Friday, March 28, 2003
Marcus Kaufman, Retired Justice of State Supreme Court, Dead at 73
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Marcus M. Kaufman, a onetime San Bernardino lawyer who rose to the state Supreme Court bench, has died at age 73 of complications from diabetes .
Kaufman, who died Wednesday night, was a “very, very dedicated jurist” and “a true intellectual,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George said yesterday.
Kaufman was elevated to the state’s highest court from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Two, in 1987 after 17 years on the appellate bench. He retired two years later, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family, and practiced in the Newport Beach office of Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger.
Manuel Ramirez, presiding justice of Div. Two, described Kaufman as “one of those wonderful judges blessed with both a head and a heart.”
“It was apparent he had a genuine love and passion for the law, and a genuine compassion for people,” Ramirez said. “He had two loves — his family, which came first, then the law.”
Ramirez said court employees were aware Kaufman had been suffering complications from dialysis, but were “very shocked” to arrive at work yesterday and learn of his passing.
“We will miss him,” Ramirez said. “The entire court family mourns for his loss.”
Retired Presiding Justice Robert Gardner, whoe headed the panel furing Kaufman’s tenure there, agreed.
“He was brilliant,” and was also “a delightful guy,” Gardner said.
San Bernardino attorney Timothy Prince, who interned for Kaufman in 1989, described the jurist as someone who considered himself “a little guy” and who kept “a strong bond to the community.”
Prince worked for Kaufman while a third year law student at Hastings College of the Law, and described it as “an experience I’ll never forget.”
Prince, who is now a partner with Tomlinson, Nydam & Prince, said getting to know Kaufman changed his views on the profession, and changed his life.
He said the jurist was the first to admit he had been appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Deukmejian in order to “end the silliness with the death penalty.” He was appointed in the wake of voters’ rejection of the late Chief Justice Rose Bird and Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso, who were attacked as “soft on crime.”
He was a very “imposing person,” and with Kaufman’s ascension to the bench, there was a “sudden change” in the court, Prince pointed out.
“But he did not consistently carry the conservative banner,” Prince observed, adding that the jurist couldn’t be characterized as having been “loyal” to either side. “...The law was truly a discipline for Marcus.”
Kaufman, he said, often repeated a phrase a friend had used to describe the jurist — as a “redneck with a high I.Q.”
“It never bothered him,” Prince said. “He was flattered to have come from a humble community, and he never lost touch with his roots.”
George echoed those remarks.
“He sometimes referred to himself as a redneck-intellectual,” George said. “I take that in a very positive sense. He was down-to-earth, but at the same time, brilliant.”
George said Kaufman “really got into oral argument,” adding that his presence was sometimes “quite intimidating to lawyers who appeared before him.”
Prince agreed, saying there appeared to be “two Justice Kaufmans” during his tenure with the Supreme Court.
“People who didn’t know him might have interpreted it as his being schizophrenic,” Prince quipped. “Those who really knew him saw no inconsistency.”
On one side, Kaufman was “very impatient” and “gruff on the bench,” Prince recalled.
“If a lawyer dodged a question, he came down on them like a ton of bricks — but always in a professional way,” he added. “He really made lawyers understand why they were being disciplined.
Kaufman presented an “imposing” figure on the bench, he said, but was personally “the most competent, sweetest man you’d ever meet,” Prince said.
He was also devoted to maintaining civility among the members of the court, George said. In person, Kaufman was a “highly civil and friendly individual.”
The chief justice said the court will schedule a commemoration in the jurist’s honor in a future oral argument session.
Kaufman is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Eileen, and two daughters, Sharon and Ellen. A son, Joel, died in 1977.
Ramirez described the long relationship between the Kaufmans as “special,” and recalled them “always holding hands,” and said that each “always had a twinkle in their eyes” for one another.
“My heart goes out to the whole family,” he said.
Kaufman was a Norfolk, Va. native but had lived in Southern California since 1942. He was valedictorian at Hollywood High School, graduated from UCLA and USC Law School, and served in the Army in Korea. He taught law at USC, clerked for the late Justice Roger Traynor, and practiced in San Bernardino before then-Gov. Ronald Reagan named him to the Court of Appeal in 1970.
In 2000, the San Bernardino County Bar Association established the Kaufman-Campbell Award, which recognizes judicial excellence. The award was named for Kaufman and former Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Joseph B. Campbell.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company