Christopher Money, longtime prosecutor and judge, dies at 79

Former DA handled some high-profile cases

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comMay 1, 2014 

Christopher Money, who handled a bevy of big cases as both a prosecutor and a judge while creating several lasting programs when he was San Luis Obispo County district attorney, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer.

Money, who lived in San Luis Obispo, was 79.

“His point of view, his intellect, his demeanor is something you don’t find much in life,” said Dan Hilford, who worked with Money at the District Attorney’s Office.

A native Californian, Money grew up in Redondo Beach, where he picked up an interest in surfing and the military. He went to West Point for a year but didn’t pass the physical exam necessary to continue. After earning a political science degree, he went to UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

“I was interested in international law and foreign affairs,” he told The Tribune in 1979.

After law school, he served two years in the Army, where he was assigned to the criminal investigation division of the military police.

“During the Army, I found out criminal law was ver y interesting,” he said. “You could do a lot to help people.”

Still, he wasn’t initially interested in becoming a prosecutor.

“The last thing in the world I wanted to do was work in the DA’s office,” he told The Tribune in 1988. “I was more interested in working in the PD’s (public defender’s) office.”

Nonetheless, he joined the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office as a deputy in 1965.

Perhaps his biggest case as a prosecutor involved the well-publicized trial of John Archa, a 26-year-old father of three who recruited his 13-year-old brother and 14-year-old half brother to help kill a Shandon couple and their 4-year-old daughter so he could steal a Gibson guitar. Archa was later convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. (Archa’s death sentence was set aside later when the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily ruled the punishment unconstitutional.)

In 1978, after eight years as assistant district attorney, Money was elected district attorney, after running unopposed to replace Robert Tait.

“He was a really good, hands-on DA,” said Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera, whom Money hired as a deputy district attorney. “He ran an office with good morale.”

Money also hired Hilford, who eventually rose through the ranks to become assistant district attorney.

“I learned everything from Chris. He was so approachable and so honest,” Hilford said. “People wanted to learn from Chris, and on the flip side, Chris wanted to teach people.”

Money was appointed as a municipal court judge in 1984 and was promoted to the Superior Court in 1989.

Like prosecutors when he was district attorney, other judges often sought advice from Money, said LaBarbera, who eventually followed Money from district attorney to the bench.

“His powers of analysis were outstanding,” LaBarbera said.

Money was also known to make good decisions quickly, both LaBarbera and Hilford said.

“He was a legal scholar,” Hilford said.

While Money might have appeared gruff and no-nonsense on the bench — “Lawyers didn’t try to get away with things in his courtroom,” Hilford said — those who knew him found him personable and compassionate.

“He didn’t laugh that often, but when he did, it was infectious,” LaBarbera said.

Money retired from the bench in 2005.

Well respected for his knowledge of the law and his hard work ethic, Money was instrumental in developing lasting programs, such as the local Victim/Witness Assistance Program, the Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County, the California District Attorney’s Association and the local sexual assault response team. He also headed the county’s first drug court after Proposition 36 — mandating the creation of drug courts — was approved by California voters.

While Money was initially skeptical of the drug court, he eventually embraced it. He would give each graduate a keychain with his photo, LaBarbera said, telling them to look at the photo whenever they considered taking drugs again.

“He made it work,” LaBarbera said.

Money was also a military history buff, a fascination that began when he served in the ROTC in college. Two prints depicting battle scenes at Waterloo decorated the walls of his judge’s chambers.

And while recovering from back surgery in 1986, he began collecting toy soldiers — eventually amassing more than 4,400 figurines, representing various wars throughout history.

“I just got carried away, I guess,” he told The Tribune in 2010.

Most of the figurines featured soldiers in elaborate uniforms.

“I like the ceremonial stuff, not necessarily war stuff,” he said. “I’m just not into blood and gore and people dying.”

He is survived by his wife, Judy, a former school teacher, and three sons.

Funeral arrangements are pending, under the direction of Reis Family Mortuary and Crematory in San Luis Obispo.

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