Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Superior Court Judge Ellen DeShazer Dies at 76
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ellen C. DeShazer has died.
The 76-year-old Compton-based jurist passed away Sunday night after a prolonged illness, Presiding Judge Carolyn Kuhl informed judicial officers and employees by email yesterday. DeShazer “will be sorely missed by those of us who had the privilege of knowing her” and “was a friend and mentor to many over the years,” Kuhl said.
DeShazer began her career on the bench in 1989 when she was appointed by the Municipal Court Judges Association as a municipal court commissioner. The association at that time had a rotating commissioner who would fill in for whatever judge was serving as president of the group.
She held that position until 1995, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to a Compton Municipal Court judgeship. She helped open Compton’s drug court in 1998.
Elevated by unification to Los Angeles Superior Court in 2000, she helped implement Proposition 36, which established a treatment-based model for drug offenders charged with simple possession for the first or second time, adding those duties to her existing drug court calendar in 2001.
She took on the drug court work, she once told an interviewer, because she disagreed with the widely held view that “if someone was in jail long enough, they’d seen the light.” She described her approach to judging criminal cases as “tough but fair.” A deputy public defender concurred, saying DeShazer was “willing to go the extra mile and bend over backwards” to help defendants, but also had “a hard side” when it came to sentencing those who failed drug tests.
The result, he said, was that those who failed tests repeatedly would do more time “on the installment plan” than if they had simply been sentenced without going through the program.
DeShazer efforts earned her a Martin Luther Jr. Award, bestowed by then-Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, in 2007.
Burke told the MetNews at the time that DeShazer was “so deserving” of the award, which were bestowed on persons who “exemplify the ideals and commitments of” the slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“She just doesn’t sit there and give sentences and hear cases, but she sees a responsibility to utilize her position in a positive way to change the lives of people coming before her,” Burke said.
A native of Wisconsin, DeShazer told a reporter she and her sister were the only black students in their Milwaukee high school, which made for a difficult situation. After graduating, she took a job for the regional phone company, later transferring to positions in Houston, Detroit, and Los Angeles.
In Houston, she supplemented her income by working at the Astrodome as a “glorified usher,” she said. Her most interesting assignment was serving as “ring girl”—walking around the boxing ring carrying a sign with the round number on it—at the internationally broadcast heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Ellis.
After her transfer to Los Angeles, she began taking courses, first at West Los Angeles College and then California State University, Dominguez Hills, before entering Glendale University College of Law. She clerked at the Attorney General’s Office for a year, was admitted to the State Bar at the age of 44, and worked for the state Attorney General’s Office for a year.
She was a deputy district attorney from 1984 until she became a court commissioner. Her final assignment as a prosecutor was to the Child Abuse/Sexual Assault Unit.
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