In the years before David Szumowski, R’67, became a judge for the Superior Court of California, he spent a lot of time wondering what was next for him.
After a childhood in New York with World War II veterans for parents, he wondered how he could best serve himself and his country. He committed to the University of Richmond’s ROTC program as a student and thought about what he would pursue after serving in the Vietnam War.
Just as Szumowski started to like his life in the military and as the fog shrouding his future began to clear, a grenade hit his tank in Vietnam. It left him wondering what he would do as a newly blind 23-year-old.
He started law school at the University of Denver “to kill time,” he said. There he discovered a passion for criminal law — something he had never considered. After graduation, he stayed in Denver, where he met his wife, Janice, but couldn’t find work. It was time to re-evaluate again.
A move to Hawaii sounded ideal to Szumowski — a paradise climate, no snow to shovel. But he quickly amended that dream when it required him to put his guide dog in a kennel for six months. He mentally walked up the map and decided instead on San Diego.
One failed law practice and many difficult months later, Szumowski landed a job with the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, which eventually led to his spot on the bench. He had found his place and was done wondering what was next.
“I hit the lottery when I got appointed to be a judge,” he said.
But luck doesn’t account for Szumowski’s success.
“I was not prejudiced by what I didn’t see,” he said. Being blind precluded him from forming opinions based on a person’s appearance, which granted him an elevated level of impartiality, he said.
As a judge, Szumowski presided over many high-profile cases and was often featured in the resulting news coverage, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“He was the face of our court,” Peter Deddeh, an assistant presiding judge in San Diego told the Union-Tribune.
Now, after retiring this summer after 18 years on the bench, Szumowski has replaced bail reviews and felony arraignments with golf, audiobooks, and season six of 24. He also has started his autobiography, which he hopes will inspire others to never give up, regardless of circumstances.
“You may not be what you thought you were going to be,” he said. “But you can still have a very happy and successful and meaningful life.”