Retired Pima County Superior Court Judge Edgar Acuña died at his home early Tuesday. He was 64.
Family and friends remembered Acuña as a loving family man who intimidated younger attorneys in the courtroom, but was always fair.
"We're obviously all heartbroken," said Judge Richard Fields. "Ed always had this gruff appearance, sort of like George Patton. A lot of people used to be afraid of his mannerisms, but he was as soft as he could be on the inside. He was intelligent and considerate."
Acuña grew up in Westminster, Calif., and obtained his bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Arizona. He received his law degree from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif. He spent time in the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Pima County Legal Defender's Office and in private practice. He was an associate faculty member at Pima Community College and became a court commissioner in January 1993.
In December 1996, then-Gov. Fife Symington appointed him to the Pima County Superior Court bench, and he retired Sept. 30, 2011.
Gloria Acuña, who was married to Acuña 39 years, said his three grandchildren were "his everything."
"He was loyal to his family and friends, and he was a hard worker," Acuña said. "He started out with nothing and built what we had."
When their two children were small, the judge coached their son's baseball team, Gloria Acuña said. Over the last 20 years they were involved in a golf group, and over the last 10 years they went on wine trips with another group of friends.
Her husband also enjoyed hunting and was a "great storyteller," she said.
Retired Pima County Superior Court Judge Frank Dawley called Acuña "the ultimate family man," but also remembered his sense of humor, his ability to poke fun at people in a nice way, his talent for cooking a "mean steak" and his love of Mexican culture.
Professionally, the judge was level-headed and always able to maintain his perspective, Dawley said.
Gloria Acuña said she could tell when her husband had a particularly stressful case, but he always tried to shield his family from his work. She did know, however, that he became impatient with unprepared attorneys.
Former Assistant Pima County Public Defender CeCelia Valentine regularly appeared before the judge for more than six years. She called the Arizona Daily Star from her new job in Houston to express her condolences to the judge's family.
"He came across as really gruff to attorneys, but he was always fair and he gave a good trial," Valentine said. "He required everyone to be prepared and to be honest and to do your job. I always liked appearing in front of him."
Valentine remembers introducing her parents to the judge and him mentioning the fact she had probably warned them he was grouchy. Her mother covered for her and the judge never failed to ask about her parents after that, Valentine said.
In addition to his wife, Acuña is survived by his children, Alec and Andrea; and his grandchildren, Ayden, 11, Austen, 7, and Amaya, 2.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at email@example.com or 573-4241.