Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Page 3


Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rodney E. Nelson Dies at 75


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rodney E. Nelson has died at age 75.

Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy notified colleagues late last week that Nelson, who served on the court from 1995 to 2006, had passed away Oct. 18. Services were private.

Nelson, who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota and his law degree at Columbia University, practiced commercial and business litigation before then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the bench.

He told the MetNews at the time of his appointment that he had briefly studied political theory at Stanford University before being admitted to law school. He earned his law degree in 1960, and “bought a used car and drove to Los Angeles” to take his first job as an attorney with O’Melveny & Myers.

He subsequently formed a firm with several partners, then joined Loo, Merideth & McMillen in 1983. That firm was absorbed into St. Louis-based Bryan, Cave, McPheeters & McRoberts—now Bryan Cave LLP—in 1986.

The future jurist left that firm in 1992 to join his wife, Shari Nelson, in Nelson & Nelson, which dissolved when he joined the bench.

He had assignments at the Norwalk courthouse and Criminal Courts Building before being assigned to a civil court downtown. Among the cases he heard there were a class action in which Ford Motor Company was accused by female workers of sex discrimination and tolerating sexual harassment, another class action accusing Investor’s Business Daily of labor law violations, and a suit by the family of an 11-year-old girl who was evacuated from the scene of a car accident, only to be killed when the rescue helicopter crashed.

That last case was an early test of the scope of Proposition 213, the initiative barring uninsured drivers and car owners from suing for non-economic damages resulting from auto accidents. Nelson ruled that the initiative barred the lawsuit by the girl’s parents—who owned the vehicle in which the family was riding and who were uninsured, as was another relative who was driving—but was reversed on appeal.

Retired Superior Court Judge Morris B. Jones, whose courtroom was near Nelson’s for a time, recalled his colleague yesterday as “a nice, personable guy [who] always liked to talk about his wife and kids.”

Nelson took a medical leave in May 2005, after attorneys complained of what they said was erratic behavior. The Commission on Judicial Performance subsequently initiated proceedings to force his retirement, which he initially contested, although he stepped down one week prior to a scheduled hearing before a panel of special masters in February 2006.

The CJP said it took the unusual step because Nelson suffered from a mental disability that was, or was likely to become, permanent.

Besides his wife, Nelson is survived by two children, a brother, and a grandchild, McCoy said in an e-mail to judges. The family has asked that that memorial donations be sent to the local chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, he said.


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