In Memoriam, Gigi Gordon

The passing of Gigi is a game changer. How one super smart little girl from New York, with a big infectious smile and a giggling laugh, changed the criminal justice system in Los Angeles, is the stuff of legend.

I met Gigi when I was a young lawyer, we were all young lawyers, Blair Berk, Gigi, and I. Melissa Widdifield had brought us all together to get involved in Women Lawyers of Los Angeles. I remember, as we had dinner at Il Moro on the patio, the sense of being on a precipice, of beginning an exciting adventure. We were all passionate, idealistic, and most of all excited that we were criminal defense attorneys; we were “gonna rock the world.” In our own ways, we each did; Blair became the “go to” criminal attorney for the entertainment industry; Melissa became a judge; I became a white-collar lawyer; but, none of us achieved what Gigi did, or at least none of us, so far.

Gigi became a warrior against all that was wrong in the system. She was relentless and tireless in her ability to uncover corruption and injustice, be it in the use of jail house informants or the LAPD Rampart Division. Because of Gigi’s work on uncovering corruption in the use of jail house informants, legislation was enacted to prevent future abuses. It was this quality of perseverance that led Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley to seek her assistance in the development of office-wide [Brady] disclosure policies.

Gigi was a fighter for all those with either no strength or no voice to fight. Despite her unyielding attacks on government and bureaucracy, she was always professional, and consequently always respected, by both judges and prosecutors alike. Even though Gigi was just one of those people who always knew more than you, her sense of modesty always tempered her greater wealth of knowledge, and her playful wit could add levity to a tense moment.

As I followed her career, I saw Gigi temper her battle cry with diplomacy and tact, as is demonstrated by her achievement of getting Cooley’s to commit indefinitely to preserving files and evidence in death penalty and life sentence cases. This commitment is part of her legacy in Los Angeles. Thanks to her, countless people have the ability to challenge a wrongful conviction in the future.

Her quest for knowledge was insatiable. I remember visiting her home in Brentwood with my husband, Richard Kaplan. Gigi had recently married Andy Stein and they had just moved. She took such pride in telling me about the stacks of books next to her bed. In fact, there were stacks of books just about everywhere. And when Gigi spoke in her low, articulate voice, she chose her words for the greatest impact and there was no choice but to listen. I lost touch with Gigi over the past decade, but I never stopped thinking about her and reading of her accomplishments with a smile on my face, remembering the young girl of 20 years ago, and the passion and sense of humanity I felt from her then. I am overcome with emotion at the planets loss of Gigi. However, her choice: to die seems to me true to her spirit. I read that her illness had become both physically and mentally incapacitating. For such a vibrant and proactive woman to be sodden with incapacity must have been torture. I can imagine her logically deciding that, all options considered, this was the best one.

I will always remember Gigi as the fearless and idealistic young lawyer I was proud to know, and as the criminal defense attorney I looked up to as a model of what is good and decent in our work. Gigi was unique; there is a void left where she used to be, and when I think of that void, it hurts.

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