Patricia V. Trumbull Obituary

September 28, 1945 – January 14, 2024

Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia V. Trumbull, United States District Court for the Northern District of California, died Jan. 14, 2024. A resident of Palo Alto for 51 years, she was 78 years old.

Judge Trumbull earned her Bachelor of Arts from U.C. Davis in 1967 and received a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University in 1973. She served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Spencer Williams from September 1973 to September 1975. In November 1975, she became an assistant federal public defender and was appointed as a U.S. magistrate judge on April 20, 1987. Judge Trumbull’s tenure with the court, three 8-year terms, ran from April 20, 1987, to Oct. 1, 2010, when she retired.

Judge Trumbull, then a member of the Intellectual Property Inn of Court for the Bay Area, was instrumental in facilitating a 1995 agreement between AMD and Intel in a $72 million settlement. “We were especially careful” with the press during the top-secret negotiations, she said in a newspaper article at the time, noting that the case presented the “best lawyering that I’ve ever seen.”

Judge Trumbull was the first woman to run the federal public defender’s office in San Jose and the first woman to serve as chief U.S. magistrate judge in the Northern District of California. Among the ground-breaking initiatives she participated in was a trial program that, in 1995, automatically sent 30% of the area’s civil cases to San Jose-based U.S. magistrate judges to ease the calendar of U.S. district judges. Judge Trumbull, chief U.S. magistrate judge for the Northern District of California at the time, oversaw the pilot that was eventually adopted throughout the district.

Senior U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, of the Northern District of California, who served alongside Judge Trumbull early on said, “Although Pat is mainly remembered for her highly regarded career as magistrate judge, I remember back to our days as the first two female assistant federal public defenders in the district… I was right out of law school, but Pat shared the experience gained from two years clerking for Judge Spencer Williams. Pat was dedicated, smart and hard-working but also friendly, poised and calm. I was sorry to hear of her passing.”

Fellow U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero, of the Northern District of California, noted “Pat Trumbull was a wonderful person and judge. When I first came to the bench, she was so kind, and guided me through the sometimes-rocky adjustment to my new role. She always had her eye on the ball: treat everyone with dignity, respect and kindness, and deliver justice. She lived up to those ideals on the bench and in her personal interactions with her colleagues. She will be sorely missed.”

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila, of the Northern District of California, who also worked out of the San Jose courthouse, added “Magistrate Judge Trumbull was a fixture in the South Bay legal community. She was a leader in the Federal Defenders office in San Jose, always vigorously representing her clients with the highest degree of ethics and professionalism. As a magistrate judge she was fair, compassionate and expected the best from lawyers who appeared before her. She was a mentor and a friend. She leaves a legacy of commitment to justice and warm memories of her smile and grace,” Judge Davila finished.

Judge Trumbull’s court was the first stop for many criminal cases in San Jose, including a wide variety from Fort Ord before it closed in 1994. She noted in an interview in In Brief (winter 1995) that she wanted defendants to see “compassion and firmness,” when they were in her courtroom. She went on to say how much she enjoyed her job. “I’m having fun at this point…it’s exciting to do five different substantive areas of law in one morning–there’s no way to get bored. I think I am serving and making a difference…I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Judge Trumbull is survived by Terry, her husband of 56 years, and two daughters, Eryn and Morgann Trumbull. A celebration of Judge Trumbull’s life will be held later in the year.  She wished that contributions in her name be sent to the ACLU of Northern California, 39 Drumm St., San Francisco 94111.