Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Superior Court Judge Ouderkirk to Retire in April
By R. STANTON HALL, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk, a former police officer who received worldwide attention in 1993 when he presided over the controversial Reginald Denny beating trial, confirmed Friday that he plans to retire from the bench April 5.
Ouderkirk actually announced his retirement plans in open court last Tuesday. The unusual courtroom announcement was made for wholly practical reasons, the judge explained.
During a rescheduling of a hearing in the family law court he has occupied the past four years, a proposed date conflicted with the judge’s retirement plans, so he let those plans be known.
At 61, and after 14 years on the bench, Ouderkirk is retiring at an earlier-than-usual age for judges. He said his motivation is simple: “I really want to retire and have my life to myself.”
He said he hasn’t decided on plans for post-retirement employment. In fact, he said, he’s looking forward to retirement in the true sense of the word.
“I would really like to finally learn to speak Spanish,” Ouderkirk—who for years has spent much of his free time camping, fishing and kayaking in Mexico—said.
Ouderkirk was appointed to the Superior Court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian on Jan. 4, 1991. At the time of his appointment he had spent just under two years on the Los Angeles Municipal Court. He served five years in criminal court and three years presiding over civil cases before moving to his current position on the family court bench.
The judge drew widespread public attention when he presided over the televised 1993 trial of three men charged with attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, torture and robbery in the attack on truck driver Reginald Denny and other motorists. The events at Florence and Normandie avenues, which had also been seen on live television, occurred during civil unrest following the not guilty verdicts delivered in the trial of Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King.
The defendant facing the most serious charges, Damian “Football” Williams, was found guilty of lesser offenses, and Ouderkirk sentenced Williams to the maximum of 10 years in prison.
Ouderkirk’s background in law enforcement became a point of contention for defense attorneys and civil rights activists, who claimed the judge displayed a pro-prosecution bias and punitive attitude that made it difficult for the defendants to receive a fair trial.
But prosecutors, and even some of the defense attorneys, said that the soft-spoken, formal Ouderkirk was objective and fair and kept the trial under control.
Ouderkirk was born Nov. 17, 1942, in New York City. He moved to Los Angeles after dropping out of Iona College and shortly thereafter took a job with the Santa Monica Police Department.
In 1970 he became an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, working by day and attending school at night, eventually receiving a degree from Loyola Law School in 1977. He was a deputy district attorney until his appointment to the Municipal Court bench.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company