Assistant District Attorney Richard Neely
By Teri Figueroa
UT San Diego
February 18, 2013
For nearly 30 years, Richard Neely represented the interests of the People. With a capital P.
As a prosecutor, he tried death-penalty cases. He ran a special award-winning unit. He lobbied Sacramento to strengthen sentences. And, by the mid 1980s, he’d become the No. 2 man in the District Attorney’s Office, under then-District Attorney Ed Miller.
He later moved to the judicial bench to be a Juvenile Court referee, where he oversaw cases involving children who had been removed from their homes.
Mr. Neely, 73, died Saturday from complications of cancer, family and friends said.
Longtime friends are quick to use words like honest, true, loyal and decent when talking about him.
A brilliant lawyer, they say. A dedicated family man. A devout Catholic. And a terrific bridge player.
Born in San Diego on Dec. 17, 1939, he moved from the city only once: to earn his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame. There he was a walk-on addition to the school’s football team, said retired Superior Court Judge Charles Patrick, a longtime friend.
Mr. Neely came home to attend law school at the University of San Diego. On his first day, he met fellow first-year classmate Charles Wickersham — who would also become a Superior Court judge.
The two men became fast and close friends. And when Mr. Neely laid eyes on pretty Eleanor Taix, he turned to Wickersham to make the introduction.
“The next day we played tennis, and stars were floating out of his head. He was absolutely smitten,” Wickersham said.
The pair were soon engaged. They eventually married and had three children.
After law school graduation, Mr. Neely and Wickersham opened a small law office — a firm that dissolved the following year, in 1966, when Mr. Neely became a deputy district attorney. A week later, Wickersham joined him.
Mr. Neely advanced through the office, working as a trial lawyer and a supervisor.
In 1983, Miller tapped him as chief deputy district attorney. Two years later, Mr. Neely rose to be the assistant district attorney, the second-in-command under Miller.
In the 1990s, he fell under some criticism after a controversy involving the gang unit and its handling of criminal informants.
Mr. Neely left the office in 1994 after Miller lost a primary election. He later became a referee in Juvenile Court.
Daughter Deanna Brownlee said her father told her the referee post allowed him to make a difference for children. “He found it fulfilling,” she said.
She, too, used words like devoted and loyal and unpretentious to describe her father, who she said “loved his family very much.”
Brownlee said she wanted people to know “just how proud I am to be his daughter.”
Survivors include his wife, Eleanor Neely, son Richard Neely Jr., and daughters Brownlee and Jennifer Fourman, all of San Diego County.
Services are pending.