Thursday, January 8, 2009
PERSONALITY PROFILE: Charles W. ‘Tim’ Mccoy Jr.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Combines Broad Perspective and Easygoing Demeanor
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT PRESIDING JUDGE Charles W. “Tim” McCoy Jr. says that on the day after rioting began in April 1992, following a jury’s acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, he drove to a burned out part of the city, picked up a still-smoldering piece of wood and put it in the trunk of his car.
The charred timber sits today on a bookshelf in McCoy’s office in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. It is a reminder, he explains, that “what stands between the order of society we have today and chaos is the ability to provide justice to people in a manner where it is not only done, but also seen to be done.”
Elected presiding judge in September without contest after almost 16 years on the bench, McCoy, 62, took office Jan. 1 facing severe budget constraints.
However, McCoy says he intends to use his two years at the helm to make the court “a stronger institution,” vowing to do all he can to ensure that the over 100,000 people the court serves daily—“a Rose Bowl full, every day,” he emphasizes—receive “top quality service.”
To that end, McCoy estimates that he is more than one-third of the way through completing his pledge to personally meet every Superior Court employee to make sure that people feel courts are “an appropriate place to bring their problems.”
Despite the court’s current resource constraints, McCoy says he wants to thank employees “for the courtesy and dignity they extend to the public” and to make sure that they know that the decisions he will take are in their best interests.
“Everyone plays a significant role,” he remarks. “We’re not deep like a football team. If anyone is lost, it would grind to a halt.”
Gesturing with his hands, he elaborates:
“It’s like the saying: here is the church, here is the steeple, open it up and here are the people. The courthouse is not in the walls. The courthouse is the people.”
McCoy says he is spending half days in courthouses meeting “employees only, not judges,” with a prime focus on places that “touch people significantly,” and adds that he has been impressed by how the introduction of customer service principles at all levels has caused employees’ interactions with the public to change “dramatically for the better” over the last decade.
“[Court] employees generally care about people, and want to help,” he says. “The image of a bureaucrat with a stamp is gone, but not by accident. It took hard work, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Giving a tour of his office, McCoy points to an approximately four foot tall sign mounted on the wall behind his desk to illustrate his philosophy as a judge.
Near a poster of cowboy Tim McCoy—who in the early 1950s hosted a popular Los Angeles children’s television show with Iron Eyes Cody and is the source of the judge’s nickname—the sign displays five words vertically: “Civility,” “Candor,” “Compassion,” “Competence” and “Courage.”
McCoy spent his first three years on the bench after his appointment by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992 presiding over felony trials in downtown Los Angeles courthouses.
He says that he had the sign made and hung in his courtroom during the following five years, while he was handling a direct unlimited civil trial calendar in Department 24.
“I sat down and thought, ‘What are the values that I want to stand for as a trial judge?’” he recalls, adding that he brought the sign with him when he joined the Superior Court’s Complex Litigation Court, which he helped found and later led as supervising judge.
McCoy similarly brought the sign with him after being elected assistant presiding judge without contest in 2006.
Another wall in McCoy’s office bears a large, framed photograph depicting World War II-era U.S. Marines huddled around a map during the Battle of Tarawa in the South Pacific in November 1943, where the judge says U.S. forces made their first assault against a fully defended island held by the Japanese.
McCoy explains that the print from the National Archives is significant to him because one of the Marines pictured is his father, who assumed command of a tank battalion when a superior officer was wounded during the battle, and then led it throughout the remainder of the war.
Only three of the 43 other men in his father’s landing craft similarly survived the assault, McCoy says, before pulling a small chain around his neck from under his shirt to reveal Charles W. McCoy Sr.’s military dog tag.
“It went across the beach at that island,” he explains.
A career Marine Corps officer, McCoy’s father became base commander of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at 29 Palms in southern San Bernardino County after the war, and McCoy spent his youth at the base and “on and off in Washington D.C.”
He also spent three years in London before completing high school in Arlington, Va.—an experience he says left him a “semi-Anglophile”—and then became a Marine himself after earning a degree from the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University in 1968 on a NROTC scholarship.
McCoy served in Vietnam after college, where he received a Navy Commendation Medal and was promoted to captain. He was also honored for outstanding performance as assistant inspector instructor of the Marine Corps Fourth Military Police battalion.
However, he left the military after his four-year term of service concluded rather than pursue a career. Reflecting that he has a “servant’s heart,” the judge says he wanted to be a public servant like his father, so he decided to become an attorney, having learned that he had an aptitude for law while attending the Naval Justice School.
McCoy graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law in 1975, and joined Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton’s Los Angeles office, where he practiced for 17 years in commercial litigation and antitrust and securities law until his appointment the bench.
“Lawyers can make money, but the true reward is the ability to truly help others,” he comments.
Star Spangled Banner
Many of the other objects on McCoy’s office’s walls bear similar witness to this idea, such as a replica of the Star Spangled Banner flag, which flew during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem which became the words of the national anthem. Another is a bleached animal jawbone.
The judge explains that the former is significant because Key, an attorney, was attempting to secure the release of a client from British custody at the time. The latter, McCoy says, was a gift from a client whose case he won, and refers to the biblical story of Samson who, when captured by a Philistine army, picked up the jawbone of an ass—“the weapon of a common man,” McCoy comments—and used it to slay 1,000 of his captors.
While at Sheppard Mullin, McCoy also served as a judge pro tempore in the Los Angeles Municipal Court during the 1980s and as a volunteer settlement officer from 1980-81.
However, he spent his last two years at the firm on a leave of absence, serving as chief of staff to a former subordinate, Matt Fong, who was an associate at the firm before being elected to the State Board of Equalization in 1990.
Los Angeles attorney Paul Reitler, who headed Sheppard Mullin’s recruitment committee when it hired McCoy as a summer associate in 1974, says the firm was “sorry to lose” him, commenting that the ex-Marine—who by then had become a partner in the firm—stood out for his ability, ambition, and “very positive, can-do attitude.”
Adding that McCoy “got along well with everyone in the office,” Reitler remarks:
“He was a very hard worker…. There was nothing he couldn’t do, and he did anything he was asked.”
Attorney Patrick M. Kelly, of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP’s Los Angeles office, met McCoy around 1990 when Kelly represented an insurer in a directors and officers liability case and McCoy represented the defendants. He recalls McCoy being not only “very competent,” but also “very affable.”
Kelly, who served as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association that year and wrote a letter to Wilson’s appointments secretary in support of McCoy’s application for appointment to a judgeship, says the pair became personal friends after the case, and concedes a touch of bias in favor of the judge.
“I’m a big Tim McCoy fan,” he admits, saying that he has since appeared in court before McCoy and complimenting the judge’s “tremendous judicial demeanor,” fairness and preparation.
McCoy says he had not considered a career in politics before joining Fong’s staff, but remarks that the “eye-opening” experience was helpful in light of his subsequent contacts with political figures as a leader of the Superior Court.
It also came in handy during McCoy’s recently completed three-year term as a member of the Judicial Council and various committees; his service on the Superior Court’s Executive Committee from 1994-96, and on the Executive Board of the California Judges Association during the following three years; and McCoy’s involvement in—and chairmanship of—a number of other judicial committees.
Los Angeles attorney Thomas V. Girardi, of Girardi & Keese, similarly served a three-year term on the council commencing in 2005, and he calls McCoy a “terrific choice” for presiding judge.
Reflecting on the presiding judge’s responsibilities in the past, he explains:
“[T]he job is enormous, not only in what is required, but in its ramifications. The presiding judge has to somehow get through budget crises and security issues of courtrooms, and more judges, and more assignments and so forth.
“The presiding judge is as much a political person as he is a judge with respect to the need to properly set forth the court’s needs and concerns, and a person like Judge McCoy is the type who will do that in such an effective way.
“He has such a great way about him, and at the end of the day he almost always gets his way. I don’t think anybody ever knows he got his way because at the end of the conversation everybody thinks it was their idea to do what he wanted all along.”
Crediting McCoy’s “great understanding of the law [which] makes his settlement suggestions very powerful,” and the judge’s demeanor as a “total gentleman,” Girardi remarks that “but for the fact that Lee Edmon is next in line, he would probably be reelected forever.”
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who appointed McCoy to the Judicial Council, says he did so based on the breadth of McCoy’s administrative experience, “both on the bench and before,” adding that McCoy “spoke out on matters not only related to the Los Angeles Superior Court, but with a statewide perspective in consideration of the overall goals of the judicial branch.”
George—with whom McCoy indicates he is “fairly close”—says he expects to meet regularly with McCoy over the coming two years, and describes the judge “very open-minded and cooperative.”
The chief justice recalls that “even when [McCoy] had differences with other people on the council, he was on a high, principled plane; he never took things down to a personal level.” George also praises McCoy as “someone willing and eager to work for the common good.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, who served as presiding judge when McCoy was assistant presiding judge, is similarly complimentary, and says he has no doubt that he has left the court in capable hands.
Noting that he viewed McCoy’s role at the time as that of his “co-pilot,” Czuleger remarks that McCoy “has been involved in every major decision, and has been there to see everything.”
The pair served at the criminal courts together in McCoy’s early years on the bench, where Czuleger says McCoy “caught on very quickly” despite a civil background and “developed his strong suit: calendar management.”
They also worked together later in civil courts, and Czuleger says McCoy is “a genuinely nice guy” with “a good moral compass” who is “very considerate” and “tries to do the right thing.”
As an example, Czuleger points to 2007, when court security was severely underfunded and he appointed McCoy to chair a group looking at additional cuts.
“[McCoy] sat down with the group, provided a good overview of the situation, and managed to trim $3 million from security costs despite a tight budget,” through measures such as providing for roving deputies in some courthouses, rather than postings in individual courtrooms, he recalls.
Czuleger concedes that the cuts were not without controversy, but says McCoy managed to make them without violating the “cardinal rule” that no one be endangered as a result.
He also notes that McCoy has run the court’s new judge orientation program, and calls McCoy “the perfect guy for the job” because he is “into judicial education…, into principles of leadership, and…a nice person.”
Kelly similarly compliments McCoy’s handling of Bench-Bar Coalition meetings as the assistant presiding judge, commenting that McCoy chaired meetings with an “even hand” and “[kept] things moving” while being both “conscious of time” and courteous to speakers.
Focus on Leadership
Near the sign in his office presenting McCoy’s values, the judge also displays a bust of Winston Churchill, explaining that the two-time British Prime Minister—who is “always listed in the top 10 of world leaders,” he says—and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are two leaders to whom he pays “a whole lot of attention.”
An adjunct law professor of courses on trial advocacy and judicial decision-making at Southwestern University School of Law and Pepperdine University School of Law, McCoy appears most proud of a leadership training course for judges he developed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue.
McCoy laments the lack of leadership training given in law schools compared to that given in business or public policy schools, so after he and Hogue discovered a common interest in the subject at a lunch meeting, they developed a one-day course for judges using contemporary business literature and patterned after courses taught in business and public policy schools.
The UCLA School of Law asked the pair to present the course to its students as well, and McCoy estimates he and Hogue have taught about 100 supervising judges, assistant supervising judges and site judges so far in groups of 12 at a time.
Hogue, describing McCoy as a “very warm, very caring” teacher, notes that McCoy often invites students to make presentations to him on changes in the court they would like to see, and adds that “the students perceive he’s there to advance their interests.”
“Trust and credibility are the most important qualities [in a teacher]….Before you walk behind someone or march into battle, you’ve got to believe they’re honest and motivated by your best interests.
“You have to have trust, be true to your word, have credibility, and be honest. McCoy is all of that [and] he doesn’t have a secret agenda or an ulterior motive.”
McCoy has also taught a political science course at Azusa Pacific University and law school preparation at Claremont McKenna College, as well as a number of judicial and attorney continuing education courses.
Completing the tour of his office, McCoy ends at a pair of his youngest granddaughter’s booties, which he keeps in his office to remind him of her.
Married with three children and six grandchildren, McCoy says his hobbies are being a grandfather and flying airplanes. He became a pilot after leaving the Marine Corps, and is instrument flight rules-rated, meaning he can keep a plane in controlled flight based solely on instrument data, allowing him to fly through clouds.
Boasting of having just passed a flight physical at his age, the judge says he likes to fly most modern aircraft, but his favorite is a Cessna 172SP G1000, which he describes as a “sophisticated” aircraft that discards “little round dials” for computer screens.
However, despite being four years away from eligibility to retire with full benefits, McCoy says he has no ambition to be anything other than a judge.
“I never wanted anything more, so there’s no reason not to continue.”
Returning to the charred piece of wood on his bookshelf, he muses:
“Although we don’t make the laws, we’re the guardians of the process. People need to feel like they have a fair shot at justice and we need to make sure that access is available.
“As long as we can keep that squarely in mind, we’ll stay on the right side.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company