David B. Finkel — former City councilman, member of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, Judge of the Superior Court (Ret.) and a champion for civil rights and educational equality — died at his Santa Monica home on Saturday, July 4, after a prolonged illness. He was 83.
“The loss of David Finkel is a great blow to Santa Monica College and to our community,” said Rob Rader, Chair of the SMC Board of Trustees. “I will always recall not just his calm and thoughtful demeanor, but his commitment to students, to teaching, to making the world a better place. He was truly a great man.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1932, Judge Finkel was the second of two sons of Reva Mucha from Odessa and Sidney Finkel from Pitkamien, in what was then the Soviet Union. His values were molded early on by his immigrant parents, the hardships of the Great Depression, and the rise of fascism during World War II.
He obtained his B.A. degree from the University of Chicago in 1951, graduated with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from The University of Southern California Law School in 1959, and was admitted to practice law in California in 1960.
Judge Finkel initially worked for the progressive civil liberties law firm of Margolis and McTerran before venturing out on his own — his legal work focused on workers’ rights, civil liberties and academic due process. In 1964, he travelled to the South in the face of great personal danger to participate in Mississippi Freedom Summer; and in 1965, he was part of a team of lawyers who went to Mississippi to take depositions in support of a challenge to the seating of the all-white congressional delegation.
His work as a lawyer also included defense of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.
A founding member of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, Judge Finkel was appointed to the Rent Control Board in 1981 to fill a vacancy and was elected to the post in 1983. He was also elected to the Santa Monica City Council in 1986 where he served a term as Mayor Pro-Tempore. In 1990, he was elected to the Santa Monica Municipal Court and was later elevated as a Superior Court Judge. He retired as a judge in 2002.
Judge Finkel was elected to the SMC Board of Trustees in 2006, and was reelected in 2010. He served as Chair of the Board in 2010.
“David Finkel’s prolific, tireless and courageous work through the decades for education, equality and civil rights has left this world a better place — too many instances abound,” said Jeff Shimizu, SMC’s Interim Superintendent and President. “He was a true champion for our students, and embodied all the ideals Santa Monica College holds dear. He will be deeply missed.’
Judge Finkel taught political science at Santa Monica College focusing on his passion for constitutional law, and after being elected to the Board of Trustees, continued to volunteer part-time in the classroom. He loved working with students — especially first-time students whose tenacity he admired.
His life was marked by a great love and partnership with his wife of 51 years, feminist artist and activist Bruria Finkel; as a couple, they have been a respected and well-recognized resource for progressives in Santa Monica. Finkel is survived by his wife Bruria Finkel, his brother George Finkel, his children Melva Colter, Wendie Colter, Amy Shimshon-Santo, and Adam Finkel, and his grandchildren Avila Santo, Reva Santo, Rose Colter-Knight, and Reave Finkel.
He resigned from the SMC Board of Trustees in January 2014 because of ill health. In announcing his resignation, he wrote:
“Serving the College … has been a rich and rewarding experience for me. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of the college community for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is the most democratic and creative institution in Santa Monica and Malibu. I know the College will continue to be a wonderful place … being a part of the College has brought me great pleasure and satisfaction. I will always be its top supporter.
A detailed blog post about Judge Finkel’s life can be read at: https://judgedavidfinkel.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/honoring-the-life-of-judge-david-b-finkel
No details are available on a funeral service at this time. To support Finkel’s living legacy by donating to the Judge David B. Finkel Social Justice Scholarship at Santa Monica College, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Bruria Frankel