If you live in this area, are of a certain age and unfamiliar with attorney William C. Costopoulos, then you probably aren’t paying attention. The lawyer is no stranger to the media, having appeared throughout the years often in newscasts, print and now in social media.
What you may not know is that Costopoulos, a husband, father and grandfather, enjoys writing as well as practicing law.
The high-profile attorney recently released his third novel, “Soul Witness,” a fictional account of terrorism and its toll on society. Area residents who pick up a copy will recognize many of the places the author references as the story unfolds in south-central Pennsylvania.
“We’ve been promised that terrorism will visit us on our soil,” said Costopoulos. “‘Soul Witness’ develops that promise in a realistic, fictionalized account that could happen any day.”
Costopoulos said he “kinda backed into” a law career, after serving his country.
“I was drafted before law school right out of college and served my tour of duty in Fort Sill, Okla., trained in reconnaissance, until being honorably discharged in 1968 as a staff sergeant. After that, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I decided I’d rather continue my schooling than start working at that point.”
He applied to the Duquesne University School of Law and was accepted, and there he found his niche. He graduated valedictorian and earned his juris doctor degree before attending Harvard University School of Law.
Shortly after graduation, Costopoulos spent a year serving as the deputy district attorney of Dauphin County, after which he became a partner in the firm of Kollas & Costopoulos (now Costopoulos, Foster & Fields) in Lemoyne. He’s made his home there since.
In 1980, he took on one of his first high-profile cases, a lottery-rigging scheme that sparked national attention. Costopoulos represented two brothers, Pete and Jack Maragos, who were accused of injecting ping pong balls with latex paint, ensuring that only three numbers (666) would rise to the top of the machine.
“The brothers were given probation for cooperating, returning the money, and explaining how they did it,” Costopoulos said.
The movie “Lucky Numbers,” released in 2000, was based on the case.
A few years after the lottery scheme, Costopoulus played a role in yet another infamous case when Jay Smith, an English teacher at Upper Merion school district, was accused of murdering colleague Susan Reinert, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in a parking lot in Harrisburg (her two children’s bodies were never found).
Smith spent six years on death row before the case was overturned by the state Supreme Court, which cited “egregious” misconduct by prosecutors and state police in suppressing evidence at the trial.
Costopoulos, who served as Smiths’ court-ordered representative, declared the ruling a “victory for the citizens of Pennsylvania” against overreaching prosecutors. The case gained further notoriety when “Echoes in the Darkness,” authored by Joseph Wambaugh, hit the stands and was followed by a television mini-series.
When a wave of corruption swept the state Capitol, Costopoulos once again appeared in the public eye, representing high-ranking public officials like Senate Whip Jane Orie and Speaker of the House William DeWeese.
In 1994, Costopoulos took on the case against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen.
“He was impeached on the Senate floor. That was the first and last impeachment trial since the Civil War, and it was an honor to be part of that history,” said Costopoulos, explaining that Larsen was charged with a host of offenses, but ultimately convicted of giving special consideration to a friend and obtaining anti-depressant drugs unlawfully.
More recently, Costopoulos’ attention has turned to representing Karl Rominger, a Carlisle lawyer and member of Jerry Sandusky’s defense team. Rominger is accused of misappropriating funds.
This spring, Costopoulos was named one of the “Nation’s Top One Percent” by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel (NADC), an organization dedicated to promoting the highest standards of legal excellence.
Costopoulos, who recently celebrated his 71st birthday, feels driven to write, but not because it’s a walk in the park.
“Writing is very hard for me; I work at it,” he said.
Perhaps it’s the desire to scratch his storyteller itch, or the urge to push his limits towards achieving excellence in yet another area, or a combination of both. Regardless, he makes it a point to carve out time in his busy day for the craft.
“I write in the very early morning, before daylight, and that’s my schedule. At that hour, the phones aren’t ringing and nobody’s talking to you,” said Costopoulos, as he explains getting into the zone and finding his flow. “When I start, it’s full bore.”
He used that technique for his latest work, “Soul Witness.”
“The story is driven by a series of events and how we, as a country, and our justice system respond to those events,” said Costopoulos.
He added that his career in the courtrooms makes him no stranger to the prospect of evil.
“I have dealt with evil and the pursuit of justice in our courts of law, therefore I am able to bring that message to the reader,” he said.
Author and reporter Brad Bumsted met Costopoulos years ago when he covered a trial where Costopoulos served as defense attorney.
“I didn’t know much about him as a writer; I just knew he was a great attorney,” said Bumsted.
Eventually, the two forged a friendship and joined forces to write a book together called “Murder is the Charge,” a true story about former York Mayor Charlie Robertson who was accused of murder in the York riots decades ago. Costopoulos represented Robertson, who was acquitted.
“You don’t meet too many attorneys that can communicate the English language as plainly as Bill does when he tells a story. He’s a good writer,” Bumsted said.
Costopoulos describes “Soul Witness” as some of his best writing, but says completing the novel is just the beginning when it comes to getting it out to readers.
“There are 959 new titles released every day,” he said. “If you’re willing to compete, the statistics are staggering. I wrote this book intending to compete.”
As for the future, Costopoulos hints that “Soul Witness” may not be his last.
“I’m driven by the stories I want to tell, and my writings have brought me a great deal of satisfaction. ‘Soul Witness’ has a message for all of us, including me,” he said with a smile.
“Soul Witness” is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other outlets.