Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 10, 2018


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Legal Community Bemoans Death of Former Governor George Deukmejian

Hailed for Judicial Appointments, Hands-on Approach, Humility


By a MetNews Staff Writer


—Staff Photograph

Former California Gov. George Deukmejian.


The legal community has been hard hit by news of the death Tuesday of former Gov. George Deukmejian, known for the care he took in his selection of appointees to the bench and for his adept management, prior to becoming the state’s 35th chief executive, of the Office of Attorney General.

“Gov. George Deukmejian should be remembered as one, if not the most dedicated governors of California, in the selection of judicial appointments,” attorney Nowland Hong reflected. “He personally reviewed the qualifications of judicial candidates even at the trial court level.”

Consulted With Attorneys

The lawyer noted that although the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation came into existence in 1979, Deukmejian’s first year in office as governor, Deukmejian “consulted with practitioners in the trial bar (of which I was honored to be included) to especially ensure the judicial temperament of his appointees.”

Hong, a founder and two-time president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, added:

“He also was a true believer in diversity as his first appointment to head the Corporation Department was Franklin Tom, of Chinese descent.”

Justice Baxter’s Reflections

Former California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter, from 1983 until his appointment by Deukmejian to the Court of Appeal in 1988, assisted the governor in his selection of more than 700 judges. He recounted:

“As Appointments Secretary, it was an honor and privilege to have worked closely with Governor Deukmejian on judicial and executive branch appointments. He considered the appointment of judges a Governor’s most important responsibility and he diligently carried out that task. He was very highly respected by those of us who worked closely with him.”

Baxter also said:

“George Deukmejian was an outstanding Governor, Attorney General, and Legislator who earned his place in history as one of California’s most popular and respected public servants.

“His highest public policy priorities were public safety, victims’ rights, fiscal responsibility, and restoring public confidence and respect in the State’s judicial branch. He consistently endeavored to fulfill these priorities and was successful in doing so.

“A man of modest means, George Deukmejian’s personal attributes were excellent and he earned bipartisan respect for honesty, integrity, and civility. He became Governor the old fashioned way—he earned it.”

‘Bipartisan Respect’

The “bipartisan respect” for him is reflected in these remarks by Charles Calderon, who served as Democratic leader in both the Assembly and the Senate:

“He signed the first bill I introduced as a freshman legislator. He was a kind person, perhaps one of the kindest I have met. That side always seemed out of place in the world of California hardball politics. In particular, he had a disarming smile that was genuine, and at times seemed to betray his otherwise austere no-nonsense conservative patriarchal image. We disagreed on most issues, but I never doubted his sincerity. I trusted his word. Rest in peace. Until we meet again, my friend….”

Former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Patricia Phillips, known for her liberal views, remembers Deukmejian as “such a low key and kind man.”

Praise came also yesterday from his Democratic opponent in the 1978 race for attorney general, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who said:

“I served in the Legislature and on the Board of Regents with then Governor George Deukmejan. I ran against him for Attorney General in what was a bruising and contentious campaign but we worked together on the Board of Regents and I appreciated his willingness to take a courageous stand on many of the most controversial issues. He was a gentleman and hard working public servant.” 

Deputy County Counsel

Attorney Lloyd W. Pellman of Nossaman LLP, who headed the Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office from 1998-2004, said that every current and past member of that office “should be proud of the fact that Gov. George Deukmejian began his public service as a Deputy County Counsel before beginning his public service as an outstanding elected official who accomplished so much in his career,”

Pellman continued:

“Governor Deukmejian was the most unassuming elected official I ever knew. His confidantes informed me that he very much appreciated my candor in providing his inner circle with my views of candidates for judicial appointments. And he and his wife Gloria were always very approachable at social events.

“A story I have told often that reveals many traits is as follows. When the Governor had left office and joined Sidley and Austin, he called one day indicating he was aware of a new federal lawsuit filed against the County and he thought a partner of his, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, would be great help in defending the lawsuit. A meeting was set for the Governor and his partner to meet with three of us who would decide how to proceed. To our surprise, although we anticipated the Governor would make the introduction of his partner and sit quietly through the discussion, the Governor instead carried in a file containing the complaint they had retrieved and, after introducing his partner, the Governor proceeded to summarize the substance of the lawsuit, the various options for the County, and a recommended course of action in responding to the lawsuit. Just as he had been in public service, the Governor was fully engaged in the issue. How could we not assign the defense to Sidley and Austin under those circumstances?

 “One of my favorite photos in my office is taken with the Governor, Dan Lungren, my Armenian aunt I had just introduced to the Governor whom she held in especially high esteem.”

Baron’s Recollections

Former Court of Appeal Justice Elizabeth Baron, who received from Deukmejian her first judicial appointment, as a judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court, had served earlier in the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. She recounted:

“My first memory of George Deukmejian was when he became the Attorney General. I was a Deputy Attorney General and within days, I and my colleagues were surprised by the notes that arrived in our mailboxes. It seemed like within days, our new AG knew our specialties. Who was an expert in gun laws, sentencing laws, sexual assaults and mental health. Cases and letters from the public (mostly crime victims) were sent to those of us with the most expertise in particular areas.

“And there was follow up. Legislation with the AG’s imprimatur that changed laws to help victims. We were asked our opinions and encouraged to get involved.

“I knew right away this was a man to be reckoned with. A man who sincerely cared about victims of crime. He was not just a politician. He was a man who surrounded himself with high caliber people who were loyal and dedicated to advancing his agenda to make California a safer place for us all. I was so very proud to work for him and prouder still to be one of the ‘Duke’s judges’ when he became the Governor.

“We all considered ourselves special because we were chosen by a man we trusted, loved and admired. Governor Deukmejian will be truly missed by all of us who became better people, better lawyers, better judges because of his influence on our lives.”

Nash’s Gratitude

Former Los Angeles Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, now executive director of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection, was also a deputy attorney general when Deukmejian was the state’s top lawyer. Nash was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, then to the Superior Court, by Deukmejian, as governor.

“Governor Deukmejian was one of the most decent and honorable men I have had the privilege of working for,” Nash said. “I will be forever grateful to him for the confidence he had in me throughout my legal career.

“My prayers and thoughts are with his family.”

Political Supporter

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich was Assembly Republican whip when Deukmejian, then a state senator, ran for attorney general in 1978. Antonovich supported Deukmejian for that office and for governor, eight years later.

In 1988, Antonovich recounted, Deukmejian “had the opportunity to be considered” as then-Vice President George H. W. Bush’s running mate in the presidential election, but withdrew from consideration (with U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle being selected and the GOP contenders winning the contest).

Had Deukmejian been the 1988 running mate, Antonovich speculated, a Bush-Deukmejian ticket might well have defeated the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992—as the Bush-Quayle ticket failed to do—and Deukmejian “would have been a strong presidential contender in 1996.”

He remembered Deukmejian as “a man of integrity” and “principle” and “a wonderful role model and great friend,” adding:

“Unlike many politicians, George was not plastic or artificial. He was devoted to his family, his Christian faith, and proud of his Armenian heritage.”

Illustrious Career

Fifth District Court of Appeal  Justice Charles Poochigian, who served on the senior staff of Deukmejian while he was governor, commented:

“Governor Deukmejian was a great Governor and Attorney General who never lost connection to his humble roots as the son of Armenian immigrants. Throughout his illustrious career, he earned a reputation for high integrity, high intelligence and resolute determination to improve the quality of life for all Californians. He had a strong commitment to the rule of law that was reflected in his belief that appointing outstanding judges was among his very most important responsibilities.

“I treasure my time as a member of his senior staff when every day, in so many ways, the Governor’s personal and public conduct inspired a deep sense of pride, loyalty, and affection for our leader. He was very serious about his work, yet never took himself too seriously. In private life, he was most likely to express his love and pride in his wife, Gloria, his children, and the achievements of his grandchildren long before any discussion of politics.

“There are many people attracted to political life who are smart, articulate and determined. George Deukmejian had those qualities. But a trait that he had abundantly that is largely missing among public figures today is humility. He exhibited warmth, decency and introspection in every act. During my early years in the legislative branch there were more than a few times, when faced with a vexing challenge, I would wonder, ‘What would Governor Deukmejian do?’ He was a great mentor and role model.”


Deukmejian and then-U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas.


‘Giant’ Among Governors

Attorney/political consultant Kenneth L. Khachigian, who was chief speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, remarked:

“George Deukmejian joins Ronald Reagan as a giant of California Governors. Inheriting a state in fiscal shambles with an unruly judicial and legal system, he imposed discipline within our budget and tax system and gave his fellow citizens renewed confidence in the structure of the state’s law enforcement. He also restored the financial integrity of California’s higher education, whose budgets had been starved by his predecessor. Throughout, he conducted his Governorship with the integrity and honesty that should be the model for any aspiring leader, including an administration conducted without scandals. His avoidance of bombast made few headlines, but the imprint he leaves behind is one of steady, exceptional leadership. America is fortunate that men like George Deukmejian emerged in his generation to set standards of strength, decency and civic commitment.”

Remained Mentally Sharp

Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley hailed Deukmejian as “one of the best California governors ever in my lifetime” and “a great California AG,” adding:

“I had the honor of having lunch with the Honorable George Deukmejian a year a or so ago. He was physically weak, but very mentally sharp. He still cared about California’s issues and problems.”

Orange Superior Court Judge James Rogan, formerly the majority leader of the California Assembly and later a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, had been appointed by Deukmejian to the Glendale Municipal Court. He reflected:

“Gov. George Deukmejian was not only one of the finest public servants I have ever known, but he was one of the finest men I have ever known. He was my role model and a mentor, and I treasure the memory of having counted him as a friend. One of my proudest possessions is my commission to the municipal court he signed in 1990. I wasn’t just a judge—I was a Deukmejian judge, which has for almost three decades given me a very proud boast.”

County Bar Leaders

Michael E. Meyer, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association said he saw Deukmejian as “truly a man for all seasons” who was “smart, thoughtful, kind and tough when needed,” adding:

“And he did it all with style and grace “

LACBA’s president-elect, Brian Kabateck, responding from Vietnam to a request for comment, said:

“As an Armenian American (my mother’s parents were Genocide survivors) Governor Deukmejian was one of a few Armenians in the 1980s to look up to as role models. He appointed many great Armenians to the bench and made Armenian lawyers proud of their heritage and willing to serve. His death reminds us all of our duty to give back and participate in the political process: Armenians and ‘Odars’ (non-Armenians) alike.”

Law Enforcement Supporter

Sheriff Jim McDonnell said:

“Governor Deukmejian was a lifelong public servant who was a tremendous supporter of the law enforcement community.

“He was a true gentleman who was committed to ensuring safe communities for all Californians.

“He leaves a legacy of integrity, hard work and commitment to making California a great place to live for all.

“I will miss him as a leader and as a friend.”

Jan Hall Zolin, a former member of the city council in Deukmejian’s home town of Long Beach, declared:

“He was the most honorable person I ever have had the privilege of knowing. He was the epitome of what a public official should be, filled with integrity, decency strength, honor and with a sense of humor thrown in for good measure.”

California Republican Party Chair Jim Bruilte credited Deukmejian with having been “one of the great governors of the last century,” observing that “California thrived under his leadership.”

Public Statements

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said in a public statement:

“I will always remember Governor Deukmejian as a man of great personal integrity, who had the courage of his convictions, and a passion for the rule of law. He gave me a priceless opportunity to serve the people of California as his deputy legal affairs secretary and deputy legislative secretary, and ultimately set me on a path to my current role when he appointed me to the Sacramento Municipal Court. I learned many lessons from George and he will be remembered as a man whose service as governor will be recalled with reverence by persons of both parties.”

Gov. Jerry Brown said in a press release:

“George Deukmejian was a popular governor and made friends across the political aisle. Anne and I join all Californians in expressing our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”




Tribute to Governor George Deukmejian




(The writer, now of counsel to Sheppard Mullin, is a former district attorney of Los Angeles County and close friend to Deukmejian.)


Governor George Deukmejian was the most honorable person, other than my parents, whom I have ever known. He was universally respected for his integrity, decency, honesty and selfless commitment to serving the people of the State of California as Governor, Attorney General, Senator and Assemblymember. His moral compass always pointed due north. He was dubbed the “Iron Duke” by then Senator and former LAPD Chief Ed Davis because of his adherence to his principles even in the face of substantial opposition and adversity.

I had the great privilege of being his appointed Chief Assistant Attorney General and, when he was Governor his appointed Chairman of the California Council on Criminal Justice (a volunteer position) and experiencing the immense satisfaction of helping him to carry out his philosophy of public service.

Judicial Appointment Power

The Governor’s devotion to public safety and the rights of crime victims is well known. He ran for the office of Attorney General, the state’s top law enforcement officer, so that he could implement his philosophy of public protection. When he was deciding whether to run for a second term as Attorney General or for Governor, his final decision to run for Governor was based on the fact that as Attorney General he did not have the power to appoint judges and he believed that appointing highly qualified “common sense” judges was essential to the full implementation of his public safety promise to the people.

All of his judicial appointments from the trial courts to the Supreme Court were meticulously vetted by his appointments secretary, Marvin Baxter, now a retired Supreme Court Justice, his carefully selected Judicial Selection Advisory Boards and, ultimately, himself. The mutual admiration between Governor Deukmejian and the “Deukmejian Judges” is legend. His judicial appointees take great pride in their responsibility to serve the people of California with the same spirit of dedication that he had.

Sense of Humor

The Governor had his lighter side. He had a droll and sometime self-deprecating sense of humor. He would sometimes joke about what some in the press called his lack of “charisma.” When the state lottery, which he opposed, was passed in 1984 he was asked on election night who he was going to appoint to the State Lottery Commission. He responded with mock forcefulness “five Methodist ministers.”

As I was writing this tribute I received an email from a friend who was a Democratic legislative staffer when the Governor was the Minority Leader in the State Senate. My friend said in the email “there was never a more congenial, gentlemanly legislator who always treated staff well and always had an outstretched hand across the aisle.” Governor Deukmejian never wavered from that spirit and remains the most popular Governor in the history of the State of California.

This tribute to the Governor must include a tribute to his wife Gloria. Her gracious, warm and generous spirit enriches all who have surrounded and supported Gloria and George.


Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company