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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — David S. Casey Sr., once one of California’s preeminent trial lawyers and the first plaintiffs attorney ever elected president of the State Bar of California, died Sunday of natural causes. He was 89.
According to his son, David Casey Jr., also a trial lawyer and a senior partner at Casey Gerry Reed & Schenk, the Banker’s Hill firm his father originally founded more than 55 years ago, Casey Sr. was a tenacious and decisive litigator with a generous spirit and a resolute demeanor.
“My father cared deeply about his cases and clients,” he said. “I have people tell me 30 years after he represented them how special he made them feel.”
Casey Jr. credits his father with sparking his own passion for the law, and says that as a child he enjoyed his father’s lively storytelling sessions. “I later realized that these stories were really his opening and closing statements, so I learned what an opening statement was before I knew what a courtroom was,” he recalled. “My father had a lifelong passion for trying cases and a complete dedication to the legal profession that he instilled in me very early on.”
One of eight children of a St. Louis attorney, Casey Sr. graduated from St. Louis University School of Law in 1937, was admitted to practice in Missouri that same year. In 1941 he entered the Navy Air Force until the conclusion of World War II. “He decided while he was at sea on an aircraft carrier that if he survived, he would return to San Diego,” said Casey Jr.
After moving West, he took the California Bar, and hung his shingle in San Diego in 1947. Over the years, he took on hundreds of cases — from medical malpractice to car accidents to products liability — specializing in civil litigation and personal injury. “He was one of the most experienced trial lawyers in the history of California, handling over 700 jury trials, ” his son said.
In addition to all things legal, Casey Sr. had an enduring interest in politics and in protecting the environment. “In the 1950s, he was the secretary of the Democratic party in San Diego and ruffled feathers when he endorsed Dwight D. Eisenhower for president,” Casey Jr. said. In 1963, he was a candidate for Mayor of San Diego. He came in third in a field of 15, and endorsed the ultimate winner, Frank Curran.
He was a director of the San Diego County Water Authority and of the San Diego Air Pollution Committee, and spearheaded Proposition C, a groundbreaking measure which allowed hotel and motel taxation to promote San Diego, and ultimately helped transform the city into a Mecca for tourism.
Casey Sr. was the recipient of dozens of professional accolades, including the Lawyer’s Hall of Fame from the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego (CASD), an Award of Honor from the San Diego County Bar Association, and the San Diego Press Club Headliner Award for Law and Justice. Recently, the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego permanently renamed its annual “Trial Lawyer of the Year Award,” the “David S. Casey Sr. Trial Lawyer Award.”
He served on the board of governors of the State Bar of California from 1973 through 1976, when he was elected its president for a one-year term. He also worked with the State Bar to evaluate judicial candidates for the State of California.
In addition, he was a founding member of the California Trial Lawyers Association (now the Consumer Attorneys of California), a founder and the first president of the San Diego Trial Lawyers Association (now the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego), and the second president and a diplomat of the American Board of Trial Advocates. (In order to be a diplomat one must have tried 100 civil jury cases to a conclusion). He was also invited to be a fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, which is restricted to the top 500 lawyers throughout the world, and was a fellow of the International Society of Barristers.
A long-time resident of La Jolla, Casey Sr. was an active member of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and enjoyed participating in Irish-American activities. He was also an avid golfer and tennis player, and enjoyed traveling and visiting family with his wife, Margaret.
Indefatigable, he worked as a trial lawyer until he was well into his 80s.
In addition to his son and wife, Casey Sr. is survived by a daughter, Julia Fisher of Bellevue, Washington and Palm Desert, Calif.; two step-children, Leslie Sanguinetti of San Diego and Greg Sanguinetti of Portland, Oregon, and five grandchildren.