By Ed Runyan
In Trumbull County legal circles, the name David F. McLain meant intellect, knowledge, compassion and fairness, his friends said of the man who died Saturday at age 84.
McLain was Trumbull County prosecutor from 1965 to 1969 and Common Pleas Court judge from 1968 to 1987, having presided as judge over some of the most notorious cases of the era.
The son of common pleas court Judge William M. McLain, he attended Princeton University and earned his law degree at Harvard in 1953.
He served as a Judge Advocate General legal officer in the military before returning to Warren in 1957.
He worked under Lynn B. Griffith Jr. at the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office from 1960 to 1964.
Griffith, one of McLain’s best friends, described him as “a fine lawyer and a fine man” and a “craftsman in his profession,” who was compassionate, even when sentencing criminals.
“I was always proud to be associated with him,” said Griffith, whose own father was a judge before him and who has a son, Lynn Griffith III, who works as an assistant prosecutor in Trumbull County.
Griffith said he remained close with McLain to the end, calling him even on Friday, but McLain was unable to talk, he said.
Dennis Watkins, Trumbull County prosecutor, tried many cases before Judge McLain starting in 1974, the last one being the Danny Lee Hill murder trial in 1986.
“During the early years as a prosecutor, I would consider him a mentor,” Watkins said. “He was very, in my opinion, brilliant.”
“When you tried a case before Judge McLain, you better know what you were doing,” he said. “He was demanding, especially of the prosecutor. He was independent, always had a dignity in the courtroom that brought respect to the proceedings.”
Watkins said the fact that McLain had been prosecutor had no bearing on his fairness as a judge.
“There were cases in which he would rule against the state. He was truly a fair and honest judge, and he was striving to make sure that the truth came out.”
Judge Donald R. Ford Sr., another former Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge who also later served on the 11th District Court of Appeals, said McLain had a “keen intellectual ability and analytical prowess.
He was empathetic in the human-rights and civil- rights area and had a lot of concern for those who were at the lower economic strata,” Ford said.
The two men served on the common pleas court bench at the same time, and Ford frequently would speak to him in general terms about the law to gain insight.
“I was among those who admired him so greatly for the manner in which he handled his medical adversities,” Ford said, adding that he also had a “pleasant sense of humor.”