Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Services Set for Friday for Retired Judge Elvira Austin
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Services have been scheduled for Friday for retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elvira S. Austin, who died last week at the age of 72.
Austin died Thursday, Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr. informed colleagues yesterday in an email. McCoy said a “celebration” of Austin’s life would take place at Forest Lawn Mortuary, 1500 E. San Antonio Drive in Long Beach Friday at 2 p.m., with a “small viewing” to take place at the same location Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m.
Austin retired from the court in January 2002 after 22 years of judicial service.
The future jurist was born in Kiev, in what was then the U.S.S.R., in 1938. She emigrated to Venezula, where she earned a degree in 1957 and began work for a Caracas law firm, earning admission to the bar in 1962. She came to the United States in 1963, worked part-time as a secretary, and attended Whittier College School of Law, which she graduated from in 1968.
She once noted in a biography for a judicial publication that she had lived under three dictators—Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, and Venezuela’s Marcos Perez Jimenez.
After earning her U.S. law degree, she became a member of the California State Bar and joined the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office in 1969. She eventually became deputy in charge of the San Pedro office.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her to the Long Beach Municipal Court on Oct. 16, 1980. She served a year as the court’s presiding judge in 1985-86, and became a member of the Superior Court with unification in 2000.
Austin’s tenure was at times controversial, as she drew fire not long after taking the bench for holding in contempt and ordering the jailing of a Los Angeles Times reporter and photographer for refusing to divulge information. The case eventually went to the state Supreme Court.
She was publicly admonished in 1997 by the Commission on Judicial Performance for invoking her judicial position to try to get a friend out of jail.
Austin explained that a friend sought her advice in 1995 after learning she was a suspect in an alleged pyramid scheme. The judge said she took her friend to see a lawyer, then called the Lakewood Sheriff’s Station, and it was agreed the woman would turn herself in to be booked and released.
The friend turned herself in, Austin said, but the deputy who had said she would be released was gone. The friend called Austin’s home number, waking the jurist’s terminally ill mother.
Caught between her mother’s badgering and the friend’s tears, Austin said she made several calls to the station to try to get the woman out of jail. Tapes of those calls were the basis for the admonishment.
Austin acknowledged she made a mistake and agreed to be admonished by the commission.
She drew a challenge in her re-election effort the following year. Her opponent claimed she was disheveled on the bench and that she slurred her words.
Austin, who spoke four languages by the age of nine, told the MetNews:
“If my accent sounds slurred, then how can I help it?”
The MetNews endorsed her candidacy, saying that while she “crossed the line” in taking the actions that resulted in discipline by the CJP, “we cannot say that there is adequate cause for voters to oust this jurist from the post she has held for close to two decades.”
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company