A box accompanying an obituary misstated when Contra Costa County Superior Court Commissioner Jeffrey Dewitt Huffaker died. He died June 19, 2012.
Judges and others who work in Contra Costa County Superior Court wore black ribbons this week in remembrance of a colleague widely admired for how he did his job.
Jeffrey Dewitt Huffaker, a commissioner in Pittsburg's family law court, died Tuesday morning at his home in Oakley after a battle with cancer. He was 59.
Huffaker had served on the bench in a full-time capacity for the past 7½ years, first in Martinez and most recently in Pittsburg's family law court.
An Oakley resident, he also was deeply involved in East County civic activities before becoming a commissioner. Huffaker, then an attorney in private practice, offered his legal skills before the city's incorporation in 1999. He provided a voice for East County residents in land-use decisions and other regional matters as a member of groups that advised the county board of supervisors.
Huffaker also was a member of Oakley's first City Council, on which he served for six years before resigning to accept the court appointment.
He helped establish the city's chamber of commerce, which later named him Oakley's Citizen of the Year.
But by all accounts, there was much more to Huffaker than a résumé stuffed with accomplishments.
"He was my best friend on the bench," said Superior Court Commissioner Josanna Berkow, who met Huffaker two decades ago when he argued a case in her court.
He was interested in jurisprudence -- the theory of law -- and the two of them would have stimulating philosophical discussions, Berkow said.
Just as Berkow and other attorneys appreciated Huffaker's scholarship, they were impressed by the way he ran his court.
Family court is one of the most difficult assignments because divorce and child custody cases are inherently emotional, said Judy Craddick, who oversaw Huffaker as supervising judge of the Superior Court's civil division.
"It takes a special person to handle the job ... a person who can maintain their cool ... to maintain order in the court," she said.
Huffaker always treated both parties fairly and with respect, Craddick said.
Those who came before him believed their opinions mattered, and Huffaker had a knack for explaining points of law in ways that the lay person could understand, Berkow added.
Huffaker would listen to differing opinions and not only thoughtfully consider all aspects of an issue but also help others do the same, qualities that made him a skilled negotiator when he served on advisory groups.
"He was such a diplomat," said state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a former state legislator and county supervisor who worked with Huffaker. "He was one of the smartest people I've ever met in terms of (knowing) how to get win-wins rather than get bogged down in conflict."
Outside the courtroom, Huffaker was a history buff with a penchant for reading.
"He always had a book in his lap," said his son, Matt.
Huffaker was also a competent cook, an enthusiastic gardener and an outdoorsman who often visited Yosemite -- "one of his favorite places on Earth," his son said.
In the last couple of years, Huffaker's two new grandchildren became a favorite pastime.
And he loved his spiritual family, Antioch's Church on the Rock.¿
He embraced the belief that a person's character is who he is when no one's looking, said his wife, Nancy.
"He had a lot of integrity," she said.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. June 30 at Golden Hills Community Church in Brentwood. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the East Bay Regional Park District or Antioch United Methodist Church on the Rock.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.
Born: Sept. 1, 1952, in Berkeley
Died: June 19, 2012, at home in Oakley
Survived by: Nancy, his wife of 37 years; children Matthew and Michael, both of Concord, Mark and Martina Huffaker, both of Oakley; and grandchildren, Ryan and Jeffrey. He is also survived by his sister, Nancy Childers of Antioch.