Thomas J. McDermott, Jr.

Thomas J. McDermott, Jr. (1931-2021)

It is with a heavy heart that we share the passing of our esteemed Board member, Thomas McDermott. Tom was an accomplished lawyer, practicing for over sixty-two years across and beyond the state of California.  When he passed away on June 30, 2021, he was 90 and was still practicing law full time.  

Tom was born and raised in Santa Monica during the Great Depression.  He graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from UCLA, and books remained an abiding passion.  His favorite authors included James Joyce, Charles Dickens, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was an avid book collector and donated his personal collection to the Oviatt Library “Rare Book Room” at California State University, Northridge.

Service was a lifelong endeavor for Tom, starting with a stint in the US Army during the Korean War. After the Army, he earned his J.D. from UCLA School of Law, where he was the Articles Editor of the Law Review and he received the prestigious Order of the Coif. Tom spent much of his career at large firms in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. before establishing the Law Offices of Thomas J. McDermott in the Palm Springs area. His practice areas included business litigation, business development, and intellectual property (patents, copyrights and trademarks). With clients as diverse as the singing group The Platters, Pfizer, and Baskin Robbins, Tom wanted to be remembered “as someone who did the best for the people he represented,” and he especially enjoyed about his practice that every day he was meeting new people and learning about new businesses.

He was recognized for his outstanding service to the legal field with many accolades. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Ninth Circuit’s John Frank Award, given once a year by the Ninth Circuit to a lawyer for outstanding service to the federal courts. In 2013, Tom was inducted into the State Bar of California Litigation Section’s Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame, which he described as “the two highest awards [he] received during [his] career,” and about which he modestly stated, “It’s a great honor. It made me humble to join a great group of trial lawyers. I was number twenty-four. I was surrounded by great lawyers, and I don’t know how I got in.”

Tom helped found and was president of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers (ABTL), where he was the first editor of its Bulletin. He was President of the UCLA Law Alumni Association, chair of the Ninth Circuit Advisory Board, chair of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, chair of the Lawyer Representatives Coordinating Committee of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, and chair of the Litigation Section of the State Bar of California. He was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and he wrote extensively for California Litigation, a publication of the State Bar of CA.

When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed reading, and performing magic. He was even a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood before moving to the desert. He loved attending operas, as well as musical plays and comedies, and he served on the board of the Los Angeles Music Center Performing Arts Council. He was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Opera Company and represented it for several years.

He was a proud member and former President of the La Quinta Rotary Club and even had the Mayor of Palm Desert proclaim Thursday, September 12, 2013, as Thomas J. McDermott Day.

The NJCHS Board valued Tom’s support and advice. Tom was described by his fellow NJCHS Board member Robert Lowry as “always the quintessential professional, a true “Lawyer’s Lawyer.” Several Board members echoed Mr. Lowry’s sentiment about “how freely Tom extended his friendship” and called out Tom’s “wonderful smile and sparkle in his eyes.” Judge Steve Cochran called Tom “a hero among lawyers and judges and a genuine personal friend to many.” Judge Mary Schroeder said, “There are few attorneys who contributed as much to the Courts and to our profession as Tom,” and called him “a role model for lawyers and judges.” Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. summed up by saying that “The purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference. Tom clearly filled the measure of his creation, and he will be missed.”

Tom met his wife, Yolanda, during the 1989 Coup d’Etat in the Philippines where they were both taken hostage at their Hotel in Manila. Tom is survived by his wife Yolanda, children Kimberly and Kish, grandchildren Trystan and Skylar.

He will be greatly missed by all at the NJCHS, and all those who wish to honor his memory and to support one of the causes he cared about and supported himself for many years, may do so here.

Remembering Tom:

He was a legal giant, while maintaining a humble, common man attitude and approach to all he encountered. He will be missed. His legacy will go on.
– Hon. Robert J. Johnston

Tom McDermott was the consummate lawyer and gentleman. He will be sorely missed.
– Hon. Dolly M. Gee