Former Island County Superior Court Judge Richard Pitt died March 1 at his home in Langley. He was 85 years old. A celebration of life will be held today in Oak Harbor.
Pitt is remembered by family, friends and colleagues as a successful trial attorney and pillar of the community who became a well-respected jurist.
“He leaves a lasting legacy in the annals of the Island County judicial system,” said Judge Alan Hancock, who served with Pitt.
“He was also a very fine person, and he and his lovely wife, Grace, raised a wonderful family together.”
After moving to Whidbey Island in 1962, Pitt became the county prosecutor, which came with many hats at the time; he was also the coroner, the juvenile probation officer and the Langley city attorney. In addition, Pitt was allowed to have a private practice because of the small size of the county.
Pitt became a partner at the Patrick, Zylstra & Pitt law firm in Oak Harbor in 1968.
“He was a very successful trial lawyer,” Hancock said. “I once heard him say that when he was prosecuting attorney, he never lost a jury trial.”
Grace Pitt said her husband represented a woman who sued the Navy after being discharged for being homosexual. Pitt received a letter from noted Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, congratulating him on the quality of his brief in the case.
Hancock said he remembers Pitt as a respected member of the community when he was growing up in Coupeville, where Pitt and his wife lived before moving to North Whidbey.
Pitt was his Sunday school teacher at Coupeville United Methodist Church.
Later, Pitt welcomed Hancock to the bench.
“I enjoyed serving with him,” Hancock said. “He was soft-spoken, personable and down-to-earth, but also strong-willed, particularly when it came to the less fortunate in our society.”
“He had a strong sense of fairness.”
Then-Gov. Dixy Lee Ray appointed Pitt as Superior Court judge in 1977. At the time, judges in Island County Superior Court also served San Juan County.
His wife, Grace Pitt, said Pitt would often fly or take a ferry to Friday Harbor. Sometimes they took their boat to the San Juans for the weekend and stay until court on Monday.
Coupeville attorney Craig Platt, formerly the county’s contracted defense attorney, argued in front of Pitt and remembers him fondly.
“Judge Pitt was one of the finest judges I ever had the honor of practicing before,” he said. “He always got to the heart of the issue. He understood the human condition of the people involved in the cases before him and he always tried to do the right thing.”
Platt said Pitt had a portrait of Clarence Darrow in his chambers. He said he was very honored when Pitt gave the portrait to him when he retired in 1993; Platt hung it in his office.
“It’s still there,” he said. “It stares at me every day.”
Stacey Lombardo worked as Pitt’s court reporter. She said he was an extremely fair judge who treated everyone the same, whether they were garbage haulers or appellate attorneys.
“He was the kindest, most considerate man I ever met, both professionally and privately,” she said.
Lombardo said Pitt’s kindness, intelligence and fairness “spoiled her” for working with other judges.
“He’s the standard I hold all other men, lawyers and judges to,” she said.
Judge Vickie Churchill currently holds Pitt’s former seat on the bench. She said he was respected and had a reputation for being thorough.
Grace Pitt said her husband had a great respect for the profession and truly loved being a judge.
He and his wife kept busy boating, golfing, skiing, gardening and traveling. But his greatest interest, Grace said, was his family.
A celebration of his life will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, 1191 S.E. Fidalgo Ave., Oak Harbor.