By Kristina Houck
After 26 years as a trial lawyer followed by another dozen as a judge, Steven R. Denton was inducted into Consumer Attorneys of San Diego’s Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame June 24 at the San Diego Yacht Club at Shelter Island.
“It’s a big thrill,” said Denton, a Del Mar resident for nearly a decade. “It’s a very prestigious award within the San Diego legal community.”
Because his father worked for Pan Am, Denton was born in the Philippines and grew up mostly in Japan, and then Hawaii before it became a state. He attended high school in Germany. After high school, Denton returned to the United States and earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental biology at UC Santa Barbara. Halfway through, he decided he would go on to law school.
“The mid-60s was an interesting time,” Denton recalled. “There was a lot of debate going on, on a number of different topics, including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. As a result, I became interested in civil justice and found my way into law school.”
After studying law at the University of San Diego, Denton began a 26-year career as a trial attorney, primarily focused on construction injury litigation.
“There’s nothing more thrilling than representing a deserving client and achieving a jury verdict on behalf of a deserving client,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have that experience on a number of occasions.”
In 2001, Gov. Gray Davis appointed Denton to the San Diego Superior Court. At the time of his appointment, Denton had established his own law firm, was president of the local American Board of Trial Advocates chapter and was the former president of Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, the organization that is now honoring him by inducting him into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.
“I’ve always been service-oriented and I wanted to continue that service as a judge,” Denton said. “I had a successful law practice that I gave up to be a judge, so it was a financial sacrifice to go on the bench and become a judge, but it was well worth it. My experience was excellent. The assignment that I had was something that I really coveted.”
Denton retired from the San Diego Superior Court in June 2013, after having served as the assistant supervisor of the civil division. He now works as a mediator, arbitrator and private judge.
“Although retired as a judge, I’m working as many hours now as I did then,” said Denton, who lives with his wife Cynthia Chihak Denton, also a trial lawyer, and their two young children. He also has two grown children. “I get to work with excellent lawyers and matters of substance and try to avoid clogging the courts up with a lot of litigation. It’s very fulfilling.”
The Consumer Attorneys of San Diego is an organization of trial lawyers in the county working to preserve and protect the legal rights of consumers. The organization’s Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame commemorates the career contributions of select members for their accomplishments as trial lawyers, their service to the public and their leadership of the association. A committee of past presidents selects award recipients.
“The law is a career that I would recommend to anyone who wants to work hard and do good things,” Denton said. “I’ve had a great time being a lawyer, a judge and now a private judge.”