Appellate justice Don R. Work succumbs to cancer

May 16, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Former Imperial County Superior Court Judge Don R. Work, who later served as a justice on the 4th District Court of Appeals in San Diego, died in his home from cancer Monday. He was 72.

A service will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church at 13208 Lakeshore Drive in Lakeside. A reception will be at the Lions Center in Chula Vista.

Family, friends and fellow judges described Work as a man committed to justice who made it his job to make sure everyone who came into his courtroom could understand the law. They said the appellate court has lost an important judge.

Judge Daniel J. Kremer, presiding justice over the 4th District Court of Appeals, said of Work. "He was a judge's judge. He was absolutely committed to doing justice."


Kremer said while Work handled several landmark cases, Work himself would never say that. Kremer said Work believed there are no landmark cases because all cases are important.

"That is how he approached every case," Kremer said, adding, "There wasn't a judge I know that was more courageous."

Work was appointed to the appellate court in 1980 after serving as an Imperial County Superior Court judge since 1976.

Until his appointment to the appellate court, the majority of his law career was spent in the Imperial Valley.

Work was a Korean War veteran who earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in 1955. He earned his law degree in 1958, also from Ohio State. In 1986 he earned a master's of law from the University of Virginia.

Work served as a deputy district attorney in Imperial County from 1959 to 1960. He later had his own practice in which he engaged in all facets of general law, handling civil and criminal cases. He was a certified specialist in criminal law.

During his tenure as a Superior Court judge, he was noted for several cases over which he presided.

In one landmark case in 1978, Work ruled a 14-year-old cancer victim could use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The order marked the first legal use of marijuana as a medical treatment in California, according to a story published in this newspaper in 1978.

Work served as a pro tem member of the state Supreme Court and in 1982 was recognized by the California Trial Lawyers as appellate justice of the year.

Work served on the state Commission on Criminal Law and Procedures, was a member of the state Senate advisory coalition on state court reform and was on the state Supreme Court advisory committee to implement Proposition 32, a constitutional amendment to restructure state Supreme Court procedures.

Locally, Work was a charter member of WomanHaven, and in 1973 was elected to the Imperial Unified School District board.

For much of his adult life he was a member of the Lions Club, serving as president of the club in El Centro and Lakeside, where he moved after he was appointed to the appellate court. In Lions he served in several top posts, including vice district governor and district governor.

El Centro attorney Orlando "Lanny" Foote said Work's death is a loss to the local community and the appellate court.

Foote said of Work, "He was very quick-witted. He had a dry wit and he could cut you right down to your ankles from the bench."

Lyla Corfman, county Superior Court administrator, said, "He was just a really special person. He was one of those people who had a real common touch. He had a common-man approach to the law."

Webster "Buzz" Kinnaird, for 20 years Work's appellate court staff attorney, said of Work, "He had a remarkable sense of fair play and justice. He treated every case the same."

David Sidhu, Work's stepson, said, "He was a remarkable person who touched a lot of people."

Sidhu said Work still considered himself a "Valleyite" even though he moved from the Valley in the 1980s.

Work was preceded in death by a son, Alan, in 1977.

He is survived by his wife, Gloria Work of Lakeside; daughters, Kathy Griffith of Lakeside, Claudia Work of Phoenix and Deborah Burton of El Cajon; sons, David Sidhu of El Centro, Sonny Sidhu of Laguna Hills and Robert Work of Albuquerque, N.M.; two brothers, Richard and Gordon Work; six grandsons, and four granddaughters.

The family suggests memorial to Lions Camp at Teresita Pines, P.O. Box 98, Wrightwood, CA 92397-0098.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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