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Obituary: Carl Max 'Toby' Janavitz / Lawyer defended the First Amendment, adult bookstores, massage parlors

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Carl Max "Toby" Janavitz, a consummate lawyer whose absolutist view of the First Amendment fueled his lifelong defense of adult bookstores and massage parlors, died yesterday of lung cancer at UPMC Presbyterian.

Mr. Janavitz, 65, of Shadyside, was diagnosed a year ago.

When his lifelong friend, Carl Slesinger, asked Mr. Janavitz how he could defend accused pornographers and criminals, the Harvard-educated attorney had an answer.

"You never ask whether they're guilty or not. You have an obligation to give them a defense. They're entitled to it by our Constitution and that's our job. You just have to know the law better than the next guy," Mr. Janavitz told Slesinger.

An elfin man at about 5 feet 6 inches, Mr. Janavitz was quick-witted, blue-eyed and often flamboyantly dressed. While defending a massage parlor operator, he wore a mauve, slubbed silk suit to trial and the pants had a button fly. He wore velvet and cashmere coats, too.

"He was not big in size, but he was big in attitude and proud of it," Slesinger said.

Mr. Janavitz's unabashed defense of the First Amendment never flagged.

"Even in the hospital he was wearing a T-shirt that was obscene. I can't tell you. I would blush," Slesinger said.

Commonwealth Court Judge Rochelle S. Friedman of Doylestown, Bucks County, practiced law in Pittsburgh with Mr. Janavitz from 1975 to 1985.

"He had the most meticulous legal mind. He was the most brilliant orator. He was irresistible to a jury. He was spellbinding because he always made justice make sense. He was irreverent to a fault. That's why everyone loved him," Friedman said.

Mr. Janavitz's humor cut to the bone. After returning from a trip, he presented his law partner, Warner Mariani, with a black T-shirt, saying, "This is you, Mariani."

The T-shirt read: "I'm busy. You're ugly. Have a nice day."

In a 1997 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Janavitz said Marjorie Matson, the late constitutional lawyer, referred her clients to him when she became ill. In the '60s and '70s, Matson represented a conglomerate that owned most of the adult bookstores on Liberty Avenue. Mr. Janavitz inherited those clients.

In the late 1960s, actress Jayne Mansfield bared her breasts in a movie called "Promises, Promises." Former Allegheny County District Attorney Bob Duggan confiscated all the local prints.

Mr. Janavitz and his father, David, who was also a lawyer, represented the filmmakers. The Janavitzes succeeded in retrieving the prints and having them shown in local theaters.

One Liberty Avenue establishment that Mr. Janavitz represented featured live dancers, including a woman named Dawn Delight, who pulled men on stage and performed sexual acts on them. Police arrested the women. The case gave Mr. Janavitz a forum to challenge Pennsylvania's law prohibiting people who were not married from having voluntary deviate sexual intercourse.

Mr. Janavitz convinced the state Supreme Court that the law was unconstitutional because it deprived people of equal protection.

Mr. Janavitz grew up on Wilkins Avenue in Squirrel Hill. His mother, Louise, died when he was young. His father's second wife, Mary, was a social worker.

As a teenager, Mr. Janavitz played drums at the Crawford Grill in the Hill District with well-known jazz musicians, Slesinger recalled.

Mr. Janavitz graduated from Allderdice High School in 1956 and earned a bachelor's degree at Boston University in 1961. He earned his law degree from Harvard University in 1964.

Away from the headlines, he handled estates and trusts cases, an area of law he learned from his father.

Mr. Janavitz, who was active with the Shadyside Boys' Club, served as a father figure and mentor to troubled youngsters who appeared in juvenile court.

"He actually took troubled children into the third floor of his home, one at a time, nurtured them and trained them and fed them. His wife participated in all of this," Friedman said.

One young man, Slesinger recalled, became an electrician and established his own business.

Mr. Janavitz's law office on Fifth Avenue in the city's Uptown section featured a pool table, a life-size female blow-up doll seated on a couch and a 100-gallon fish tank with two giant, warring pachu.

"He just liked to remind himself not to take himself so seriously," said Mariani.

But the office furniture was handmade of rosewood and designed by a friend. Perhaps the unorthodox decor prompted Anthony "Ninny the Torch" Lagattuta, a convicted arsonist, to doubt that Mr. Janavitz was a real lawyer.

"Every time Toby represented him, he insisted that Toby show him his law license," Mariani said.

Clients and judges did not harbor such doubts.

When retired Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Papadakos was presiding in statutory appeals court, Mr. Janavitz represented a young man convicted of disorderly conduct for pounding on a soft drink machine after it delivered neither a drink nor his change. Mr. Janavitz's impassioned plea prompted Papadakos to throw out the conviction.

"Justice was what it was all about. No matter what you called it, or how earthy you got or how erudite, it was for justice," Friedman said.

In the 1980s and '90s, Mr. Janavitz represented adult bookstores on McKnight Road in Ross.

At home, Mr. Janavitz excelled as a craftsman and a cook.

"He and his wife, Gloria, did a lot of home remodeling. They stained etched glass. They did carpentry work and cabinet work. He made the most incredible spare ribs. He could make a Napoleon pastry that you wouldn't believe. If it couldn't be done absolutely right, then he didn't do it, he used to always say," Slesinger said.

Besides his wife, Mr. Janavitz is survived by his sons, Kurt of Chicago and Seth of Pittsburgh.

Friends will be received at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Ralph Schugar Chapel, 5508 Centre Ave., Shadyside. Services will follow at 2 p.m. in the chapel. Burial will be West View Cemetery of Rodef Shalom.

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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