Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Federal Judge Florence-Marie Cooper Dies at 69
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said Friday that U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper died that morning at age 69.
The court said Cooper passed at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, where she was being treated for lymphoma, two months shy of her planned retirement, and that funeral arrangements are pending.
Chief Judge Audrey B. Collins remembered her colleague as “warm, caring, generous, and always ready to help with legal or non-legal issues,” and said Cooper “was everyone’s friend,” acting as “a legal mentor and a second mother” to her chambers staff.
‘Personified Best Qualities’
Collins said Cooper was “funny, loyal, someone to count on through the good days and the bad days.” As a jurist, Collins added, she “personified the best qualities one could hope for in a federal judge,” displaying “intelligence, analytical reasoning, and endless patience, combined with fairness, the unwavering ability to recognize and correct injustice to the individual, and a passion for justice.”
Former Court of Appeal Justice Miriam A. Vogel, now with Morrison & Foerster LLP, was a law school classmate of Cooper and said she was “one of my dearest friends.”
Vogel praised Cooper as “a wonderful person and an exceptionally well-respected judge,” adding that “everyone who ever appeared in her court came away feeling as though justice had been done, including people who lost.”
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein of this district’s Div. Four opined, “It would take a major effort not to like her.”
Chinese Spy Case
During her tenure on the federal bench, Cooper made headlines dismissing the case against accused Chinese spy Katrina Leung on grounds of governmental misconduct. Leung, a Chinese-American businesswoman, was accused of being a double agent for the U.S. and Chinese governments and copying classified information during liaisons with her FBI handler and lover, James J. Smith.
During pretrial proceedings, Cooper was told the prosecution had reached a plea bargain with Smith that kept him from talking to Leung’s lawyers or anyone else about the case. Saying Leung was being deprived of her constitutional rights and accusing prosecutors of misconduct and “stonewalling,” Cooper dismissed the charges. With a government appeal pending, Leung pleaded guilty to lesser charges but served no jail time.
Cooper also presided over the two-decade copyright battle over the character Winnie the Pooh as well as a case brought by the family of rapper Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, where she declared a mistrial after learning that the city had failed to turn over documents and ordered Los Angeles to pay more than $1 million in attorney fees.
Cooper was a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner from 1983 to 1990, a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge from 1990 to 1992, and a Superior Court judge from 1992 to 1999, when she was tapped for the federal bench by then-President Bill Clinton.
A native of Vancouver, B.C., she moved to San Francisco while her father worked for the Canadian Pacific railroad. After getting married, she moved with her husband to Los Angeles and enrolled in classes at the Beverly Law School, now the Whittier College School of Law, while working as a legal secretary during the day and raising two children.
Cooper graduated magna cum laude in 1975, and served for two years as a law clerk to then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Arthur Alarcón, now a senior judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
After a short time as a deputy city attorney for the City of Los Angeles, Cooper became a research attorney for the district’s Court of Appeal in 1978, reuniting with Alarcón—who had been elevated to the appellate court bench in June of that year—and also serving Justice Arleigh M. Woods, since retired, after Alarcón was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Alarcón said, “I don’t know of any judge that I would rate more highly in every role she had.” He remarked that Cooper “was brilliant, articulate, an incredible communicator in a way that laypersons could understand what she did.”
Cooper was the recipient of several awards by the legal community, including the Outstanding Jurist Award from the Los Angeles County Bar Association in 1999. She was named Judge of the Year by the Criminal Courts Bar Association, the Century City Bar Association, Los Angeles Women Lawyers, and the Criminal Justice Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
In 2000, she was the recipient of the Golden Mike Award from the Radio and Television News Broadcasters Association.
Cooper served on behalf of the California Judicial Council on the Jury Instruction Task Force, the Criminal Advisory Committee and the Cameras in the Court Task Force, and was chair of the Three Strikes Study Committee.
She has been active in LACBA as a member of the Executive Committee of the Litigation Section.
The jurist has also chaired the Media Committee and the Bench & Bar Committee for the Los Angeles Superior Court, and is a former member of the CALJIC Committee and the California Judges Association Executive Board. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers and the Federal Bar Association, and served on the Advisory Board of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women.
At the time of her death, she was serving on the Executive Committee of the Central District.
Cooper also had an extensive teaching background and served for many years on the faculty of the California Judicial College, the California Continuing Judicial Studies Program, National Judicial College, and the University of LaVerne College of Law. She also served as an adjunct professor of law at San Fernando Valley College School of Law from 1980 until 1985.
She is survived by her husband, Les Pickens, daughters Karen Albert and Angela Sample, and son Joe Andrus, all of Los Angeles; her sister Maureen Kelly Schulze of Santa Rosa; and grandchildren.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company