Thursday, June 26, 2008
Senior Ninth Circuit Judge Warren J. Ferguson Dies Suddenly at 87
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Senior Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Warren J. Ferguson died yesterday at the age of 87.
Ferguson, whose career in the law spanned 59 years, including almost 42 years on the federal bench and seven years on the bench in California state courts, died at St. Judge Medical Center in Fullerton after a sudden illness.
A court spokesperson indicated that the family is planning a private memorial service at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego, but details were not available as of deadline yesterday.
In a statement announcing the news, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said “[w]e are deeply saddened by Judge Ferguson’s death. He was an exceptional judge, lawyer and educator, and a treasured colleague.”
Nominated by President Carter, Ferguson was appointed to the Ninth Circuit in 1979, and served as an active judge until taking senior status in 1986. He continued to hear cases and serve the court in other capacities for a number of years, and was the 11th most senior judge on the court in years of service.
Prior to joining the court of appeals, Ferguson served as one of the original judges of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, which was established by Congress in 1966. Nominated by President Johnson, he received his judicial commission on Nov. 3, 1966, filling one of three new judgeships created for the new district court.
On the state bench, Ferguson served as a judge of the Anaheim-Fullerton Municipal Court from 1959 to 1961, and the Santa Ana Superior Court from 1961 to 1966. During his tenure, he was the presiding judge of the juvenile court and the Appellate Department of the Superior Court.
As a federal trial judge, he presided over numerous noteworthy cases such as the 1971 case of United States v. Smith, in which he held that electronic surveillance without a warrant of a defendant accused of unlawful possession of firearms was not constitutionally proper, even though the Attorney General had expressly authorized it in the interest of national security.
He also presided over what became known as the “Betamax” trial, Universal City Studios v. Sony Corp., ruling in 1979 that the manufacturers of video recorders were not contributorily liable for copyright infringements by users of home video recorders attached to their televisions. The U.S. Supreme Court vindicated his decision in 1984.
Ferguson was born in the tiny, high desert town of Eureka, Nev., and attended elementary and high school in a class of 10 students. He enrolled in the University of Nevada at Reno, graduating in 1942, and then served in the U.S. Army during World War II, achieving the rank of master sergeant and earning a Bronze Star for service in North Africa and Italy.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1946, he attended the University of Southern California School of Law on the G.I. bill, graduating in 1949.
Ferguson settled in Fullerton, and went into private practice, during which he assisted in the incorporation of Buena Park and became its first city attorney. He went on to serve as city attorney for the cities of Placentia, Baldwin Park, Santa Fe Springs, La Puente, Rosemead and Walnut.
He also served as an associate professor of psychiatry (law) at the USC School of Medicine, an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School, and a regular lecturer at the Federal Judicial Center and for the Practicing Law Institute; was a member of the faculties for the University of Iowa Evidence Seminar, the New York Law Journal Evidence Seminar, the Orange County Bar Association Seminar, and the American Bar Association’s National Institute of Appellate Advocacy and its Special Committee for the Study of Discovery Abuse; received Doctor of Law degrees from the Western State University College of Law and the San Fernando Valley College of Law; and was recognized by the Northeastern University College of Law, USC, the California Assembly, and the Orange County Bar Association and Legal Aid Society.
Friends and colleagues have established an annual award in his name at the USC School of Law for the best essay on social justice.
Ferguson is survived by a son, Peter Ferguson, and daughter, Faye Ferguson, and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of many years, Laura Keyes Ferguson, and two other children, Jack Ferguson, a soldier killed in the Vietnam War, and Teresa Ferguson.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company