A PORTRAIT OF DAVE LONG, BY William M. Grewe

The door joining the judicial chambers and Courtroom 22 swung open. With quick strides, Judge David W. Long bounded to the bench and proceeded to put a settlement on the record as he had done so many times before. With that done, he looked upward momentarily and then gestured with one hand signaling to the parties to stay. It had been an emotional case. Two young men, African-American, one active military and the other recently discharged, told the story in their case of an afternoon in a retail center. Out of uniform, they were accused of stealing. They submitted to a search in an attempt to make it go away. It did not. Uniformed security followed them until they retreated to their car. A security vehicle followed them until they left the premises.

Judge Long, in his robe, walked to the plaintiffs and shook the hand of each man as he apologized “on behalf of the residents of the County of Ventura” for what had occurred. A small gesture. A huge statement. It made a difference.

Born May 16, 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland, David Woodward Long was one of three boys. The family ping-ponged around the country, with even a detour to the Dominican Republic, as they followed the work assignments of Dave’s father, an engineer with RCA Communications. Eventually, they made it to the West Coast.

At age 17, Dave enlisted with the US Marine Corps. Admission was delayed until he turned 18 and graduated high school. He was fine with that, his June, 1959 graduation from Ventura High School being just around the corner. When that marker passed, the Marine Corps, for reasons only it knows, delayed his report date until December, 1959.

On a cool December night in San Diego, David Long reported for duty. Here he was, after some nine grade schools and many more addresses – including the rented attic of a friend’s house as of the date of his high school graduation – standing still, straight and quiet upon two yellow footprints painted on blacktop. Surrounded by 71 other young men, none of whom he knew
and all of whom were doing the same, he faced the most formidable man he had ever encountered, with a voice that bit through the cold dark air and with the crease on his uniform just as razor-sharp. This man was clearly going to ask and expect more of each of the 72 individually than had ever been asked of them collectively. And yet, David Long, at that moment, was finally
home. To this day, he can deliver, with feeling, the statements made on that night by his drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Manford C. Short. There is no man who influenced him more. If you appreciated a judge named Long, thank a sergeant named Short.

Meeting Judge Long, one knew the influence of the Corps and Staff Sgt. Short: On time, hair cut, clothes pressed, shoes buffed and polished, eye contact, firm handshake, addressed you by name, did not interrupt, truth spoken, all details addressed, responsibility taken but credit given.

After two years, David Long left active duty. The government paperwork fails to note that Long never left the Marines. To this day, if Judge Long is to be somewhere in the morning, his shoes are buffed and, if necessary, polished the night before. His clothes are made ready. He knows what his responsibility is going to be. He lives by the creed that there are three ways to do
anything: The wrong way, the right way, and the Marine Corps way. This outlook and approach says so much about the man and why all who encountered him on the bench are richer for having done so.

After active duty, Judge Long found himself in Merced, working as an insurance adjuster. He picked-up a few college classes along the way but, with a family which would include three children, his focus was on earning a living, not a degree. He didn’t totally ignore the local community college. He became the voice of the Merced Blue Devils sports teams as well as the Merced High Bears. There was no money to pay for his services but, in a move that would make any contingency-fee attorney proud, Judge Long volunteered to do play-by-play in exchange for the right to sell half-time ads.

The Tule fog and summer heat persuaded Long to return to Ventura where, soon, his good work attracted the attention of Carl Warren & Co. His territory was north and south of Ventura, and he wore the hats of both adjuster and investigator: Questioning witnesses, taking pictures, and generally getting a firsthand look at the facts. Often, he would bring a court reporter in tow to record a statement under oath.

He caught the eye of the late Jim McGahan, Esq., a partner at Benton, Orr, Duval & Buckingham, and a terrific trial lawyer. In many ways, McGahan and Long were opposites. Together, they were a formidable team. Long spoke more words in a day than McGahan would typically speak in a month. McGahan, who had the habit of being on point and right on, recognized that Long was picking up the law and putting cases together as well as any lawyer.

It took some doing, but McGahan lured Long over to the firm with the pitch that Long would serve as paralegal-investigator. Long, by then an Assistant Vice-President of Carl Warren & Co., knew that if he were to rise any higher, he must relocate to Los Angeles County. For a cut in pay he left CW & Co., stayed on the Central Coast, and embraced the law.

While a paralegal at Benton, Orr, Duvall & Buckingham, McGahan suggested to Long that he consider law school. Without a college education, Long did not feel that was a realistic pursuit. McGahan kept at it. Through back channels, McGahan set it up so that Long could gain a Special Student admission to Ventura College of Law if he scored high enough on the admittance
exam. McGahan suggested to Long that it would be wise to take a study course as preparation. Long took three. He blew through the threshold, and there was no looking back.

Admitted to the bar in 1983, he and Roger Borrell, Esq. formed a partnership which continued to 1988, when Long returned to BOD&B. (Years later, at City of Hope where Roger Borrell was a patient, Judge Long would swear-in Roger Borrell’s son, Judge Mark Borrell.)

While civil lawyering was exciting, it was not enough. This time, Long needed no encouragement. He knew where he wanted to be and he took the initiative. In 1993, one of 127 candidates, the court appointed Long as Commissioner. Governor Pete Wilson elevated Commissioner Long to the Municipal Court in 1995 and then to the  Superior Court in November 1997, where
Judge Long remained until his retirement in 2011. On each occasion, the oath was administered by Judge Jack Smiley, a mentor, whose demeanor and judgeship Long admired.

As the Mandatory Settlement Conference judge in Courtroom 22 from late 1998 to 2009, Judge Long was the face and gateway to the civil trial courtrooms. He shined. From San Diego to north of San Francisco, if a Ventura County lawyer found him or herself in a deposition or courtroom, a local attorney, more often than not, would comment, “Ventura….who’s that judge
you have….the Marine….good guy.” His manner and skill often created a comfort level akin to the children’s tale about making stone soup, where neighbors unwittingly each add a little of something and together they make a meal.

When asked if he was aware that at MSCs he often greeted the insurance representatives first and with feeling, Long said “Of course! They brought the money.” It did not hurt that he had walked in their shoes. The same could be said for the lawyers. Whatever issue or obstacle, he had faced it before. Together with his ease, knowledge and humor, he brought undaunted effort to the cause each day and the lawyers and litigants benefited.

One settlement involved two life-long friends who became business partners. After years together, the business was in ruins, the money was gone and the precious friendship
dashed. At the close of the recitation of the settlement, Judge Long added the following open term: Each man was ordered to call the other and invite him out for a steak dinner. The one receiving the call first must pick up the check. It gave them something to heal on.

In 2002, completely pleased that he was on the bench and sharing his life with his spouse since 1979, Shirley Critchfield (as well as their combined 7 children; 16 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren) since 1979, Judge Long was stricken by a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital, surgery was performed, and he pulled through. But while lying in bed listening to the beeps and pings of monitors, he took a personal accounting of all that he had and those that had helped him along the way. Foremost was Staff Sergeant Manford C. Short. When
his health allowed, Judge Long undertook to locate Sergeant Short. Sergeant Short had passed away a couple years earlier, but Long met the sergeant’s wife and grandson and shared with them what this man had  given him. Thereafter, until her passing, a dozen roses were delivered to Mrs. Short on November 10, the Marine Corps Birthday, as a tribute to the late Sergeant Manford C. Short.

Judge Long’s portrait will hang in Courtroom 22 in what he calls Judge Jerome Berenson’s courtroom, as he told Berenson when he was assigned to 22. It is the same courtroom where Judge Long once shook the hands of two young men, sending them forward, as he did so many others, with the residue of justice.

Bill Grewe practices law at Rose, Klein & Marias LLP in Ventura, where he handles wrongful death, personal injury, employment discrimination, wage issues and work-related injuries, illnesses and disabilities.

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