Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

June 2, 2011 (San Diego’s East County) --The Honorable Thomas Graham Duffy, born July 18, 1927 in Racine, Wisconsin, passed away in his home on Monday, May 23, 2011.

“Known for his keen sense of wit, long time East County resident Thomas Duffy will be fondly remembered as an attorney, former El Cajon City Attorney, San Diego Municipal Court Judge, and later San Diego Superior Court Judge,” said Mark Raftery, former president of the Foothills Bar Association. “While on the bench, he was elected by all the Judges in San Diego County to be the Presiding Judge and was instrumental in unifying the Municipal and Superior Courts.”


He moved with his parents, Isobell Theresa Graham and John Patrick Duffy, to California’s San Diego County in 1941. The family lived in La Cresta and Duffy attended El Cajon Grammar School and Grossmont High School. Duffy married his high school sweetheart, Sue Apple Constant, in 1951.

Duffy began a long career in public service as a teenager working summers in fire protection for the California Department of Forestry in Dulzura. He joined the United States Navy in 1944 and served for two years in the Pacific Theater and, after the armistice, in China. When the war effort was over, Duffy worked for Convair before completing his education. He attended San Diego State University and earned a BA degree in Political Science in 1951, followed by a doctorate in 1954 from Hastings School of Law at University of California, San Francisco.

After passing the bar, Duffy returned to San Diego County and was employed by Union Title for three years before joining the firm of Harrelson and Davies in La Mesa. In 1958, he joined the firm of Linley and Doerr (later Linley, Duffy and Smith), and also served as City Attorney of El Cajon from 1959 until 1967. He was appointed to the El Cajon Municipal Court by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1967 and elevated to San Diego Superior Court by Governor Jerry Brown in 1980.

On the bench, the resourceful and witty Duffy was influential in unifying municipal and superior courts, instituting the first drinking and driving parole education programs and implementing systems to assure defendants of a fair and speedy trial.

An adventurer at heart, Duffy made his first sojourn into the Baja peninsula in 1958, in an old Chevy with his wife Sue. By the late ’60s, his love of the road got him off-road racing with his lifelong friend, Kenny Younghusband. Known as the “racing judge,” Duffy drove zebra-striped Toyota Landcruisers in the Baja 500, Mexican 1000, and Mint 400, placing in his class in many races.

Duffy retired from the bench as presiding judge in 1988 and served for another decade for Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services. In retirement, Duffy traveled the world, visiting Africa, South America, Asia, Russia, Australia and Europe all the while recording his adventures on film. Between trips he enjoyed entertaining and relaxing under his oak-shaded home in Jamul, California.

Duffy is survived by his wife of 59 years, Sue; their children Mary Duffy, Patricia and Jerry Burke, Kelly and Don Hartmann, Sean and Arwen Duffy, and Erin Duffy; and grandchildren Eowyn Burke, Graham and Lindsey Hartmann, Keegan and Asuka Burke, Morgan and Matthew Kiszka, Eric Hartmann, Jack Duffy and James Duffy.

In lieu of flowers, the family would suggest that contributions be made to San Diego Audubon Society, Art Center College of Design Pasadena, Peace Corp, Sharp Grossmont Hospice, or the nonprofit of your choice.

Error message

Local news in the public interest is more important now than ever, during the COVID-19 crisis. Our reporters, as essential workers, are dedicated to keeping you informed, even though we’ve had to cancel fundraising events. Please give the gift of community journalism by donating at