Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Caltrans attorney Peter Saporito's family holds his memorial plaque. His wife, Kate (L) stands next to his picture.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 02/2009

Legal division remembers Peter Saparito, a colleague and friend.

How do you memorialize a guy who was a great mentor, great cook, great handyman and, incidentally, a great attorney? Well, one way is to dedicate the new District 7 Law Library to him.

Deputy Chief Counsel Linda Harrel presided over the January 17 dedication event, entertaining employees, friends and family with tales of Peter Saparito’s colorful personality and endearing behavior. “When you got to Caltrans as a new attorney, Pete just naturally included you,” Harrel said. “He told you exactly how to treat your secretary, deal with your files and arrange your life.”

Harrel started work with the Caltrans Legal Division in 1978 when it was primarily all men. She was privileged not only to be taken under Saporito’s wing in the office, but also taken to Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant in the City Hall Mall. “Why was going to Bob’s Big Boy such a thrill?” she asked. “Because no woman and nobody under the age of 40 was ever invited to the ‘Boys Club’ meeting there every morning for coffee.” And that’s where the real legal discussions took place.

Saparito was a great litigation attorney who didn’t want to settle cases, Harrel said. But his cases never became big trials because he was so good at getting summary judgments. Meanwhile, she added, as time went on, “Peter got promoted and promoted and promoted” and eventually became a team leader.

“And you knew you had arrived when you got invited to his house. He gave the best parties,” she said. “But if you were on his team…once a year he and Kate (his wife) put on a formal dinner for his entire litigation team plus one special guest (due to seating restrictions).”

So, how does any of this relate to the law library? Long story. Apparently, District 7 is the only State legal library to have wood shelving, Harrel said, making it warmer and more welcoming than the typical such facility.

“Pete took apart every one of these wood shelves and we moved them here,” she said. “In the end, only Pete--in his coveralls and plaid shirt with this one little hammer—put the shelves together. I can’t come into this room and not think of him.”

Kate Saporito said that her husband’s favorite part of the job was mentoring new attorneys, that and the fact that he had five kids. “The only thing that could make the library more to his liking is if it had a little kitchen,” she added. “If Pete were here he’d say, ‘Manja, manja’ (eat, eat).”

Deputy Chief Counsel Linda Harrel entertains the crowd with stories about the late attorney. Saporito's family members study the memorial. Linda Harrel shares a memory with Tony Ruaffalo, a retired Los Angeles Legal Department Chief. The Peter A. Saporito memorial plaque as it hangs on the wall of the legal library named for him.