In Memory of the Life of David B. Mote

by Andrew J. Mc Gowan

Longtime Illinois Master David B. Mote died on October 11, 2003, from complications following a quintuple by-pass surgery that he underwent on October 2, 2003. He was 44 years old. He is survived by his wife, Martha Mote, his step-children, Karen and Robert Lane, his parents, Richard and Barbara Mote, and his brothers, John and Richard. As I write this, two months after his death, I still miss him more than I can say.

David and I grew up playing in chess tournaments together and, later, we worked together as criminal defense attorneys. We met in seventh grade, when we both attended Bloomington Junior High. We played chess all that year during the lunch half-hour. He always maintained that he lost every game that year but one. Even though I do not doubt his word, for the life of me I have never been able to remember that game. The fact is, whether he won one game or none, he persisted. According to Garrett Scott, a longtime tournament director in Illinois, David lost every game in his first two tournaments and only achieved a draw in his third. Even though these were adult tournaments and David was twelve years old, these results would have discouraged many. What can I say, David does not discourage easily and he liked to play chess. David became a master when he was in college, I believe. He has been rated over 2300. He drew Grand Master Sergey Kudrin in the 1998 Chicago Open.

Even as David became a better chess player, he had to overcome a tendency to lose important center pawns in the opening. He often observed that it was not a good thing to lose the king pawn in a king pawn opening. He would then proceed to demonstrate this proposition to me from his latest game. Often, he won these games. David was a really great defensive player when he had to be. He would consistently stave off defeat move after move until his opponent either ran out of time, or blew the attack. To be fair to David, he felt bad about winning these games. You could tell by the way he laughed about the game while he replayed it, readily admitting the various points during the game at which he was completely busted.

Back when we were in high school, there was a really strong master, David Sprenkle, who lived in Champaign, Illinois. We did not get to see Sprenkle in action as much as we would have liked. We heard that Sprenkle was the founder of the Central Illinois School of Chess. The proponents of this School played the Ponziani as White, and the Nimzovitch Sicilian and the Leningrad Dutch as Black. Of course, this was in the days of the storied Soviet School of Chess. As far as we could tell, the Central Illinois School of Chess was just one of the attempts to combat the Soviet School. We both joined the School, albeit briefly. Needless to say, we did not topple the Soviet chess dominance, and David Sprenkle's devotion to the Nimzovitch Sicilian ultimately won him the dubious honor of having one of his losses published in John Nunn's popular Beating the Sicilian series.

It was, in fact, while I was drubbing Mr. Sprenkle on the White side of a Nimzovitch Sicilian in a speed game that Mr. Sprenkle introduced David and me to the "immortal factor". As I said, I was thrashing Mr. Sprenkle when he told me that he would win. I asked him how he could win given the position. Mr. Sprenkle replied: "Because of the immortal factor." I innocently inquired: "What immortal factor?" He replied: "I am a master." Then he won.

David always appreciated stronger players taking the time to discuss the game afterwards, like Sprenkle did, analyzing what went wrong and better alternatives. All through his chess career, he observed this tradition. One of the messages that I received during David's final days was from one of David's longtime opponents, Doug Van Buskirk. Doug said that David was "A very stubborn and confident player, never giving up on a line unless proven otherwise in GREAT detail; but also never copping an insulting attitude, and always respectful of others' ideas. It took me a LOT of games before I finally got one off of him, and I really had to raise my game in order to do so. I even took up the Sicilian Defense as Black just to beat that one guy! There's a good chance I never would have reached master without that guy to challenge me." Doug concluded that David was one of the good guys. I could not agree more.

Chess was always a big part of David's life. David and I even went to Chicago at the end of high school for approximately a semester to see if we could improve enough to make something of ourselves in chess. Jules Stein ran the Chicago Chess Center at the time. He dubbed us the "M&M" chess club. We spent a fair amount of time at the Chess Center, but we did not improve enough. We had fun, though, and then went off to college.

David finally ended up with a degree in mathematics from Illinois State University in 1980. He began working for General Electric in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as a computer programmer. While in Fort Wayne, David continued to play chess. He began to "teach" a youngster by the name of Nick Adams by playing speed chess with him often. David must have seen a bit of himself in Nick. No matter how often Nick lost, he always wanted to play more. At one point, David began referring to young Mr. Adams as his "bye". Mr. Adams is now a master, having reached 2300, and stopped being David's bye a long time ago. Mr. Adams recently became an attorney who practices in a town near Fort Wayne.

A few years after he began at G.E., David became a computer programmer for Country Companies, an insurance company. Then, after about eight years of working as a computer programmer, David abruptly decided to go to law school. He graduated summa cum laude from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1990. While in law school, David was on the Board of Editors of the Law Journal of Southern Illinois University and was awarded the Order of the Coif. After graduation, he landed the very prestigious job of clerking for Judge Richard Mills, a United States District Court Judge.

After his two years with Judge Mills were up, David was briefly in private practice in Springfield when he accepted a position, in 1995, with the then newly appointed Federal Public Defender, Richard H. Parsons. I have been privileged to have also been with Mr. Parsons since October 1996.

As good a chess player as David was, he was a better lawyer. He started with a great legal mind. Under Mr. Parson's guidance, he blossomed as a criminal defense attorney who was particularly good at appeals, both writing and arguing them. As you might imagine, not every lawyer wants to do criminal defense. To those of us who do enjoy representing the citizen accused, it is a calling. Criminal defense attorneys are, indeed, "Liberty's Last Champions". In federal court, we are litigating the effects of the Patriot Act right now. Unfortunately, as far as government interference with citizen's rights under the Constitution go, the Patriot Act is just the tip of the iceberg, especially since September 11, 2001. In many cases, federal prosecutions are where the Constitutionality of the government's actions are tested. David litigated the Constitutionality of government actions in district court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and even the United States Supreme Court in O'Sullivan v. Boerckei.

David did not just fight each battle case by case, he also had an uncanny ability to put many of those battles in the context of the "big picture". Our boss publishes a nationally acclaimed bi-monthly criminal-defense-related newsletter called the Back Bencher. David wrote an article for each newsletter. When David passed away, Mr. Parsons published an issue with nothing but David's articles as a tribute. The "David B. Mote Memorial Issue" includes not only a very personal and heartfelt tribute from Mr. Parsons, it also included tributes from several lawyers and judges and articles in the Springfield State Journal Register.

David's articles were written for everybody, His last article, written on the last day that he worked, was a song. He wrote a parody entitled "Guantanamo", that may be sung to the Beach Boys' "Kokomo". David said that "Kokomo" reminded him of Guantanamo. Anyone reading this tribute would be able to read any of David's articles and learn from them. You will also be reminded of David's wit and his dry sense of humor. You can obtain a copy of this issue of the Back Bencher or read it online at - look under "CJA Information" and then "Federal Defender Newsletter" and you will see all the editions of the Back Bencher, including the "David B. Mote Memorial Edition."

David's death is a blow to the members of the chess community and members of the legal profession. Had David survived the operation, who knows what else he might have accomplished? I will miss him because of our great friendship, his wonderful sense of humor, and his indomitable spirit. He really was one of the good guys.

This article is copyright 2003 by the Illinois Chess Association. Reprinted with permission.

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