Wednesday, December 26, 2001
Kolts Remembered as Dedicated Public Servant With Quick Wit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James G. Kolts was remembered Monday by friends and colleagues as a dedicated public servant with a quick wit and a passion for golf.
Kolts died Friday of a heart attack while playing golf in Altadena with one of his grandsons. He was 77.
“If he had to pick a place to meet the end of existence, a golf course would be it,” longtime friend Jack Goertzen, a retired justice of this district’s Court of Appeal, said.
Goertzen said he and Kolts formed their 40-year friendship during their unsuccessful prosecution of the late county Assessor Philip Watson on bribery charges when Kolts was a deputy district attorney and Goertzen a deputy state attorney general.
“We were very close in career and friendship,” Goertzen said.
Known for his quick wit, Kolts could display his “marvelous sense of humor” at even the most trying times, Goertzen said.
During the Watson case, Goertzen and Kolts had put a witness on the stand who just couldn’t stand up to the pressure of being questioned by legendary defense lawyer Joe Ball, Goertzen said.
“While we were sitting there watching this witness be destroyed I, being the junior, was looking at Kolts for hope and I leaned over and asked him what are we going to do,” Goertzen recalled “He looked at me with those great steely eyes and said, ‘You can do anything you want. I’m going to hold my breath until I pass out.’”
Friends also remembered “the macho prosecutor’s” passion for opera, birds and growing orchids.
“He could tell you anything in the world you wanted to know about birds,” Goertzen said.
And Kolts couldn’t resist organizing judicial golf tournaments, California Chief Justice Ronald George, who first met Kolts while working in the Attorney General’s Office, said. Kolts and George later served on the Los Angeles Superior Court together.
Even though his energy and good temperament could be contagious, Kolts didn’t let his sense of humor get in the way of his work on the bench, colleagues said.
George remembered Kolts as someone who embraced his work. “He had a good sense of humor, but was very straightforward on the bench,” George said. “He really was a real hands-on, common sense judge.”
District Attorney Steve Cooley called Kolts’ death “a major loss to the justice system.”
“He’s one of those great people who will go down in the history of the Los Angeles County justice system as substantive and positive,” Cooley said.
Kolts’ daughter, Kathryn Showers, is a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles.
Kolts was largely unknown outside the legal community until several years after he retired from the bench, when he was chosen to head up an independent review of the Sheriff’s Department. His panel, which came to be known as the Kolts Commission, issued a scathing 1992 report finding use of excessive force and mistreatment of minorities by the Sheriff’s Department.
“He performed invaluable public service when he took responsibility for looking into the Sheriff’s Department’s excessive force problems,” former county Supervisor Ed Edelman said.
It was Edelman who nominated Kolts to head up the inquiry, despite their political differences. Edelman is a staunch Democrat, Kolts was a Republican who came to the Superior Court in 1969 as an appointee of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.
“He was the perfect person for the position,” Edelman said. “He was always independent yet had the trust of law enforcement and the Board of Supervisors.”
Personality had a lot to do with Kolts’ success with the report that identified 62 problem officers who generated multiple use-of-force complaints and criticized the District Attorney’s Office for not prosecuting deputies, the former supervisor recalled.
“He had a good sense of humor and he was not thin-skinned,” Edelman said. “He also realized he couldn’t please everyone so he did what he thought was right.”
George said Kolts’ acceptance of the daunting task was par for the course for the dedicated public servant.
“It just exemplifies his commitment to public service,” he said.
Born Nov. 23, 1924 in Los Angeles, Kolts attended the University of Oregon in 1942, but left to serve in the U.S. Army infantry division during World War II. After the war he returned to Oregon where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
The son of Los Angeles attorney Chauncey Kolts, he followed in his father’s footsteps, receiving his law degree from USC, working in the Department of the Army, legal procurement, while attending law school.
After passing the bar in 1952, Kolts went to work as a deputy district attorney, prosecuting complex business cases for 16 years before Reagan tapped him for the bench.
He handled a criminal calendar for five years before spending his last 15 years on the bench in civil court.
Kolts is survived by his wife, Dorothy; two daughters, Showers of Altadena and Carolyn McAllister of Niceville, Fla.; a son, Robert Kolts of Long Beach; and two grandsons.
Services are scheduled at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Church of our Savior Episcopal Church, 535 W. Roses Road, San Gabriel.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company