State Supreme Court justice remembered as ‘legal giant’

The Associated Press
Thursday June 28, 2001

LOS ANGELES —Stanley Mosk, the longest-serving justice on the California Supreme Court, was remembered as both a brilliant and good man whose series of precedent-setting rulings have stood the test of time. 

In 37 years on the state’s high court, Mosk authored nearly 1,700 opinions and made a series of precedent-setting rulings in civil rights, free speech and criminal justice cases – often years before the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit. 

Mosk, 88, died June 19 at his San Francisco home – the very day he had planned to tender his resignation, said his son, Los Angeles attorney Richard Mosk. 

“Today we lay to rest one of California’s true legal giants,” Gov. Gray Davis said during a memorial service Tuesday. “He stood up for those who had no voice.” 

His death “has felt like the loss of a close family member,” said Chief Justice Ronald M. George. 

“He was known inside and outside the court as a man of keen intellect, sharp wit, great wisdom, fierce independence, high principle, and total integrity.” 

About 400 people attended the memorial at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, including five of Mosk’s six fellow justices, four former justices; Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante; former Gov. Jerry Brown; Attorney General Bill Lockyer; Los Angeles Mayor-elect James Hahn; Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. 

The former state attorney general was appointed to the court in 1964 by Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, after serving 16 years as a Superior Court judge. 

Speakers remembered him as a workhorse who saw 31 justices sit on the seven-member court during his tenure, wrote an average of 20 majority opinions a year and issued more dissenting opinions than any other justice, especially during recent years when he was the only Democrat on the court. 

A self-described liberal, Mosk was credited with coining the disparaging phrase “little old ladies in tennis shoes” to describe members of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. 

But he could prove an annoyance to fellow liberals, as well, particularly when he voted in favor of upholding the death penalty and striking down the use of minority preferences for university admissions. 

He consistently stood for individual liberties but “he always kept in mind the common good,” said William P. Clark, a former state Supreme Court Justice and U.S. Secretary of the Interior. 

Vaino Spencer, now presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal, said she still recalls reading in a local black newspaper about Mosk’s 1947 Superior Court decision striking down a local whites-only housing covenant. 

“He identified with the pain (of segregation) ... he felt it deeply,” she said. “I will miss him so very much, but his legacy will live on.”