Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Superior Court Judge Robert Sandoval Dies at 56
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Services were pending for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Sandoval, who died yesterday, five days past his 56th birthday.
The veteran jurist and former deputy city attorney had been in a coma since suffering a heart attack over the weekend at City of Hope. He was hospitalized over a month ago for treatment of leukemia, an apparent result of his having been treated with large amounts of radiation for lymphoma more than three years ago.
His condition after going into cardiac arrest had been described as grave, and word of his passing yesterday provoked an outpouring of tributes from colleagues.
“A finer person never walked the earth,” Judge Michael Nash, a friend of close to 30 years, told the MetNews “He was courageous, a fighter until the end.”
Nash described his friend as both a “gentle soul”—“I don’t know anybody who had more friends,” he commented—and a great judge. “This guy did a great job everywhere he went,” the judge said of Sandoval, whose assignments over the years included arraignment courts, criminal and civil trial courts, preliminary hearings, juvenile dependency court, the site judge position at the Burbank Court, and the Appellate Division, to which he was appointed by Chief Justice Ronald M. George in 2003.
Even as a relatively new commissioner in the 1980s, Nash recalled, Sandoval was “in complete control” of a misdemeanor master calendar court.
Sandoval grew up in San Gabriel and graduated from California State University-Los Angeles in 1972 as a political science major. He graduated from McGeorge School of Law and began his legal career in 1977 as a Santa Barbara County deputy district attorney.
After a short stint in private practice in Santa Ana, primarily doing juvenile defense work, he moved to the criminal division of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office in 1978, remaining there six years and trying more that 100 criminal jury trials.
He was made a Los Angeles Municipal Court commissioner in 1984 and a Superior Court commissioner in 1997. He was “no question, the best commissioner on the court,” Nash said, before then-Gov. Gray Davis appointed him as a judge in December 2000, a month after he received the “Outstanding Judicial Officer Award” from the Juvenile Courts Bar Association.
Sandoval belonged to several legal organizations, including the International Association of Lesbian and Gay Judges. He and his partner of over 20 years, Bill Martin, are featured in the book “Uncommon Heroes,” an American Library Association Book Award winner profiling more than 100 gay and lesbian Americans.
Sandoval and Martin adopted a son, Harrison Martin-Sandoval, in 1993. Sandoval once told a reporter that he was particularly proud that Harrison’s birth parents chose him and Martin as the boy’s adoptive parents over a number of heterosexual couples.
Sandoval had many friends, of many different backgrounds and interests, his partner said, including judges, lawyers, court staff members, and persons outside the legal community.
“We thought that part of our job was to be a role model in the gay community, but also in any community,” Martin commented.
Both of them came from backgrounds in which hard work and family values were emphasized, a legacy they have tried to pass on to their son, Martin said. No matter how sick Sandoval was, Martin explained, he insisted on going over Harrison’s homework every night at the hospital.
Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin, who is openly gay, was sworn in by Sandoval when Davis appointed Lavin to the bench in 2001. He called the late jurist “a role model for many of us.”
Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo, who was Sandoval’s site judge at the Metropolitan Courthouse, where he held his last assignment, and also worked with him at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center, said “he was just a wonderful human being and he was a terrific judge; he knew the law well and he had a wonderful judicial temperament.”
He was popular among his colleagues, she said, for his willingness to help ease workloads as well as the legal knowledge he freely and frequently shared.
Solomon R. Mangolini and Margaret C. Brewer, co-presidents of the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers’ Association of Los Angeles, said in a statement:
“As an openly gay person of color, Judge Sandoval served as an outstanding role model for many people who might otherwise believed that they could not serve as a judge. In his efforts to lead the charge for diversity within the legal community and judicial branch within California, Judge Sandoval was invited to speak last fall at the Diversity Reception hosted by the National Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association during its annual Lavender Law Conference in San Diego. Through such activities, Judge Sandoval has inspired legal professionals to overcome obstacles to their own personal success and be committed to eliminating such barriers for others.”
Superior Court Judge Michael Kellogg commented hat he wished he “had more time with Judge Sandoval, a fantastic person in every sense of the word.”
Judge William Sterling, who worked with Sandoval in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, and appeared before him before Sterling himself became a judge, described Sandoval as “an excellent lawyer, an intelligent, knowledgeable, insightful, and a hard-working bench officer, a loving and caring father and a really fine human being.”
Another friend, Judge Martha Bellinger, said he “was a man of great integrity, intelligence, and compassion,” while Judge Mary Thornton House, who staffed a courtroom with Sandoval when they were both prosecutors over 20 years ago, said he “led an honorable and courageous life.”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company