Attorney Louis August DeMers knew how to persuade an audience, whether pleading a client’s case before a jury or making a pitch to fellow parishioners during a church fundraising campaign.
“He was a magician in the courtroom,” said law partner Denis Donovan.
“He was a dynamic presence,” Donovan said. “When he walked into a room, you knew he was there, and when he went out, you knew he had left. I’m sure a jury never went to sleep on him.”
A trial lawyer regarded as a leader and mentor in Sacramento’s legal community for more than 50 years, DeMers died of throat cancer Dec. 7, two weeks shy of his 88th birthday and five weeks after the death of his wife, Mildred. The couple were married for 67 years, said their daughter, Michelle Wallner.
DeMers specialized in malpractice and personal injury litigation, handling a number of high-profile cases during his career. Donovan noted that he represented the city of Sacramento in the aftermath the 1972 Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour disaster, in which a jet taking off from Sacramento Executive Airport crashed into the restaurant, killing 22 people and injuring 25 others.
He also won a $23 million settlement for Mid Valley Dairy in connection with a 1981 fire that destroyed its Fairfield site. The fire started when an employee of a firm working at the site dropped a welding torch near some hydraulic lines. Attorneys said at the time that it was one of the largest settlements for property damage and lost business profits in Northern California history.
DeMers earned his law degree from Golden Gate University Law School and began practicing in 1957. He was hired by the Sacramento law firm of Fitzwilliam, Memering and McDonald, and soon became a partner. He left the firm in 1985 and established a series of smaller law firms that eventually became DeMers and Donovan. Although he quit practicing two years ago when his health began to decline, the firm still bears his name.
DeMers devoted his career to civil litigation. He started out as a defense attorney but switched to the plaintiff’s side when he left the big law firm, Donovan said.
“He took his job very seriously,” Donovan said. “He spent his time trying cases in front of a jury, not sitting at a desk. He was very charismatic.”
Wallner said her father was a showman and practiced his presentations at home before going into court.
“Everyone knew when Dad was going to be trying a case, because he brought the show with him,” she said. “He would practice and try it out on us at the dinner table. He was pretty darn successful.”
DeMers and his wife were founding members of Sacramento’s St. Charles Borromeo Parish and helped spearhead the building of a school and church.
John Jackson, a friend of DeMers for more than 50 years and a fellow parishioner, said DeMers was an effective fundraiser for church projects.
“Being an attorney, he could get up in the pulpit and bang the gavel and talk people into giving more money,” Jackson said. “He was never arrogant, but he spoke well and people understood and admired him. He fit in well with all classes.”
DeMers was born Dec. 20, 1928, in Grand Forks, N.D., to Eugene DeMers and Esther Danielson Sitz. His father left the family when Louis was 4 years old and he was raised by his mother. His mother always wanted him to be a lawyer, Wallner said. Her father was an avid reader from a young age and once told her had read nearly all the books in his small-town library.
Both Louis and Mildred DeMers grew up in St. John, N.D., where they attended elementary and high school. DeMers was the valedictorian of his class of 1948. He enrolled in the University of North Dakota and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Regis University.
He entered the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was sent to Italy, where he landed a position as a disc jockey for the Armed Forces station in Trieste, said his daughter. He had a morning show and became known as “Sunshine Louie.” One of his fondest memories, she said, was calling the play-by-play for the first game of the 1951 World Series.
“It was a pretty sweet gig,” Wallner said.
After he was discharged from the Army, he joined his wife, who had left North Dakota for San Francisco, where she became a nurse. He worked as an insurance adjuster while going to law school.
Her father developed a love for hunting and fishing as a youth in North Dakota that continued throughout his life.
Jackson recalled that DeMers also was a skilled card player, whether the game was gin rummy or pinochle. “If you won a dollar form him, you earned it,” Jackson said.
Wallner said her father was a devoted family man. Having grown up without his father, he was determined that he would always be there for his family. When his wife developed dementia, he took charge of the domestic chores as well as the entertaining.
“He had to learn how to cook and do his own laundry,” Wallner said.
He also made sure the family gatherings that his wife had long coordinated continued. Wallner recalled that her father had a breakfast menu he prepared for holidays and other special occasions that his family dubbed “Lou’s breakfast.”
“He really reinvented himself,” Wallner said. “I really respect that he continued to grow until he died.”
In addition to Wallner of Sacramento, DeMers is survived by daughter Mary DeMers of Anchorage, and sons Douglas DeMers and David DeMers of Sacramento and Daniel DeMers of Susanville, as well as nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A Mass was held Dec. 20 at St. Charles Borromeo Church. Remembrances in Louis DeMers’ name may be made to Sutter Hospice, St. Charles Borromeo School or the International Peace Gardens, 10939 Highway 218, Dunseith, N.D., 58329.