Keith C. Sorenson, the district attorney in San Mateo County from 1953 to 1982, has died. Mr. Sorenson played a major role in hiring Sandra Day O'Connor, now a retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice, as a deputy DA after she graduated from Stanford University law school.
Mr. Sorenson died March 20 at the age of 93 in his home in Redwood City.
"Keith set a standard of excellence and unwavering integrity for all his employees," said current District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe in a statement. Mr. Sorenson hired Mr. Wagstaffe and his predecessor James Fox as deputy district attorneys.
Mr. Sorenson was a native of Utah and grew up on a farm, where his routines included rising at 4 a.m. to milk cows and collect eggs, according to a biography published by the San Mateo County History Museum. He had a bachelor's degree and a law degree from the University of Utah.
He moved to Redwood City with his wife Maxine Swinson and worked for a private law firm before being hired as a deputy district attorney.
He was appointed to succeed District Attorney Louis DeMatteis when Mr. DeMatteis took a judgeship. Mr. Sorenson served seven terms as district attorney and retired in 1982. His responsibilities included that of county counsel, a position that has since been reorganized as a separate office with its own set of attorneys.
San Mateo County had a colorful decade in the 1950s and Mr. Sorenson was instrumental in cleaning it up, Mr. Wagstaffe said. The county was corrupt and tainted, Mr. Wagstaffe said, by bookmaking, prostitution and gambling operations that were under the protection of law enforcement and other governmental officials.
Mr. Sorenson sought and won the death penalty in three murder cases in which the victims were police officers, Mr. Wagstaffe said.
Under Mr. Sorenson's tenure, his office trained hundreds of deputy DAs, "and every one of them became better lawyers under his leadership," Mr. Wagstaffe said. "He was a wonderful role model and mentor to all prosecutors throughout his life."
His mentoring had its own colorful moments, Mr. Wagstaffe said. "When one of his trial prosecutors succeeded in trial, Sorenson would invite him down to his office for a glass of whisky and celebratory toast. 'It was a different era. Today, it is a handshake and pat on the back,'" Mr. Wagstaffe said.