In Memoriam

Remembering David Pittinsky

October 3, 2023
David Pittinsky

David H. Pittinsky—widely regarded as one of the finest trial and appellate lawyers in Pennsylvania and known for his joie de vivre and love of all things French—died suddenly on Saturday afternoon. He was 81.

During 56 years in practice, David achieved precedent-setting wins in high-profile, high-stakes cases across the country. His courtroom presence was unrivaled. Slim and six-foot-one—with ramrod posture, round wire-frame glasses, and close-cropped hair—David favored bespoke suits in the traditional dark colors of a “Philadelphia lawyer.” His preparation was equally meticulous, and he entered court “with an unequaled understanding of the documents, witnesses, opponent’s strategy, and the judge,” said Ballard Spahr Chair Mark Stewart.

“He could read a courtroom like nobody else,” said Ballard Spahr Litigation Partner Norman Goldberger. “He understood instinctively how to frame an argument, how and whether to push an issue, and when to stand silent and let others keep talking. He was a brilliant legal strategist.”

Outside of work, David lived a big life, reveling in lavish travel, fine wine, and other pleasures that marked his rise from humble beginnings to the top of the legal profession and that he joyfully shared with family and friends.

“David was one of the happiest people I’ve ever known” said his longtime friend and colleague Justin Klein. “He drank the best wine. He stayed at the finest hotels. He hosted these dinners where waiters would line up and simultaneously lift the covers from our plates. His motto was ‘carpe diem’ and he enjoyed the big things and the little things. He had a love of life that was unduplicated.”

A wide range of clients turned to David for help. He represented Frank Sinatra, who made the mistake of docking his yacht in New Jersey and was slapped with a subpoena by feds interested in discussing mob connections. He negotiated a mid-trial settlement for the Philadelphia Orchestra in its multimillion-dollar claim against The Walt Disney Company over royalties from the movie Fantasia. On behalf of a dozen predominantly Black municipalities in St. Louis County, Missouri, David twice persuaded the Missouri Supreme Court to hold unconstitutional a Missouri senate bill that unfairly burdened them.

David argued and won two separate appeals before the Third Circuit—on the same day. He represented the publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer in a high-stakes battle between the competing owners of the newspaper, and argued in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in favor of the constitutionality of Marsy’s Law, a victims’ rights amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that had been passed overwhelmingly by Pennsylvania voters.

“David is carved into the Mount Rushmore of Ballard litigators. He was a star among stars, instrumental in shaping our firm’s reputation,” said former Ballard Spahr Litigation Chair Geoffrey Kahn. “He brought such tenacity to every representation. Combine that with a profound work ethic, meticulous preparation, and an elegant countenance. He was truly one of the most remarkable people I’ve met in my lifetime.”

David was born in the Northeast Bronx to a white Jewish father and a Black mother. His parents divorced when he was six years old, and he was raised by his mother. After acing a citywide achievement test, he was accepted into The Bronx High School of Science, where he graduated in 1959. He completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia University, as one of only about five Black students in a class of 700.

To pay the portion of tuition not covered by his scholarship, David took a part-time clerical job at the law firm Proskauer, which ignited a love of the law. Popular and charming, David ran for class president in his junior year, narrowly losing to Bob Kraft, later the owner of the New England Patriots. Looking to make his mark as class vice president, he strode into the Village Vanguard, a jazz club, and asked Nina Simone to sing at the Columbia prom. She politely declined. Never bowed, David scored stand-up comic Shelley Berman, and the next year, he won the election for class president.

Yale Law School followed, where again David was among a small handful of Black students. He waited tables at a brewery to pay his expenses and graduated sixth in his class of 165. He was lured to Dilworth Paxson by former Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth, and he became that firm’s second Black partner. There, he rose through the ranks to become chair of the litigation department, decamping for Ballard Spahr in 1992, along with noted securities lawyer Justin Klein.

At Ballard, David defended DuPont, PNC, Lucent Technologies, Northrup Grumman, AT&T and many others against multimillion dollar claims. He was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a recipient of The Legal Intelligencer's Lifetime Achievement Award. When important matters got messy, David was often the one to get the phone call.

“He was a mentor about life and about the law,” said Ballard Spahr Litigation Partner Stephen Kastenberg. “He urged you to take the time to live life fully and enjoy your success. You could explain a thorny legal issue, and he’d help you get to the heart of it, and provide sound insight and judgment. He was a lawyer’s lawyer, a friend, and an exceptional partner.”

In 2004, David saw Alecia Lutz across a crowded bar at Rouge, on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and instantly fell in love. After the third round of cocktails, he invited her to Paris, and they crossed the park under moonlight to go dancing at D’Angelo’s. They had 10 dates in 10 days. Within two months, he proposed and she said yes. Next July would have been their 20th wedding anniversary.

During those years, they lived a big, beautiful life. David and Alecia went to Paris 17 times, always staying in Room 738 at Le Bristol. David researched, ascertained it to be the most beautiful, and insisted on no other. His birthdays were celebrated in Saint-Tropez, where he danced on tables through a mist of sprayed champagne, wore custom-tailored, white linen suits, and watched the sun rise from deck chairs at Cheval Blanc. Trips were punctuated with joyful memos detailing each meal, day trip, and wine pairing, which he would email to his friends at the firm, who began using them as de facto travel guides.

“David stood tall, both literally and figuratively, in the Philadelphia legal community,” said Ballard Spahr Litigation Senior Counsel Burt Rublin. “He worked incredibly hard, but also made sure to enjoy life outside the office, and always counted down the days until his amazing vacations, which he enjoyed immensely. He truly was one of a kind, and will be deeply missed.”

Flags will surely be flying at half-mast at Le Bristol, Girafe, and Allard in Paris, at the Cheval Blanc (the Saint-Tropez and St. Barths locations), and—closer to home—at Parc in Philadelphia and Le Coucou in New York City. David knew the waiters by name, and he could always get a reservation, even for a large party on a Saturday night.

“When I think of David, I think of the quote from Oscar Wilde, ‘anyone who doesn’t spend more money than he makes lacks imagination,’” said friend of 40 years and former Dechert CEO Henry Nassau. “But there was so much more to him than that. He was genuinely happy for the success of other people. He never wanted to dwell on failure or shortcoming. If there is a lesson to people as a friend or leader, it is to celebrate the success of others and not be concerned about your own role in that.”

David adored his daughter, Alexandra. In her words, “He was the best dad ever. He made me feel loved and supported. He was always there for me when I needed him. He never raised his voice. He was always calm and strong for me. He always had a way forward, no matter what happened. I could talk to him about anything, and he always had a solution.”

In 2009, he helped his son and daughter-in-law, Parker Palmer and Brisa De Angulo, create A Breeze of Hope Foundation, which provides free legal, social, and psychological support to child victims of sexual violence in Bolivia. He created the legal structure for the foundation and provided invaluable legal guidance from the sidelines, helping to improve the lives of more than 2,300 children. He also contributed as a legal strategist in Angulo Losada v. Bolivia, a landmark case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court’s judgment in that case improves legal protections for more than 180 million children across 25 countries. David found great joy in the foundation’s success and never sought recognition for his vital role.

“David was so good to me and so good to his children and grandchildren,” said Alecia Pittinsky. “He loved old movies and he loved to dance—just last week, we were blasting Barry White and dancing around the living room. He had a beautiful brain, and he was so much fun. He was the best husband in the world, and I will miss him forever.”

David is survived by Alecia; his daughter and son-in-law, Alexandra Pittinsky and Chris Giorno; his son and daughter-in-law, Parker Palmer and Brisa De Angulo; and five grandchildren. His ashes will be sprinkled in the Bay of Saint-Tropez.

Shiva will be observed this Thursday, October 5 and Friday, October 6 from 5 to 8 PM at the home of David’s daughter, Alexandra Pittinsky Giorno, 112 Sebastian Lane, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462. A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, October 10 from 1 PM to 3 PM at The Pyramid Club, 1735 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. 

Donations in lieu of flowers can be sent to  A Breeze of Hope Foundation or The American Heart Association.