David Elias Durchfort

February 10, 1956 - April 10, 2013
David was born February 10, 1956 in New York City and raised in Meriden, Connecticut, the fourth of five children. His parents, Ita Lewin (deceased) and Henry Durchfort, were each from Eastern Europe but met and married in Quito, Ecuador, where their families sought refuge during the Holocaust.

A passionate social activist by age 12, David marched in support of the civil rights movement and protested the Vietnam War. He left home at 14 and helped found the student-run Unschool at the Trinity Parish House at Yale. He earned an undergraduate degree in Economics from CSU Northridge summa cum laude and was awarded a California International Scholarship to the London School of Economics. He graduated from UCLA School of Law in 1983 and, upon admission to the California State Bar, began a practice spanning 30 years focused on criminal defense, juvenile law, criminal and civil litigation, employment/labor, and civil rights issues. He was a member of every federal district court in California as well as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

David worked tirelessly for the rights of his clients. Controlled and confident in the court room, he was a talented strategist, and a quiet but formidable adversary who valued the intellectual flexibility and moral nobility of the law. Last August, David was granted a seminal verdict by the California Supreme Court in the case of People v. Caballero, successfully arguing that a lengthy sentence with parole eligibility beyond the natural life expectancy for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This landmark case ensures that juveniles sentenced in California are entitled the opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation and has established a new legal standard for juvenile sentencing.

A complex man with a brilliant mind, David was intensely focused, determined and efficient. He was elegant and well-mannered, and held himself with a quiet dignity. He valued experiences over the material, and admired simplicity and kindness. His ideas were modern and progressive; his lifestyle traditional. He took great pride in providing for his family. He shared his knowledge and expertise whenever family and friends were in need, and will be most remembered for his gracious and generous nature. David found joy in the accomplishments of his children, happiness in a good morning kiss, solace in an afternoon spent gardening, and comfort in the pages of a good book.

David was a loving husband to Susan (Emelio) Durchfort, who survives him, a guiding force in the life of his stepdaughter Jocelyn Mecham, and an irreplaceable role model for his sons, Avi and Nathan Durchfort. His family would like to acknowledge David's brother, Ronald, who donated a kidney to David in 1993, giving the precious gift of 20 extra years; his brother, Marc, for the selfless devotion and comfort he provided David the last month of his life; and his sisters Yvonne Madera-Jaffe and Lillian Ruggles, for their unwavering love, care and support. We share our grief and loss with David's father, Henry, and the Emelio family, who loved David as a son and a brother. We thank our family and friends for their continued kindness and support. Most of all, we express our gratitude to David for teaching us the importance of a life well-lived, instilling within us a desire to learn, inspiring us to love deeply and completely, and for the sweet memories we share.

Our beautiful David passed away at his home, surrounded by his family, April 10, 2013. He left the life he loved and those he cherished only weeks after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Despite great pain, he fought valiantly to stay with us. He was 57 years old.

A memorial was held in David's honor at Temple Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, April 14, 2013. Nearly every seat was filled. He is mourned by a large and loving extended family, and friends from all over the world. David will be deeply missed but he will live forever in the hearts and minds of those he touched.

Donations in David's memory can be made to donatelife.net

Published in the Los Angeles Times on June 6, 2013