Thursday, October 7, 2004
Epstein Confirmed as Presiding Justice of Div. Four
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Norman L. Epstein has been confirmed as presiding justice of Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments unanimously approved Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s choice of Epstein following a 35-minute hearing Tuesday evening. The 71-year-old jurist becomes Schwarzenegger’s first appellate court appointee.
When hearing nominations from this district, the commission consists of Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and the senior presiding justice of the district, Joan Dempsey Klein of Div. Three.
Epstein has been a member of Div. Four since 1990 and its acting presiding justice since Charles Vogel retired in January. Vogel testified in support of the nomination Tuesday, as did Vogel’s predecessor, retired Presiding Justice Arleigh Woods.
Woods, presiding justice from 1982 to 1995, recalled that she did not know Epstein well when he was appointed to the division 14 years ago. But she noted that Bernard Witkin, with whom Epstein worked for 15 years on the treatise California Criminal Law, telephoned her when the nomination was announced and said, “Arleigh, you’ve won the lottery.”
Those comments were echoed by witnesses who described the nominee as “absolutely brilliant,” “incredible,” “an extraordinary human being,” “outstanding,” and “stellar,” both in his legal work and in his relationships with colleagues and others.
Todd Irby, vice chair of the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, reported that the commission had given Epstein its highest rating, “exceptionally well qualified.” The Administrative Office of the Courts, which supplies staff assistance to the commission, reported that six letters regarding the nomination were received by last week’s public comment deadline, and that all were favorable.
In his own brief comments, Epstein promised to do “the best I can to apply the law....I hope clearly and I hope with some grace.”
Epstein is the recipient of numerous professional honors. He was the MetNews “Person of the Year” for 1994 and was awarded the State Bar’s Bernard E. Witkin Medal in 2001. Epstein himself originated the medal in 1993.
His other awards include the Roger J. Traynor Memorial Award as Appellate Justice of the Year, the California Judges Association President’s Award, the National Association of College and University Attorneys’ Distinguished Service Award, and the Trial Jurist of the Year Award of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
He earned his undergraduate degree from UCLA in 1955 and his law degree from the same university in 1958. After graduation, he joined the office of then-Attorney General Pat Brown, leaving in 1962 to become general counsel of the California State University and Colleges.
He spent 13 years with the CSU system, where he was also vice chancellor, before being appointed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1975.
Gov. Jerry Brown elevated him to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1980, and Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him to the Court of Appeal 10 years later.
He served as the dean of the California Judicial College from 1981 to 1983 and thereafter served as chair of the Governing Committee of the California Center for Judicial Education and Research.
In addition to his legal community activities, Epstein served on the Equal Educational Opportunity Task Force of the American Council of Education and as president of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company