Updated: Feb 22, 2021
With great sadness, I inform you this afternoon of the passing of Senior United States Judge William B. Enright. Judge Enright passed away last evening after suffering a heart attack at his home. He was 94 years old.
William Benner Enright was born in New York City on July 12, 1925, and grew up and attended high school in Queens. At age 17 he joined the United States Navy through the V-12 program -- an officer training program designed to generate a large number of officers to meet the demands of World War II. He attended Dartmouth College for officer training, including Midshipman's school. He received his commission as an Ensign in March 1945, and was assigned to duty on the Escort Carrier Marcus Island CV E77. After Japan surrendered in August 1945, Judge Enright participated in the occupation of that former enemy country. He was discharged from active duty in 1946, and returned to Dartmouth where he completed his bachelors degree in philosophy in 1947. He graduated in the same class as his life long friend, former San Diego County District Attorney Edwin L. Miller. He then attended Loyola Law School, where he received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1950. While at Loyola, Judge Enright met and befriended Manny Real, who was in the class a year behind him, and who would also go on to become a United States District Judge.
Judge Enright began his legal career in 1951 as a Deputy District Attorney for the County of San Diego where he served under District Attorney Don Keller. He remained with the DA's Office until 1954, when he left to enter private practice with a group of former DAs, forming the firm of Harelson, Enright, Levitt & Knutson. Over the next 18 years, Judge Enright specialized in criminal defense, building a reputation as one of most formidable trial lawyers in San Diego and in the State of California. It was often said that he captivated juries with his distinctive, powerful voice and eloquence, and with his incisive mind. Jurors, judges, and opposing counsel alike respected and trusted him. Over the course of his career, he tried 223 cases to jury verdict -- a phenomenal achievement even by the standards of the time. His prowess as a trial lawyer was recognized by his induction as a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, and as a Diplomat of the American Board of Trial Advocates -- two prestigious, invitation-only national trial organizations.
Despite his busy trial practice, Judge Enright found time to participate in numerous State and County Bar activities. He served as a Board Member of the San Diego County Bar Association from 1962-1965, then as President of the County Bar in 1965. He served on the Board of Governors of the California State Bar Association from 1967-1970, and as Vice President of the California State Bar in 1970. And among many civic and charitable associations, Judge Enright was actively involved in the Rotary Club, United Crusade, Big Brothers, Little League, and the Urban Coalition.
In June 1972, President Nixon nominated Judge Enright to the federal district court in San Diego. He was confirmed by the Senate later the same month, and received his commission on June 30, 1972. Serving on an understaffed border court with one of the heaviest criminal caseloads in the nation, Judge Enright quickly developed a reputation as a knowledgeable, capable, and respected trial judge. Over 29 years as an active trial judge, he presided over more than 300 criminal and civil jury trials. He was also actively involved in court governance, serving on at least 17 Federal Judicial Committees including the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. Judge Enright assumed Senior Status in July, 1990, but continued to carry an active caseload of criminal and civil cases until 2000 when he transitioned to inactive status. In all, he served 28 years on the federal bench.
One of Judge Enright’s most significant legacies to the bench and bar was his role with the American Inns of Court, a national association of lawyers and judges who, by mentoring younger lawyers, seek to foster excellence in professionalism, ethics, civility and legal skills. Judge Enright's dedication to the goals and principles of the American Inns of Court movement is widely recognized, and he was a major force in the movement's development in California. He was a founding member of the Louis Welsh American Inn of Court -- San Diego's first Inn. And he was instrumental in the formation of many other Inns at both the state and national levels. Judge Enright served as Trustee for the American Inns of Court Foundation from 1985 to 1992. In 1987, he was presented with the Chairman's Award, which is bestowed upon a "member of an American Inn of Court who, at the local, state or national level has provided distinguished, exceptional and significant leadership to the American Inns of Court movement." In recognition of Judge Enright's devoted service to the American Inns of Court program, prominent judges and lawyers joined together in 1991 to charter a new Inn of Court in San Diego named in honor of Judge Enright. "The Hon. William B. Enright Inn of Court" is now the largest American Inn of Court in San Diego County, measured by total members and active Masters. Two other awards carry also his name: California Inns of Court’s “William B. Enright Award for Professionalism” and the American Inns of Court’s “William B. Enright Ethics and Civility Award."
Judge Enright was preceded in death by his wife of 68 years, Bette. He is survived by a son, Kevin Enright, a distinguished judge of the San Diego County Superior Court, by his two daughters, Kim and Kelly, and by eight grandchildren.
An oral history highlighting Judge Enright's life and career can be found at: https://www.sdcba.org/index.cfm?pg=LOB-Enright.
Funeral arrangements are pending, and I will keep you informed whether there will be a public service.
Larry A. Burns