Remembrance of Buck Delventhal ’69, ‘Oracle and Legal Lion’

UC Hastings joins San Francisco in mourning the passing of Burk “Buck” Delventhal ’69, a scholar, professor, city servant and one of the sharpest legal minds in California.

Called the “heart and soul of the governmental side of the city,” Delventhal, who spent 49 years in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, had a hand in guiding the city and shaping many of its groundbreaking policies.

Delventhal’s successful litigation and legislative work resulted in environmental protections; increases in public health and safety; support for minority businesses; a stronger, more equitable educational system; additional revenues for the City in the post-Proposition 13 era, and myriad other large and small improvements for the people of San Francisco.

“One cannot overstate Buck’s contributions to legal discourse, and his impact on the city and the UC Hastings community. His wisdom, intellect, and love for the city will be sorely missed,” said UC Hastings Chancellor and Dean David Faigman.

At the time of his death, he was Chief Deputy, Government Law Division, applying his razor-sharp acumen and photographic memory to difficult and novel legal issues. He was instrumental in shaping the City Attorney’s office into a proactive, impact-driven legal department. And he loved every moment of it, even reportedly reviewing briefs written by his legal team from his hospital bed. In a statement City Attorney Dennis Herrera called Delventhal the “oracle of the City Charter, a legal lion and an even better person. Over nearly 50 years at the City Attorney’s Office, he quietly helped millions of San Franciscans in countless ways.”

Delventhal guided the city through some of its most difficult struggles. “I had the pleasure of working with Buck when I was a young lawyer trying to desegregate the Fire and Police Departments,” said Shauna Marshall, UC Hastings Sullivan Professor and Faculty Director of the Racial Justice Center. “Buck’s integrity, breadth of knowledge and sense of justice was instrumental in helping the city reach transformative consent decrees.” He was also a devoted UC Hastings professor, teaching State and Local Government for more than 15 years. His death on Oct. 26, 2019, at 76, feels like an unmooring to many.

“It is not hyperbole to say that there isn’t a city attorney in the Bay Area – or hardly any in California – who hasn’t relied on Buck, the acknowledged Dean of Local Government Law, for expertise and advice,” said Academic Dean Morris Ratner. “Buck’s commitment to our students reflected his broader commitment to the profession and to public service. Teaching and mentoring were core parts of his professional identity. We have lost a dear colleague and mentor, but his impact as a role model will be lasting.”

Faculty Director of the Government Law Program and Sullivan Professor David Jung has stepped in to complete his current course to honor Delventhal’s integrity and dedication as a teacher, Ratner said. Andrew W. Schwartz of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger and Moira C. Walsh, Managing Attorney at the City Attorneys Office, will assist.

“Buck was totally committed to Hastings and especially its students,” Jung said. “He revered the 65 Club and was positively gleeful to be invited to join the faculty where the deans of the profession once taught. It never crossed his mind that he’d earned his seat on the pantheon as the dean of local law long before.”

Delventhal strove to help his students develop and cultivate an interest in the structure and public policy underpinnings of the law, and had faith they would use it to address some of the most urgent issues of our time.

“The first is the environmental catastrophe we’re facing,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “The law can play a critical role in forcing people to change the consumption of resources. And we need significant shifts in policy to effect a more equitable distribution of wealth.”

Tamar Burke ’19 interned at the City Attorney’s office on the government team and worked closely with Delventhal her 1L summer. “It was my first real law job, and set the tone for the rest of my career. I had heard that he was the authority on all things law and San Francisco. I thought, ‘how is it possible he knows everything about everything?’ But it was true.”

She later took Delventhal’s class. “He was so kind, warm, and welcoming, inside and outside the classroom, in giving his time to explain things really clearly.” When Burke hit the job market, Delventhal was equally generous, she said, responding quickly, joining her for lunch and sharing his contacts. Now at Burke Williams & Sorenson in Oakland, practicing municipal law, she still relies on his class outlines.

It was a priceless opportunity for so many in the UC Hastings community to have someone of Delventhal’s stature as a law professor and colleague. “I never enjoyed an argument more than those I had with Buck. He was rigorous and always intellectually honest,” said Richard Zitrin, UC Hastings lecturer emeritus.

In 2013, the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) awarded Delventhal its prestigious Charles S. Ryne Lifetime Achievement Award. “Very few people get to do work they love,” he said. “I’m fortunate that I do, and that I have for so long.”

Delventhal is survived by his wife Monica, of San Francisco, his brother, Mark Delventhal, of Piedmont, his son, Ivan Delventhal ’08 (Giscela Delventhal-Wong), of Piedmont, and daughter, Juliette Delventhal (Pawel Kruk), of Bolinas, and his four grandchildren, Diego, Zoë, Lucas and Theo.

In accordance with his family’s wishes, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UC Hastings Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP), created to make a legal education accessible to students who have overcome significant adversity.

Flags at City Hall flew at half-staff in his honor.