Attorney William Ruzzo Dies At 77

September 23, 2018
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Attorney William Ruzzo Dies At 77

Luzerne County attorney William Ruzzo, who represented high-profile clients such as George Banks and Eric Frein, died Saturday morning. He was 77.

But friends say the renowned law scholar and expert on the death penalty will be remembered for more than the people he defended.

“He was willing to help anyone he could,” said Mary Deady, a Luzerne County criminal defense attorney. “He was willing to give his time, his expertise. He did it because he loved it, not because of the money, fame and the glory.”

Ruzzo collapsed Thursday after meeting with a client at the Monroe County Correctional Facility. Deady visited Ruzzo on Friday night at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, where he died Saturday from an intracranial bleed.

Deady met Ruzzo when she was a child, when he helped her late father, Gerald Deady, on a death penalty case. On breaks from college, Mary Deady would often sit through trials and assist Ruzzo.

“He was a great mentor,” she said. “He loved the law.”

A former longtime public defender for Luzerne County, he’d give advice to younger attorneys over a breakfast of muffins around the office’s conference table, said longtime friend and fellow attorney Al Flora. Ruzzo visited the office even after his retirement.

“He was the type of guy who just believed in the constitution wholeheartedly, without question,” Flora said. “He was brilliant.”

In 2014, the court appointed him to represent Frein, who was eventually convicted and sentenced to death for the 2014 sniper attack outside the Blooming Grove state police barracks that killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II of Dunmore and seriously wounded Trooper Alex T. Douglass of Olyphant.

Ruzzo also represented Banks, who shot and killed 13 people in Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Twp. in 1982, and Mark Ciavarella, the former Luzerne County judge sentenced to 28 years behind bars for his part in the “kids for cash” scandal.

Ruzzo was also part of the legal team that represented Rockne Newell, who eventually pleaded guilty to opening fire at a Ross Twp. supervisors meeting in August 2013, killing three people.

The Wilkes-Barre attorney had no qualms about representing people charged with some of the area’s most egregious crimes, Flora said.

“He believed that every person who was charged with a crime deserved their day in court and that they deserved to be treated fairly under the law,” Flora said.

Flora mentored Ruzzo when Ruzzo attended law school at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut in the mid 1980s. Ruzzo later clerked for Flora after Flora was appointed first assistant public defender in 1990.

Flora said Ruzzo lived an unassuming life. He always drove a used car, and he lived in a small apartment. If he wasn’t visiting a client, he might be having a beer at a local tavern or rooting for the New York Yankees. He cared more about helping people than charging them fees, Flora said.

Ruzzo is survived by three adult children, who all live in Texas.

“We’d probably talk just about every day about cases we’re working on,” Flora said. “He’s going to be really missed in the legal community.”

Joseph Cosgrove, a retired judge of the Commonwealth Court and Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, said he met Ruzzo while he was still in law school.

“Bill was born on Sept. 17, Constitution Day, and there’s nothing more fitting than that. He was a passionate defender of the constitution,” Cosgrove said. “To him, everyone mattered. He treated everyone— from the most prominent to the most despised — with dignity.”

Ruzzo entered the legal field later in life, after working as a teacher.

“At an age when many people are looking forward to retirement, he dedicated his professional career to people who are oftentimes cast aside and are on the lowest rung of society,” Cosgrove said. “He was a dear friend. I will deeply miss his wisdom, his humor and his friendship.”

STEVE MOCARSKY, staff writer, contributed to this report.

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