Monday, May 2, 2011
Presiding Justice David G. Sills to Retire Next Month
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Presiding Justice David G. Sills will retire from the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. Three next month, the jurist said Friday.
Sills said he had just notified the governor and chief justice that he will be stepping down June 1 after nearly 21 years in his present post and nearly 26 years on the bench.
“My wife and I have been discussing this for some time,” he told the MetNews. “I thoroughly enjoy the job, but we have a good crew here [at the court] and...this is the time” to retire, he said.
While he and his wife Susan have done a good deal of traveling, he explained, his judicial duties have always limited the length of their trips. Once he leaves office, he said, they will have the luxury of time for extended travel.
He specifically wants to reschedule a Hawaii trip that had to be cancelled because of an illness and spend a month or more in Vermont studying cabinetry and woodworking. “I’ve been a woodworker all my life, and I almost became a professional cabinetmaker.”
Returning to the bench on assignment is a possibility, but he has no plans to do so “at this time,” he said. “There are plenty of smart people out there who can do the job,” he said.
“It’s been a great career,” he added. “A great time.”
Sills, 73, is a Peoria, Ill. native who chose to relocate after being stationed at Camp Pendleton while on active duty with the Marine Corps in the early 1960s. He majored in political science at Bradley University in Peoria and earned his law degree at the University of Illinois in 1961.
He left the Marines with the rank of captain in 1965, having served as a platoon and company commander and battalion staff officer, and was admitted to the State Bar the same year.
Sills entered law practice in Irvine in 1965, and was soon involved in state and local politics. His then-father-in-law, Ronald Reagan, was elected governor the following year, and appointed him to the state Republican Central Committee in 1967, the same year he and Maureen Reagan divorced.
He was elected to the Irvine City Council in 1976, five years after the city was founded. He unsuccessfully challenged Republican Assemblyman Nolan Frizelle in a 1982 primary, but remained a councilman until his appointment to the bench in 1985.
He also served four one-year rotations as mayor.
He had been a political supporter of George Deukmejian, and had worked with him on issues related to local government, he once explained to a reporter, before Deukmejian appointed him to the Orange Superior Court. Deukmejian elevated him to presiding justice of Div. Three in August 1990.
He produced a substantial volume of opinions over the years, and also originated the use of videoconferencing to allow lawyers to argue their cases from the Fourth District’s San Diego courtroom rather than have to travel to Santa Ana, where Div. Three sits.
Turn a Phrase
He was known to colorfully turn a phrase, as in Gates v. Municipal Court for the Central District of Orange County (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 45, in which he said that judges could not hold the sheriff in contempt for violating their orders not to release certain inmates, at a time when he was under federal court order to reduce jail overcrowding.
“In the very first decision reported by the California Supreme Court, People v. Smith (1850) 1 Cal. 9, a man accused of murder was ordered released on bail pending trial, in part because there was no jail in which to keep him,” Sills explained. “Albeit on a somewhat larger scale, we have a similar problem almost a century and a half later. The Orange County jails are full. Incredibly, because the sheriff will not lock up everybody sent him, some judges of the central municipal court now want to put him in jail. As we explain, this is akin to shooting the messenger who bears ill tidings.”
Instead of delivering “a civics lesson about the separation of powers,” Sills added, the presiding judge of the municipal court “should have discussed federalism.” The federal court order, he said, “romps through this case like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla” and the sheriff could not be punished for complying with it.
In Jesson v. Davis (2002), he firmly rejected the claim of gubernatorial also-ran Nick Jesson—who later went to prison for tax evasion—that the nominations of Gov. Gray Davis and challenger Bill Simon in the 2002 primaries should be thrown out because neither had filed an oath required by the state Constitution attesting that he was not a member of a subversive organization.
Noting that the oath had been omitted from the package of required nominating documents since 1970 because of court decisions holding that similar oaths violated the First Amendment, Sills wrote:
“Although the Governor and his challenger disagree on many issues, on one point they agree—this is a frivolous lawsuit. And, they are right.”
Not all of his memorable lines were delivered for the majority.
In Vo v. City of Garden Grove (2004) 115 Cal. App. 4th 425, he dissented from a ruling upholding a provision of a city ordinance requiring installation of surveillance cameras in cybercafés, a measure officials said was designed to deter gang activity.
“This is the way Constitutional rights are lost,” he argued. “Not in the thunder of a tyrant’s edict, but in the soft judicial whispers of deference. “
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company