Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Court of Appeal Justice Walter Croskey Dies at 81
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Court of Appeal Justice H. Walter Croskey, who served on this district’s Div. Three for more than 26 years, died Friday at the age of 81.
Court Clerk/Administrator Joseph Lane said Croskey had been hospitalized for treatment of a blood disorder. Doctors were initially hopeful of a recovery, but his condition recently took a term for the worse, Croskey said.
Services were pending as of Friday afternoon.
His colleague, Justice Richard Aldrich, noted that Croskey’s death came on the 20th anniversary of Aldrich being sworn in. The four members of that division, including Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein and Justice Patti Kitching, served together that entire time, one of the longest tenures of an appellate division in the state’s history.
“It was a privilege for me to have served 20 years with him,” Aldrich said. He was “a man possessed of unique qualities,” whose “body of legal opinions will guide generations of lawyers and trial courts in the proper application of the law,” the justice added.
He described Croskey as “an invaluable and trusted colleague and friend” who had “an incredible moral compass, both in his work on the Court of Appeal and as a person.”
Kitching, who joined the court a year before Aldrich, described Croskey as “a brilliant jurist” whose “legacy will live on through the hundreds of opinions he authored, the books he wrote, and the judges and lawyers who were fortunate enough to hear his lectures.”
He was also a “gracious and giving person,” she said, “who was always available to discuss difficult issues in our cases” and “was a wonderful colleague, and also my dear friend.”
Won and Lost
A native of Los Angeles whose father was a railroad worker and whose mother was a librarian, he attended public schools in El Monte, Montebello and South Pasadena, he earned his undergraduate and law degrees at USC. He graduated law school in 1958, was admitted to the State Bar the following January, and began his career as a commissioned officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the U.S. Navy.
After his 1962 discharge, he practiced with a succession of small firms in Beverly Hills and Century City, concentrating on commercial, business and real estate litigation. He was a partner in the firm of Croskey, Hoffman & Klausen when then-Gov. George Deukmejian named him to the Los Angeles Superior Court in December 1984.
He also served on the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of its Litigation Section and a member of its delegation to the State Bar Conference of Delegates, as well as on several committees. He remained active in local bar activities while serving on the trial bench, and authored articles for various bar publications on diverse subjects, including torts, attorney fee awards, wrongful termination, insurance bad faith, contracts, and evidence.
His many awards included Trial Jurist of the Year, bestowed by LACBA in 1998, and the Bernard S. Jefferson Award for distinguished service, given by the California Judges Association in 1992.
Considered for Supreme Court
He was elevated to the Court of Appeal by Deukmejian in 1987 when Justice David Eagleson was elevated to the Supreme Court. He was reportedly considered for elevation to the Supreme Court on two occasions in 1990, first when Justice Marcus Kaufman stepped down, then when Eagleson declined to seek retention, but the appointments went to Court of Appeal Justices Armand Arabian and Marvin Baxter.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Croskey’s death was “sad news for the judicial branch.” She noted that he was the chair of the Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Civil Jury Instructions and was part of a number of the council’s other committees and programs. “He was clearly committed to increasing access to justice,” the chief justice said.
Croskey also served on the Commission on Impartial Courts, which was appointed by now-retired Chief Justice Ronald George in 2007, and on its Task Force on Judicial Selection and Retention.
The justice, a Republican, spoke often and passionately on the need to keep outside influences, especially politics, out of judicial decisionmaking.
Judges, he once told a reporter, should stand for reelection on their records and not on party affiliation. He noted that he had never met Deukmejian, who appointed him, until he was already a Superior Court judge.
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of this district’s Div. Six said:
“Justice Walter Croskey was a preeminent justice. His opinions were masterful, scholarly and thorough. He interpreted the law in the light of reason, fairness and practicality.
“Although we seldom disagreed about the law, our political views were light years apart. We shared our diametrically opposed ideas with humor and good cheer. Walter was collegial, warm and sensitive. He touched all of us with his smile and good cheer.”
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul A. Turner of this district’s Div. Five commented:
“Walter Croskey has established a record of public service rarely matched in our time—naval officer, lawyer, bar leader, judge, Justice, author, lecturer and most important, a truly good and decent man.”
Presiding Justice Roger Boren of Div. Two, administrative presiding justice for the Second District, said:
“I was very sorry to learn about the passing of Justice Walter Croskey. He has been my good colleague on this court for over two decades.
Justice Croskey was admired by just about everyone on this court. He was friendly and full of good humor. When one asked him to help with judicial administration or committee matters, he was always willing to help and he did help.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said:
“Justice Croskey brought integrity and leadership to the courts. He served his country in the U.S. Navy as a JAG and made significant contributions to the legal profession and the community through his dedication, ability and expertise.”
Former Los Angeles District Attorney Robert Philibosian credited Croskey with “an astute legal mind and a consummate gentleman on and off the bench.”
Patrick Kelley’s Comments
Former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Patrick M. Kelly, western regional managing partner of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, had this to say:
“Walt was a beacon of legal excellence but, more importantly, he was a true and caring friend. I had the honor of working with Walt in bar related matters and later when he rose to the bench.
“I was honored to work with him as one of the original co-authors of the California Litigation Guide. In undertaking that project Walt was the driving force in leading that publication. Later, when he was appointed to the appellate bench, Walt continued to distinguish himself by thoughtful common sense opinions that are leading authorities, particularly in the insurance field.
“On a personal note, Walt performed the ceremony when my wife Gail and I were married and our friendship continued through the years.
“It is an often overused phrase to say one has been in the presence of greatness. In Walt’s case it is absolutely true because his ‘greatness’ inspired all he came in contact with and it can truly be said there was no more compassionate and caring human being. He has truly left a great and inspiring legacy of excellence and compassion.
“Gail and I will miss him greatly and our most heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Diane and his family.”
Members of the appellate bar expressed grief Friday over Croskey’s death.
Douglas J. Collodel of Sedgwick LLP, a downtown Los Angeles firm, said of the late jurist:
“He was remarkably intelligent and hard-working, but what I recall most about him is the desire he had to reach the right and just result.
“More important, I can honestly say that, in my 30 years of practice, Justice Croskey is in a very short list of judges who treat everyone with respect and dignity – he truly exemplified the “Esq.” that so many lawyers take for granted, if indeed knowing what it should mean in our profession.
“In short, Justice Croskey was a real gentleman and scholar.”
Former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Edith R. Matthai, of the Bunker Law Firm of Robie & Matthai, related:
“I had the honor to serve for many years on the [Judicial Council’s] CACI [California Civil Jury Instructions] committee which Justice Croskey chaired beginning in 2005. He led our committee with style and grace, making sure that the sometimes heated debates never became unprofessional. He will be missed by all who knew him as an extraordinary contributor to our legal community.”
Former Court of Appeal Justice Margaret M. Grignon, now with the Bunker Hill law firm of Reed Smith LLP, said:
“It is difficult to imagine a world in which Justice Walter Croskey is not on the bench with his colleagues in Division Three. Although the world will seem much dimmer, Justice Croskey will continue to shine on through his great body of work and in the memories of those who knew him.”
Veteran appellate lawyer Edward Horowitz, who both won and lost cases in front of Croskey—including one where he thought the justice “got the law completely wrong”—said he “would gladly have him decide any appeal that I had.” Croskey’s passing is “a great loss to the legal and judicial community.”
Appellate lawyer Wendy Lascher, a past president of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers and currently president elect of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, termed Croskey a “brilliant scholar but a very practical jurist,” going on to say:
“Everyone appreciated his thoughtful questions from the bench and more thoughtful opinions, but my fondest recollection is listening to him in a court conference room with a class of students from the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Justice Croskey’s patience with, and respect for, the high school students left a lasting impression.”
Beverly Hills attorney Honey Amado said she viewed Croskey as “a luminary on our appellate bench and a gentleman,” noting that he “was a delight to argue to and a pleasure to work with.”
Westwood attorney Gary L. Bostwick recounted:
“I once told a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ‘What we want and need are judges who are fair, smart, firm and considerate. The politics don’t matter.’ ”
“Every time I argued before Justice Croskey I got just that. He was as asset to our community, in the widest sense of the word. I’m sorry he has fallen from the ranks.”
Greines, Martin Lawyers
Kent L. Richland, a partner in the mid-Wilshire firm of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP and a past chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Appellate Courts Section, declared:
“Justice Croskey was the perfect combination of tremendous judicial talent, unbridled enthusiasm for the law and pervasive personal humility—a finer appellate justice is unimaginable. It’s a tremendous loss to the Second Appellate District and the legal community as a whole.”
Robert A. Olson, also a partner in Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland and a past president of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers, reflected:
“A great loss. A leading light on the bench. The leading judicial mind on insurance law. A pleasure to appear before because he had cogent, insightful questions and made you think, but was always pleasant and courteous.”
Marc J. Poster of that firm, a past president of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers and a past chair of LACBA’s Appellate Courts Section, offered these words:
“Justice Croskey was the epitome of an appellate justice. He was hard-working, thoughtful, curious and careful, with no ax to grind. He was only interested in reaching the right result in every case, big or small. He loved tackling and subduing a complex legal problem.
“Despite all that, he was unassuming, kind and friendly both on the bench and off. ‘Hi, I’m Walt’ was the way he introduced himself to everyone he met.”
Horvitz & Levy Attorneys
News of Croskey’s death evoked this comment from Encino attorney David M. Axelrad of Horvitz & Levy LLP:
“I am in shock. Justice Croskey was quite simply one of the great judges in the history of the California judiciary and one of the finest jurists I have encountered anywhere in over 35 years of practice.
“And, he was one of the nicest people I have ever met.”
Lisa Perrochet, of the same firm, a past chair of LACBA’s Appellate Courts Section, said in an e-mail:
“Wow. We’re all so saddened and stunned. He commanded the highest respect and admiration from all of us here at Horvitz & Levy.
“Barry Levy is in my office right now, and his comment is, ‘Justice Croskey was more than a great appellate justice. He was a real gentleman, whose opinions and treatise set the gold standard for legal scholarship..’
“David Ettinger is here also, and was pointing out what a tireless worker Justice Croskey was. He always dug deeply into the details of the cases he heard, never treating any matter as routine.”
Levy and Ettinger are both past presidents of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers
Mitchell C. Tilner, a partner in Horvitz & Levy, hailed Croskey as “one of the shining lights of California’s appellate bench, crediting him with being “smart, diligent, courteous, and generous with his time.”
Tilner said his “contribution to California insurance law, in particular, has been profound and will influence the development of the law for many years to come.”
Insurance Law Expertise
Others also cited Croskey’s expertise in insurance law. Olson, of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, characterized him as the “leading judicial mind on insurance law.”
Caroline E. Chan, a downtown Los Angeles practitioner, said he was “a superstar in the field of insurance and many other areas of the law.” She went on to say his “opinions were always fair and soundly reasoned.”
Roy G. Weatherup of the downtown Los Angeles firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, provided this assessment:
“He was one of the finest jurists in California. He wrote brilliant, well reasoned opinions. He was particularly known as a scholar in insurance law.”
Former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Rex S. Heinke of Akin Gump described Croskey as “a warm and generous man,” adding:
“He was widely admired for his fine intellect and great legal knowledge—especially of insurance law.”
Neil Selman, a partner in the Westwood law firm of Selman Breitman LLP, said:|
“All of us in California will miss Justice Croskey for his intelligence and demeanor, but insurance lawyers will miss him the most. Through his writings, his treatise and legal opinions, Justice Croskey became the ‘go to’ justice on insurance.
“Being able to state in an argument before any court that the case you were citing was ‘a Croskey decision” had the same impact in insurance cases that citing [California Chief] Justice [Roger] Traynor had in products cases a generation ago.”
M.C. Sungaila, who practices with the Costa Mesa law firm of Snell & Wilmer L.L.P., remarked:
“Justice Croskey was a scholarly judge who cared deeply about the law, and was thoughtful and respectful to counsel who appeared before him. His expertise in the area of insurance law is legendary….”
Daniel P. Barer, of the Westwood Law Firm of Pollak, Vida & Fisher, commented:
“Justice Croskey’s deep knowledge of insurance law, public entity law, and other intricacies of California law was an invaluable asset to California’s jurisprudence. Arguing before him could be challenging, but it was always a pleasure.”
Douglas Fee, a former president of the Irish American Bar Association, observed:
“Justice Croskey, as many will say, was incisive and thorough both at oral argument and in writing opinions. Indeed, he was in some respects brilliant and was rightly considered a guru of insurance law. I must say he was capable of seeing things as others did not, and of coming up with surprises. Withal, a real gentleman, top jurist, and sore loss to the law.”
Melinda W. Ebelhar, of the Pasadena firm of Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP, said:
“He was always interested in the argument, interested in the intellectual challenge. His knowledge of insurance law was breathtaking; we joke about “Croskey on Insurance,” which isn’t really too far off the mark given his co-authorship of the Rutter Guide on insurance.”
Don Willenburg, a partner in the Oakland firm of Gordon & Rees LLP, said Croskey’s opinions “in a wide variety of areas, not just the apparent favorite area of insurance coverage, were thoughtful, sometimes even beyond where the law was ready to go.”
“I am still waiting for someone else to pick up on his take on setoffs and comparative fault damages in his 59-page concurrence in Bostick v. Flex Equipment Co. (2007).”
Gwen Freeman of Knapp, Petersen & Clarke had these thoughts:
“As an insurance coverage lawyer, I appreciated Justice Croskey’s tremendous grasp of the subject, but, even more, the fact that he so relished oral argument, delighting in this area of the law that most others consider uninteresting and dry. Appearing in front of him was, how else do I say it? Fun.”
Tyna Orren, chair of LACBA’s Appellate Courts Section, noted that she was Croskey’s research attorney for six years.
“Being an up close observer of his impassioned mind at work was a joy and an adventure not to be matched,” she said.
“I am devastated by his too early departure.”
Phil Goar is a senior judicial attorney at this district’s Court of Appeal, assigned to Division One’s presiding justice, Frances Rothschild. He said:
“Justice Croskey was a strong supporter of the court’s research attorneys—providing us complementary passes to judicial education programs, speaking at research attorney conferences and looking out for our interests in the judicial bureaucracy. We’ve lost a great friend.”
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein has a background as a research attorney. In his estimation, Croskey “was renowned among lawyers, and admired among colleagues, for his good judgment.”
Stuart B. Esner of Esner Chang & Boyer was a research attorney for Justice Eugene McCloskey (now deceased) and has practiced appellate law for several years.
“Preparing for oral argument in Division Thee always meant trying to be ready for Justice Croskey’s probing questions,” he recalled. “His capacity to delve deeply into an issue was remarkable.
“But more importantly at least to me was how gracious and generous with his time he was off the bench.”
Woodland Hills attorney Rita Gunasekaran, a former chair of the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, also served as a research attorney before becoming an appellate law specialist.
“Justice Croskey was dearly loved by all of us appellate attorneys,” she remarked. “If he was on the panel, we knew that he would have delved deeply into the case, read our briefs carefully, and would cut directly to the heart of the matter at oral argument.
“It was therefore always a pleasure to appear before him.”
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