David Garner, a retired district court judge and a fixture in the Galveston County legal community, died Monday of pancreatic cancer. He was 71.
“It’s just a huge loss,” League City Mayor Pat Hallisey said.
“We’d been friends for almost 50 years. He’s one of the best district court judges we’ve ever had in the county. It’s a huge loss to the community.”
Garner presided over the 10th Judicial District Court District Court for 20 years.
Garner was active both in his church, St. Mary Catholic Church in League City, and in the greater legal community of Galveston County, according to those who knew him.
“He meant a lot of things to a lot of people, both here in the courthouse and in the legal community” Judge Jared Robinson, of the 405th District Court, said. “Personally, I always looked up to him. He had that persona of what you expect a quality judge to have.”
Garner was born in League City and can trace his ancestry back to the Butler family that founded Galveston County’s biggest city, Hallisey said.
Mike Guarino, a Galveston attorney who served as the district attorney until 2003, first met Garner on the football field, he said. The two played for rival schools in Houston in the 1960s — Guarino at Strake Jesuit and Garner for Mount Carmel High School.
The two would later meet again when they both joined the district attorney’s office early in their legal careers, Guarino said.
Garner would later leave the office and start a career in private practice before running to become the 10th District Court Judge in 1992, Guarino said.
“He was a judge’s judge,” Guarino said. “He had that judicial temperament. He was calming and courteous to all parties. He was fair-minded and wanted to see justice done.”
Whether you were a prosecutor or a defense attorney or dealing with a civil lawsuit, you felt like you were getting a fair shake with Garner, Guarino said.
Garner would hold the judge’s seat until his retirement in 2012, said Dana Winston, who served as his court coordinator starting in 2002.
“He was a man of great knowledge who didn’t mind sharing with other people,” she said. “He had an open-door policy. You could always come to him.”
Even after his retirement, Garner continued to serve as a mentor to younger attorneys and judges, Robinson said.
“When I got my appointment, he was one of the first people to reach out and congratulate me,” Robinson said. “As a judge, there are not many people you can seek advice from. He was one of those very few people for me that I would reach out to.”
Garner and Guarino remained close through their lives, along with several other attorneys who all joined the Galveston County legal community around the same time, Guarino said.
Outside of the courtroom, Garner was passionate about his family and about the University of Texas at Austin, where he went to school, Guarino said.
“He was just a wonderful guy,” Guarino said. “He was always smiling, and thinking about his family. And he made people feel like he was concerned about them and their families.”