“Our community has truly lost a legal giant who was an excellent jurist with a very sharp intellect, a great teacher, who was very patient and kind and cared deeply about helping to educate and develop the next generation of attorneys,” stated former judicial extern Jerrilyn Malana. On Saturday, February 19, 2011, Senior Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit David R. Thompson passed away at the age of 80. After 25 years on the bench, Judge Thompson earned himself a reputation, as noted by fellow Ninth Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, as a “quiet force of common sense and fairness.”1 Judge Thompson “never lost his analytical edge and never lost his heart.”2
Judge Thompson was born in San Diego on December 26, 1930 and earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Southern California. Following law school, Thompson served in the Navy for two years. After his honorable discharge, he spent 28 years specializing in the realm of business litigation in San Diego. In 1985, Thompson was appointed to the judiciary by President Ronald Reagan.3
Judge Thompson once noted that in high school he had considered becoming a professional actor. However, due to his legal legacy he knew that he would follow in his family’s footsteps.4 Judge Thompson’s father was a Superior Court judge, and his grandfather started practicing law in San Diego in 1908. Thompson’s older brother, Gordon Thompson, Jr., is a federal judge for California’s Southern District, and his daughter, Carolyn Thompson Kelly, is an attorney.
As a native San Diegan, Judge Thompson “was a great advocate for San Diego,” noted former law clerk Marc Greenwald. Greenwald said that he could talk about the Judge for hours, and he remembers the Judge’s continued “encourage[ment of] his clerks to take advantage of everything San Diego had to offer, and . . . his commitment to the San Diego legal education community by regularly hiring interns from local law schools.” On behalf of USD Law, Dean Kevin Cole reported his sadness over Judge Thompson’s passing and appreciation of Thompson for all the opportunities he provided students throughout the years.5 Before his death, Judge Thompson was scheduled to sit on a panel to hear oral arguments for the Ninth Circuit at USD Law’s Grace Courtroom and open to USD students.
Judge was a “role model as to what a lawyer and a judge should be,” stated Judge Thompson’s former law clerk Andrea Russi. A memory of the Judge that will remain with her is of “him typing away on the typewriter” because he never used a computer, or as he called it, the magic box. After a year of working with the Judge, Russi knew him to have left work early only once, and that was to watch the All-Star Game. Judge was “courteous and kind–on and off the bench.”
Judge Thompson was beloved and praised by all who had the opportunity to know and interact with him. He helped to hone and inspire generations of new attorneys. As San Diego and the Ninth Circuit say farewell to one of the legal greats, we look to the new bastion of attorneys who have had the influence and firm guiding hand of Judge Thompson for their future positive contribution to the profession. Judge Thompson shall be missed; however, his inspirational spirit shall remain a notable presence in the San Diego legal community.
1 Carol J. Williams, David R. Thompson Dies at 80; Reagan Appointee to 9th Circuit, L.A. Times, Feb. 23, 2011, available at http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-judge-david-thompson-20110223,0,3927680.story.
3 David Madden, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Mourns Death of Judge David R. Thompson, Public Information Office: United States Court for the Ninth Circuit, Feb. 22, 2011, http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/absolutenm/articlefiles/302-Ninth_Circuit_Thompson_Obituary2.pdf.
4 Williams, supra note 1.
5 Kevin Cole. Event Cancellation: U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Special Sitting at USD. Univ. of San Diego Sch. of Law News Ctr., Feb. 21, 2011, http://www.sandiego.edu/law/news/news_releases/newslist.php?_focus=38173.