Monday, December 13, 2004
Court of Appeal Justice Michael Nott Slates April 1 Retirement
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Court of Appeal Justice Michael G. Nott of this district’s Div. Two told the MetNews Friday he will retire on or around April 1.
“Some people will find that date particularly appropriate,” he quipped.
In a more serious vein, the judge said he has had “a great ride” but that after 20 years of service—and with eligibility for maximum retirement benefits—“it just might be time to do something else.”
Nott, 64, said he expects to go into private judging, perhaps with Judicate West, which has an office in Long Beach, near where he lives, and is opening one in downtown Los Angeles. He would likely focus on personal injury and business law, as he did in private practice, although as an appellate justice, he has heard “about everything,” he said.
Nott received three judicial appointments from then-Gov. George Deukmejian, who—like Nott—had practiced in Long Beach. He was named to the Long Beach Municipal Court in 1985, to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1987, and to the Court of Appeal in 1990.
A 1965 USC Law School graduate, he was in private practice from 1966 until his appointment to the bench, the last 16 years with the firm that became Vandenberg, Nott, Conway & Newell. He also spent six years hearing State Bar Court cases at a time when that work was part-time and unpaid.
His municipal court experience began with a criminal trial assignment, but he moved on to law and motion after a year. Following his elevation, he presided over criminal trials in Long Beach, including that of convicted multiple-murderer Martin James Kipp.
Nott sentenced Kipp to die for the September 1983 murder of Tiffany Frizzell. Frizzell was found, strangled and apparently raped, in her room at the Long Beach Ramada Inn where she was staying while waiting for her college dormitory to open for the fall term.
Kipp is on Death Row, awaiting execution for the Frizzell killing as well as for a rape-murder in Orange County.
Nott, who also sat in Superior Court law-and-motion for six months, was two weeks away from becoming supervising judge of the Superior Court’s South District when he was nominated to the Court of Appeal.
He beat out several Superior Court colleagues—including J. Gary Hastings, who was later appointed to Div. Four; Eric Younger, the son of the late state Attorney General Evelle Younger; and Richard P. Byrne, the presiding judge of the Superior Court at the time—to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of Justice Lynn Compton.
Ten Commandments Ad
His most controversial opinion on the appellate court may have come in DiLoreto v. Board of Education (1999) 74 Cal. App. 4th 267. He concluded for the majority that a school district was correct in rejecting an advertising sign containing the Ten Commandments for its high school baseball field.
The district, which cancelled the advertising program altogether after then-Attorney General Dan Lungren said it could not refuse the Ten Commandments ad if it accepted others, had every right to reject the sign under the California Constitution’s establishment clause, Nott concluded.
“While appellant’s intention of spreading words of morality and ethics is laudable, religious tenets set forth in the Ten Commandments are inextricably tied to his sign, and since the sign was meant to be posted in a public school, establishment clause concerns are implicated,” the justice wrote.
The decision to turn down the ad rather than violate the establishment clause, Nott added, did not violate the potential advertiser’s free speech rights.
The Court of Appeal ruling was left standing by the state Supreme Court. The plaintiff also lost a parallel federal suit based on the U.S. Constitution.
The issues raised in that case are continuing to recur, Nott commented Friday.
Other work that he did on the court that has had a significant impact, he said, includes several cases that shaped the application of the state’s Three Strikes Law.
The drawback to retirement, he said, is that he will be leaving a court made up of “fantastic people”—Presiding Justice Roger Boren and Justices Judith Ashmann-Gerst and Kathryn Doi Todd. Working with those three, with Justices John Zebrowski, Donald Gates, and and Morio Fukuto before they retired, and with Justice Candace Cooper before she was elevated to presiding justice in Div. Eight, “I couldn’t have been in a better place,” Nott said.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company