William L. Gordon: 1930-2020In Memoriam | Thu Nov 05, 2020 | 10:00am
For more than 25 years, I was secretary to attorney Bill Gordon at two different law firms. When he became a judge of the Superior Court in 1983, I became secretary to Judge Gordon for many more years. We both experienced the loss of our spouses, and a few years later, our relationship gravitated to a personal one. We were married in 1994.
Bill was an inspiration to me both in the office and in marriage. I saw him live his ethics and sense of honor at all times. After 26 years of marriage, I cherish the memories.
Early in my working years, I was in Bill’s office taking dictation one day. Out the window, we watched as a car pulled over to the curb. The woman driving looked somewhat distressed, and it was easy to see her car had a flat tire. Without a moment’s hesitation, this busy attorney jumped up, removed his suit coat, and rushed outside rolling up his sleeves. He insisted on changing the tire for her. Bill Gordon was, in large and small ways, always a gentleman.
Appearing before a judge for the first time is always an experience for a new attorney. Many faced that moment in the courtroom with Judge Gordon on the bench. As they exited Department 6, I would see them start breathing again after the dreaded moment of scrutiny. Often, later, in a more relaxed setting, I would be told by the same young men and women: “He’s my favorite judge!”
Our friend Marilyn Metzner is a longtime secretary to attorneys and judges, and she remembered Bill’s hearty personality. She recalled an episode in 1964: “My husband, Paul, sitting out on the street waiting to pick me up after work, would tell me that he could hear every word that lawyer said out his window!”
Marilyn often went to court with clients of attorney Tom Anderle, who has since become a judge. “I heard so many Bill-isms at those times,” Marilyn told me. “I remember him sending Mark McGinnis out to get a proper jacket because he had on a leather Eisenhower jacket. Bill once told a lawyer who stood up to speak during a family law hearing: ‘I hope you have more important things to say now than you had in your paperwork.’“
Bill did like to tease. Gary Blair, who was court administrator during Judge Gordon’s two terms as presiding judge, told me about getting a call one day. It was the California Supreme Court’s chief justice, Ronald George. He wanted to visit Santa Barbara and wanted a formal invitation from the presiding judge, Bill.
“I immediately went to Judge Gordon’s chambers to inform him of this wonderful news,” said Blair. “Much to my surprise, Judge Gordon did not appear to be excited. He asked if I realized how much work it was to host a Chief Justice. We would have to adjourn court, and lose valuable trial time, so all of our judges could meet with him. We would need to host a special luncheon with our judges. We would need to then invite the Bar Association and local justice officials to attend a proper dinner in his honor. As Judge Gordon recited a lengthy list of tasks, he glanced at me sideways. I thought I detected a small twinkle in his eye, but I was not sure.
“Knowing he had been a colonel in the Army Reserve and appreciated the chain of command, I made an analogy: ‘If you were commander of a large army base and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to visit, would you turn him down?’ I thought this would sway him. Judge Gordon stared at me with a big smile and an unmistakable twinkle in his eyes: ‘Of course we will host the Chief. I just wanted to be sure you were prepared to perform all of the leg work!’
“I left Judge Gordon’s chambers with the realization that he had been two steps ahead of me the entire time.”
Getting young people interested in the law was of great interest for Bill. He would host any government class who wanted to see how a courtroom worked. And many of his Saturdays were taken up with Mock Trials held by high school students.
One of Bill’s favorite roles as a judge was to officiate at weddings. One memorable year he was able to officiate at the wedding of his grandson Erik, which was held in New Orleans at their Museum of Art. Erik grew up on the East Coast, and the distance created a unique relationship for them.
“I looked up to him as a kind of North Star for how to live the good life. His devotion to family, sincere humility, belief in the power of institutions to improve life, and razor-sharp wit all left deep impressions on me. He seemed to be a man who had discovered some important truths about how to live life the right way.”
Erik said he learned from his grandfather about how pride in his contributions to the community led to his manner and conduct in all settings, and the effect he had on other people. “My grandfather set the bar high,” Erik said.