In June, 2009 we lost two lions in our local legal community. Bruce Bunker and Bob Self were well respected as lawyers, recognized as consummate gentlemen, and admired as strong family men. Both were Past Presidents of the Kern County Bar Association, both were honored with the KCBA’s most prestigious award -- the Bench and Bar Award -- both began their legal careers working for the late Joe Wooldridge, both were married to women they met in college, and both raised three lovely daughters. In addition to being admired by the entire community, Bruce Bunker and Bob Self respected each other as attorneys and as men.
Bruce Bunker grew up in Porterville. At Porterville Community College he met the woman who would become his wife of 60 years, Betty. They courted as they moved onto four-year universities in Southern California, Betty attending UCLA and Bruce USC. (The UCLA – USC rivalry made for interesting conversation in the Bunker household.) Betty opted to skip her graduation from UCLA in order to marry Bruce in1949. After Bruce graduated from USC Law School, he and Betty and their new baby, Suzanne, moved to Bakersfield, where Bruce began his legal career as an associate in the firm of Burum, Young & Wooldridge. Betty stayed home with their growing family – Carolyn and Robin followed Suzanne – while Bruce developed a reputation as a talented and hardworking attorney. In 1952, Bruce joined the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked for three years before leaving to open a solo practice. Soon, Bruce formed a long lasting partnership that was best known as Wagy, Bunker, Hislop & Lewis. In 1996 Bruce joined the firm of Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, Cooper, Rosenlieb, and Kimball, where he continued to work even after his “retirement” in 2006.
Bruce Bunker loved the law, and he celebrated excellence in the profession. He enjoyed mentoring young lawyers, and he was involved as a leader in both the Kern County and the California State Bar Associations. As KDG managing partner Jay Rosenlieb explained, Bruce contributed his time to these organizations “Not because he thought it would advance his standing with clients or his colleagues, but because it would advance the standing of others and the profession.” Bruce said, “You can’t just join an organization and claim it. You need to participate, lead, and give of your time.” Bruce extended this view to many community organizations, including many years of service as a member of the Board of Directors of the California State University, Bakersfield Foundation.
Michael Chertok, who worked with Bruce Bunker on the CSUB Foundation for over 14 years, who described Bruce as an ideal board member. “He gave of his time, his expertise, and his knowledge. Bruce was a true champion of higher education, and he will certainly be missed by all who are fortunate enough to have worked with him.”
Bruce Bunker prepared his cases thoroughly and fastidiously, and his pleadings were eloquent and precise. He lamented the careless use of profanity among lawyers, and he encouraged the lawyers in his firm to be more creative in choosing language to express pleasure and displeasure. He embraced the use of technology, becoming facile in surfing the internet and communication through e-mail.
Although Bruce Bunker was known for his dedication to the legal profession, he took great pleasure in his wife and daughters and their families. He will be greatly missed in our legal community, but most especially by his family.
by Hon. Susan M. Gill
The article was originally printed in the September 2009 edition of the Res Ipsa Loquitur.
The Bakersfield Californian obituary for Bruce Bunker can be found here.