Tuesday, May 27, 2003
David Eagleson, Who Served Four Years on California Supreme Court, Dies at 78
By a MetNews Staff Writer
David N. Eagleson, a onetime Long Beach practitioner who rose from the Los Angeles Superior Court to become a state Supreme Court justice, died Friday at the age of 78.
Eagleson, a member of the state high court from 1987 to 1991, died in Long Beach after a brief illness, the Administrative Office of the Courts reported. Funeral arrangements were pending as of Friday afternoon.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, in a statement issued by the AOC, said the state had “lost an outstanding jurist who made great contributions to the development of the law and the administration of justice in this state.” The chief justice said he “worked closely with Justice Eagleson during his terms as Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court and President of the California Judges Association, and join the many who feel a great loss at his passing.”
Eagleson was appointed to the state’s highest court, along with Marcus Kaufman and John Arguelles, after the late Chief Justice Rose Bird and Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso were voted out of office in 1986. His passing comes less than two months after the death of Kaufman, who will be memorialized by the high court June 4. (See story, Page 3.)
Arguelles, now in the Orange County office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said he was saddened by the turn of events.
“I served on the court with six good men, and four of them are dead,” he noted. Justice Allen Broussard retired in 1991 and died in 1996; Justice Stanley Mosk died in office two years ago.
He and Eagleson were close, Arguelles said. They were contemporaries on the Superior Court in Long Beach, and on this district’s Court of Appeal, as well as on the high court, he noted.
“He was such a fine man,” the retired justice said. “Very principled, very dependable, the epitome of a conscientious judge.”
Conservative in philosophy and quiet in demeanor—he declined to hold a farewell press conference when he left the high court—he spent the past 12 years as an independent arbitrator, mediator and private judge. Arguelles said he remained active right up to the time of his death.
Arguelles compared Eagleson to baseball star Lou Gehrig.
“He’d show up and quietly do his work, and he was always ready to step to the plate,” the ex-justice said. “He certainly commanded the respect of all of his colleagues.
Eagleson graduated from USC in 1948, and earned his law degree there in 1950, following active duty in the Navy during World War II. A graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, he established a practice in that city in 1951, practiced with various partners from 1952 to 1968, and soloed again from 1968 until then-Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Superior Court in 1970.
He was an active judge, lecturing and serving on numerous committees, and was active in the California Judges Association. He served as assistant presiding judge of the court in 1979 and 1980, and as presiding judge for two years after that, and served simultaneously as president of the CJA for one year while assistant presiding judge.
There was some criticism of his performing both roles, since the CJA position required frequent travel to Sacramento, but Eagleson handled the dual role well, Frank Zolin recalled Friday.
Zolin, now retired, was the Superior Court’s executive officer at the time. Eagleson, he said, took on the heavy workload because he wanted to “improve the operations and the image of the courts.”
He was able to handle the responsibilities, Zolin said, because he was “a hard worker, very businesslike.”
His opportunity to move up the judicial ladder came after friend and fellow ex-Long Beach lawyer George Deukmejian was elected governor in 1980. Deukmejian appointed Eagleson to Div. Five of the Court of Appeal in 1984 and elevated him three years later.
Robert Feinerman, who served as presiding justice of Div. Five during Eagleson’s tenure there and worked with him on several occasions after both became private judges, remembered his former colleague Friday as “a very able person” possessed of “great integrity.” Eagleson’s “word was his bond,” Feinerman declared.
He is survived by a wife and two daughters.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company