OAKLAND — Retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge William Dunbar, known for his diligence, sensitivity and fairness, died Jan. 18 after a long illness. He was 84.
A native of Chicago, Dunbar graduated from Northwestern University in 1945 with a degree in business administration before joining the Navy and serving in the Pacific during World War II.
After the war, he received his law degree from Northwestern and in 1953 moved to the Bay Area, working as a management analyst and business writer for the East Bay Municipal Utility District and Safeway Inc.
He began practicing law in Oakland in 1963, primarily as a civil trial lawyer specializing in business litigation and family law. One of his clients was Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., the longest-held POW during the Vietnam War, who he represented in a 1973 divorce case.
In 1986, he was appointed a judge by Gov. George Deukmejian, presiding over both criminal and civil cases until his retirement in 2001.
Judge Larry Goodman, who had an adjacent courtroom, said his former colleague was "a good guy who worked very hard. He was very fair. He would bend over backward to make sure there was no appearance of unfairness" in cases before him. "He was very committed to making the right decision."
He was also greatly admired for his sensitive dealings with people beset by mental health issues, hearing scores of competency cases at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro.
Alameda County Public Defender Diane Bellas represented many of those at the competency hearings when she was an assistant in the office. She recalled Dunbar as "a scrupulously careful judge, never accepting at face value that the 'doctor knows best.' He was respectful and sensitive, especially to the most vulnerable — elderly psychiatric patients."
Dunbar also believed in volunteerism and helping those in need.
His oldest son, Pleasant Hill Police Chief Peter Dunbar, formerly Oakland's deputy police chief, said his father was someone who liked to "stay in the background and not take credit for things. He was very humble, and he taught my brothers and I to be humble and to help other people."
At one time, he was chairman of the advisory council of the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Oakland and was on the boards of the Alameda County Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society. He was also active in the Oakland Catholic Diocese and was a big supporter of the Catholic Youth Organization.
Dunbar's wife, Joan, died in December 2008 just after their 49th wedding anniversary. Besides his son Peter, he is survived by sons Michael and John and five grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Anne's Catholic Church, 1600 Rossmoor Parkway, Walnut Creek. Donations are encouraged to the Alzheimer's Foundation, 322 8th Ave., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10001, or Hospice of the East Bay, 3470 Buskirk Ave., Pleasant Hill, CA 94523.