Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Retired Judge Thomas Yager Dies at 90
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Yager has died.
Yager, 90, passed away last Thursday, Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger said in an email to colleagues. Services were private.
A Los Angeles native, Yager graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1935 and UCLA in 1939. He served in the Army in World War II before graduating from USC Law School.
His father, also Thomas C. Yager, was also an attorney and had a downtown Los Angeles practice.
The younger Yager was admitted to the State Bar in 1949. A newspaper profile credits him with having been a successful investor before launching his downtown practice
He left private practice in 1957 to join the staff of then-Gov. Goodwin Knight, who appointed him to the Los Angeles Superior Court the following year.
Controversy and tragedy swirled around Yager, beginning in June 1965.
The judge, then 47, was returning from Catalina to Newport Harbor on a cabin cruiser when his bride of four days, a wealthy 61-year-old heiress, disappeared, presumably having fallen from the vessel and drowned. Yager’s account was that he had gone below for a short time and when he returned to the deck, his wife was missing.
He could not call the Coast Guard because, he explained, the radio was not functional.
Questions about her disappearance—the judge was never charged with wrongdoing—led to calls for his ouster, and he was challenged in the 1966 elections by then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Judges George Dell and Leila Bulgrin (since deceased).
In those days, the County Bar came out with endorsements based on a tally of votes cast in a plebiscite, and backed Dell. Of six incumbent judges of the Superior Court who were challenged that year, Yager was the only one not endorsed by the County Bar.
In an interview years later, Dell said that he ran in part because of public leeriness of the account of what had happened on the yacht, but also because Yager “was not considered a particular asset to the bench.”
Yager won outright in the primary. He drew 818,063 votes to Dell’s 366,759 and Bulgrin’s 184,510.
Dell was appointed to the Superior Court later that year.
Yager remained on the court until his retirement in 1978. Shortly before he left the bench, he issued a press release announcing his forthcoming departure, announcing that he had “established a complete, new religion by the name of The Community Betterment Service,” and that he expected “to devote most of my time to serving the highest court—Almighty God.”
He declined to talk about the religion when asked about it by the MetNews in 1978, and again in 2005.
He is survived by his wife, Antonia Yager. His family requested that memorial donations be sent to Vitas Hospice.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company