Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Page 3


Ninth U.S. Circuit Senior Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall Dies at 82


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Senior Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall has died.

The 82-year-old Hall died Saturday “after a long and valiant battle with cancer,” the court said in a release. The court said she died at her home in Pasadena with her family at her bedside, four days after deciding to forego further treatment and enter hospice care.

The court said it would hold a memorial service at a later date.

Hall was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, who elevated  her to the Ninth Circuit in 1984. She assumed senior status in 1997, but continued to hear cases until her death.

During the past year, she participated in oral arguments by video from her chambers rather than travel to court, due to her illness.

Hall was the fifth woman to be appointed to the court. At the time of her death, she ranked 17th in seniority among the court’s 47 active and senior judges.

“Judge Hall was a respected jurist who took strong positions and stood by them,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said of Hall, who was considered a strongly conservative jurist. “She was a valued colleague and a good friend to many. She will be missed.”

Hall came to the district bench from the U.S. Tax Court, where she served from 1972 to 1981. She had worked in private practice in Beverly Hills from 1966 to 1972 as a founding partner of Brawerman & Holcomb. 

Earlier in her career, she was an attorney advisor in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of the Tax Legislative Counsel from 1964 to1966; a trial attorney in the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1960 to 1964 and a research assistant for the Tax Law Review, from 1959 to 1960.

She attended Stanford University, graduating in 1951, and served in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps as a reserve lieutenant from 1951 to 1953. She graduated from Stanford Law School in 1954—Sandra Day O’Connor was a classmate—but, like other women lawyers of that era, had difficulty getting a job.

 “Today, they could be sued for some of the answers I was given,” she once told a reporter, referring to law firms with which she interviewed.

She was eventually hired by Phoenix-based Ninth Circuit Judge Richard Chambers, becoming the circuit’s first fulltime woman law clerk. After completing her clerkship, she went to New York University, where she received an LL.M. in taxation in 1960.

She married Latham & Watkins tax partner John Hall in 1970. He was named to a senior Treasury Department position at the same time as her appointment to the Tax Court, and they lived in Washington for two years before he returned to practice in Los Angeles, after which she commuted between the coasts.

John Hall died in a plane crash in 1980. He received the coveted Dana Latham Award from the County Bar’s Taxation Section, posthumously, in 1981.

The judge herself received that honor in 1989.

Aside from her work, the judge’s interests including travel, gardening, and photography. A plaque at the entrance to the Ninth Circuit courthouse in Pasadena recognizes her efforts to beautify the grounds of the building.

Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Michael Daly Hawkins said in a statement:

“[Those grounds],  which she took on as a personal challenge, are among the most exquisitely landscaped of any public building this side of Versailles and her photographs, in black and white capturing the essence of her colleagues and in stunning colors showing our courthouses, are as much a part of her legacy as the cases she decided.”

Senior Judge Betty Fletcher described Hall as “a true renaissance woman,” saying “her photography was that of an artist; her travels and travelogues those of an adventurous soul, remarkable for even a world traveler.”

Fletcher added that Hall “had great tragedy in her life but the strength to surmount it.”

Hall was active in court governance, serving on various committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States, including the Committee on International Judicial Relations. She also served on the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council.

 “Judge Hall was the most deeply versatile person I’ve ever known – a unique, indomitable presence, who was unfailingly generous and gracious as a friend and colleague,” Judge Pamela Rymer commented.

Hall is survived by her brother, Lowell Holcomb; her daughter, Desma Holcomb, and son, Harris Hall; as well as three grandchildren and several stepchildren and step-grandchildren.

Her family requested that any memorial donations be made to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108, or to St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church, 1175 San Gabriel Blvd., San Marino, CA 91108.


Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company