Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein Slates Aug. 22 Retirement From Court of Appeal
Jurist, 85, Widely Hailed for Excellence of His Opinions, Collegiality, Authorship of Treatises, Contributions to Judicial Education
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein of this district’s Div. Four, generally regarded as one of California’s outstanding appellate jurists, has slated an Aug. 22 retirement after 45 years of judicial service, starting with the Los Angeles Municipal Court.
Known both for affability and scholarship, his many honors include the UCLA Law Alumnus of the Year Award (1970), the Los Angeles County Bar Association Distinguished Trial Jurist Award (1987-88), the California Judges Association’s President’s Award (1988), the Friends of the Los Angeles County Law Library Beacon of Justice Award (2005), and the Judicial Council’s Jurist of the Year Award (2007).
At the 2004 hearing on his confirmation as presiding justice, it was revealed that the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation had given him its highest rating, “exceptionally well qualified.” Witnesses before the Commission on Judicial Appointments hailed Epstein as “absolutely brilliant,” “incredible,” “an extraordinary human being,” “outstanding,” and “stellar.”
With retirement approaching, Epstein said of his time on the bench:
“It’s been wonderful. I’ve met a lot of dedicated people who remain friends over these years.”
He received judicial appointments from four governors. Although he was a Democrat at the time of those appointments—he’s now an independent—three of them came from GOP chief executives.
Republican Ronald Reagan placed him on the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1975 (in a “deathbed” appointment on Jan. 3); Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr. elevated Epstein to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1980; Republican George Deukmejian placed him on Div. Four in 1990; and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger put him in charge of Div. Four in 2004.
Epstein, 85, received his law degree from UCLA in 1958, and was admitted to the State Bar on Jan. 14, 1959. He became a deputy attorney general that year.
He left the office in 1962 to become the first general counsel to the California State University and Colleges system. Epstein did not qualify for the position under the job specifications—which required five years of State Bar membership—but in seeking to advance the candidacy of a friend of his, he so impressed the chancellor, that he was recruited, and the five-year requirement was waived.
Epstein later became, additionally, vice chancellor. He remained at the posts until Reagan tapped him for the Municipal Court.
Defying longstanding precedent that leadership of that court was based on seniority, Epstein ran for, and was elected to, the position of assistant presiding judge of that court for a term commencing Jan. 1, 1980. He was near-certain to have become presiding judge of the court the following year, except that he was promoted to a superior court judgeship.
Ten years later, he was in a battle with then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Mallano (later a Court of Appeal presiding justice, now retired) for the post of assistant presiding judge. Epstein announced he was withdrawing minutes before the Governor’s Office issued a press release announcing his appointment to the Court of Appeal.
From 1978-2002, he lectured at the California Judicial College, and served as dean from 1981-83. He was co-author with Bernard Witkin of the treatise “California Criminal Law” and has maintained the work since Witkin’s death in 1995, and has contributed to other treatises.
Epstein is a Los Angeles native. His father was a pharmacist and, at age 19, owned a downtown drug store at Third and Hill Streets, at the foot of the location, then, of Angels Flight.
That was two blocks south of what is now the site of the courthouse where his only child, yet unborn, would serve as a trial court judge, and two blocks west of where he now sits as a presiding justice.
As a youth, Epstein received piano lessons from the kid across the street: Andre Previn. He gave up on his lessons, however.
After his first year in law school, Epstein in 1956 wed Ann Snyder, whom he met at UCLA in undergraduate school. They had a son and a daughter—and their son, Mark H. Epstein, is now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
Ann Epstein died in 2008.
His engagement to be married to retired Butte Superior Court Judge Ann Rutherford was publicly announced, with Epstein’s consent, at the Jan. 29, 2010 Metropolitan News-Enterprise “Person of the Year” dinner. Epstein was the newspaper’s 1994 honoree.
Presiding Justice Epstein Draws Words of Praise
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman Epstein’s forthcoming retirement evoked words of high praise yesterday for the veteran jurist.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye had this to say:
“Only three other currently serving judicial officers have served the people of California longer than Presiding Justice Norman Epstein. He has served at every level of the California Judiciary, and was appointed or elevated by four different Governors of California.
“But what is more impressive than the length and breadth of his experience is the genuine passion and enthusiasm that he brings to everything he has undertaken from judicial education to judicial administration, from ethics to opinion writing, all while maintaining a very collegial bench on the Second Appellate District, Division Four.
“I wish him well and thank him for his dedicated public service.”
Former California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter remarked:
“Justice Norman Epstein is a wonderful person and excelled as a lawyer, trial judge, contributor to continuing legal education, and as an appellate justice. Norm received outstanding reviews when he was elevated to the court of appeal by Governor Deukmejian and his contributions to the judicial branch have been truly exceptional. He will go down in history as one of California’s most outstanding jurists.”
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of this district’s Div. Six said:
“Justice Epstein’s brilliance was immediately evident to me when we were colleagues on the, what was the name of that court?—Oh yes, the Los Angeles Municipal Court. It doesn’t exist anymore. That’s how long I have known Justice Epstein.
“It was then obvious to all his colleagues, and the attorneys who appeared in his court, that they were in the presence of a towering intellect. And of course over the years, or should I say decades, nothing has changed.
“Justice Epstein is one of those extraordinary jurists who commands universal respect. He is a scholar par excellence, a judge who embodies the highest ideals of integrity, fairness and humanity. If Socrates were alive now, he would point to Justice Epstein as the ideal judge.
“So to Justice Epstein, my colleague and friend, enjoy your retirement, and know that you have left a significant legacy for all of us to follow.”
Epstein’s predecessor as presiding justice of Div. Four was Charles Vogel, who related these thoughts:
“I had the privilege of administering his oath of office when Norman was first appointed to the bench and to later become his colleague on the Second District Court of Appeal. On all occasions of my contacts with Justice Epstein I have admired his dedication, decency and thoughtfulness for those who worked with or appeared before him.”
Former State Bar President David Pasternak also remembers Epstein as a municipal court judge, handling unlawful detainers. Pasternak was a volunteer in the LACBA Barristers Landlord Tenant Settlement Officer Program.
“It was readily apparent that Judge Epstein was an extraordinary Judge who would progress far beyond that early assignment,” he said.
“Over the course of our careers, I had the good fortune to appear before Judge Epstein many times when he sat in the Writs and Receivers Departments and to work with him on the LACBA Litigation Section Executive Committee and the Judicial Council. I still remember his refusal to appoint a receiver in a business dispute in which I represented one of the parties making that request in the mid-1980’s. Even though he ruled against me, I could not disagree with his reasoning. His incredible judicial wisdom and intellect will be sorely missed by all.”
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley was a neophyte prosecutor in the mid-1970s when he met Epstein, a fledging municipal court judge.
“He was brilliant then and remained so throughout his distinguished career as a jurist and justice,” Cooley said.
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burt Pines, too, has known Epstein since his days on the municipal court. Pines was Los Angeles city attorney then.
“He’s one of the great jurists of California,” Pines remarked. “He’s universally well regarded.”
Pro Tems Comment
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, who sat as a pro tem justice in Div. Four, recounted:
“Once we disagreed on an opinion. Norm wrote the majority opinion. He told me I would need to write a dissent and the case would not be published. ‘Published’? I asked. ‘I hope no one ever learns that I EVER dissented from one of your opinions.”
He said that while he knew Epstein would be retiring, he “was hoping it would never come to pass,” declaring:
“Norm is a true treasure of the judiciary in California.”
Czuleger said that while Epstein will be missed, “he has also left such an enduring legacy that many will not know he has retired for a long time—he has had that kind of impact on the courts of California.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr has also served as a pro tem on Div. Four. He reflected:
“Appearing before, and working with, Justice Epstein has always been a pleasure. He is a judges’ judge and a justice’s justice, in short, everything you could ask for in a bench officer. His retirement will leave a gaping hole in our judiciary.”
Appellate lawyer Norman Pine offered these words:
“Justice Epstein’s incredible appellate career defies superlatives. His intelligence and legal analysis are legendary—but equally important is the grace, civility, and compassion he consistently showed to litigants and counsel alike. He will be greatly missed.”
Edward J. Horowitz said:
“When my 50-plus years as an appellate lawyer comes to an end, one of my proudest memories will be that I had the opportunity and privilege to appear on numerous occasions before Presiding Justice Norman Epstein—a true giant in the history of California’s appellate courts.”
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company