Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Wapner, Byrne, Others Eulogize Long-Time Executive Officer Frank Zolin
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Frank S. Zolin, who served as the Los Angeles Superior Court executive officer from 1969-90, was remembered by eulogists Saturday for his integrity, his administrative skills, and his engaging smile.
Zolin died Aug. 21 at 79.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Wapner described Zolin as an “honorable man” who was “courageous.”
Wapner recounted that as presiding judge in 1969, he unilaterally made the decision to hire Zolin.
Edward C. Gallas, the first executive officer, was leaving his post after an 11-year stint. Zolin had been hired by Gallas as the Executive Office’s first employee.
Wapner disclosed that he turned to California Supreme Court Justice Louis Burke (since deceased), a former Los Angeles Superior Court presiding judge, for advice on who should be tapped to fill the vacancy.
Burke told him: “Frank Zolin’s your man,” Wapner related.
He told those assembled that he had appointed a committee to “look into” what applicant should get the job. That committee, he said, determined that anyone who received two votes would be a finalist.
“Frank got one,” he disclosed, evoking laughter. Wapner remarked:
“I vetoed the committee.”
Wapner—who gained celebrity status while portraying a judge on the television show “People’s Court” from 1981-93 (following his retirement from the bench)—continued:
“I took Frank to lunch, and after several cigarettes and a glass of wine, I told Frank he was going to be hired. And he was.”
Wapner, 92, said:
“I became a very close friend and colleague of Frank’s. I listened to him a great deal.”
Richard P. “Skip” Byrne, the last of 11 presiding judges under whom Zolin served, described a similar relationship with the executive officer, terming him “an invaluable colleague and a friend.” He remarked:
“Presiding judges come and go every two years. It is impossible for a presiding judge to actually run the court, especially a large and complex court like the Los Angeles Superior Court.
“The job of actually running the court is delegated to the executive officer.
“Frank was the man for the job, and Joe did a great job in selecting Frank.”
Byrne, now an independent private judge, said of Zolin:
“He was a gifted administrator. He was hard-working, and committed to getting the job done, and getting it done right.”
Byrne acknowledged that “working with judges can be difficult and challenging,” and observed:
“Judges like to believe that they’re in charge, and running things—and they like to do things their way.
“This could have been a problem, especially for someone like Frank, who had a strong personality and was a capable leader in his own right. But it wasn’t.
“Frank liked the judges, and he liked working with them. He respected them and the position they occupied—and if he had a disagreement with one of them, he handled it directly and privately, and didn’t discuss it with others.”
Byrne credited Zolin with having played a major role in the planning of the child-friendly Children’s Courthouse in Monterey Park, calling the facility, which opened shortly after Zolin resigned as executive officer, “one of Frank’s signature accomplishments.”
Byrne said that Zolin “worked tirelessly for several years with [then-]Supervisor Ed Edelman and many others” on the project.
“Frank played a vital role in everything connected with the court,” Byrne said. “He will be remembered as an innovator, hard-working professional, and a man who loved the court and was dedicated to its success.”
Zolin went to work for the county’s Chief Administrative Office in 1958. Already on the staff at that point was Harry Hufford, who went on to become chief executive officer from 1974-85.
Hufford recalled that Zolin’s skills were quickly recognized within the office. He said of Zolin:
“He had this terrific smile, this great handshake, and this terrific personality—and it didn’t take long to figure out that he needed to work with elected officials….He had the charm and he had the analytical skills, and he was just a natural.”
Zolin, he said, “began working with the courts—the Superior Court, primarily—with the county clerk, Hal Ostley, with his successor, Bill Sharpe.”
Hufford said Zolin’s task was to “keep the judges happy, keep the budget balanced.”
The interplay with judges, Hufford said, was “the basis of how he moved into the Superior Court.”
Zolin not only went on to have charge of the Superior Court’s administrative functions for 22 years, but for the last seven years of that period, also served as county clerk, replacing John Corcoran, who retired. Additionally, he was jury commissioner.
From 1991-95, Zolin was director of the Department of Motor Vehices, then headed the state Board of Control, going into retirement in 1997.
The memorial service, at which others also spoke, was held at The Grand in Long Beach—where Zolin and his soon-to-be bride held their engagement party in 2000. Now a widow, Jan Hall Zolin shared some reflections with the audience, ending by recounting that her late husband would often say to someone with whom he was speaking, “Let’s go to lunch.”
She said he would be buying everyone lunch that day—for the last time. A buffet opened in the next room.
Former California Gov. George Deukmejian and former First Lady Gloria Deukmejian were among those in attendance, as was Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.
In addition to Wapner and Byrne, three retired Los Angeles Superior Court judges who served as presiding judge when Zolin was executive officer were present: Robert Wenke, who headed the court in 1975 and 1976; Jack Goertzen, the presiding judge in 1987 and for three months in 1988 before taking office as a Court of Appeal justice; and Robert Parkin, who was the leader in 1997 and 1998.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company