Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Superior Court Judge Richard Van Dusen Steps Down
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard W. Van Dusen has retired.
A court source said the jurist, a fixture at the El Monte courthouse for two decades, retired Jan. 15, the day after his 62nd birthday.
Van Dusen was elected to the Rio Hondo Municipal Court in 1986, successfully challenging Judge J.B. Casas. He survived an election challenge from a former court commissioner in 1992, was unopposed in 1998, became a Superior Court judge through unification in 2000, and turned back another election challenge in 2004.
Van Dusen was a controversial jurist at times, once acknowledging in a MetNews interview that he was “either hated or loved” by the attorneys who appeared before him. In particular, he said, “the D.A.’s Office doesn’t like me,” particularly after the George Peter Irving trial.
In 1990, he allowed attorneys for the abortion protestor to present evidence that the defendant’s attempt to block the entrance to an El Monte family planning clinic was necessary to prevent the murder of fetuses, and then sought to bar a retrial after the jury deadlocked 11-1 for conviction.
The Superior Court’s Appellate Department ruled that was an abuse of discretion, and the Court of Appeal (in a different case) subsequently rejected such use of the “necessity” defense.
In the wake of his rulings, the District Attorney’s Office began filing blanket affidavits of prejudice against Van Dusen, preventing him from hearing criminal matters.
Opposition by Prosecutors
Prosecutors had previously used the same tactic to prevent Van Dusen from hearing domestic violence cases, contending he made “inappropriate” remarks about victims in court. The judge blasted the blanket affidaviting as “purely political,” and prosecutors eventually backed down.
When they started papering him again after the abortion case, he shifted to what he called “the best assignment” on the court, hearing civil, small claims, and traffic cases.
His conduct on the bench was an issue in the 1992 campaign, in which he defeated former Commissioner William Jacobson. Van Dusen claimed Jacobson challenged him only because Van Dusen played a leading role in forcing the commissioner to resign his post.
Though none of his colleagues on the Rio Hondo court endorsed his reelection bid that year, and one backed Jacobson, Van Dusen won easily with over 65 percent of the vote.
In the 2004 election, the only one in which he had to run countywide, a challenger to Van Dusen emerged after the judge was identified as one of five “bad” judges in an ad placed in a legal newspaper by Deputy District Attorney Steven Ipsen, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.
The ad encouraged candidates to file against one of the five and then contact the ADDA for support. Van Dusen’s opponent, civil litigator Daniel K. Dik, said he decided to run against the judge after seeing the ad and reading unfavorable comments about Van Dusen by attorneys in a newspaper profile.
The incumbent won easily, polling 78.5 percent of the vote.
Van Dusen was born in Visalia but grew up in Van Nuys. His father owned Van Dusen Insurance Co., which the judge once told a reporter had been one of the largest insurance brokerage houses in California.
He received his undergraduate degree from Chapman College (now Chapman University) in 1968, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California two years later.
He went on to Southwestern University School of Law, graduating in 1975 and joining the District Attorney’s Office, where he handled cases ranging from minor trespassing to murder.
He left the office in 1979, after his father’s death, to run the family business. But after a year of that, he found someone else to run—and eventually buy—the business and went into private practice with several friends in a small El Monte firm that became known as Moseley, Leech & Van Dusen.
He was also active in area Republican politics, serving on the county central committee of the party and as president of the El Monte Republican Club prior to running for the bench.
After he won the 1986 election against Casas, Van Dusen was hired as a commissioner of the Rio Hondo court to serve for the six months until he took office.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company