Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, August 23, 2004


Page 1


Court of Appeal Justice Margaret Grignon to Retire at End of Year


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


Court of Appeal Justice Margaret Grignon of this districtís Div. Five will retire at the end of this year, the MetNews has learned.

Grignon, a judge since 1984 and a member of the Court of Appeal since 1991, was not available for comment. But sources said the 53-year-old jurist was planning to return to private law practice.

There is currently one vacancy in this district, in Div. Four, from which Presiding Justice Charles Vogel retired in January. The acting presiding justice in that division, Norman Epstein, is under consideration to succeed Vogel, and his appointment would create an associate justice vacancy.

In addition, there will be a vacancy in Div. One once Justice Reuben Ortega retires. His departure from the court is scheduled for Dec. 3.

Potential Nominees

Sources said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not yet made any appellate court appointments, has sent the names of Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Stephen D. Petersen and Michael M. Johnson to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation as potential justices. Another name, that of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, was sent to the commission previously.

Petersen declined to comment, citing the confidential nature of the selection process. Johnson and Berle did not return phone calls.

Grignon is a New Jersey native who grew up in Riverside. A political science major, she attended Riverside City College and UC Riverside before completing her degree at UCLA.

She then studied Swiss and international law at the University of Zurich, where she met then-medical student James Grignon, whom she later married.

She graduated from Loyola Law School in 1977, then clerked for then-Court of Appeal Justice Robert Thompson before entering the private sector. A tax specialist, she worked for firms in Los Angeles and San Diego before opening an office in Palmdale.

Elevated in 1987

She was named to the Antelope Municipal Court in 1984 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian and elevated to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1987. She heard criminal trials in Lancaster, including that of James Robert Scott for the murder of Wanda Jensen.

Grignon heard the case without a jury, and sentenced Scott to death. She found that Jensen was killed in the course of rape and burglary, and that Scott intended to kill Jensen and used a deadly weapon. The prosecution presented evidence that Scott had entered Jensenís Palmdale apartment, threatened her with a screwdriver and threatened to harm her five-year-old daughter, then hit her with a baseball bat, raped, beat and choked her, then set her on fire before leaving. She initially survived, but died of her burns 10 months after the 1986 fire.

The judge rejected the defense claim that Jensen would have survived if not for medical malpractice.

Scott later brought a habeas corpus petition, arguing among other things that defense attorney William A. Clark rendered ineffective assistance by waiving trial by jury. The state Supreme Court denied the petition, saying Clark made a reasonable tactical decision based on his belief that Grignon, the wife and daughter-in-law of physicians, was more likely to understand the medical testimony and might be more sympathetic to the defense than a typically conservative Antelope Valley jury.

Iowa Native

Petersen, 60, is a native of Iowa who was named to the Superior Court by Deukmejian in 1988. He obtained his undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa and graduated from its law school in 1969, before being admitted to the Iowa bar and joining the Army Judge Advocate Generalís Corps.

Following service in Korea, he was assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco. He was admitted to the State Bar in 1972 and left active military service to become an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California the following year.

He spent 15 years in that office, rising to first assistant chief of the Civil Division before being appointed to the bench. He currently sits in Van Nuys.

Johnson, 53, is a graduate of UCLA and Hastings College of the Law and was in private practice from 1976 until his appointment to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1997. He joined Baker & Hostetler in 1990 as a partner after 13 years with McCutcheon, Black, Verleger & Shea, where he was made partner in 1984.

He was a member of the Executive Committee of the State Barís Labor and Employment Section from 1991 until he became a judge and was section chairman in 1995-96.

He also served on the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission. He was appointed to the commission by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1987, served until 1991, and was appointed again by Wilson two years before his appointment to the court.

Berle, 60, was a Century City business litigator when Wilson named him to the Superior Court in 1996.

A 1965 graduate of Brooklyn College, Berle earned an M.B.A. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and his law degree from Columbia University in 1969.

He practiced locally from 1970 until his appointment to the bench, the last eight years of that period as a partner in Chrystie & Berle, which he co-founded. He is a past president of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers and was a State Bar Court referee from 1982-85.


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