More than 40 years of working in law is coming to an end for Pierce County District Court Judge Frank Dacca.
But only because he wants to spend more time with his first grandson.
“There’s no guarantees in life,” said Dacca, 70. “I’ve seen a lot of professionals push the envelope and then have short retirements. You have to give time to take care of yourself.”
His grandson, Davis Dacca, was born April 5 and named after the college where his grandparents met. That birth, plus the loss of Dacca's wife, Terry, to cancer in 2011 led him to decide he wanted to spend his time with his family, his friends and his community, Gig Harbor.
Dacca was appointed to the bench in 2003 after a narrow election loss in 2002 and was re-elected in 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014. With Dacca retiring, Tim Lewis, 43, Gig Harbor, and Lizanne Padula, 51, Tacoma, are running for the position in the August primary.
Before becoming a district judge, Dacca ran private law firms in California and then in Tacoma. He grew up in Fife to two well-known vegetable farmers, Louise and Marianne Dacca, whose 25-acre homestead is now Dacca Park in Fife.
“The Fife area was a little different — no Interstate 5 — when I was in high school,” Dacca said.
His father was an original member of the Fife City Council.
“My dad was always interested in public service,” Dacca said. “I think I gleaned it from him. He engrained the value of hard work.”
His father suggested Dacca study law while he was working on the farm, and Dacca pursued the idea at the University of California Davis, where he met Terry and graduated with a law degree in 1973.
After college he worked as a law clerk for the state of Washington before moving to Los Angeles to be an assistant to the U.S. Attorney’s office. He returned to Pierce County in 1977.
“I practiced 30 years before I became a judge,” Dacca said. “I was a municipal judge for the town of Milton between 1989 through 1993, part time. But I really liked criminal law. I did a lot of defense work.”
While in private practice, Dacca hired Mary Stout to be his legal clerk. The two quickly became friends and Dacca was Stout’s only boss for her career.
“He was just a great guy to work for,” she said. “He was fair, and able to see things from many different sides.”
Stout followed Dacca when he became a judge and retired a couple years before he did.
“I have been nagging him to retire,” she said. “It was time.”
Dacca said that during his career he has seen a lot of changes in Tacoma, both good and bad. He raised his family in Gig Harbor, which he's seen grow immensely.
“I remember this town only had one blinking yellow light,” Dacca said.
Dacca said becoming a judge was a big change and made him more compassionate.
“As a private lawyer you're an advocate," he said. "As a judge you are a neutral party. I always tried to make what I thought was the appropriate decision. I always try to come in prepared and to be a good listener.”
Reflecting on past cases, Dacca said the thing he remembers most is helping those in a tough situation find themselves an exit.
“Ironically, the smallest of cases can impact you,” he said. “A woman came in and it was obvious she had hardly any means. She had a $500 traffic ticket. After some listening I knew this was going to hurt her, so I made it $75. I remember watching the weight of her shoulders lift.
"I always wanted to be known as the one judge who looked them in the eye and listened.”
Stout said Dacca’s ability to listen made him a great, long-lasting judge for the county.
“He wasn’t stuck in his ways,” she said. “He was able to take a situation and look at it from all sides.”
While raising his two sons, Ryan and Joe, Dacca also coached youth sports and participated in local events. When he lost his wife, he struggled with how to continue with his career.
“She was a victim advocate,” he said. “It was devastating. We were a good team. Her death was a test. But you regroup and dig deep.”
Dacca said he is looking forward to having more time to spend with his sons and grandson, while also finding more ways to give back to Gig Harbor.
“I am going to embrace it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll have a problem filling up my time.”