Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Superior Court Judge Alice Altoon Retires
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alice E. Altoon has retired after 20 years on the bench.
Altoon, who stepped down effective last Thursday, told the MetNews she chose to leave the court in order to spend time with her husband Ronald Altoon, a principal partner in the architectural firm of Altoon & Porter.
“[My husband] has a lot of projects all over the world, and finally I get to go with him to all these wonderful places and enjoy the new cultures and environments that he’s been exposed to that I haven’t had a chance to go with him and experience,” the 60-year-old judge said.
The desire to be with her grandchildren more also motivated her decision to retire, she added, explaining:
“When I missed the last grandparent’s day at my grandkids’ school, I decided time is short and you never know how long you have…It’s time to spend that special time with family.”
Altoon, who holds a degree in art from UCLA, was a junior high and high school art teacher prior to entering law school. She said she also intends to get more involved with art as well as her other hobbies now that she is retired.
As a third priority, she said, she plans to sit on assignment and “hopefully give back a little bit in that way.” This year, she has opted to work on assignment for only part of the year.
Noting her desire to enjoy her free time, Altoon said she has no plans to go into mediation or arbitration as some of her retired colleagues have done.
Other post-retirement plans include continued involvement with the Armenian Bar Association, her church and her community on a volunteer basis, the judge added.
Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis, a longtime colleague and friend of Altoon, described her as having a “good sense of fairness” and “great collegiality.”
“She was never shy about sharing that sense of fairness, she’s very ethical in her view of life and she always expressed common sense resolutions to sometimes very complex problems,” Duffy-Lewis remarked, adding that Altoon was one of her “secret weapons” in the settlement world.
“We freely exchanged cases and I am happy to report that she settled a huge amount of my cases,” she explained. “She just used that good common sense.”
Among her colleagues, Altoon is known as one of the great entertaining judges, Duffy-Lewis said, reminiscing that “it was always the high mark of the season when you were invited to the Altoon home for holidays.”
Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, who described Altoon as “one of [his] oldest and dearest friends on the court,” said it was “near-universal” that she was highly regarded by her colleagues.
Altoon noted her retirement decision was solidified two and half months ago following long and thoughtful consideration.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make because it closes a chapter in one’s life, sort of like graduation, and starts a new adventure, and sometimes you get into a new adventure with a little trepidation,” she said.
Prior to retiring, Altoon was handling general civil matters in the Stanley Mosk courthouse, where she moved after serving as a felony trial judge from 2000 to 2005.
Her tenure at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center included a face-off with a MetNews reporter in 2002 over her attempt to eject the press from the courtroom during a pretrial hearing where other members of the public were allowed to remain.
Anticipating a Marsden hearing—a routinely closed proceeding at which a defendant asks the court for appointed counsel to be replaced based on insurmountable differences—Altoon ordered the two reporters present to leave or stay on the condition that they did not report what they heard. The reporters insisted on remaining along with the rest of the public.
The clash was resolved in favor of the press after Superior Court Public Information Officer Allan Parachini telephoned Altoon to assess the situation.
Altoon was appointed to the municipal court bench in 1987 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian.
From 1980 until her appointment, Altoon served as a deputy attorney general in Los Angeles. She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1980 after earning her law degree from USC.
Before entering law school in 1977, she worked several years as a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, primarily in downtown and East Los Angeles. Married with two small children at the time she decided to pursue law, she explains it was her “first love” of history and political science that motivated her career change.
Altoon’s children are Los Angeles attorney Eric A. Altoon, real estate developer Ryan Altoon, and recent USC graduate Emily Altoon.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company