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‘An honor to know him’: Idaho mourns ex-state Supreme Court justice

‘An honor to know him’: Idaho mourns ex-state Supreme Court justice

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Idaho Supreme Court

This June 8, 2017, file photo shows the Idaho Supreme Court building in Boise.

BOISE — A renowned attorney and Idaho Supreme Court justice, a prominent Boise resident, a major Foothills advocate, a thoughtful lawmaker — Charles Frances McDevitt is remembered as all of these things.

McDevitt, who served as a justice from 1989 to 1997 and helped shape the area on a city, county and state level, died over the weekend, according to the state Supreme Court and Givens Pursley LLP, one of the state’s largest law firms, which McDevitt helped found.

He was 89.

Many might know McDevitt as the namesake for the Charles F. McDevitt Youth Sports Complex, a popular park located near the intersection of Eagle and McMillan roads in Boise. Or for his large role in the passage of the 2001 Foothills tax levy that secured thousands of acres for public use in Boise.

“Boise lost an incredible community champion and public servant with the passing of Chuck McDevitt,” Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, who served as the Foothills campaign manager, said in a statement. “Boise is a better place because of Chuck.

“On a personal note, he was a dear friend and mentor stemming from our time working to pass the first Foothills Open Space levy 20 years ago. Chuck’s wry humor, ability to challenge, speak frankly, and care deeply was unique, and I’ll miss him deeply. My thoughts are with the McDevitt family.”

McDevitt was born in Pocatello in 1932. He attended Idaho State University and later the University of Idaho, where he graduated in 1952. He later enrolled in the Moscow university’s law school. He graduated and was admitted to the Idaho State Bar in 1956. McDevitt and his wife, Virginia, were married in 1954 and moved to Boise after college graduation.

While working in Boise, McDevitt was twice elected to the Idaho House of Representatives as a Republican. He won his House seat in 1962 and again in ‘64.

From 1968-76, McDevitt lived in New York City and worked as an executive for two companies. But Idaho soon came calling.

He returned to the Gem State in 1976 to work in the Ada County Public Defender’s Office. According to the county’s website, McDevitt successfully lobbied Ada County to establish an in-house public defender’s office, as he worked as a contracted public defender. He left the office as Klaus Wiebe became the county’s first chief public defender.

McDevitt later joined attorneys Ken Pursley, Jay Webb and Ray Givens to found the firm of Givens, McDevitt, Pursley, and Webb — which later became Givens Pursley — in 1977.

Ed Miller, now a partner at Givens Pursley, told the Statesman that McDevitt hired him in 1979 when the firm was still small. Miller remembered McDevitt as a commanding presence with a great spirit.

“He was a great person,” Miller said. “Obviously, we’ll miss him.”

McDevitt spent 12 years at the firm before being appointed to one of two openings on the Idaho Supreme Court in 1989. Then-Gov. Cecil Andrus appointed McDevitt and Larry Boyle for the spots. McDevitt served as a justice for four years before he was elected chief justice.

At the state’s highest court, McDevitt helped institute new approaches to civil litigation and family courts, according to a news release from the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Tribal State Court Forum, which brings together the state’s judicial branch and five tribal courts to collaborate on key issues, began while he was chief justice.

“I will remember Chief Justice McDevitt for his leadership, promoting innovative changes to the courts that still benefit Idahoans today,” said former Justice Cathy Silak, who served on the court with McDevitt, in a news release.

McDevitt left the state Supreme Court in 1997. He continued to practice law — even maintaining his Idaho State Bar license until his death — and helped found the law firm of McDevitt & Miller.

But after leaving the Supreme Court, McDevitt also turned a great deal of his attention to civic issues, according to Idaho Statesman archives.

He served as the founding chairman of the Foothills Conservation Advisory Committee, which was instrumental in the passage of the 2001 levy — a two year, $10 million property tax measure that voters approved. McDevitt also chaired the committee that oversaw spending of levy money.

The 2001 Foothills levy, and another in 2015, allowed for the purchase of areas like Hulls Gulch, Military Reserve, Dry Creek, Table Rock and other popular hiking areas used by the public.

McDevitt, a member of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board from January to June of 2005, also served as director of the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands and president of the Boise Parks and Recreation Commission.

“To this day, no one has had a larger impact and influence on Boise Parks and Recreation than Chuck,” said Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway in a statement Thursday. “His legacy of serving youth and creating accessible recreational opportunities for all residents is firmly cemented in our community, and it was an honor to know him and to serve alongside him.”

McDevitt died Saturday at a local care facility surrounded by family. McDevitt and his wife had seven children. He will be buried during a private family ceremony.

Miller told the Statesman that McDevitt’s death is a loss for the entire community.

“You know, they don’t make a Charlie McDevitt every day,” Miller said. “He was a good citizen.”

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