Thursday, January 4, 2007
Presiding Justice Leads Division Five With Wit and Humor
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The 1965 senior class of Antelope Valley High School voted Paul Turner class chief justice, and there’s been no stopping him since.
Presiding Justice Turner commemorated his 15th year leading Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal last year.
“When I had 10 years in, I said, ‘You have to make sure this is really what you want to do,’” Turner recalls. Apparently, it was.
Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1947, Turner was part of the first wave of baby boomers born after World War II. His father, George Turner, was attending Oklahoma Baptist College on the GI Bill after having served in the U.S. Navy during the war.
George Turner graduated, and the family moved to Lancaster before his son turned 2. The rest of the extended Turner family already lived in Southern California.
Turner’s father was a teacher—he taught his son’s eighth-grade class. His mother, Ruth Turner, was a bookkeeper at Edwards Air Force Base.
Listening to Turner’s parents talk about him as a child reminds one of Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way. In fact, the worst thing the couple says about their son is that he was “almost perfect.”
He never got into trouble and was very kind and generous to his little sister and brother, his mother says. “He’s always been a straight arrow... always did the right thing,” his father adds.
Never one for playing sports, young Paul Turner collected stamps and hung out at the library. He also liked politicians.
“I was a dork,” he jokes. “I still remain one.”
“As a youngster I really idolized President Eisenhower,” Turner remembers. “I probably did so because he was the president.”
Turner didn’t have much interest in TV, but watched the “The Roy Rogers Show” on Sunday nights. By the time of Eisenhower’s second term, not even the president could compete with the cowboy and his wife, Dale Evans, in Turner’s eyes.
He also idolized former University of Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson. Wilkinson led the Sooners to 47 straight football victories in the 1950s.
“I cried when Oklahoma’s 47-game win streak ended on Nov. 16, 1957,” Turner remembers.
When he was a little older, Turner followed the U.S. space program and admired astronauts. He would even break his rule of never getting up in the morning before he had to, and would get up at four or five a.m. to listen to or watch a rocket launching.
Turner was on the debate team in high school and claims he made debating popular.
“I’m so proud, when I started there you had to be a jock in order to be popular,” he explains. “When I left, two years later, all the student officers were members of the National Forensic League....I was [on the team] the year they turned around.”
Turner’s commitment to the debate team was so strong that he missed his school prom because there was a debate tournament that night.
He was an American Legion Boys State representative. And, there was that class chief justice thing. What does a class chief justice do, anyway?
“We had student court, it was the dorkiest,” Turner jokes.
But what does student court do?
“We were just stupid, that’s all I have to say,” he laughs.
Turner points out that eccentric rock-star Frank Zappa graduated from his high school, though eight years earlier. One might think that’s about all Turner and Zappa had in common, but they also were both in the band—Turner played trombone and sousaphone.
King and Goldwater
Turner graduated in 1965, too mature to think much of the Beatles, who were taking America’s youth by storm. And by this time, his childhood admiration for Eisenhower had all but vanished, having been replaced with an appreciation for John Kennedy-biographer Ted Sorenson and Martin Luther King.
Of the latter, Turner says:
“He spoke to the most compelling domestic issue of America—racial discrimination.”
Turner also admired and supported U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee for president, of whom he says:
“He understood the Soviet Union in a more profound sense than other political leaders in the 1960s.” But Turner is quick to add:
“He was, as all politicians, a flawed man in that he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964—the most important legislation of the second half of the 20th century.”
During his high school senior year, Turner’s parents told him if he wanted to go to college, they would pay for it, but he would have to go to Antelope Valley College, a two-year community college, his first two years.
“I said ‘Mom, Dad, look at me. I’m 16 years old; I am too hip for Antelope Valley College. I’ll go in the Army.’ ”
And he made up his mind to do just that, figuring that after putting in two years, he would attend a four-year university on the GI Bill.
So, in December of his senior year, he went down to the local Army recruiting office, found out what he had to do to enlist, and told the recruiting officer he would be back after he graduated in June, or July if the debate team was still in the national tournament.
Certain his fate was fixed, Turner didn’t bother filling out any college applications.
In April, his parents changed their minds and told him they would pay for him to go to a four-year state college. But by then, the application deadline had passed for every California state college but one—California State University, Long Beach. And its deadline was only days away.
Skipping school, Turner drove down to Long Beach, got the application, went home and filled it out, then drove back the next day and turned it in. Had his parents waited one more week before changing their minds, he says, he would not have attended CSULB. And he never would have met his future wife.
Today, Elizabeth Turner teaches choir and fine arts at South Torrance High School, and directs music at South Bay Christian Church.
Their daughter, Kathryn, lives in Hawaii with their 14-year-old granddaughter, Brianna. Their other daughter, Trisha, works for a San Francisco non-profit company that provides services for destitute people with HIV.
When he started college, Turner had narrowed down his future to two options—either he was going to get a Ph.D. in political science and become a professor, or he was going to go to law school. But a single incident during his freshman year decided his fate, he says.
He was in class listening to a lecture on the realities of Soviet Marxism—a subject that was forbidden to be taught in California high schools at the time.
“I’m writing all this down thinking ‘This is great, I love going to college,’ and I look around, and I see no one else is taking notes, and I said ‘I’m going to law school.’
“It happened right there...I made the decision—if these people are not going to pay attention to someone who will teach you some fundamental values, fundamental truths about the political systems of the world, I’m going to go be a lawyer.”
Turner graduated from CSULB magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1969. After completing active duty training in the U.S. Army and serving in the California Army National Guard as an infantry platoon leader, he attended UCLA Law School, graduating in December 1972.
Today, Turner often wears a UCLA pin given to football season-ticket holders. He refers to anyone who graduated from USC Law School as having gone to “some unaccredited school on Figueroa.”
After graduating from law school, Turner worked for a private firm, handling mostly criminal matters. He worked on several hundred criminal appeals.
In one appeal, the California Supreme Court changed the test for entrapment. In another, where Turner represented the California Retailers Association, the state high court held that store security guards need not give Miranda warnings.
Turner gets his self-deprecating sense of humor from his parents, both of whom insist he got his brains from the other. But they agree his political conservatism comes from his mother, his father being a life-long, liberal Democrat.
In 1982 Turner worked on Republican George Deukmejian’s successful gubernatorial campaign. A year later, then-Gov. Deukmejian appointed him to the Los Angeles Municipal Court. Less than two years later, Deukmejian elevated him to the Superior Court.
At the Superior Court, Turner handled several high-profile cases early on. In the McMartin child-abuse case, he ruled that closed-circuit questioning of children in a preliminary hearing does not violate the Confrontation Clause. The California Supreme Court affirmed his ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court later reached the same conclusion.
But then Turner was assigned to a law and motion department for a year. He calls it the “Death March” and says it was the only year in which he took all his vacation days. He had to because of the workload, he explains.
In 1987 Turner was one of the 25 original judges assigned to work on the Trial Delay Reduction Program, better known as “fast track.” At that time, a civil litigant would not be able to go to trial until five years after the complaint was filed.
“The court system in California failed litigants,” Turner proclaims.
Not only did they have to wait five years, he explains, but when their case came up for trial, the client had to pay for the attorney to sit at the courthouse for two weeks until a trial department opened up.
It was a “scandal” and “embarrassing” he says. He credits Deukmejian, then-Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown, and then-Attorney General John Van de Kamp with recognizing that the system was not working and devising a system—in which judges control the flow of litigation—which has solved the problem.
In 1989, after Deukmejian elevated Court of Appeal Justice Joyce L. Kennard to the state Supreme Court, he named Turner to replace her in Div. Five. The next year, when Div. Five Presiding Justice Campbell M. Lucas retired, Deukmejian called on Turner to be presiding justice.
Turner has received credit for turning Div. Five into a well-oiled, appellate machine. When he took office in January 1991, Div. Five had the worst backlog of cases in the Second District, he recalls.
“We had a case that was seven years old,” while “another case was six years old and...[we were] missing part of the record,” he remembers.
“We don’t have those problems anymore.”
From all accounts, Turner works hard, enjoys his work and is a lot of fun to work with. U.S. District Judge—and fellow MetNews “Person of the Year” —George Schiavelli recalls:
“I remember when I was sitting in the Court of Appeal by assignment, and it was funny with Paul, because you’d find him just literally prowling the building just because he liked people. He would walk around to find people that he knew and then chat.
Div. Five Justice Richard M. Mosk says:
“Justice Turner is always affable and pleasant. He has a very high intellect and is extremely diligent and hard working. He is always a pleasure to work with and be around.”
Justice Orville A. Armstrong, also in Div. Five, adds:
“As presiding justice, [Turner] runs a confortable, relaxed courtroom. He attempts to put lawyers at ease.”
A senior research assistant for another Second District justice points out that Turner is one of very few justices who comes into the building on weekends.
Turner has a propensity for supporting each proposition of law with at least two citations. His opinions are generally regarded as lucid and reasoned.
Reflecting on the fact that it has been 15 years since he became presiding justice, Turner says:
“It doesn’t feel physically like 15 years, but in terms of experiences with people...there have been a lot of people, interactions....Yeah, it feels like 15 years.”
But, he says he’s not itching for a change.
“If you’re lawyer, it takes you five years to get comfortable in the courtroom,” he explains. “If you’re a judge, I think it takes 10 years. It’s great to have intellect, but it’s important to have maturity, it’s important to have wisdom and experience.”
In Turner’s chambers is a large coffee table completely covered with books. The authors include Sandra Day O’Connor, Ben Bradley, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and others, and most are autographed.
“Every autograph tells a story,” Turner says. The books are all nonfiction, most with a legal or historic bent. He says he’s read more war books since Sept. 11, 2001.
“I’ve always read,” Turner explains, “but, I didn’t have the discipline to read as I do now.
“Its important to read, you’re gaining ideas, you’re gaining insights. I think we become better people if we read.”
When he was interviewed for this article, Turner was in the midst of reading “Lincoln and His Generals.” Lincoln is his favorite president.
“He’s clearly the most effective president we’ve ever had,” Turner says.
Admiration of Eisenhower
And what about Eisenhower?
“[A]fter reading several biographies on the president, my respect for him has once again grown,” Turner says. “He deeply understood, both intellectually and viscerally, how to keep the nation safe.”
A CD player in the back of Turner’s chambers plays country and western, classical or sometimes jazz music throughout the day.
He is a huge fan of jazz musician Wynton Marsalis—some days his staff has to listen to trumpet music all day long.
Time permitting, Turner runs three to five miles, three or four times a week. He lifts weights to prevent a knee injury from hurting—after never having run more than five miles at a time Turner said he couldn’t figure out why his knee didn’t feel right after he ran 16 miles one day.
He goes cross-country skiing several times a year. And he reads.
Schiavelli sums up what many say about Turner:
“He’s a tremendously witty guy...very, very intelligent. He can talk on almost any subject and is a lot of fun to listen to and talk with.
“If you want witty, go talk to Paul.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company