In Memoriam - Lewis E. King
Retired Judge Lewis King passed away on January 4, 2013 at the age of 88 years old. Judge King had a long and distinguished career in the Kern County legal community, first as a Public Defender, and thereafter as a Municipal and Superior Court Judge.
When I first began practicing law in Bakersfield in 1977, Lew King was the Chief Trial Deputy for the Kern County Public Defender's Office. I was a brand new attorney and had been hired by a general practice firm to be the "criminal guy." Lew was well established and well respected, and he presented a somewhat imposing figure. His gray hair was always slightly tousled. His typical outfit was a single breasted blue blazer, gray slacks, and wing tip shoes. When not in court, he was always puffing on his pipe. It seemed to me that the expression on his face rarely changed, no matter what the situation, which made him all the more intimidating to a young lawyer like me.
Not long after I began practicing law, my firm was retained on a fairly serious and complex criminal case, and I soon found myself in over my head. I went to my boss, a civil attorney, for advice and guidance. It didn't take long for both of us to figure out that he knew less about the matter than I did. He suggested that I call Lew for help. Lew and I only had a nodding relationship, so I told my boss I was uncomfortable calling Lew for advice. My boss assured me that, despite the somewhat distant image that Lew projected, he was really a very generous person and would be happy to help me. I wasn't convinced, but I was desperate. I called Lew and explained my dilemma. He warmly and graciously invited me to his office to discuss the case. When I arrived at his office, he had already made copies of pleadings that he had used in a similar case , and he gave them to me to use in my case. He spent quite a bit of time with me and, as I was leaving, encouraged me to keep him apprised of developments in the case. I did, and Lew held my hand until the case was over.
That was one of the handful of times that I was able to turn to Lew for help before he was appointed to the Municipal Court bench in 1979. Lew's demeanor on the bench was not much different from his demeanor as a trial lawyer. "Unflappable" would be my description of Lew. No matter what was happening in his court, Lew was always calm and even-tempered - at least on the outside. I tried several cases in Judge King's court throughout his career on the Kern County Bench, and appeared on many other criminal matters. I cannot speak to his temperament or performance on other criminal matters, but I can say that, as a criminal defense attorney, I very much appreciated Judge King in my criminal cases. Having been a trial attorney, Judge King understood the difficulties in presenting criminal cases, both from the prosecution and defense sides of the table. I do not recall Judge King having been anything other than courteous and professional to attorneys and litigants alike, when a different approach might have been justified.
Judge King was part of an era when the Kern County Courts were a little less formal and a little more approachable. He was a good fit. Judge Lewis King was an asset to and a credit to the Kern County Bar and Kern County Bench, and I glad that I knew him.
This article was written by Greg Mitts. It was originally published in the April 2013 issue of the KCBA magazine, Res Ipsa Loquitur.