Monday, September 15, 2008
Van de Kamp to Receive Witkin Medal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar of California announced Friday it will present this year’s Bernard E. Witkin Medal to former State Bar president, and former state attorney general, John Van de Kamp.
“In a career that spans more than half a century, John has done more than make his mark on the California legal system; he’s become a symbol of that system,” State Bar President Jeff Bleich said in a statement. “He is as dedicated to justice for all as he ever has been and he stands as a model for us all.”
The Witkin Medal was created in 1993, at the instigation of Court of Appeal Justice Norman Epstein—now presiding justice of this district’s Div. Four—and named for the famed legal scholar who was its first recipient.
The medal recognizes “those legal giants among us who have altered the landscape of California jurisprudence” and is conferred on people who, “through a career of extraordinary service, have made significant contributions to the quality of justice and legal scholarship in our state.”
Witkin died in 1995 at the age of 91.
In selecting Van de Kamp as this year’s recipient, the State Bar noted that as attorney general, he created the Public Rights Division and gave priority to the enforcement of antitrust laws and statutes protecting consumers, civil rights and the environment.
Also cited were Van de Kamp’s support for affirmative action, fight against AIDS discrimination, efforts to open private clubs to minorities and women, battles to protect Lake Tahoe and establish a moratorium on oil drilling off the California coast, and role in creating the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act—also known as the “fast track” law on expediting trial of civil cases—the CAL-ID Computerized Fingerprint Program.
Van de Kamp said of the honor:
“It’s particularly nice because I’m following in the footsteps of some good people.
“Bernie [Witkin] was a friend of mine. After I retired from public life, he gave me an entire set of his books. I’m eternally grateful to him.”
Van de Kamp said he has received the most satisfaction over the years “from my public law career where I’d like to think in every office I was involved in, people had very good memories of the way they were treated . . . I tried to work with people and be fair to people.”
Van de Kamp, now 71, was elected California’s attorney general in 1982 and served two terms. Before that, he spent eight years as Los Angeles district attorney, was the first federal public defender for the Central District of California, was director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys under then-Deputy Attorney General Warren Christopher, and was U.S. attorney for the Central District.
Van de Kamp also ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1990, losing to Dianne Feinstein, now California’s senior U.S. senator. He earned his law degree at Stanford.
Currently of counsel with Dewey & Leboeuf LLP, Van de Kamp handles arbitrations and mediations through ADR Services, mediates a few cases a month on a pro bono basis for the superior court and continues with his numerous charitable and community service efforts.
He chaired the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a diverse group that achieved more than 90 percent unanimity in its recent recommendations regarding the death penalty. He recently concluded an appointment as monitor of the Getty Trust and currently is advising the president of the SEIU in an internal investigation of the financial practices of the Los Angeles local.
He served as president and general counsel of Thoroughbred Owners of California from 1996 until shortly after his election as State Bar president in 2005.
Besides Witkin, previous recipients of the medal have included Epstein, state Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk—now deceased—Senior Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson and now-Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Chief Justice Ronald George and Los Angeles attorneys Seth and Shirley Hufstedler.
Van de Kamp will receive the award at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Monterey Sept. 27.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company