Thursday, July 10, 2008
Div. Eight Presiding Justice Candace Cooper to Retire
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Candace Cooper of this district’s Div. Eight said yesterday that she plans to step down after almost 28 years on the bench.
Citing the need to provide financial support to her daughter who will soon enter college, Cooper, told the MetNews that she plans to retire at the end of this year in order to begin practicing as a private mediator/arbitrator.
The jurist said that a major factor in her decision was the fact that she reached the maximum level of retirement benefits she was eligible to receive under the Judges Retirement System in 2000, and had effectively been “subsidizing the state” for the past eight years. She estimated that the amount that she had continued to put into the system since then as required by law was “probably as much as three years of my daughter’s college.”
Noting that she became eligible for retirement when she turned 60 last November, she also cited the length of time she had spent on the bench.
Cooper said that she had not yet joined any specific alternative dispute resolution providers, but indicated that she did expect to work for an established organization.
An African American who has been an outspoken advocate of diversity in the bench and bar, Cooper was born and raised in Los Angeles where she graduated from Susan Miller Dorsey High School before attending college at USC.
She stayed on after graduation to obtain her law degree, doing so in 1973, and then entered private practice as an associate with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher after earning admission to the State Bar the following January.
Six years later, then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Cooper to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, where she served until then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed her to the Superior Court in 1987.
As a superior court judge, Cooper rose to become supervising judge of the West District, and also served as president of the California Judges Association. She was also active in the National Association of Women Judges, the California Association of Black Lawyers, the California Women Lawyers Association, and other national, state and local bar groups.
Cooper was also named Outstanding Trial Jurist of the Year by the Los Angeles County Bar Association in 1992, Superior Court Judge of the Year by the association’s Criminal Section in 1990, and “Judge of the Year” by the Langston Bar Association in 1986; and received the Ernestine Stahlhut Award from the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles in 1989.
Then-Gov. Gray Davis tapped Cooper to become a justice on Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal in 1999 in his first group of judicial appointments before selecting her again two years later to become presiding justice of the newly created Div. Eight, along with Associate Justices Laurence Rubin and the late Paul Boland.
In 2004, Chief Justice Ronald George appointed Cooper to serve on the Judicial Council where she oversaw, among others, a study of judicial retirement and compensation issues, and efforts to eliminate bias in the administration of justice.
George, who said that he had been unaware of Cooper’s decision, called Cooper both an outstanding jurist at the trial and appellate levels, and an outstanding administrator. Citing her work on the council, George said he had been very pleased when Cooper accepted his appointment.
Noting that he too had maxed out his benefit eligibility under the Judges Retirement System, George also said he was sympathetic to Cooper’s decision, and commented that improving the compensation system for judges remained a priority, especially in the area of benefits.
Rubin—who served under Cooper while she was supervising judge in Santa Monica after his municipal court seat was converted to a superior court judgeship, and who continues to serve in Div. Eight—said that Cooper would be missed not only as a colleague, but also as a mentor and a close personal friend.
He praised Cooper for setting a tone of “incredible collegiality,” and credited her for the smooth function of Div. Eight since its creation, remarking that “she basically started the division from scratch.”
Justice Madeleine Flier, also currently of this district’s Div. Eight, similarly lauded Cooper, citing the presiding justice’s empathy in considering the effect of her actions on the other justices.
Presiding Justice Roger Boren of this district’s Div. Two, who served with Cooper during her two years on that division, said that Cooper would be missed most for her people skills.
Boren, who testified in support of Cooper’s appointment as presiding justice in 2001 at a hearing before the Commission on Judicial Appointments, described Cooper as a “good arbiter” who always had a good take on problems that might arise.
Former Justice Vaino Spencer of this district’s Div. One—who stepped down last year, and who also testified in support of Cooper at the 2001 hearing—said that Cooper had “validated all the confidence everyone had” in her.
Taking credit for urging Cooper to apply for her first judgeship, Spencer said:
“There is no way anyone who is intelligent and honest could say anything negative” about her.
However, presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of this district’s Div. Three, who was a member of the commission that approved Cooper’s appointment as presiding justice, said that she was not only distressed about the retirement of an “outstanding judge,” but “doubly [saddened]” by the news because Cooper was one of the few black judges in California.
Klein said that Cooper—as a “first-class” judge and an African-American woman—had served as an important role model, and lamented losing her from such a high profile position.
Cooper appeared to agree, identifying this aspect of her service as one of her most important achievements. Nevertheless, she said that she hoped her whole career could continue to serve as an example to women and minority lawyers interested in a career in the judiciary.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company