Monday, November 7, 2005
Judge Howard Schwab Says He Will Retire in February
By David Watson, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard J. Schwab will retire in February after nearly 22 on the bench, he told the MetNews Friday.
His retirement is slated for Feb. 14, the day after his 63rd birthday. His last day on the bench will be Dec. 2, though the judge said he has told court administrators he will spend some more time working during December and January if he is needed.
Schwab has served in the Chatsworth courthouse since June of 2003. He currently handles a general civil calendar, but also hears overflow long cause, complex litigation, and writs and receivers matters.
Schwab, a Democrat, was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1984 and elevated to the Superior Court by Deukmejian just over a year later. He noted Friday that he and Deukmejian worked closely together on People v. Frierson, 25 Cal. 3d 142 (1979), the case holding that the state’s 1977 death penalty law did not violate the California Constitution, while Deukmejian was attorney general and Schwab was a deputy in his office.
“It’s been a great career and I really have enjoyed it, but the time has come,” Schwab said of his time as a judge, adding that he plans to “try something new.”
But the judge said it will be a while before he decides what that will be. He said he plans to “take the first year off and travel and just do nothing,” adding:
“The time to do it is when you retire.”
Schwab noted that his son Joshua Schwab is a corporate attorney in Tokyo and his daughter Bethany Schwab just completed a masters degree and lives in Madrid. He and his wife of 35 years, Michelle Schwab, plan to spend time in both places, he said.
“We’ve always had the traveling bug in our family,” Schwab said, explaining that he and his wife took their son and daughter to Europe when the children were young. That experience seemed to leave the two youngsters with a love of exotic places, he said.
State Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard, who was a colleague of Schwab’s in the Attorney Genral’s Office, said yesterday the two have remained close ever since.
“He’s been a loyal and wonderful friend,” Kennard declared. “I’ve always respected him….He has a wonderful mind. The one trait about him that I hold so dear to me is the fact that he is a wonderful human being.”
Deukmejian, who argued the Frierson case before the state high court himself, said he “had a lot of help from” Schwab.
“I certainly had the opportunity to get to observe him more closely working together on that matter,” the former governor said. “I developed a very high regard and high respect for him.”
Deukmejian added that Schwab “has earned an excellent reputation as a judge and has been highly regarded.”
“Obviously that has pleased me a lot. I am happy that he was willing to serve the public in that capacity.”
Schwab said he was impressed with Deukmejian’s preparation on the Frierson case.
“He’s an excellent lawyer,” the judge commented. “He knew his stuff.”
Schwab himself argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the state in Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806, the case that established the constitutional right to self-representation in criminal cases. Although he was on the losing side, the experience was a career highlight, Schwab said.
“I got three votes,” he commented.
Another highlight, the judge recalled, was serving as a referee for the California Supreme Court on a death penalty case, In re Scott 29 Cal. 4th 783 (2003), a case involving the competence of the defendant’s attorney.
As a referee, Schwab said, “you take evidence, but you write an opinion.” The role combines features of trial and appellate judging, he explained.
Schwab spent some time in 1985 assigned to Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal, authoring six published opinions, but said he never seriously considered seeking appointment to the appellate court.
“I just fell in love with the trial bench,” he said.
Career changes, Schwab said, have always provided him with “a cure for the midlife crisis.”
After earning his law degree from UCLA, Schwab worked briefly as a Los Angeles deputy city attorney before joining the Attorney General’s Office in 1969. In addition to the Frierson and Faretta cases, he worked on several of the Charles Manson “family” murder cases.
Going on the bench provided one change, while switching from criminal to civil cases after about 10 years as a judge provided another, Schwab said.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge William A. MacLaughlin called Schwab a “person of extraordinary intellect, and with a sense of humor.” MacLaughlin noted that the two served together in the San Fernando and Van Nuys courthouses for many years.
“I love Judge Schwab,” the presiding judge declared, adding that the retiring jurist has been “the most strongly supportive colleague that another judicial officer could have.”
Schwab, MacLaughlin said, is “extremely incisive in his thinking and his ability to analyze” and has always found great pleasure in “the job of judging.”
The presiding judge commented:
“He literally has fun doing it. He enjoys it just greatly. I think the process is one of continual renewal for him.”
Schwab is also an “unforgettable person” and “just a fun person to be with,” MacLaughlin said, but he noted that “like many geniuses, he can be somewhat idiosyncratic about things.”
The judge’s eccentric approach to driving became a standing joke in the San Fernando courthouse, MacLaughlin said, and Schwab was never asked to serve as chauffeur when a group of judges drove to have lunch somewhere nearby together.
“You don’t want to go for a ride with him,” MacLaughlin said, but he quickly added that Schwab’s reputation in that regard was “more of a joke than a reality.”
Once when he accepted a ride to work with Schwab, the presiding judge recalled, the two arrived safely without incident only to find that courthouse staff had prepared an impromptu plaque which they presented to MacLaughlin to commemorate the “adventure.”
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company