Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gutman Dies at 78
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Gutman has died at age 78.
Northwest District Supervising Judge Richard Kirschner yesterday confirmed the passing of Gutman, who has been on extended sick leave. Kirschner declined further comment, saying Gutman’s widow asked that no formal announcement be made until today.
Gutman was appointed to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1993 after a 35-year career as an attorney. A family law practitioner for nearly 20 of those years, he was assigned a criminal docket when he joined the bench, and later served as a supervising judge of the Northwest District.
Born and reared in New York, and the middle child of three brothers, Gutman lived through the Great Depression. He said in an interview shortly after joining the bench that he became interested in the law when his father, a Russian-Polish immigrant who lost his job as a shoe salesman, began watching trials at the federal courthouse and describing what he had seen each day to the family.
Gutman attended college at New York University and graduated from law school there in 1955. However, having deferred his eligibility to be drafted for military service while in school, he found after graduating that his lack of military service scared away potential employers.
Recounting that employers were asking him how long he could work before he would be drafted, he said he decided to confront the problem and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He later served on a destroyer, patrolling the Straits of Formosa between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, where he served as the reporter for courts martial on the ship because he was the only one onboard with any legal experience.
Gutman left the Navy in 1958, and came to California where he joined the State Bar. He served as an associate and partner in general practice at a number of law firms until 1971, when he entered solo practice, and then became a partner at Gutman, Seider & Cohan in 1974 practicing family law.
He said in 1993 that he initially represented large corporate firms as a trial lawyer, but found himself increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated dealing with decisions his management clients made about litigation. He explained that he later opted to practice family law because, “[w]hile you don’t control the client’s decision, you play a very direct part in the communication and the give-and-take of representation,” while still getting “a feeling of helping people.”
Gutman re-entered solo practice in 1980, which he continued until his appointment to the bench 13 years later.
One of his most high-profile decisions as a jurist came in 2001 when he ordered the release of convicted killer Robert Rosenkrantz, who was serving a 15-year-to-life sentence for second degree murder in the June 28, 1985, shooting death of Steven Redman, a former Calabasas High School classmate who exposed the then-18-year-old Rosenkrantz as a homosexual.
Gutman concluded that then-Gov. Gray Davis had an “unlawful” no-parole policy for convicted murderers, but the California Supreme Court later reversed.
The high court, in In re Rosenkrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616, held that a governor’s decision to grant or deny parole is subject to a limited judicial review to determine only whether it is supported by “some evidence.” The court concluded that Rosenkrantz’s conviction was, and that the record did not support a finding that Davis’ decision resulted from a blanket policy. Rosenkrantz later won parole and was released in 2006.
A member of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills bar associations, Gutman previously served as chair of the groups’ family law sections. He also served as a delegate to the State Bar Conference of Delegates and in 1985 was honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for mediation services for the Superior Court.
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