Sonoma lawyer, judge Newt Dal Poggetto dies at 95

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When Sonoma Valley attorney Newt Dal Poggetto wasn’t jousting with legal adversaries, he was holding court at his favorite watering hole, the Swiss Hotel, chatting up friends about Democratic politics or fishing.

It was a habit that continued long after the gregarious grandson of Italian immigrants stopped full-time work and shifted his focus to charting the region’s rich history and writing two detective novels. Well into his 90s, Dal Poggetto dropped by for a drink, relaxing in the room covered with old photos of Sonoma wine pioneers with names like Nichelini and Sebastiani.

Now, a picture of the well-known barrister will take its place among them. Dal Poggetto died Friday at his Crest Way home after a more than yearlong illness. He was 95.

“He was a great raconteur,” said Gaye LeBaron, a longtime Press Democrat columnist who met Dal Poggetto as a reporter in the 1950s. “He was the kind of guy you were always glad to run into because he would have something fun to say.”

In addition to being a lawyer, Dal Poggetto was elected twice to the post of justice of the peace, overseeing a regional courtroom. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for state Assembly and served as a federal arbitrator in San Francisco.

More recently, he represented investors of the failed Sonoma Valley Bank, helping them to recover $2 million in a civil lawsuit.

He self-published three novels — “Vintage of a Murder,” “Sonoma: the Night of the Assassin” and "The Visit: An Unusual Walk Through Sonoma History on an Early Easter Morning" — which he sold online. He also made his own wine.

In everything, he was a model of civility and charm, colleagues said.

“He was a great conversationalist and a very good lawyer,” said Santa Rosa attorney Clay Clement.

Newton F. Dal Poggetto was born in Sonoma in 1922, the grandson of Carlo Dal Poggetto, a Tuscan immigrant who opened a Sonoma a dry goods store and later became mayor.

He graduated from Sonoma Valley High School and began college at the University of Colorado at Boulder before joining the Navy during World War II. Dal Poggetto — known as Dal for short — served as a lieutenant junior grade aboard the USS Canfield, a destroyer escort that participated in a Japan-bound occupation convoy.

Dal Poggetto met his wife, Helene, in Colorado. After the war, he used the G.I. Bill to finish college and law school at the University of Denver.

The couple settled in Sonoma in 1950.

Dal Poggetto opened his practice, handling criminal and civil matters before becoming justice of the peace.

“To this day, people address him as judge,” said one of his daughters, Sandra Dal Poggetto, of Helena, Montana.

In his spare time, he hunted mushrooms and studied the valley’s history. His vast knowledge of people and places made him a great resource.

“Like anybody else who paid attention, he remembered all the things about his childhood and loved to talk about it,” LeBaron said.

Above all, he liked to socialize. He ate lunch at the Swiss Hotel once a week for the past 25 years and dropped in for cocktails regularly until about six months ago, owner Frank Marioni said.

He could talk in detail about the personalities of yesteryear whose black and white images hang on the restaurant walls.

Marioni said he was already clearing a spot for Dal Poggetto’s picture.

“He was a great guy and a local legend,” Marioni said. “He will be missed.”

In addition to his daughter and wife, he is survived by a sister, Heloise Tomasini of Nicasio; a daughter, Lynne Dal Poggetto, of Berkeley; a son, Marc Dal Poggetto, of Petaluma; six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Services will be Jan. 17 at 11 a.m. at Duggan’s Mission Chapel in Sonoma.

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