Thursday, June 26, 2008
Superior Court Judge Coleman A. Swart to Retire
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Coleman A. Swart confirmed yesterday that he is retiring after almost 26 years on the bench.
The supervising judge of the North Central and Northeast Districts in Burbank and Pasadena told the MetNews that he will continue to serve on the bench until Sept. 15, when he plans to step down to join ADR Services Inc. as a private judge.
He also said that Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger had determined his replacement, or replacements, as supervising judge, but declined to say who that might be.
A call to Czuleger’s office seeking comment was not returned.
Swart, 68, said that he had decided to make the change primarily for financial reasons, noting that he had “done [his] time” and had a “rewarding career,” but that he wanted to “seek other challenges as a private mediator and arbitrator.”
Calling the switch an “opportunity to make some money,” he said that he was currently “working for almost nothing” given that he has reached the maximum level of retirement benefits he can receive under CALPERS’ Judges Retirement System, and that his five-year eligibility under the system’s Extended Service Incentive Program to recoup the 8 percent of his salary that all judges must pay into the system while still on the bench expired in January.
The son of two teachers, Swart was born in San Marino and spent most of his life in the San Gabriel Valley. His father was a naval officer in both world wars, and Swart joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1961 to learn about new missile technology after earning a degree in math from Occidental College.
He wound up as the legal officer on the first ship to which he was assigned and decided to become a lawyer after reluctantly attending the naval justice school—where he graduated third in a class of 80—and becoming fascinated with the trial process while handling courts martial.
Rising to the rank of commander, Swart attended Golden Gate University School of Law by night and managed a naval missile production plant during his final 21/2 years in the navy. He then returned to Los Angeles upon his admission to the State Bar in 1968 to join the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Swart first sought a judgeship in 1976, mounting an unsuccessful challenge to Pasadena Muni- cipal Court Judge John F. Hassler Jr. Despite facing a 15-year incumbent, he garnered approximately 44 percent of the vote.
The active Republican Party member and former president of the California Republican Assembly for Los Angeles later said he held little hope that then-Gov. Jerry Brown would appoint him to the bench, so in 1982, after he had become assistant head of the district attorney’s Pasadena office, he ran for the seat of retiring Judge Arch Tuthill.
Promising to make justice “sure and swift,” Swart beat three of his four opponents in the primary election, coming in about nine percentage points behind the leader, Superior Court Commissioner David Ziskrout. He defeated Ziskrout in a runoff by about 15,000 votes, or .07 percent, and took the bench in January of the following year.
Swart later won reelection without opposition four times.
He spent his first six years in felony courts, and then transferred to a civil calendar in 1989 before returning to Pasadena in 1991, where he has remained since. He is credited with reducing a backlog during his first year on bhe bench by insisting on conducting pretrial evaluations of his criminal cases, and the Pasadena Bar Association named him judge of the year in 2001.
Swart was elected to the Superior Court’s Executive Committee in 1994, and served as a supervising judge in 1994 and 1995. However, he was unsuccessful in his 1998 attempt to become presiding judge, losing in a runoff to James Bascue.
He rejoined the Executive Committee in 2002, and in 2003 returned to the position as supervising judge of the North Central and Northeast Districts, where he has also remained since.
Swart’s tenure on the bench was not without controversy. He came under fire in 1985 after issuing an order halting tabulation of absentee ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Michael Huffington. He later told the Daily Journal that it appeared to him that there had been a number of people voting from one residence.
He was later accused of misconduct in 1997 after he and nine other judges took a weeklong Mediterranean cruise accompanied by prominent plaintiffs’ attorneys, but the judge, who said he paid his own fare and that of his wife, was exonerated of wrongdoing the following year by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company