Friday, September 13, 2019
Former Jurist Is Remembered for Adept Handling of Operations As Presiding Judge Following Consolidation With Municipal Courts and His Various Innovations; Recent Events Also Noted
By a MetNews Staff Writer
JAMES A. BASCUE
Services will be private for retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Allen Bascue, who served as presiding judge in 2001 and 2002—years of transition, bewilderment, and tensions, with operations having become those of a mega-court, following the absorption of the county’s 24 municipal courts the previous year.
Bascue, who retired in 2007 after 17 years on the Superior Court, died in his sleep Wednesday morning following an illness that had stretched over several weeks. He was 79.
His was a life marked by significant heights and, more recently, depths. The heights were accentuated in comments following his death.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert A. Dukes—who served as assistant presiding judge under Bascue, and then took the reins as presiding judge for the next two years—remarked:
“He had a keen understanding of the political issues facing our court under the then sea-changes of statewide funding and unification with the Municipal Court. He guided our new and huge court through those changes with great insight and finesse. His humility during these times masked from all but those of us who worked with him the extraordinary vision and operational reforms which gave us the court we still have today.”
Dukes Hails Innovations
“He implemented the position of supervising judge of Civil with countywide responsibility, the concept of our former municipal courts being site courts, and much of the leadership plan with supervising judges of various disciplines (Probate, Family Law, etc.) and new site judges to assist the supervising judges of the districts. He was without fear but ever tactful in dealing with our political partners in Legislature, the county and the Governor’s Office as well as keeping us at a respectful arm’s length with the chief justice and the former Administrative Office of the Courts.”
Bascue was a deputy district attorney from 1971-90, contemporaneously serving as State Bar chief trial counsel from 1987-90. In 1974, during the time that Joseph P. Busch Jr. was district attorney, Dukes went to work for that office as a law clerk (prior to gaining his law degree, being admitted to the State Bar, and himself becoming a prosecutor).
He reflected that Bascue was his “friend and mentor” from his days as a law clerk “through his term as presiding judge and my term as his assistant presiding judge,” adding:
“I was privileged to have him as my teacher.”
Bascue’s effectiveness in leading the Superior Court was recognized by the Judicial Council in 2002, bestowing on him its Jurist of the Year Award.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito—who, like Dukes, presently serves the court, on assignment—similarly described Bascue as “a mentor and a loyal friend of the highest order.”
“I met Jim Bascue as a young deputy district attorney II when he recruited me to the Hardcore Gang Unit.”
The unit was then a project sponsored by the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. That, he recalled, was some “40 years ago.”
Ito, who gained international renown in presiding over the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson on a double-murder charge, said of Bascue:
“His forte was as an administrator. He had a breadth and depth of vision at which I constantly marveled. I was blessed he dragged me along as he rose from a Grade IV unit head to chief deputy district attorney, and then later when he was the presiding judge of what he called the World’s Largest Community Court.”
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley offered some information on the Hard Core Gang Unit into which Ito was inducted and helped lead, saying that one of Bascue’s “great accomplishments was to conceive of and establish” that unit in the late 1970s.
He noted that it is now “the largest division in the DA’s Office with more than 50 prosecutors.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor E. Chavez was presiding judge in 1999 and 2000, when Bascue served as assistant presiding judge. Chavez yesterday said of Bascue:
“I found him to be devoted to our court and constantly working to improve the image of the Los Angeles Court.
“Before becoming the presiding judge of our court, he served on the Judicial Council during difficult times. He always acted as an advocate for our court.
“Jim had an acute political awareness which may have been developed from his successful years as a deputy district attorney.”
Los Angeles District Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, also a former presiding judge, said yesterday:
“Most people who knew Jim, knew him as a hardworking and excellent judge in both criminal and civil departments. But I also knew Jim as a great administrator. Jim’s years as presiding judge of our court were filled with many existential challenges. Both he and Bob Dukes worked together to successfully meet all of those challenges and the success of our court today is in no small part due to his great work years ago.
“The L.A. Superior Court can be proud to say he was our presiding judge when we most needed him.”
Among the ‘Greats’
Mary Ann Murphy, a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, had this to say:
“Former Presiding Judge James A. Bascue was one of the greats. In the early 1990s, he pioneered training for new judges and personally taught us proper calendar management. He was known for treating women judges fairly.
“Judge Bascue never flinched from making tough decisions and doing the right thing, particularly when he was presiding judge. He was a lion of the court and a man with great integrity and heart.
“I am very fortunate to have served during Judge Bascue’s time on the Los Angeles Superior Court.”
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Tricia Bigelow of this district’s Div. Eight was a colleague of Bascue on the Superior Court. She described him as “an icon in the criminal law community and also as a presiding judge.”
In leading the court, she said, “he always made the tough calls himself and took responsibility for them.” Bigelow remarked that Bascue guided the court after unification “masterfully.”
“Luckily for all of us, he leaves behind two amazing sons, Connor and Nick, who continue to exemplify all of Judge Bascue’s strengths.”
James Connor Bascue is director of financial planning and analysis at an aviation and aerospace company in Oregon and Nick Bascue is president of Quantum Jets, a private jet charter company.
A low point in Bascue’s life came on Jan. 8, 2016, when he was placed on five years of probation after pleading no contest to an assault with a firearm, based on an episode on June 10, 2015. Under the joint effects of alcohol and Ambien—a sleeping pill that can produce confusion and aggressive behavior—he summoned police to his home on a pretext, then twice shot in the direction of, but not at, the officers.
Then-Orange Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals (now a justice of the Fourth District Court of Appeal), in sentencing Bascue, spoke of his “unbreakable chain of high level of service” in the justice system and observed that the plea “does not undo” his feats, including steering the Los Angeles Superior Court “through many difficult years” in the aftermath of unification.
Goethals acknowledged the prospect of “a perception we have a two-tiered system of justice,” with preferential treatment for the ex-judge who drew no prison time, but declared that objective factors weighed in favor of accepting the plea bargain.
Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez said her office took into account Bascue’s “significant contributions to the criminal justice system” in entering into that plea agreement.
Bascue’s attorney, Richard Hirsch, assured Goethals that Bascue had “taken substantial steps to deal with” his alcoholism.
Based on the conviction, Bascue was disbarred on July 26, 2017. He put up no defense.
He and his wife, Jacqueline Conner, then a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court (now a private judge) were divorced in 2001. They had met and were married while both were deputy district attorneys.
Ito Laments ‘Tragedy’
Ito, reflecting on recent events, said:
“The classic Greek tragedy requires a protagonist of outstanding personal qualities whose life falls to disaster through a combination of personal weaknesses and circumstance. The life of Jim Bascue qualifies as a tragedy, especially in his later years.
“I am grateful to his sons who have stood by him through thick and thin. I owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Hirsch for his compassion and powers of persuasion, and to Judge Thomas Goethals for his judgment, courage and wisdom. I have nothing but love, admiration and praise for his former wife Jacqueline Connor who kept their family firmly connected despite their divorce.
“He was a good friend.”
James Bascue: Consummate Prosecutor, Outstanding Leader of Superior Court
By ROBERT H. PHILIBOSIAN
(Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James A. Bascue, who died Wednesday, was chief deputy district attorney from 1983 until the then-district attorney, Robert H. Philibosian, left office in December, 1984. Philibosian is now of counsel to Sheppard Mullin.)
IM WAS THE EPITOME of excellence and dedication to public service in all of the positions held in his long and highly accomplished career. He was my first appointee when I became district attorney.
When I asked Jim to be chief deputy district attorney, he agreed and imposed one request; Jim said, “Okay, if there is a positive issue, you will handle it; if there is a negative issue you will let me deal with it.”
Jim was a formidable force as chief deputy and his well-considered advice and cool head were invaluable in the operations of the D.A.’s Office during our administration. Jim and his special assistant, then Deputy D.A. Lance Ito, were an exceptional and reliable team.
After our administration concluded, Jim was personally asked by then State Bar President Orville “Jack” Armstrong to be the California State Bar chief trial counsel. The State Bar attorney disciplinary system was in disarray and Jim was selected by Jack to lead and reform that vital function of the State Bar.
Jim, as a consummate prosecutor and executive, more than fulfilled the State Bar’s expectations to make the Chief Trial Counsel’s Office effective, efficient and fair to all involved. (Jack was later appointed to the L.A. Superior Court by Gov. George Deukmejian and to the Court of Appeal by Gov. Pete Wilson).
Jim’s outstanding capabilities and achievements were recognized by Governor Deukmejian in appointing Jim as a Superior Court Judge and Jim’s colleagues equally recognized Jim’s outstanding leadership qualities in electing him assistant presiding and then presiding judge.
Through all of Jim’s awesome responsibilities, he kept his collegial good nature and well-honed sense of humor, which was sometimes expressed in a devilish and infectious laugh when he was relating some particularly funny and ironic story. Jim was a loyal friend to many and will be well-remembered for all his wonderful contributions to the law and society.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company