David R. Thompson, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for the past quarter-century, died a week ago at 80. The Court of Appeals obituary on Judge Thompson’s passing includes a number of statements from his colleagues on the bench:
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Judge Thompson, who served this court with distinction for 25 years,” said Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. “He was an esteemed jurist, highly regarded by his colleagues and by the many lawyers who argued before him.”
“David Thompson was one of our finest judges. His analysis was always careful and thorough but with an eye to the justice of the situation. He was a great friend that we all will miss,” said Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Procter Hug, Jr., of Reno.
“On the bench and in deliberations, Judge Thompson was a quiet force of common sense and fairness but he never lost his analytical edge, and never lost his heart,” said Ninth Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown of San Diego. “I will miss him on the court and as my friend.”
Added Ninth Circuit Judge Barry G. Silverman of Phoenix, “Judge Thompson was uncommonly kind, and one of the nicest, gentlest, most decent human beings I’ve ever known.”
According to The Recorder, which specializes in California legal news, Judge Thompson fell ill during oral arguments:
Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Senior Judge David R. Thompson of San Diego died over the weekend after falling ill while in town to hear oral arguments.
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The court did not disclose particulars of his illness. But he had listened to arguments and participated in post-argument conference on Wednesday even after realizing something was wrong, Ninth Circuit Judge Barry Silverman of Phoenix said.
The Los Angeles Times observes that Judge Thompson really had no other choice but to take silk, American-style:
. . . Thompson came from a San Diego legal dynasty spanning more than a century. His father was a Superior Court judge and his grandfather started practicing law in the city in 1908. His older brother, Gordon Thompson Jr., is a federal judge for California's Southern District, and his daughter, Carolyn Thompson Kelly, is a lawyer licensed to practice in California and Vermont.
Thompson told the Daily Journal in a 2008 interview that he briefly considered acting as a career while in high school, but the power of family legacy sealed his choice.
"Those were the days when you did what you were exposed to at home. Law was the only thing I really considered," the judge recalled.
Thompson wrote or participated in thousands of decisions, of course, but a few draw the Times’ attention:
In 1989, Thompson wrote an opinion that established the standard for "deliberate indifference" in police misconduct cases, ruling that an officer placed a woman in danger when he left her alone in a bad neighborhood at 2:30 a.m. after arresting the driver of the car in which she was a passenger for being intoxicated and taking the keys. The woman was raped as she attempted to make her way home.
Thompson also wrote the ruling that reversed a Montana man's death sentence later that year on grounds that his due process rights had been violated by a change in the law allowing consideration of aggravating factors that hadn't been addressed during his trial.
Four years ago, Thompson wrote that the city of Boise, Idaho, had violated the Fair Housing Act and the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment by funding a homeless shelter that admitted only men and conducted religious services at the site.