 29, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    Eternal rest gentle brother ! You were and remain loved by so many of your friends and colleagues, and I am proud and pleased to be considered one. Let it be said—“He wasn’t no ‘ ordinary Joe ‘ !”



  3. BOBBY AHEARN on November 29, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    THEY SAY YOUR LUCKY TO SEE A METE0R IN YOUR LIFETIME. I SAW A SHOWER OF EPIC PROPORTION WITH THIS INCREDIBLE HUMAN BEING AND WAS BLESSED TO EXPERIENCE IT.

    I WLL FIND YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE JOE AND WE CAN START THE SHENANIGANS ALL OVER AGAIN;

    I MISS YOU, I LOVE YOU;

    SEMPER FI



  4. Santo Joseph Aurelio on November 30, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    I recall interacting with Joseph Santo Oteri while I was working in Middlesex Superior Court eons ago. He was a fine lawyer and man. He will be missed. Joe is in our prayers.



  5. Mel Blackman on November 30, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    Dear Deb’
    I formerly worked at Leather World . All that knew Joe share your sadness.

    He was one of a kind and will be missed.



  6. Bucko on November 30, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    Joe was a mentor, a friend and a man who could walk in many different worlds without missing a beat. We miss his insights, his wisdom, his stories and, most of all, his friendship.

    Miss you forever



  7. Harvey Silverglate on November 30, 2020 at 10:04 pm

    Joe gave me my first job, as a legal research assistant, while I was a law student. Upon graduation, he kept me on as an associate at the legendary law firm of Crane, Inker & Oteri in Boston. I worked for him until I went out and started my own firm. He was a knowledgeable, generous and kind mentor, and I kept in touch with him for the rest of his life. The last time I actually saw him was when he showed up in Cambridge to see a documentary movie that the documentarian Errol Morris made about my wife, a portrait photographer, who passed away in May of this year. I met my wife-to-be when she showed up at the law firm in 1967 to interview Joe (and, it turns out, me) about a case that Joe and I were working on. Joe was one of a kind. May he rest in peace.
    HARVEY SILVERGLATE



  8. Jerry Phelps on December 1, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    My heart-felt condolences to Debbie and all of Joe’s family.

    I have knowm Joe for over 25 years. We were co-counsel on many a case. He was a mentor, an inspiration, and with most fondness I call him my friend.

    God speed Joe! You are the best.



  9. M.Regan,BMC ,Probation on December 1, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    My sincere condolences for loss,Joe was an incredible attorney,his jousts with the late Judge Adlow were matchless.. as,were his Xmas parties



  10. Alana Salter on December 2, 2020 at 2:34 am

    Condolences to you Debbie for your loss, recalling many fun memories shared with you and Joe. Joe was some kind of character and was thoroughly entertaining. Thinking of you at this difficult time.



  11. Alana Salter on December 2, 2020 at 2:40 am

    Thinking of you Debbie at this difficult time and reflecting back on many shared and fun memories of you and Joe. Joe was one entertaining character!!



  12. Jaynie Mcgrath on December 14, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    Debbie
    So sorry for your lost. My husband Robert Mcgrath was Joe’s partner and friend until his death in 2010. He was my daughter’s godfather (the “Godfather”) and best man at our wedding. He was always there when we needed him. Now he is with Bob telling each other all the stories of their lives as the “Best Lawyers in America”.and Boston”. And that they certainly were!!!



  13. JOHN MULKERRIN on December 18, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    So sorry Debbie

    We will all miss him @ James Hook we always appreciated his sense of humor.

    John
    Jimmy
    Nancy



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