Tribute to his honor

Denny Forland was both a prosecutor and defender before becoming Butte County judge

Butte County Superior Court Judge Denny Forland worked both sides of the bench.

Butte County Superior Court Judge Denny Forland worked both sides of the bench.

CN&R file photos

Longtime Chico-area attorney Denny Forland will be remembered for his fairness, his willingness to teach others, and for being a loving husband and father. Forland, who was appointed last year to a Butte County Superior Court judge seat, died Saturday (Dec. 20) at UC Davis Medical Center after a bout with pneumonia. He was 60 years old and had been diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia.

His wife, Kim, said Monday that she was still in shock, but that at least she and their three children were with him when he passed.

“We were all together and able to say goodbye,” she said. “And, I must say, he was my best friend.”

Forland was well-liked by his colleagues, and when he was appointed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown to fill the seat of Gerald Hermansen, who’d retired a year earlier, fellow attorney Dennis Latimer applauded the move.

“He’s worked in about every aspect of the law, and that is really a rare balance,” Latimer said of Forland at the time. “He’s respected by both prosecutors and defense attorneys.”

Forland began his career as a research attorney at the California District Attorney’s Association in 1979. He served as a deputy district attorney for Butte County from 1980 to 1984, worked as an attorney in Chico with Joe VanDervoort from 1984 to 1986 and then as a partner with Price, Price, Brown and Halsey until 1990. He began serving in the Butte County Public Defenders Office that year, eventually becoming the lead attorney.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who had worked with Forland as a fellow deputy district attorney, echoed Latimer’s thoughts, adding, “Denny’s gone and it’s a huge loss to our community.”

After Hermansen retired, Ramsey said he sent a recommendation to the governor’s office to appoint Forland to the vacant seat and got a call back asking him to verify his intentions.

“They said it was highly unusual that a prosecutor would recommend a public defender for a judge position,” Ramsey said. “I said that ‘I can’t talk about other jurisdictions, but here we get along. In particular, my deputies feel that Mr. Forland will make a very fine judge.’ And as it turned out, we were correct.”

There was a somber feeling in Latimer’s office on the Monday following Forland’s death. Latimer said that, soon after Forland started working in the DA’s office, he began regularly publishing a legal newsletter addressing the issues of search-and-seizure laws as well as the Fifth Amendment. He made the publication available to local attorneys.

“He quickly developed a reputation for his hard work, diligence and knowledge,” Latimer said. “As a public defender he was very successful. Then his work in a law firm had broadened his experience and understanding of the law.”

Latimer said that as a judge, Forland became known “for educating the young trial attorneys, both prosecution and defense, in the practical aspects of trying criminal matters.”

“He was respected by many attorneys and judges when he was practicing law,” he said. “He was usually the first lawyer I would call when I needed someone to bounce ideas off and discuss strategy because he was so generous with his time and knowledge. He was a wonderful man.”