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David G. Sills dies at 73; presiding appellate judge in Santa Ana

Judge David G. Sills, of California's 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, made significant rulings regarding surrogate parents.

August 29, 2011|By Claire Noland, Los Angeles Times
  • David G. Sills was known as a consensus builder and a gifted writer. He was the author of more than 2,400 majority opinions during his tenure at the busy court.
David G. Sills was known as a consensus builder and a gifted writer. He was… (Geraldine Wilkins-Kasinga,…)

Judge David G. Sills, presiding justice of California's 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana who made significant rulings regarding surrogate parents, died Tuesday after a long illness, the court announced. He was 73.

Sills was appointed presiding judge of the appellate court's 3rd Division in 1990 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian and served for more than 20 years. In that role the judge led reviews of civil and criminal decisions handed down by Orange County Superior Court. Known as a consensus builder and a gifted writer, he was the author of more than 2,400 majority opinions during his tenure at the busy court.

Among Sills' notable rulings was a 1991 decision denying custody of a child to the surrogate mother and granting it instead to the biological parents, Mark and Crispina Calvert of Tustin, who provided the egg and sperm.

Then he determined in 1998 that John and Luanne Buzzanca, a couple who had signed a contract with a surrogate mother, were the legal parents even though neither one had a biological relationship with the child, who was conceived with an anonymously donated fertilized egg. Additionally, John Buzzanca was required to pay child support despite filing for divorce before the child was born.

Sills ruled on a wide range of matters beyond family law. In another 1998 decision, he found in favor of Robert Cunningham of Fountain Valley, who was sued by his homeowners' association in an effort to force him to clean up his home. "One man's old piece of junk is another man's objet d'art," Sills wrote.

"Morale in that division is very high, and he contributes to that with his easygoing manner," retired 4th District Justice Edward J. Wallin said of Sills in a 1999 interview with the Daily Journal. "He's the calming influence in any debate, whenever anyone gets unduly excited. I've never seen him lose his temper. For him, a difficult situation is just a problem to be solved, not a reason to panic."

Before his appointment to the appellate court, Sills served five years on Orange County Superior Court. He was a member of the Irvine City Council from 1976 to 1985, including four terms as mayor, a rotating post, as the city was experiencing a period of economic growth. In 1982, Sills ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for an Orange County Assembly seat held by Nolan Frizzelle.

David George Sills was born March 21, 1938, in Peoria, Ill., and according to his family first visited Orange County when he attended the 1953 Boy Scout Jamboree at the Irvine Ranch in what is now Newport Beach. He received a bachelor's degree in political science from Bradley University in Peoria in 1959 and a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1961.

He returned to Southern California when he was stationed at Camp Pendleton while serving in the Marine Corps in the early 1960s. After completing his military service in 1965, having attained the rank of captain, he began practicing law in Irvine and, later, in Newport Beach and Orange.

In 1967, Sills was appointed to the California Republican Central Committee by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who at that time was also his father-in-law. Sills was married to Reagan's daughter Maureen from 1964 to '67.

Sills, who resigned from the appellate court June 1, is survived by his wife, Susan, and a brother, Dan.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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