Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, December 1, 2014


Page 11


FEATURE (Column)

Recalling the Days When the Judges Cracked Down on Vice in Hollywood

One of Three Tough Sentencers Pays Tribute to Colleague, Michael Nash




(The writer is a justice of the Court of Appeal, sitting in this district’s Div. Five. He was one of several speakers on Nov. 20 at a retirement dinner for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court. Nash has been a member of the Superior Court since 1989. For four years before that, he was a judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. When the Hollywood Courthouse was opened, Nash, Kriegler, and the late Harold Crowder were assigned there. Their crackdown on prostitution—issuing jail sentences rather than fines on the prostitutes and their customers—rid the area of the vice that had been rampant. The photographs accompanying this article were used by Kriegler in a PowerPoint presentation. More than 400 persons attended the dinner, held in Monterey Park, near the Children’s Courthouse where Nash has sat since the facility opened in 1992, holding a leadership role since 1995.)




I have been asked to say a few words about Mike Nash’s time at the Hollywood court. Mike and I actually go back to 1975, when we met in the Attorney General’s Office. Two words described him then and now: Tenacious and audacious. Mike is simply the type of person one meets but does not forget.




Mike has changed in some unexpected ways over the years.

He was the hard charging prosecutor in the Hillside Strangler trial:



Here he is in Hollywood:



This is his Al Pacino look:



Then he cleaned up during his Michael Douglas phase:



This is Mike hugging a teddy bear:



Let me give you the condensed version of our time in the Hollywood court, with a few inside stories that have never been told. The brand new Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Municipal Court opened in 1986, specifically to deal with Hollywood’s many unique problems.

The presiding judge of the Municipal Court selected Mike Nash, Harry Crowder, and myself to be the three Hollywood judges. That presiding judge was soon recalled by our colleagues, but I am pretty sure we were not the reason for the recall.

It was great to work with Mike again. Mike was a terrific lawyer. He was part of the team that obtained convictions on nine counts of first degree murder in the Hillside Strangler case, a case that the sitting DA said was too weak to even prosecute.

Mike fought other hard battles, never backing down no matter the case or the opponent. Mike vigorously argued multiple cases in the California Supreme Court in the late 1970s, a court that was very unfriendly to prosecutors. Mike lost most of those Supreme Court cases.

Controversial Arena

For a little three judge municipal court, the Hollywood court turned out to be a controversial place. We challenged the system by deviating from the local legal customs. Mike was instrumental in setting up the procedures we followed. Our approach did not sit well with everyone and there was some push back.

The low point was a truly idiotic election challenge against Mike. He won easily, but it was unpleasant.

Even the new presiding judge of the Municipal Court got into the act. He came to the court in Hollywood and told Crowder, our supervising judge, that he was going to make some transfers due to complaints he had received. Crowder was one tough guy—a veteran of two wars and former LAPD detective in the famous Hat Squad. While the PJ talked, Crowder sipped his cup of coffee and puffed on a cigarette. When the PJ was done, Harry told the PJ—and I am cleaning this up—that he wasn’t going to transfer anyone, and the PJ should take a particular part of his anatomy back downtown and stay there, because we did not need or ask for his help. We never saw that PJ again, who by the way, ended up serving a term in federal prison.

Drop in Crime

Despite the unwanted attention we received, Hollywood was a positive experience. The three of us banded together, meeting every morning before court and at the end of the day—no one left until all the courts were dark. Major crime dropped precipitiously in Hollywood. The Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous resolution commending the Hollywood judges for applying the law as written and for the court’s positive impact on the community.

We worked hard. In 1987, the three of us conducted 117 jury trials, about 30 more trials than the entire downtown panel of misdemeanor judges. One poor judge made a sarcastic comment about the Hollywood court at a judges’ meeting. Mike, who had just come off of his election challenge and was not in the best of moods, turned around and said—well I can’t say it—but it was just two words, the second of which was “you.” And no, he did not say “bless you.”

Advocates Openness

Mike believed then, as he does now, that courts should operate in the open and be subject to scrutiny. The Los Angeles Times sent a very experienced reporter out for an entire week to watch the Hollywood court in action, and we made everything and everyone available to him. He then wrote a lengthy article, which included this:

“As a Times reporter observed them over a period of several days, the judges conscientiously reminded defendants of their right to public defenders, handed down several sentences of straight probation and presided over their courtrooms with an almost friendly attitude toward some of the accused criminals appearing before them.”

That is the way I remember it, too.

Mike, old buddy—it has been an honor and privilege to work with you for the last 40 years and to be able to call you a friend. Your passion for always doing the right thing, and your commitment to children, is inspiring. I have just one last thought: it is a lot easier to follow Steve Lavin than Johnny Wooden as the UCLA basketball coach. I don’t envy the guy who has to follow Presiding Judge Michael Nash of the Juvenile Court.


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