$1 Million Gift Supports USF’s Law Students

By Mary McInerney, Office of Development Communications Posted Tue, 12/11/2018 - 09:00

Justice Donald B. King ‘52, JD ‘58 has written scores of law opinions that have defined family law in California, and he will continue to influence future generations of lawyers by endowing a scholarship for USF law students.

Justice King and his wife, Nikki, who met on a blind date and have been married 62 years, have given $1 million to USF for an annual scholarship to support one or more law students who are interested in pursuing a career in family law. The scholarship will provide a permanent source of tuition support for students.

“My experience at the law school and working in the law has been so fulfilling, and we just feel so very fortunate,” said Justice King.

“Tuition is so expensive these days, so the benefit to students from getting some funding was important to us,” he  added. “And because so much of my professional life has been related to family law, I wanted to get more good students interested in family law and into the profession.”

USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., said the Kings’ gift to the university is especially appreciated.

“The gift from the Kings is very generous, and it comes at a time when our country needs lawyers working with families,” Fr. Fitzgerald said. “ I hope this inspires more of our students to go into family law.”

Lifelong Interest in Helping Families

When Justice King was appointed to the San Francisco Superior Court in 1976, family law was the assignment that no judge wanted. It wasn’t valued and was often the area to which the newest judges were assigned.

But Justice King eagerly took the assignment and was responsible for extraordinary changes in San Francisco and throughout the state, including mandatory mediation of child custody and visitation issues, which proved so successful that the Legislature mandated it statewide. Among many other endeavors, he also began what became a statewide annual education program for family law judges.

After appointment to the Court of Appeal in 1982, Justice King received a unique assignment from the chief justice to be able to return to the Superior Court, as his time permitted, to resolve complex family law cases, while handling his appellate court case load. Upon his retirement in 1996, Justice King had published more family law cases than any previous California justice. They continue to influence and guide family law today.

Justice King is also the co-author of California Practice Guide: Family Law, a two-volume text that he continues to update regularly. It is used by every family law lawyer in California.

“I came from a family where my parents were divorced when I was 11 or 12, and it was dysfunctional,” he said. This shaped his feelings about helping families.

And while Justice King was establishing himself as a family law expert, Nikki King went back to school at age 49 and earned her graduate degree in family counseling. She did an internship at a home for abused women, and that became one of the areas of specialty for her counseling practice.

“We have had a lifelong interest in helping people,” she said. She has since retired from counseling and works as an artist. She also serves on the board of The Living Room, a day-care facility for homeless women and children.

A Connection to USF Basketball

A little known fact about Justice King is that he played with the national championship USF basketball team. After earning his undergraduate degree in accounting at USF, he was drafted into the Korean War, and after leaving the Army in 1955, enrolled at USF law school.

At the end of his first year, the basketball team won the national championship and was sent on a goodwill tour to play national teams in Central and South America.

“I was invited to go along as one of the players,” Justice King said. “It was a fantastic opportunity to play with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. We played 33 games in 60 days and had a lot of experiences I’ll never forget.”

Together, the Kings are most proud of the work they have done to help so many California families. Justice King continues to volunteer twice a week in the local courts in Sonoma County and was recently honored by the county bar association.

“One of the reasons why I liked family law,” he said, “is because it is the one area of the law where you are helping people at a difficult time in their lives and helping them onto a happier time.”

The USF School of Law has a 100-year tradition of educating skilled, ethical legal professionals. Find out more about investing in the next generation of lawyers