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Paul Poth; Suffolk prosecutor dedicated to helping others, 39

By Talia Whyte
Globe Correspondent / September 2, 2009

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Paul Poth dedicated his life to serving those who were most vulnerable in society, friends said.

“He had a passion for life,’’ said Bob Popeo, chairman of the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin, where Mr. Poth started working as a litigator in 2002 after leaving the office of the Suffolk district attorney.

“He was not only a great lawyer who was informed with a sense of purpose, but he was also a great human being,’’ Popeo said.

Mr. Poth, a decorated former Suffolk prosecutor, died of cancer Aug. 22 at his childhood home in Buffalo while in home hospice care. The Cambridge resident was 39.

In addition to being a respected litigator for Mintz Levin, he enjoyed reading, listening to music, traveling to Martha’s Vineyard during the summer, and entertaining his family and friends with his culinary skills.

“Paul loved coming into a room and being around people and telling stories,’’ said Jim Palma of Cambridge, Mr. Poth’s brother-in-law.

He also was known for his sense of humor. He was one of many lawyers to participate in a stand-up comedy night last year to benefit the Women’s Bar Foundation’s pro bono work with various nonprofits, such as the Family Law Project for Battered Women, the Framingham Project for Incarcerated Women, and the Women’s Lunch Place.

Those who knew Mr. Poth said he put others first.

Originally from Buffalo, Mr. Poth graduated from Boston College in 1991 with a degree in political science and received his law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1994. He then began working as an assistant Suffolk district attorney under Ralph C. Martin II.

During his time at the DA’s office, in the summer of 2003, he took part in Operation Galadriel, a four-month undercover collaborative operation run by the district attorney’s office and the Boston Police Department, which investigated the recruitment of adolescents for prostitution. Bob Tully, who was a detective, worked closely with Mr. Poth and found him to be dedicated to the welfare of the underage girls they were working to save from prostitution.

“He would finish his work for the day at the DA’s office, go out undercover with us at night and patrol the Combat Zone, and then go to court in the morning,’’ Tully said. “On many of those nights out patrolling, Paul would just talk to these girls and make sure they were OK. The man was a hard worker and truly dedicated to getting these girls off the street.’’

Once Mr. Poth was able to recruit the young prostitutes to testify in court, he went the extra mile to make sure the girls had the confidence to put their pimps in jail, Tully said.

“Paul believed it was important to make sure the girls had confidence in him in what he was trying to do,’’ Tully continued. “He would buy them pizza and talk to them about why their testimony was important in the case, to help ease their discomfort. It was a brilliant idea.’’

Mr. Poth was widely recognized for his work on teen prostitution, including by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Neighborhood Crime Watch unit of the Boston Police Department, and the Bay Village Neighborhood Association.

“Many judges and attorneys had a great deal of respect for him because he was a tough adversary who stood up for what was right,’’ said Gerry Stuart, a fellow assistant district attorney who worked with Mr. Poth at the time.

Mr. Poth also was very charitable with his spare time. He cycled in support of AIDS research in the Boston-New York AIDS Ride, volunteered for Project Hope, and mentored city youth through hockey leagues and the Boston public schools’ Mock Trial program.

In November 2007, Mr. Poth was diagnosed with hepatobiliary duct cancer. He was told that his best hope would be surgery. He had an operation soon thereafter, but his surgeon was unable to completely remove the cancer. Mr. Poth received various forms of chemotherapy.

Based on his own experience, earlier this year Mr. Poth created TargetCancer Inc., to promote research and treatment protocols for underfunded and rare cancers. According to TargetCancer’s website, it had raised more than $10,000, with plans for a concert series and music CD. The organization made its first donation of $7,500 to Massachusetts General Hospital to advance the group’s cancer initiatives this past spring.

Mr. Poth leaves his wife, Kristen, and a son, Luca, of Cambridge. He also leaves his mother, Mary Ann Eichelberger, his father, Peter, and a sister, Clare, all of Buffalo.

A memorial Mass will be said at 2 p.m. tomorrow at The Paulist Center in Boston. A celebration of Mr. Poth’s life and 40th birthday will be held in Buffalo on Oct. 30.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an obituary for former Suffolk prosecutor Paul Poth on yesterday’s obituary pages misstated the year he left the Suffolk District Attorney’s office - he moved to a private law firm in 2000 - and gave the wrong year for Operation Galadriel, an undercover operation in which he took part in 1999.