45 Years and Counting: Buck Delventhal's Commitment to Public Law

Burk “Buck” Delventhal ’69 may have Herman Melville to thank for his long, productive career in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

“I remember reading ‘Billy Budd’ as a high school student,” says Delventhal. “I was fascinated by the tension between the rule of law, individual rights, and human decency.”

The book, he says, helped him to cultivate the qualities that make him particularly suited to his profession: respect for the rule of law and the ability to hear and analyze conflicting points of view. Delvethal’s work as Chief Deputy, Government Law Division involves grappling with difficult issues that have conflicting and legitimate arguments on both sides every day. And he loves it.

“It’s not just abstract discourse,” he says, “it’s interesting presenting academic issues that have a direct effect on members of the community.”

Over the past four and a half decades, Delventhal’s successful litigation and legislative works have resulted in environmental protections; increases in public health and safety; support for minority businesses; a stronger, more equitable educational system; additional revenues for the City in the Post Proposition 13 era, and myriad other large and small impacts on the lives of the people of San Francisco.

As a law professor, Delventhal is committed to helping his students develop and cultivate an interest in the structure and public policy underpinnings of the law and he hopes they’ll use it to address the two most urgent issues of our time.

“The first is the environmental catastrophe we’re facing. The law can play a critical role in forcing people to change the consumption of resources,” he says. “And we need significant shifts in policy to effect a more equitable distribution of wealth.”

In 2013, the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) awarded Delventhal its prestigious Charles S. Ryne Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor that surprised him but didn’t slow him down. Today, at age 76, he continues to make significant contributions to the public discourse over laws for the City and County of San Francisco and to share his knowledge with younger deputies in public law offices and his students at Hastings.

“Very few people get to do work they love,” he says. “I’m fortunate that I do, and that I have for so long. I also appreciate the great legal education I got at UC Law SF.”

As for Billy Budd, though the book is a bit too far removed from his State and Local Government Law course, Delventhal does continue recommend it to many aspiring law students.

About Gamechanger

GAMECHANGER is the way our students–past and present–see the world. It’s the impact our alumni have on local, national and global policy and law. The ideas and events that come from the minds of UC Law SF students and faculty help transform the world. UC Law SF plans to celebrate its GAMECHANGERS on Thursday, May 9.