Monday, March 12, 2007
Retired Superior Court Judge Van Dusen Dead at 62
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Van Dusen died Friday at age 62.
Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger notified bench officers and staff of the judge’s passing. Van Dusen, a judge for over 20 years, was diagnosed with colon cancer last fall and was away from the courthouse for several weeks before he officially retired Jan. 15.
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.
Fred Huebscher, the consultant who handled that last campaign, said he was saddened by the judge’s death. “He was an awfully nice guy with a great sense of humor; very hardworking and very popular at the El Monte courthouse,” where he worked as a lawyer and a judge for more than two decades.
Judge Peter Meeka, who knew Van Dusen for over 30 years, said he was “a maverick” on the bench, but “a fun guy to be around.”
Van Dusen was “the first deputy district attorney I had to work at the El Monte courthouse,” Meeka said, adding that they ate lunch together regularly before Meeka left the courthouse in 2000. He praised the judge’s work ethic, expressing admiration for the fact that he was “able to handle 100 percent of civil, 100 percent of small claims, and 100 percent of traffic.”
Van Dusen was known as a colorful, and at times controversial, jurist. He once told the MetNews that he was “either hated or loved” by the attorneys who appeared before him, and that the District Attorney’s Office, for which he once worked, “doesn’t like me.”
Prosecutors twice initiated blanket filing of Code of Civil Procedure
Sec. 170.6 challenges to prevent Van Dusen from hearing their cases.
The tactic was first employed to prevent Van Dusen from hearing domestic violence cases, with prosecutors contending he made “inappropriate” remarks about victims in court. The judge blasted the blanket affidaviting as “purely political,” and prosecutors eventually backed down.
But they started papering him again 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.
No longer able to hear criminal cases, 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 with attorneys E. Clarke Moseley, now the El Monte city attorney, and Wayne Leech, who still practices in that city.
Van Dusen 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 judge. 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.
He is survived by his wife, Doris Van Dusen, and by his stepchildren and grandchildren. Information about services was unavailable Friday.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company