Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Retired Superior Court Judge Richard Denner Dies at 69
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard E. Denner has died at the age of 69.
Denner, a commissioner from 1974 to 1985 and a judge from 1985 to 2006, died Friday of a heart attack. Sources said he had been ill for about five months.
Lee Friedman, chief financial officer of Alternative Resolution Centers, where Denner had worked as a private judge since retiring from the court, said services would be private.
Friedman called Denner “a sweet, wonderful man with a great sense of humor, who put people at ease.” The Los Angeles native was “really important to ARC” and was very much sought-after for his knowledge of family law and ability to settle cases.
Retired Commissioner Keith Clemens recalled practicing before Denner.
“As a lawyer he terrified me,” Clemens explained, because his standards were so high. “As a colleague he was wonderful. He was helpful, he was very smart, and very knowledgeable.”
Denner was a graduate of Occidental College, where he majored in business administration, and earned his law degree at Boalt Hall in Berkeley in 1965. After a brief spell in private practice, he became a deputy public defender, starting in the mental health courts before moving to juvenile court and then to felony assignments, the last four years handling homicides.
As a newly named commissioner, he was assigned to family law, an assignment that he had a great number of misconceptions about, viewing it through the prism of the television show “Divorce Court,” he once told an interviewer.
He wound up spending his entire judicial career in the field, first as a commissioner and then, after his appointment by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, as a judge.
Over his years in the family law courts downtown, his name often appeared in newspapers as he handled divorces or custody battles involving Janet Jackson, Erik Estrada, Bruce Springsteen, Sylvester Stallone, and Leonard Nimoy, among others.
As an adoption judge, he became known for his willingness to allow adoption of children by custodial parents’ same-sex partners, as if they were step-parents, years before the approach was approved by the state Supreme Court and the Legislature.
As family law supervising judge in the mid-1990s, he focused on gender and racial bias and speeding cases along by granting continuances only in exceptional circumstances. He also instituted a controversial policy requiring that attorneys organize and exchange exhibits prior to mandatory settlement conferences.
He frequently wrote and spoke on family law issues and participated in the court’s family law symposia and many other family-law-related events.
Off the bench, he was known for his love of classical guitar, which he occasionally played in chambers.
In an interview with the MetNews last year, he said he took up the instrument at age 38 because he was going through “a middle age crisis” and wanted to “do something.” Learning guitar appealed to him, he said.
He said he kept his guitar in his chambers in order to practice, and to threaten lawyers. “I used to tell the lawyers, ‘Settle this case or I’ll play music until you do,’” he joked.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company