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History of the Washoe DA's office
by Harry Spencer
Apr 23, 2010 | 2314 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy Harry Spencer -
Washoe County District Attorney, Dick Gammick, gave a presentation to the Good old Days Club recently on the history of the DA's office.
Courtesy Harry Spencer - Washoe County District Attorney, Dick Gammick, gave a presentation to the Good old Days Club recently on the history of the DA's office.
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A comprehensive look at the history of the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office was presented by the current district attorney, Dick Gammick, to the monthly meeting of the area’s Good Old Days (G.O.D.) club a week ago Friday at the Reno Elks Lodge.

Gammick spoke to a packed house of G.O.D. club attendees at its monthly meeting.

He began his remarks by noting that the compilation of material regarding the district attorney's office was an ongoing process that will eventually be converted into a Power Point presentation. “However,” he noted, “this is the first presentation on this subject that I have made and I hope you will bear with me if I test it out on you.”

Gammick himself has held the position of Washoe DA since 1995, a record for longevity in the office and notes that he has no other political aspirations other than to continue as district attorney.

Thus far there have been 35 individuals who have served as Washoe DA, 34 men and one woman. That woman, Dorothy Nash Holmes, was in the G.O.D. club audience and was acknowledged by Gammick.

Starting with the first districk attorney, Jim Lewis in 1864, Gammick went on to select some of the more outstanding men who had held the post since that time. He also mentioned that the office had been a springboard for those DAs who went on to become judges, statesmen and holders of other public offices.

It was obvious in his talk that his favorite among those he mentioned was the DA that first hired him, Mills Lane. As Gammick recounted many of the humorous, and some not so humorous, anecdotes about his service under Lane, he was able to perfectly mimic the Lane voice and speaking style. Lane is probably the most high-profile person to ever hold the post since he went on to become a judge, but gained his nationwide fame as a referee of championship boxing matches. Due to the famous “bite fight” between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield that Lane refereed he soon found himself the subject of a number of network interviews about the incident and from there he went on TV himself as “Judge Mills Lane” and garnered international fame. Unfortunately, he was felled by a serious stroke a few years back and is now in retirement and rehabilitation. When quizzed about Lane’s current status Gammick, who has been a stalwart friend of the judge since his untimely illness, said that he felt Lane was more at peace with himself currently than he has been since being stricken. Gammick added that Lane’s mind is as sharp as ever and that his cognitive powers seem intact but that he has trouble with his speech. Nonetheless, Lane still can play cards with his two sons and is still a fierce competitor – a trait that he developed when he boxed for the University of Nevada, Reno.

As Gammick ticked off the names of the former DAs he naturally gave a great deal of attention to two recent occupants of the office: Jack Streeter and Bill Raggio.

Streeter, the state of Nevada’s most decorated World War II veteran, was the district attorney from 1950 to 1954, before entering a long and successful private practice. While in office he was one of the motivators in establishing the National District Attorneys Association and eventually the Nevada District Attorneys Association. Currently in Reno there is a wing of the VA hospital named in his honor and his World War II uniform is on display there along with the history of his action and medals awarded during the war.

As for Bill Raggio, who was elected DA in 1958, ’62 and ’66 and is now the longest serving state senator in the Nevada Legislature, Gammick noted that when he (Gammick) got further past the 12 years that Raggio had served he called to note the fact to the senator. Raggio’s response was, “I was thinking about running against you myself the last time out!” The senior senator also had some sage advice for Gammick when he won his first race; he called and said, “Don’t screw up!”

As Gammick ticked off the other names it brought back memories for most of us in the room since we had all known personally individuals like William Woodburn, Lester Summerfield, Harold Taber, Bob Rose and Larry Hicks.

Following his talk Gammick conducted a lively question and answer session about famous cases handled by the DA's office.

Babbitt turning pro

For those daily attendees at the Gold and Silver kaffee klatch one of the favorite topics concerns university sports. Not too long ago all the talk was about Armon Johnson’s decision to enter the NBA draft. Those discussions naturally morphed into speculation as to whether Luke Babbitt would fallow Johnson’s exit from the University of Nevada, Reno. The common theme was that if Babbitt did declare for the draft that he would be a higher pick than Johnson. One of the klatchers said he had it on pretty good authority that Babbitt, and members of his family, were committed to him finishing college first. Others at the table immediately disagreed, noting that when the hustling agents began to tell Babbitt that he had probably gone as far as he could go in the WAC and that rather than spend two more years in a mid-major league against the same type of competition and the same type of coaching that he would be better served to opt out now, pick up some NBA coaching and playing time for the next two years and enjoy a pretty healthy compensation package, it would be hard for Babbitt no to “go." As it turned out, they were right.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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