Earth Log

Earth Log: Remembering Donald Pitts, an endearing Yosemite judge

Federal Magistrate Donald Pitts had opened a gash on his pinkie the day I met him at Yosemite West in 1993. 

I was visiting to interview him as he retired after holding court for 18 years in Yosemite Valley. His 125-pound Rottweiler named Bailiff presided over every question. 

Mr. Pitts died at 86 on July 31, and The Bee carried an obituary last week, eloquently describing this colorful and endearing man.

Bee photographer John Walker joined me at the interview in 1993. The judge's pinkie dripped and clotted while he told us stories.

He had been working on a wood-burning contraption that heated his water and his home.

He talked about things like taking off his snow boots in winter, hanging them upside down over the heater and hearing cases in his socks.

Bailiff was on hand to sniff folks as they came into the courtroom. Sometimes defendants shook the judge's hand after he bent over backward to protect their rights in sentencing.

And he loved Yosemite.

"When I was appointed to the job in 1975, the pay was $17,500 for a part-time position," he told me. "But, hey, you're living in Yosemite. You can't beat this job."