Alfred Delucchi - veteran judge dies at 76

John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, February 28, 2008

(02-27) 20:09 PST Castro Valley -- Alfred Delucchi, a veteran Alameda County judge who presided over his courtroom with a simple grace and dignity that universally endeared him to those he met, died Tuesday. He was 76.

Judge Delucchi, perhaps remembered most for overseeing the high-profile Scott Peterson murder trial, had been battling cancer in recent months, several people close to him said.

Quick with a self-deprecating joke and an impish grin, stern when the situation required, Judge Delucchi displayed an uncommon knack for disarming tension while handling more than 20 capital cases, including some of the Bay Area's most emotionally charged trials. Among them was the case of Tyrone Robinson, whom he sentenced to 32 years to life in prison for the murder of former Black Panther leader Huey Newton.

"He was a good lawyer - he knew his stuff - but he was a tremendous people person," said Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff, who knew Judge Delucchi for decades. "He treated everyone with dignity and respect. He made witnesses feel at ease. He was really almost the perfect judge for the criminal justice system."

Judge Delucchi endeared himself to all parties during the case that beamed his name around the world, the capital murder trial of Peterson, a Modesto fertilizer salesman who was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn child in 2004 and later sentenced to death.

"It was almost like family," said Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, describing private chats he would have with Judge Delucchi almost daily in the judge's chambers during the trial.

"He would scream at me and I would scream at him behind closed doors, but I had an enormous amount of respect for him," Geragos said. "We had a close and sometimes dysfunctional relationship. It really became like an uncle-nephew kind of a thing."

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, who supervised the two trial prosecutors during that case, said Judge Delucchi's warmth, fairness and humor allowed them to survive what she described as "the equivalent of a one-year deployment" after the case was moved from Modesto to Redwood City because of publicity.

"I think about him a lot," Fladager said. "I can see him so clearly in my mind with just a big smile on my face. He would stand there and go from foot to foot and rock side to side because he had so much energy. And that's how I see him."

Some in legal circles described him as a judge from the old guard. His force of personality permeated the room, and he was quick to meet with people, whether attorneys or reporters, for an informal discussion in chambers.

One day during the Peterson trial, Judge Delucchi called then-Contra Costa Times reporter Brian Anderson aside during a break to show him a cartoon.

"It had an attorney saying, 'Judge, I would like to object. I don't think this trial has lived up to the pretrial publicity,' " recalled Anderson, who covered about a dozen cases before Judge Delucchi. "That was classic Delucchi. Here you are in this very serious situation with everyone looking over your shoulder, and he wasn't afraid to get out of his chair and talk to people on a personal level."

Judge Delucchi, the son of a garbage hauler, was born in Oakland and graduated in 1949 from Oakland Technical High School, where he was student body president.

He attended UC Berkeley from 1950 to 1954, when he joined the U.S. Navy. He served in the Navy until 1957, including sea duty with the 7th Fleet aboard the aircraft carrier Essex. He graduated from Santa Clara University Law School in 1960 and joined the Alameda County district attorney's office in 1961. He was a judge for the San Leandro-Hayward Municipal Court from 1971 to 1983 before being elevated to Alameda County Superior Court in 1984.

He technically retired in 1998, but continued to hear cases through 2006.

Despite the exposure from the Peterson trial, Judge Delucchi was happy to resume a role as a calendar judge assigning court dates, colleagues said.

"He would get to see all the lawyers, have a cup of coffee with them and talk about courthouse stuff," said Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, who counts Judge Delucchi as a mentor. "He wasn't going to let any case go to his head."

But Judge Delucchi's mark on those who knew him is lasting.

"I really take solace in thinking about how I was able to know a guy like that," Anderson said. "He was one of those people in life that you run into and you just never forget."

Judge Delucchi is survived by Gloria, his wife of 41 years; his son, Paul, daughter-in-law Maribeth and their two children, Sophia and Niccolo; his daughter, Angela Jamal, son-in-law Raed and their two children, Nadia and Noele, all of Castro Valley.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at Our Lady of Grace Church, 3433 Somerset Ave. in Castro Valley on Friday at 10:30 a.m. Burial will be private.

The family suggests donations to the Animal Rescue Foundation, P.O. Box 30215, Walnut Creek, CA 94591.

E-mail John Coté at

This article appeared on page B - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle