George T. Davis ’31, a revered criminal defense attorney whose client list included such figures as Death Row inmate Caryl Chessman, TV evangelist Jim Bakker and Filipino opposition leader Benito Aquino, died February 4. Davis was 98 and lived in Hawaii.
A masterful trial lawyer with a gift for connecting with juries, Davis launched his career as a prosecutor with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. He soon switched to defense work. “I wanted to help people and that’s where I could help people the most,” Davis said in an article in the fall/winter 2003-04 issue of the Boalt Hall Transcript alumni magazine. Among his talents, Davis was an accomplished musician who worked his way through Boalt as a professional drummer.
As a young lawyer, Davis defended labor activist Tom Mooney, who was accused of a fatal bombing on San Francisco’s Market Street in 1916. Davis eventually won a pardon for Mooney, along with a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937 involving due process and the rights of criminal defendants. Davis gained significant fame for his representation of Chessman, a convicted inmate who published two best-selling memoirs from his prison cell. Just minutes before Chessman’s execution in 1960, Davis persuaded a federal judge to issue a stay, which was not relayed to the warden in time. Davis fought against capital punishment throughout his lengthy career and was a passionate defender of the Bill of Rights.
Active in the political arena, Davis served in 1948 as a campaign manager for Harry Truman, became an early backer of Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid and was a leading figure in numerous San Francisco mayoral elections. Davis is survived by his wife, Ginger. Please read obituaries in the San Francisco Chronicle and The Recorder.