Bill O’Malley, a fixture in Contra Costa County courtrooms and patriarch of an extended family of judges and district attorneys, died Monday in a Lafayette care home at the age of 94 – surrounded by his family and singing an Irish tune.
A founding member of the county’s public defender’s office, O’Malley served as Contra Costa County district attorney from 1968 to 1984, running successfully for Superior Court judge in 1985 and ruling from behind the bench until his retirement in 1995.
Father of nine, O’Malley was pleased when daughter Nancy O’Malley rose to become the district attorney in Alameda County and son Dan followed his father’s chosen path, also serving as both former deputy district attorney and judge in Contra Costa County.
A straight-talking man proud of his Boston immigrant ancestry, O’Malley had a simple maxim he brought with him into the courtroom, his daughter told The San Francisco Chronicle: “He said, ‘You fight for justice, no matter who you are fighting against.’”
Like many young men of his age, O’Malley lied about his age in order to join the Army at the onset of World War II, only to be mustered out when his superiors learned the truth about his age. Two years later, with the war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.
O’Malley was stationed in Alameda for part of his wartime service and developed an appreciation for California and the Bay Area, moving here in 1953.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history from Fordham University in New York, O’Malley began studies at Boston College Law School but dropped out to support his family after his father died, family members told The Chronicle.
He was 37 years old by the time he was handed his law degree.
O’Malley served as a deputy district attorney and deputy public defender in Contra Costa County and was one of the first attorneys to do full-time public defense in the county. He was appointed district attorney when John Nejedly left the position to become a state senator.
O’Malley is preceded in death by his wife, Claire, and daughter Maura O’Malley, who was killed by a drunken driver. He is survived by eight children, Nancy O’Malley, Dan O’Malley, Betsy Ingram, Mary O’Malley, Grace Hanover, Patty O’Malley, Denise Clark and Jake O’Malley, as well as 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for Jan. 18 at Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill.