Dean R. Gits dies at 68; defense lawyer in McMartin preschool case


Dean R. Gits, who won an acquittal for his client Peggy McMartin Buckey in the infamous child molestation case of the 1980s and early 1990s and represented thousands of other clients during a lengthy career as a public and private defense attorney in Los Angeles, has died. He was 68.

The chief deputy of the federal public defender’s office for California’s central district, Gits died Tuesday at his Los Angeles home of complications from cancer, said his wife, Christina Larson Gits.

In more than 40 years of representing criminal defendants in Southern California, Gits forged a reputation as a lawyer with a strong commitment to his clients and for painstakingly thorough efforts on their behalf, several attorneys who worked with him said.


“If you were lucky enough to have him as your lawyer, you really hit the jackpot,” said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Maria Stratton, who worked with Gits as an attorney in private practice and in 2001 hired him as a supervisor for the federal public defender’s office. Stratton, who was then the federal defender — or top such attorney — for the state’s sprawling central district, made Gits her chief deputy in 2004.

“He was always prepared, he put the work in at the front end, and he was totally allied with his clients, giving them honest and great advice,” she said. “He was just a consummate defense attorney.”

Born in Cheyenne, Wyo., on Aug. 25, 1944, Dean Richard Gits was the second of three sons of Bernice, a homemaker, and Durward Gits, an insurance broker. His family later moved to Marshall, Minn., and Gits received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, then a law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

After completing his education, Gits moved to Los Angeles and began his career as a deputy in the L.A. County public defender’s office. He entered private practice in 1981, setting up a law firm with three colleagues from the public defender’s office.

The most high-profile case of his career would soon follow. In 1984, Gits was appointed to represent Buckey, who was accused with her son, Ray, of culpability in child molestations at the Manhattan Beach preschool that had been founded by her mother, Virginia McMartin. Buckey was a teacher and administrator at the school.

The three family members were among seven people initially indicted in the McMartin preschool case, which took more than six years to wind through the courts and produced what was the longest and costliest criminal trial in U.S. history. After expanding to 208 counts involving 41 children, the case was eventually curtailed to 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy against Buckey and her son.


Buckey was acquitted by a jury in 1990. (Ray Buckey, meanwhile, was acquitted on most counts; the jury deadlocked on some others, which eventually were dropped.)

Santa Monica attorney Mark Overland, who spent nearly 20 years in private practice with Gits, said that despite his friend’s success in that case and others, Gits largely avoided the limelight, declining to capitalize on his heightened professional profile.

“He could really have turned that into some kind of self-promotion, and he’d just have none of it,” Overland said. “He didn’t think his purpose was to promote himself, just to work for the client. He never lost that public-defender mentality.”

At one point, when Peggy McMartin Buckey was unable to make bail, Gits put up his own house on her behalf, Overland said. “Dean was a wonderful lawyer and a better person. He was totally, totally dedicated.”

In addition to his wife, Gits’ survivors include his brothers Al and Gary Gits, daughter Tracy Torres, stepdaughter Lori Cote, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.