Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Retired Magistrate Judge John Kronenberg Dies at 87
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge John R. Kronenberg, one of the more controversial individuals to hold that normally low-profile position, has died at 87.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Byrne said Kronenberg passed away last Friday. Yesterday would have been his 88th birthday.
Information on funeral services could not be immediately confirmed.
Byrne said he and Kronenberg had been friends since 1960, when they did battle in preliminary hearings in Compton. Byrne was a deputy district attorney and Kronenberg a deputy public defender.
Byrne acknowledged that his friend was sometimes described as eccentric or hard-headed by lawyers who appeared in front of him. But “he was very good at what he did he and he had the interests of the people at heart,” Byrne said.
Kronenberg “spoke his mind, without fear, and some people didn’t like it, but most people appreciated what he did,” Byrne told the MetNews.
Kronenberg left the Public Defender’s Office in 1973 to accept the magistrate’s position, which he held until his retirement in 1992. He had been living in Aliso Viejo in Orange County.
Lawyers interviewed for a newspaper profile in the 1980s described Kronenberg as hot-tempered. His name often made the newspapers because of the high-profile defendants who appeared before him, but on occasion it was his own remarks and outbursts from the bench that drew attention.
Such was the case in 1986, when he ordered an accused child molester released on bail over the protests of prosecutor Joyce Karlin, later a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. Kronenberg said that John Karl Herriot, 33, a former Boy Scout leader and a teacher in a Roman Catholic school charged with transporting two boys into the United States from Mexico for immoral purposes, was not “a threat to anyone, except perhaps in the sexual field.”
Karlin insisted that the defendant, who was already on bail on state charges when the federal indictment came down, was a threat to the community. The magistrate insisted, however, that he did not consider Herriot a threat because local standards regarding sexual conduct were “practically non-existent” in the Los Angeles community.
He criticized the Los Angeles Times as contributing to the low standards, saying the newspaper had just published a three-part series “glorifying one of the leading pornographers in the country,” Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, and noting that its parent company owned a cable service that carried the Playboy Channel.
He added that Palo Alto, where the defendant’s parents lived, had “a liberal university” whose standards were “probably just as low.”
Judge Robert Takasugi, since deceased, blocked the defendant’s release.
In another case, Kronenberg said he was considering granting bail to accused war criminal Andrija Artukovic, interior minister in the Nazi-backed Croatian government during World War II. Artukovic was eventually extradited to Yugoslavia and died in prison in 1988, after a court ruled he was too sick to execute.
Before that, Kronenberg voiced concern over the age and health of Artucovic, who had obtained a visitor’s visa under a false name and lived in the United States since the late 1940s. But just as he was due to issue his ruling on bail, he was removed from the case by then-Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real, who reportedly dictated the order to the clerk over the phone while attending a conference in Washington, D.C.
Real said that the case had been “improvidently” assigned to Kronenberg after another magistrate had denied bail, and that it should be returned to the first magistrate.
In another 1986 ruling, Kronenberg denied a habeas corpus petition by former Black Panther Party member Geronimo Pratt, convicted of a 1968 robbery-murder on a Santa Monica tennis court. The jurist said that there was “no evidence of a conspiracy” on the part of the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department to frame Pratt, whose attorneys argued that prosecutors never knew of the ties the key witness, Julio or Julius Butler, had with the FBI.
Kronenberg’s ruling was upheld on appeal, although the claims made in the federal case formed the basis of a state court ruling that freed Pratt more than a decade later.
Kronenberg was a native of Spokane, Wash., and the eldest of five children. He grew up in Santa Monica and then returned to Spokane to attend college at Gonzaga University.
He later attended the University of Oklahoma while in the Army, and worked in Southern California for Douglas Aircraft as a tool design engineer for six years after the war. He graduated from Loyola Law School in 1958 and was admitted to the State Bar of California the following year.
Kronenberg is survived by his wife, Marilyn Kronenberg, three adult children, and numerous grandchildren.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company