Friday, September 6, 2019
By T. PETER PIERCE
(The writer is an attorney in the San Francisco office of Richards Watson Gershon. His reflection on retired U.S. District Court Judge George P. Schiavelli, who died last week, is reprinted, with Pierce’s permission, from his posting on the Los Angeles County Bar Associations Appellate Courts Section listserv. A memorial service for Schiavelli will be held at 2 p.m. today at Casa Italiana, 1050 N. Broadway, in Los Angeles.)
LEASE ALLOW ME TO SHARE a story of the only time I had the good fortune of meeting Judge Schiavelli. It was not an appearance before him, nor a bar association function. Instead I was called as a witness by the U.S. Attorney prosecuting a criminal matter in federal court with Judge Schiavelli presiding over a bench trial.
While I was happy to testify, the circumstances were terrible. My mother’s identity had been stolen while she was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease and my father had recently passed away. The U.S. Attorney was prosecuting a criminal ring that had stolen multiple identities, SSNs, IRS refund checks, etc.
The AUSA conducting the direct exam asked me about my background. At that time, I served as a lecturer at USC Law School. Sensing that I was uncomfortable on the witness stand, the Judge injected some levity: “Why in the world would you teach at USC Law School? Everyone knows UCLA is the place to be.” I responded, “Your honor I’m from Louisiana and all I’ve heard is that USC has a better football program.” The Judge then wondered aloud whether my forthcoming testimony would be credible. It was a much needed laugh for me. He then leaned forward, and clearly and loudly for the record, intoned “if the Ninth Circuit is listening, I’m kidding. I’m sure Mr. Pierce will make a fine witness.”
The following day the AUSA called to inform me that defendants had been convicted. I asked him about Judge Schiavelli’s comments while I was on the stand. The AUSA replied that the Judge was aware of my personal circumstances and it was his way of easing the burden of testifying. I’m sure the Judge’s gesture was for him simply one more kindness he obviously extended to all whose lives he touched. I never got to thank him. And I’ll certainly never forget him. My heartfelt condolences to the Judge’s family, and to all who called him friend, colleague, and mentor.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company