Even as a high school freshman, Dave Gill (CA-TH ‘53) began preparing for what he hoped would be a long and successful legal career. “I was always a serious student and enjoyed discussing issues with teachers and classmates,” he recalled.“I knew I would be attending law school.”
Obviously, Brother Dave underestimated the long-term potential of his desired profession. In March he will begin his 44th year as a San Diego judge, the county’s longest serving jurist. That is in addition to his prior work with the San Diego District Attorney and City Attorney offices and time in private practice.
A San Diego native, Dave had been accepted to Stanford University as a San Diego High School senior, but decided to study first at San Diego State College. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave San Diego and was playing clarinet and saxophone in a local dance band led by Cal Theta Brother Don Harrington, and wanted to continue that for a while longer,” he said.
He pledged Cal Theta as a freshman in 1953. “A few of my friends were already ΣAEs and I probably didn’t visit any other houses during rush. Being an ΣAE was and continues to be a great experience.”
Dave transferred to Stanford in his junior year and lived at the ΣAE house (Cal-Alpha) as an undergrad and law school student. “In addition to having a few high school friends who were students there, being an ΣAE was my entrée to life on a new campus.”
After graduating from Stanford Law School, Dave served three years active duty with the Army Reserve, which he had joined in college. He was assigned to the Judge Advocate General Office at the Pentagon and while in Washington, D.C. was also able to complete his Master’s Degree in law at Georgetown University. “I really enjoyed my time in Washington—during the Kennedy Camelot years—and might have remained there after my service; if I didn’t have family and friends in San Diego.”
Returning to his hometown, Dave joined the San Diego City Attorney’s office, and then worked several years as a prosecutor with the San Diego District Attorney. “I wanted to get trial experience and during this period I handled a wide range of criminal cases—from DUI to murder.”
He was definitely comfortable as a prosecutor, but when longtime friend and fellow musician Don Harrington and two other attorneys invited him to join them in a new law office, Dave thought the time was right for a change. “I actually hadn’t planned on a long career in the DA’s office and also believed that I’d ultimately be a much better lawyer if I had practiced on both sides, so this was a good opportunity.”
While he welcomed the experience as a criminal defense attorney, Dave wasn’t as enthusiastic about the business of helping to manage a firm. “I did a lot of criminal defense work during this period, but eventually realized that what I liked best was being in the courtroom every day and the person in that role is the judge. I thought I’d like having the neutral position as a judge.”
Dave contacted an Army and State Bar acquaintance, Ed Meese, then Governor Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, to ask about the potential of a judicial appointment. He subsequently applied and in 1974 was appointed to the San Diego Municipal Court bench. Four years later, he was elected to the San Diego Superior Court and he’s been there ever since. Dave has overseen hundreds of cases, including dozens of murder trials and 10 death penalty cases.
“Death penalty cases are the most challenging,” he explained. “They last longer, the issues are especially complex, and making the ultimate decision is a huge responsibility for jurors; one that many people don’t want.”
Dave has earned a reputation for being strict but fair, thorough, and well prepared. “You have to keep at least one step ahead of the attorneys involved,” he said. “Judges have to know the cases better than the lawyers appearing before them.”
After 43 years as a judge, Dave still is not anxious to hang up his robe. Recently recovering from triple bypass/aortic valve replacement surgery, he was counting the days until he can return to work in January. “It’s been a very satisfying career. I believe in the well-known phrase:‘If you love what you’re doing,you won’t work a day in your life.’ I always tell people to follow their passion. I’ll decide in 2020 if I want to run for another six-year term. Maybe it will be time to retire, but perhaps not.”
Until then he’ll keep hearing cases and motivating jurors to make the best possible decisions.“Every day is different; because of the people involved and the unique issues in each case.”
Outside of the courtroom, Dave devotes much of his time to community activities. He chairs the Boy Scouts Eagle Board of Review; serves on the Boards of Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, and San Diego Armed Services YMCA; is a trustee of the County Law Library; and has been a San Diego Lions Club member for 47 years. He also remained with the Army Reserve for 35 years; retiring as a Colonel in 1990.
Until a year ago, Dave played in several community bands and would like to resume that avocation. In addition, he and his wife Marcia (a college math teacher) enjoy traveling, serving in the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic community, and following their daily exercise routine.
Of course, he also strives to maintain contact with his ΣAE Brothers; attending Founder’s Day and other events when his busy schedule permits. A long-time Century Club member, Dave is glad that he decided to visit the ΣAE house on Saranac Street (La Mesa) as a young college student. “As a result of becoming an ΣAE, I have made lifelong friendships. I wouldn’t have changed my fraternity experience for anything.”
~ By David Robinson