Retired Pima County Superior Court Judge Harry Gin died Wednesday. He was 84.

Gin was born in Tucson and spent many years helping out in the Gin Soo Dung & Co. grocery at 701 S. Third Ave., a store his father opened in 1921, said his wife of 55 years, Bernice.

He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona before going on to obtain his law degree from Harvard University. He passed the Arizona state bar in October 1952 and spent several years in civil practice, at one time partnering with former Arizona Gov. Samuel P. Goddard.

Gin, a one-time city magistrate, spent more than 20 years on the Pima Superior Court bench, serving at various times as court commissioner, judge pro tem and judge. He retired in 1995.

Retired federal magistrate Jim Carruth and Gin were Superior Court judges at the same time for many years.

"He was one of the sweetest, nicest human beings I ever met and he was also a darn good judge," Carruth said.

Although he could be as "tough as a boot" when necessary, Gin was also able to use humor to defuse tense situations, Carruth said.

Attorney Walter Nash remembers winning a significant civil judgment in a 1970s-era case that was presided over by Gin.

The judge thought he should have lost and for years referred to him as "Lucky Pierre," Nash said.

"Some judges are very formal, but he was very at ease with attorneys," Nash said. "I learned a lot from him as a very young lawyer."

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall fondly remembers Gin's annual staff picnics. Although she wasn't a staff member, he would always invite her and her daughter, then a toddler, to the event.

"He ran a great courtroom," LaWall said. "Everyone had to be on their toes, they had to be prepared. He didn't brook any nonsense."

Pima County Public Defender Bob Hirsh recalled Gin as an "affable, humorous" man who treated lawyers fairly.

He recalled how he and Gin received a lot of criticism over the Mark Alan Austin case.

Austin was acquitted in the brutal slaying of his wife by reason of insanity in 1991 in a case that received national attention.

Instead of prison, Austin spent 124 days in a state mental hospital before being freed by Gin with court-enforced conditions.

The law at the time said a person acquitted by reason of insanity must be released after 120 days in the state hospital if he can prove he no longer suffers from the mental defect established at trial or is no longer a danger to himself or others.

Thanks to the furor over the case, the Legislature adopted a bill, called "Laura's Law," which repealed the state's insanity defense in 1993.

Bernice Gin said her husband gave much of his time to the community, serving on a long list of boards and committees, including the Southside YMCA, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Arizona State Board of Governors.

Gin spent a great deal of time woodworking and following UA sports, his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Gin is survived by four children and seven grandchildren.

Services are pending.

"He was one of the sweetest, nicest human beings I ever met and he was also a darn good judge."

Jim Carruth,

retired federal magistrate

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or