He loved the courtroom, the practice of law, and Don Chapman brought an ethical standard to public service rarely seen. Judge Chapman died Monday night in Bishop. He had struggled with illness the last two years. He was in his late 70s.
I had interviewed Judge Chapman many times over the years. One of the hallmarks of his public service – his refusal to be compromised by social or personal interests. After the death of his wife, Shirley, the Judge remained a loner, devoting himself to his work and family.
He retired from his position of Superior Court Judge in January of 1997. He told me at the time that the administration of the law had grown very complicated, more complex than necessary to deliver good justice.
Chapman graduated from USC law school in 1959 and practiced law in Riverside until he and his family moved to Bishop in 1971 where he took over Boyd Taylor's law practice. Back then there were only two other lawyers in town.
In January of 1977, Don Chapman was appointed to the Inyo Justice Court bench. He was later appointed to the Superior Court Judgeship when Verne Summers retired.
Judge Chapman not only devoted a serious nature to his legal decisions, he presented an unmoveable, moral force in the Inyo courthouse during many political spats through the years.
At his retirement, Chapman said that he couldn't have had a more enjoyable, rewarding career. "I've enjoyed every minute of it," he said.
What did he enjoy most about the practice of law? "I enjoyed the courtroom and trial practice," he said. The judge called it "an extremely challenging and rewarding experience to go into the courtroom and to advocate a position with your whole heart and soul; and if you win it's particularly enjoyable, if you lose, you have some bad moments and go at it again. It's always a challenge. It was always fun for me, and I always had respect and love, if you will, for my fellow attorneys and opponents." He said when you went into the courtroom, you had respect for everyone, so it became an enjoyable experience.
To critics of the judicial system, Chapman said, "of course, it's an imperfect system, because the people in it are human, but it's the best system I have found."
Don Chapman will be remembered for his moral strength and his warm heart. He is survived by daughters Becky Taylor and Leslie Chapman in Inyo County and other children and grand children.