Distinguished Lawyer Memorial Honoree
Hon. Philip Sharp
With the courtly demeanor of a Southern gentleman, reflecting his Virginia roots, Judge Sharp presided over cases until the prostate cancer that he had battled for 14 years forced him to retire. Judge Sharp, who retired in 2002 and channeled his energies into fund raising for the Prostate Cancer Research and Education Foundation, died Tuesday at his home in South Mission Beach. He was 64. A benefit golf tournament that he organized in September in Coronado raised $37,000 for the foundation he represented. A low handicap golfer who had won a Virginia state junior title as a youth, Judge Sharp once shot a 68 at Rams Hill in Borrego Springs, said his brother, Bayliss. In 1989, his first year on the bench, Judge Sharp became involved in a high-profile case involving then-Sheriff John Duffy. He ruled against Duffy on two counts: awarding a temporary restraining order to Sheriff's Capt. Jim Roache, who challenged department policies barring Roache from running for sheriff; and ruling unconstitutional a policy prohibiting deputies from criticizing Duffy. The case was resolved when Duffy agreed to scrap his policies after several days of negotiation. In 1995, Judge Sharp challenged the controversial "three- strikes" law, which mandates prison terms of 25 years to life upon conviction of a third felony. The defendant in question, Kendall Cooke, had two prior convictions for robbery and faced the extended prison term for stealing a beer from a National City convenience store. Judge Sharp imposed a 16-month sentence, discarding Cooke's prior convictions on the grounds that sentencing him to 25 years to life for a relatively minor crime would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The 4th District Court of Appeal reversed Judge Sharp's decision. Judge Sharp, a San Diegan for more than 35 years, was born and raised in Richmond, Va. He excelled as a baseball pitcher in high school, relying on a crisp curve and sneaky fastball, and earned a scholarship to Washington & Lee University. In 1960, he pitched an 11-inning two-hitter to beat West Virginia University, 1-0. The football coach was so impressed by Judge Sharp's arm strength that he recruited him for the football team. "He played quarterback but mostly sat on the bench," his brother said. Judge Sharp excelled academically in college, graduating with honors in history and law. He was associate editor of the law review and earned a full-tuition law scholarship. Upon leaving college, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. As a public affairs officer with the 1st Marine Division, he served 13 months in Chu Lai, Vietnam. After being reassigned to Camp Pendleton, he returned to pitching on a base team. He later pitched in an over-40 baseball league for Action Video. In 1968, Judge Sharp was admitted to the California Bar and joined the San Diego law firm of former Superior Court Judge Louis Welsh. Two years later, he moved to what was then Smith and Shifflet, specializing in insurance law and civil litigation. "In my opinion, and that of others, he was one of the finest trial lawyers of his time in San Diego," said Walters, his former partner. "Phil had an ability to connect with people and with the jury, and he seemed very humble in doing it." Judge Sharp was elected in 1977 to the American Board of Trial Advocates and in 1987 to the American College of Trial Lawyers. After being elected president of San Diego Defense Lawyers in 1989, he was appointed to the Superior Court bench by then-Gov. George Deukmejian and re-elected three times. "He had that Southern gentleman aura about him and kind of a wry sense of humor," Papas said. "I'm sure that in the future, when I meet others who didn't know Phil, I'll say, `You missed an opportunity. He touched people's lives in a way you can never forget.' " Survivors include his wife, Nanette; daughter, Erika Sharp of Quincy; son, Grant Christopher Sharp of San Clemente; stepchildren, Sarah Elizabeth Holderman and Andrea Lynne Holderman, both of Chico; and brother, Bayliss Sharp of Richmond, Va.