Updated: Feb 22
Peter J. Mazza, 1978-2020
Peter Mazza, 2016 San Diego chapter president, passed away earlier this week following an 18-month battle with cancer. During his short but stellar career, Pete had already become a San Diego legal legend and a respected leader in the broader community. “Pete’s untimely death is a terrible loss to our legal community and to the world,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns. “While I acknowledge that none of us is making it out of this alive, his passing will haunt me. Pete inspired many people, and he leaves a legacy that all who knew him will remember and carry in their minds and hearts.”
A native of Connecticut, Pete was a standout student at Yale University, graduating cum laude and serving as captain of the football team. He attended Michigan Law School, and began his legal career clerking for U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff. He then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he quickly made a name for himself as a tenacious and effective prosecutor, pursuing Mexican drug cartels and handling some of the most significant fraud cases in the office at that time. Pete joined the San Diego office of Jones Day and was soon elevated to partner, handling high stakes business and pro bono cases. “There was no case too big or legal issue too complex for Pete,” said attorney Shireen Matthews, past chapter president and Pete’s colleague at Jones Day and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “He was humble to the core, but he possessed a steady self-confidence that drove him to just keep working until he figured out any legal challenge. And once he had the puzzle figured out, he had an amazing ability to explain complicated fact patterns in plain language. You knew when he spoke that he was a straight shooter. Pete was a great lawyer, a wonderful colleague, and a dear friend.”
In early 2019 United States Attorney Bob Brewer asked Pete to return to the U.S. Attorney’s Office as First Assistant U.S. Attorney, the second-in-command position in the office. Pete enthusiastically returned to public service and began the challenging work of supervising the office’s 400+ employees and overseeing its complex caseload. Despite receiving his shocking diagnosis shortly after becoming First Assistant, Pete was an inspiring leader and effective manager throughout his treatment. “Pete had great common sense, compassion, and a love of doing the right thing. He admired law enforcement and so much respected the tough job they have,” said Brewer. “He loved the law, enjoyed reading cases and applying a ruling to a different fact pattern and discussing his analysis. Pete had an amazing memory, right down to the dates of meetings and who was present. He was incredibly loyal to me and this office. The very few times we would disagree, those discussions were private, never in front of anyone. And he almost always convinced me his way was the right call.”
The Federal Bar Association is one of many organizations that benefited from Pete’s leadership and vision. In 2012, Pete joined the San Diego Chapter of the FBA, received a Younger Federal Lawyer award, and was elected to the chapter’s board. Soon after, he was elected to serve as chapter president. Pete is this year’s recipient of the FBA’s Robyn J. Spalter Award for Outstanding Achievement, which recognizes one attorney nationwide for significant contributions to the FBA, the legal profession, and the community. Pete’s many accomplishments were the direct product of his unparalleled work ethic, leadership, judgment, humility, and kindness. “Pete was the type of leader everyone wanted to follow. He was genuine, humble, and built others up around him,” said attorney Joe Leventhal, a past chapter president who worked with Pete in multiple legal organizations. “Pete always made sure the goal was achieved, but gave credit to everyone else. His positive attitude was infectious and will be sorely missed in the legal and broader community.”
Pete’s year as San Diego Chapter President coincided with the 50th Anniversary of our District Court, and thanks to his leadership the chapter marked the occasion with several successful events celebrating the District, including a half-day seminar titled “Fifty Years in the Southern District of California: Views from the Courtroom and Beyond.” The Chapter also joined the Court in hosting a 50th anniversary celebratory dinner attended by multiple elected officials. Pete, through his tremendous leadership and tireless efforts, planned these substantial one-time events while also hosting a full year of CLE and social programming including a half-day conference on Women in the Law, seminars on ethics, water rights, and IP, a five-part series on trial advocacy, and numerous social events targeted at engaging younger attorneys. “We were lucky to have had Pete in our lives. He was a wonderful leader who genuinely treated others with respect and made them believe that they had something to contribute,” said David Finn, Assistant U.S. Attorney and current San Diego chapter president. “His dedication to service was inspiring to so many and made him not just a great lawyer, but a truly great person. We will do our best to honor his legacy.”
In addition to his work with the FBA, Pete served as a Lawyer Representative to the District Court for the Southern District of California and was a member of the Merit Selection Panel that helps select federal Magistrate Judges. Pete also spent time volunteering with his church to prepare packages for families with children in the pediatric ICU at Rady Children’s Hospital. In addition, he led fundraising efforts for the Peninsula YMCA in Point Loma to obtain scholarship funds for low income families.
Pete was a devoted husband to Megan and loving father to their three young children. The San Diego Chapter sends our deepest condolences to them and to all of Pete’s loved ones.
By Katie Parker, Assistant U.S. Attorney and civil chief; past president, FBA San Diego chapter
Here is a link to an absolutely beautiful obituary that Megan Mazza wrote as a tribute to Pete. At the end, she notes that an internment will be held for Peter on Monday, September 7th at 2:00 p.m. at El Camino Cemetery, located at 5600 Carroll Canyon Road, San Diego, 92121. The service will be held outdoors so there are no restrictions on the number of people who may attend, but the family requests that all guests wear face masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
For any of you interested in helping Pete’s family in a financial way, a new Go Fund Me page has been set up as the home of the Mazza Family Fund. Here is a link to that fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mazza-family-fund