Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Superior Court Judge Kamins Set to Retire
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Kamins, a former veteran deputy public defender who briefly presided over the widely publicized Rodney King beating case in 1991, told the MetNews yesterday he will retire May 15 after 22 years on the bench.
The 64-year-old jurist—nicknamed “Judge Bear” since the beginning of his Superior Court career when he started giving teddy bears to children appearing in his courtroom—said he is stepping down to spend more time with his wife, Susan, a retired school teacher and principal.
His last day on the bench is set for May 1.
“I love the job, so it’s not like I’m looking forward to getting out of the courts,” the judge remarked, noting that he stayed on the bench two years after becoming eligible for maximum retirement benefits because of the “wonderful” attorneys and staff with whom he works.
Kamins, who said he hopes to be remembered as a “fair and caring” bench officer, said he will participate in the assigned judge program after he retires.
As he prepares to leave the court, he commented that the biggest lesson learned during his long tenure on the bench is to be respectful to all parties appearing before him.
“People coming to court…no matter who they are, whether an undocumented person on a license charge to somebody accused of murder, expect to be treated fairly by the system,” Kamins said. “It takes about 20 years to become a good judge, to really hone on it, to really feel what justice is and be in control of your court by respect rather than by force,” he said.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger said Kamins’ upcoming retirement will be a “real loss” to the institution.
“He’s a gentleman, he is a man with incredible integrity, and his leaving the bench will be a loss to all the litigants whom he has served for so many years,” Czuleger remarked.
One of the few sitting judges with a public defender background, Kamins worked in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office from the time he graduated USC law school in 1968 until he was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1985 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian. In 1970, after being admitted to the State Bar, he became a deputy public defender and served as deputy in charge for the Juvenile Court in 1977-1979 and for the West Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1979-1982.
He was elevated to the Superior Court by Deukmejian in 1986 and has spent all but one year of his judicial career presiding over criminal cases. He currently sits in the Airport Court, where he handles the full range of criminal matters for Santa Monica.
In 1991, Kamins came to the media’s attention when he was assigned to preside over the high-profile criminal trial of Los Angeles police officers charged with excessive force in the beating of African American motorist Rodney King. After presiding over pretrial motions in the case, however, he was disqualified on a defense motion alleging that he was biased in favor of the prosecution.
Since 2000, Kamins has been running drug court for the entire western portion of Los Angeles County, including Malibu, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Culver City and Inglewood.
He said he “especially likes” helping to rehabilitate people through drug court, and was moved when a group of drug court graduates two years ago bought him a 5-foot-high stuffed teddy bear—the largest item in the collection of teddy bears he has received as gifts over the years and keeps displayed in his chambers.
In addition to his work on the bench, Kamins has served as an adjunct professor of law and at Pepperdine University’s law school and as a faculty member for the California Continuing Judicial Studies Program. He has lectured at numerous judicial colleges, conferences bar association events, schools and has also appeared on television talk shows.
Kamins was born and raised in Los Angeles.
He holds a sociology degree from UC Santa Barbara.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company