Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, August 2, 2016


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Retired Court of Appeal Justice Jack E. Goertzen Dies

Known for His Wit, He Presided Over Ceremonial Enrobements


By a MetNews Staff Writer





Memorial services are pending for retired Court of Appeal Justice Jack E. Goertzen, who was known as much for his good nature and sense of humor as for his keen juridical abilities.

He died Saturday, of respiratory problems, at the age of 85.

Considered a master of one-liners, Goertzen officiated, over a period of several years, at Los Angeles Superior Court enrobements. He was a member of that court from 1970-88, and was its presiding judge at the time of his appointment to the Court of Appeal by Gov. George Deukmejian.

At a ceremony in 1991 marking his retirement from office, Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Mildred L. Lillie (since deceased) joked that that “between appearances as a stand-up comic,” Goertzen, as a deputy attorney general (1957-68) who frequently appeared before her court, “did some fine legal work.”

While he was on the Superior Court, she recalled, there were few law-related meetings she attended “at which he did not officiate as master of ceremonies or in some way participate, most likely as the featured speaker,” adding:

“And a delightful one he was.”

She noted that Goertzen “had the reputation of being one of the fairest presiding judges” of the Superior Court and that “without question he was one of the most popular.”

Speaking of his years on the Court of Appeal, Lillie said:

“This affable, congenial gentleman, besides bringing to our court his talents as a fine lawyer and a good judge, brought humor and laughter to an otherwise quiet existence.”

Retained Sharp Wit

With the passage of time, Goertzen incurred physical ailments, but his mental faculties were seen as unimpaired.

“I just saw Jack twice within recent weeks,” former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash related. Nash, now director of Los Angeles County’s new Office of Child Protection, observed:

“He still had that great intellect and sharp wit he exhibited throughout his distinguished legal and judicial career. What a great guy he was.”

Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Isabel Cohen, a former president of the California Women Lawyers, recounted:

“I had the honor of sitting with Jack at the annual Gold Card luncheon a month ago (Independent Retired Judges, for those too new to know what the Gold Card was—now a social group). And I had the honor of taking Jack to his daughter’s home after lunch. He was the smart, charming, self-effacing, funny, wry and sweetheart that he ever was, a collection of attributes rarely found in the same human, especially wry and sweet. He never lost his gift of gab.

“He was a great Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court—the enrobements he presided over were dignified while hilarious, and he served nobly on the Second District Court of Appeal. He was a memorable Jurist, notable, when LASC Presiding Judge, for cracking that trial judges conduct daily battle, after which the Justices of the Court of Appeal ride in and shoot the wounded. He was sui generis; those of us who knew him will miss him.”

State Bar President David Pasternak, who said he “really enjoyed talking” with Goertzen at a reception preceding the June 18 Lawyers Philharmonic performance at Disney Hall, hailed him as a “wonderful man, and a very good judge.”

Executive Committee Member

Former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Harry L. Hathaway is a member of the Executive Committee of the LACBA’s Senior Lawyers Section, which he co-founded and of which he is a past chair. Goertzen was, at the time of his death, a member of that committee.

Hathaway said of Goertzen:

“He will be missed as a very friendly person who was always willing to do more than was expected on behalf of the Section. He will be remembered as a great jurist who never lost sight of the human side of an issue.”

Former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who recently served on that committee with Goertzen, said:

“Jack Goertzen was an all-time good guy with a genuine and quick wit which he shared widely. He substantially contributed to his chosen profession.”

Attorney Lee Kanon Alpert termed Goertzen an “outstanding jurist who never permitted his judicial achievements to overcome his humility and humanity.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey described him as “one of the great jurists.”

Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Lachs said of Goertzen:

“”He was as bright and sharp as anyone I knew, but his warmth, sense of humor, feelings for what was right and wrong, and his spirit of humanity were the things that endeared him to me.”

Was a Trojan

Goertzen was born in Culver City on May 1, 1931. He attended Los Angeles High School and earned his undergraduate and law degrees from USC.

His law studies were interrupted in 1953 when he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. In an oral history interview, as part of the Appellate Court Legacy Project, he recalled that the war ended while he was in basic training, and he served his stint in Oklahoma.

A personality profile published in the MetNews on March 21, 1984, quoted Goertzen as saying:

“They examined my four years of undergraduate [school work and] my one year and a half of law school and decided that those skills qualified me to be a battery mail clerk, which I served as with great distinction.”

He returned to law school at USC, graduating in January, 1957. The future judge was admitted to the State Bar on June 4, 1957, and went to work immediately as a deputy attorney general, a post he held for 11 years.

During that time. He twice argued cases before the United States Supreme Court.

Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul Turner of this district’s Div. Five recited that when the late Stanley Mosk was state attorney general, before joining the California Supreme Court in 1964, “Mosk relied on Jack to handle sensitive cases.” Turner elaborated:

“Stanley did so because he trusted Jack’s judgment and integrity. Once there was a claim that Latina and Latino voters in the Coachella Valley were subject to intimidation in an election. Stanley (a Democrat) directed Jack (a Republican) to investigate the claims and coordinate observing the voting process.

“Stanley saw the California Department of Justice as a non-partisan protector of the rights of Californians and when he needs a lawyer to exemplify that vision, the Attorney General chose Jack. That says it all in my book.”

Joins Municipal Court

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed Goertzen to the Los Angeles Municipal Court on Nov. 18, 1968, elevating him to the Superior Court two years and one day later.

During his tenure on the lower trial bench, Goertzen was the perpetrator of, and the object of, various pranks. He was slated to recount the frolics during a Nostalgia Night program staged by the Senior Lawyers Section in February of last year, but was bared by his doctor from attending due to complications from foot surgery.

Some of his stories were recounted by him on a video—recorded at the home of daughter Joyce Goertzen, with whom he was staying—and shown at the bar dinner. He provided additional reminiscences during a preparatory session.

Most of the tales centered on antics by himself and colleagues Pat Mullendore and Irwin Nebron, both of whom also went on to be appointed to the Superior Court, and predeceased him,

Goertzen told of going with Mullendore to Grand Central Market, which then sold live chickens, buying one, taking it to Nebron’s chambers after the judge had gone for the day, and leaving the bird there, after scattering some feed.

Goertzen said that according to a bailiff, when Nebron came in the next morning, and saw the feathered intruder, he “went crazy.”

The chicken “probably put a little deposit here and there on the carpet,” Goertzen speculated.

Nebron got his revenge, he said.

“He went into the chambers of both Judge Mullendore and myself and he took every other book out of the shelf,” stacking them in a storage room, Goertzen said, noting that the shelves “looked like a huge smile with every other tooth missing.”

A chicken wasn’t the only thing Goertzen and Mullendore bought for Nebron at Grand Central Market. They also bought a pig’s head—which Nebron was startled to find one day in his chambers’ toilet.

Goertzen took pride in his 1965 Porsche. One day, he was driving home and heard constant rattling. When he got to the house, he recounted, he told his wife, Rosalie, that there was a problem with the car. He said she responded:

“Your problem is Mullendore.”

He had phoned to confess to her that he had put bee-bees in the Porsche’s hub caps.

One of Goertzen’s colleagues on the Municipal Court—who was not involved in pranks—was Lance Ito, later a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, now retired. Ito, who gained international fame as the judge presiding over the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, brought to mind:

 “When I was a newly minted LA Muni Court judge, I was introduced to Jack who warmly welcomed me and offered his counsel and advice should I find myself in a difficult situation. AND he had the most marvelous sense of humor...legendary really.”

Superior Court Service

Kenneth Green, who retired in 2000 after nearly 33 years in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, came into contact with Goertzen shortly after the judge’s Nov. 19, 1970 elevation by Reagan to the Superior Court. Green declared:

“I worked in Jack’s Court as a young Public Defender in the early ’70s.

“He was a Prince!

“Everyone loved him.”

Lawrence W. Crispo, a retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge, remembers appearing before Goertzen as a lawyer, representing a client accused of a white collar crime. He said:

“Judge Goertzen was memorable in the manner in which he worked with the DDA and me during that case.”

Crispo added:

“Years later, when I joined the Bench, Jack gave me many insights on the art of judging. He was a true friend to many of us. May he soar with the angels.

Retired U.S. District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian—who served with Goertzen on the Superior Court—commented:

“The legal profession lost an ‘impact player.’ Jack will always be remembered for his common sense problem solving and his humor. He was a truly remarkable person.”

Retired Court of Appeal Justice Elizabeth Baron, who served on the Los Angeles Superior Court as a referee, and then as a commissioner, while Goertzen was on that court, said:

“Jack Goertzen was a lovely man. Kind, sweet, hilariously funny, smart and down to earth. He was a gentleman of the old school.”

Up the Ladder

Goertzen served as supervising judge of the court’s Criminal Division in 1976 and chaired the court’s Historical Events Committee from 1978-80.

Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four was a member of the Superior Court in 1984 when, he remembers, Goertzen was elected assistant presiding judge “virtually by acclamation.”

Goertzen served in that capacity in 1985 and 1986, and became presiding judge in 1987.

The assistant presiding judge at that time was Richard P. “Skip” Byrne, whose recollections of Goertzen appear in a box on this page—including his facilitating the surprise serenading of Goertzen in Department One by members of the Trojan Marching Band. The event was orchestrated by Irving Feffer, later a judge of the court, now deceased.

“My dad was extremely proud of the surprise and it was one of his favorite stories,” Justin Feffer, an investigator for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said.


Goertzen is seen in chambers while serving in 1987 as Los Angeles Superior Court presiding judge.


Terms of presiding judges, now two years, were then one year, but with near-certainty of unopposed reelection for a second year’s term. No controversy surrounded Goertzen, and he was awarded a term for calendar year 1988.

However, that second term was cut short. On March 7, 1988, then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed Goertzen to Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal, and he was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments on April 4 of that year.

Again, he gained the respect and affection of colleagues—or maintained good feelings toward him of those with whom he was already acquainted.

“I have known Jack Goertzen for more than 50 years,” retired Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Robert Feinerman reflected. “He was an outstanding judge, but more importantly, he was an outstanding human being with a great sense of humor, unpretentious, and upright with everyone he came in contact with.”

Div. Four’s Epstein declared:

“It would be difficult to name a more beloved judge than Jack Goertzen….To know him was to like him, and I have never heard an exception to that adage as applied to him.”

Robert Devich, now retired, served with Goertzen on both the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal. He said yesterday:

“Jack was truly one of a kind. A person whom people enjoyed, just having around, to listen to his ageless jokes and his mannerisms in telling those jokes. Once Jack came into any room, dinner or business, loaded with people, everybody knew he was there and they wanted to see him and talk with him. He always lighted up a group of lawyers, judges and non-legal people just by circulating within any event he attended, and spending time with them.”

Goertzen remained on the Court of Appeal until his retirement on Aug. 31, 1991, subsequently serving as a pro tem member of the Superior Court for six months, and then as a private judge.

‘Family Man’

Bruce Sottile, a retired judge who served on the Superior Court with Goertzen, termed his former colleague “a devoted husband, a great family man and an outstanding jurist.”

Goertzen and his wife, Rosalie Goertzen, nicknamed “Fro,” were wed in 1959. She died on Sept. 15, 2007.

They are survived by four daughters, one son, and five grandchildren.

Retired Justice Devich mentioned:

“Jack and his late wife Fro were a wonderful and loving couple. A visit to their home, with their children present, was a joy. Fro was the type of person, with her own style of humor, who would needle Jack and get him started into his own sense of humor, in order to compete with her. Their home was truly a house full of fun. I can imagine that heaven is a much happier place, if that is possible, now that Jack and Fro are together again.”




Recollections of Goertzen


By RICHARD P. BYRNE Jr., Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge


While I had known Jack for a number of years, I really got to know him when we worked together, he as presiding judge and I as assistant presiding judge, from January 1987 until he was elevated to the court of appeal in April 1988.

Shortly before I began as APJ I received a call from attorney Irving Feffer, later a member of our court, asking if I would approve and help coordinate an appearance by the USC Marching Band in Department One on Jack’s first day as PJ in January 1987. Jack was a died-in-the-wool Trojan and, even though I’m a UCLA grad, I agreed. Just before I took the bench, I asked Jack to step into the courtroom in Department One to answer a few questions, since it was my first day calling the calendar. He was in his shirtsleeves and the courtroom was full. I pointed to the bench and asked him to take a seat. He was hesitant but complied. I gave the prearranged signal, the doors to Department One flew open and the USC Marching Band entered playing “Fight On.” They paraded around the courtroom playing various SC songs for about 5-7 minutes. It was quite a show and something Jack always remembered and talked about.

While Jack had a wonderful personality and sense of humor he took his job as PJ very seriously and dealt well with the myriad problems associated with administering the most complex court of general jurisdiction in the US. There were other challenging issues during his tenure, including jail overcrowding, implementation of the delay reduction/fast track program, night court and several lawsuits brought by the ACLU and LACBA. When things got hectic he would pull me up close, look me right in the eye and say, “Are we having fun yet?”

Jack was a man of integrity and compassion. He was smart and hardworking and a joy to work with. We had many good times together and I will miss him.


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