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Michael Clohessy, decorated Vietnam vet and local defense lawyer, died at 66

March 17, 1949 – Feb. 19, 2016

Michael P. Clohessy rarely discussed his service as a Marine in Vietnam, but he was twice awarded Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, in addition to numerous other medals.

During his war service, he flew more than 50 helicopter missions as a crew chief and also was awarded the Combat Air Wing Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Campaign Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

When he returned from the war, he went back to his job for Iroquois Gas while attending law school.

The defense attorney known for taking on difficult cases died Feb. 19 in Florida of complications from pneumonia, family members said. He was 66.

The Buffalo native had spent winters in Tarpon Springs and the rest of the year in West Seneca after retiring about five years ago as a New York State court administrator in downtown Buffalo, a second legal career he began after being appointed to the post by then State Supreme Court Judge Vincent Doyle.

“He was a crew chief on a helicopter and had been shot down eight times,” said Patrick Clohessy, a younger brother who lived with him in Florida. “He had graduated West Seneca West High School early and worked for Iroquois Gas as a serviceman while he waited to turn 18 and enter the Marines. He had enlisted when he was 17.”

After returning to civilian life in 1970, Clohessy resumed work at the gas company, working nights, while he attended the University of Buffalo Law School during the day, paying his own way.

“I don’t know how he did, but he did it,” Patrick Clohessy said. “He was married and had two children at the time. He was an amazing man.”

Kathleen Lusk, a younger sister, described her late brother as role model.

“I’m a banker and in the business field and have achieved success, but I looked up to my brother. He was knowledgeable and somebody you could always count on,” Lusk said.

Whether it be drug dealers in the early 1990s when violence from the crack cocaine epidemic was rampant or a slumlord accused of arson, Clohessy was willing to take on their cases and provide a rigorous defense. His specialty was representing individuals accused of murder. In one of those approximately 20 cases, he defended a teenager who had ended up convicted of murdering another teenager over the theft of a jacket.

“The judges wanted these defendants to have the best defense so that there would be no retrial. They knew Mike would provide the best defense and they appointed him. Mike would perform his due diligence,” Patrick Clohessy said. “Mike was able to separate his emotions from the law and provide the defense that they were entitled to.”

Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. also recalled Clohessy’s dedication.

“By the time I joined the DA’s office in 1993, Mike was already a well-established practitioner who tried the big cases,” Flaherty said. “He was a true gentleman. He was always prepared, and although he vigorously fought for his clients, he was always pleasant. We all liked having cases with him. We miss him, but will remember him fondly.”

In addition to his brother and sister, he is also survived two daughters, Deanna Clohessy and Colleen Chahal; a sister, Margaret Latona; and a brother, James.

A memorial Mass will be offered 10 a.m. April 16 at St. John XXIII Catholic Church, 1 Arcade St., West Seneca.

– Lou Michel