By Arthur Gilbert
(The writer is the presiding justice of Div. Six of the Court of Appeal for this district. Paul Coffee, who died Thursday, was a member of that division from 1997 until his retirement in 2012.)
I knew Paul Coffee when he was a Superior Court judge in San Luis Obispo. To be more specific, I along with my colleagues knew his legal abilities when we reviewed appeals of his decisions. There were only a few. He knew how to rule. His experience as a noted insurance defense attorney gave him the ability and insight to be an excellent trial judge. And when he joined Division 6 in 1997 that experience proved invaluable.
In law practice he was an insurance defense lawyer, a point he recently raised with me as I sat with him at his bedside last week when he knew the end was near. He remarked that I had represented mostly plaintiffs in my law practice so long ago, and that our backgrounds and life experiences were so different. And yet, we were not just colleagues, but dear close friends who had a special bond.
How lucky I was to have Paul as my friend and colleague. He was gracious to counsel at oral argument. He never forgot what it was like practicing law in front of an irascible judge. Are there irascible judges? He was loved by all the court staff and his colleagues. At our conferences he always caught nits and misspellings. He was our beloved nitpicker.
We were the informal division that never dressed up. I called us the think tank with tank tops. Paul wore the best tank tops. Serious about the law but not about himself. He made a significant contribution to the development of the law in California and made a lasting impression on all who knew him.
Thank you Paul. You will still be with us.
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