Monday, November 2, 2009
Superior Court Judge Klein Announces Retirement
Commissioner Ralph Olson Also to Step Down in Spring
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein said yesterday that he will step down Nov. 30 after almost 20 years on the bench.
Klein, 60, told the MetNews his last day on the bench will coincide with his retirement date, and that he will be taking time off before taking up private judging on his own.
He said he intends to be known as “the only known inexpensive rent-a-judge.”
Appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1990 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, Klein said he is retiring now because his pension rights are vested and because “it’s hard to think of a good reason to stay.”
Commenting that “there are a lot of lawyers who want to be judges,” he made comparison to academia, where “young scholars shouldn’t have to wait for professors to get old and die before there are any openings.”
The former Court of Appeal research attorney and law professor, who sat on assignment in the Court of Appeal, noted that he was “talking only about myself, not my colleagues.” He added that he was happy his position would be available so that another lawyer could become a judge, although he said he had no particular attorney in mind.
Klein grew up in Falls Church, Va., and Bethesda, Md. His father was a Washington, D.C. lawyer, and his maternal grandfather, an immigrant from Russia, was a Brooklyn lawyer.
After graduating from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, Klein clerked for two years at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, and then worked briefly as a business litigator in Los Angeles. He was licensed as an attorney in Pennsylvania in 1972 and joined the State Bar of California two years later.
In 1976, he joined the full-time faculty at University of La Verne, teaching classes in commercial law, corporations and bankruptcy. Klein also taught courses in civil procedure, torts and evidence.
He became a writs attorney at this district’s Court of Appeal in 1986, where he wrote internal memos on writ cases and drafted appellate opinions on writs cases and appeals until his appointment to the Municipal Court. A Republican, Klein was a protégé of since-deceased Presiding Justice Lester Wm. Roth, who hired him as the Div. Two writs attorney.
While on the Municipal Court, Klein spent 19 months temporarily assigned to sit on Div. Two. One of his opinions, Ferguson v. Writers Guild of America (West), Inc. (1991) 226 Cal.App.3d 1382 involving arbitration of screenwriting-credit disputes, is reprinted in one of the standard law-school civil procedure casebooks.
He became a superior court judge when trial courts were unified in 2000, and he has sat in the traffic court building, the West Los Angeles courthouse and the Foltz Criminal Justice Center. Since 1997, Klein has been assigned to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
The Commission on Judicial Performance in 2004 publicly admonished Klein—the least severe form of public discipline the commission can impose—in connection with rulings he made in a negligence case.
The judge also made headlines earlier this year when he awarded Yorba Linda attorney Neil B. Fineman payment for efforts in a class action suit in the form of 12,500 $10 store credits at women’s clothing chain Windsor Square Fashions.
Skeptical that 43,571 customers who were illegally asked for personal information actually derived a benefit from a settlement entitling them each to a $10 gift certificate, inducing them to return to the store and possibly spend more money, he added language requiring that Fineman be paid in the same commodity as class members. Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason, to whom the case was assigned, later signed a new order incorporating the terms of the settlement without the revision.
Klein said that one of the more interesting cases over which he presided was an action filed by Mohamed Al Fayed seeking a refund of $20,000 he had paid four men in exchange for their promise to steal and deliver CIA documents showing that Princess Diana was pregnant at the time of her death in Paris. Klein dismissed the claim on demurrer.
The jurist said that he expects to live part-time in Oakland, where he has a second home. He also indicated that his retirement plans include trips to Europe and Asia, attending concerts, plays and operas, visiting art museums and galleries, reading and making music.
Klein is a classical trumpeter and plays in chamber ensembles and orchestras, including the Los Angeles Lawyers’ Philharmonic, which was formed earlier this year. He said one of his chamber groups was dubbed the Seventh Floor Brass Quintet after holding weekend rehearsals in the hallway outside Klein’s courtroom.
Reflecting on his time on the bench, Klein commented that the work “has always been interesting and intellectually challenging.” However, he said, “in recent years, law professors seem to have forgotten to tell students how to behave when on the record.”
He also commented that “the centralization of control of all aspects of the judicial function in San Francisco has not been a good development,” remarking that it was “antithetical to the principle of independence of judges in decision-making to have directives from outside telling judges how to do things.”
Klein’s wife, a retired appellate lawyer, is an artist. They have one daughter, a painter, and a son who is studying law at UC Davis.
In other news, the MetNews has learned that Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Ralph R. Olson has indicated that he will retire next year between March and June.
Olson, who did not return phone calls, was appointed a commissioner on the Municipal Court in Long Beach by the court’s judges in 1983, and before that served as a Los Angeles County deputy public defender beginning in 1974. He also worked in the Public Defender’s Office as a law clerk in 1972.
Born in Grand Forks, N.D., and reared in La Cañada and San Pedro, Olson graduated from San Pedro High School before attending UC Santa Barbara and law school at the University of San Diego. He joined the State Bar in 1973.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company