Ralph Gampell; Ex-Bar President, Rose Bird Aide

Times Staff Writer

Ralph J. Gampell, former president of the State Bar of California and one-time key aide to Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, died of cancer Oct. 3, court officials announced Monday. He was 71.

Gampell, a British physician who became an American citizen and began a new career as a lawyer, retired as administrative director of the state courts in June, 1986, shortly before the fall election defeat of Bird and two other members of the state Supreme Court.

After becoming Bar president in 1976, Gampell was chosen by Bird to become court director, serving as the top court staff administrator under the chief justice and the state Judicial Council, which sets policy and formulates rules for the state court system.

Bird, in a statement issued here Monday, praised Gampell as a “trailblazer in the legal and judicial profession,” noting that as Bar president he had pioneered efforts to get lawyers to offer free assistance to indigents and, as court administrator, helped begin a campaign to obtain state funding for local trial courts.


Gampell also played a leading role in implementing a new computer and administrative modernization program in the appellate court system and was instrumental in opening meetings of the Judicial Council to the public and press, Bird observed.

“Ralph was a very special person and I shall miss him,” Bird said. “His contributions were considerable and shall be remembered.”

Gampell was born Dec. 9, 1916, in Salford, England. He obtained a medical degree from the University of Manchester and served as a major in the British Royal Air Force during World War II.

He came to the United States in 1949, received a law degree at Stanford University and then lectured at Stanford and practiced law in San Jose before becoming president of the Bar in 1976. He resigned as Bar president the next year to take over as court director after Ralph N. Kleps stepped down after a policy dispute with Bird.