Monday, June 04, 2012

Judge Loren Miler Jr.

     It is a week after the New Year's bowl games, and I have gotten them out of my system. Well, not exactly. The Fiesta Bowl keeps haunting me. It was an exciting game, and even though I am not a Stanford University fan (what can you expect from a UCLA and UC Berkeley School of Law graduate?), I cannot get Jordan Williamson out of my mind. With three seconds left, Williamson, the much-sought-after kicker, came out on the field to kick a 35-yard field goal to win the game against Oklahoma. But much like a surefire winning case with only one more key witness to call, it didn't turn out that way. He kicked, but the ball hooked to the left and missed the goal. The score was tied, and in overtime, he once again missed a 43-yard field goal. Oklahoma won. Williamson, sobbing in the locker room, could not be consoled no matter how much his teammates tried to convince him that one person alone is not responsible for the loss, not a particularly persuasive argument in this instance.
     That Williamson’s gaffe occurred in a well-played game, and was not a matter of earth-shattering importance, is beside the point. No one likes to screw up in front of millions of people. So how does a 19-year-old freshman, or anyone for that matter, get beyond this embarrassment that he will remember for the rest of his life?
      I am not sure, but if George Foreman could get over his defeat in the world heavyweight boxing match in Zaire to Muhammad Ali in 1974, I have hope for Williamson. Foreman shook off his corrosive despair, regained the heavyweight title 20 years later, became a minister and good friends with Ali, and promoted a grill on which I have cooked vegetables and turkey burgers.
      However odd it may seem, Williamson's angst over his all-too-human goof got me thinking once again about my dear friend and colleague, Judge Loren Miller Jr., who passed away last month. The pain so many of us felt over our loss of this uniquely warm human and outstanding jurist is of a different and far more profound character than Williamson’s angst. But that is not why I thought of Loren. Loren would have known just how to talk to Williamson. I would bet he would have had Williamson laughing through his tears. Loren would have explained to Williamson that he was human and he has a lifetime ahead of him to accomplish great things and also to screw up now and then as we all do.
     Loren was a judge of incomparable ability who understood human frailty and who put cases and life experiences in perspective. He articulated his philosophy with warmth and humor. Loren knew how to talk to those whose "screw-ups" landed them in prison or jail. He had an unerring sense of what sentence to impose and did it in a manner that gave many defendants hope for the future.
     Loren played football for the University of Oregon. And just prior to the Stanford game, Oregon won their first Rose Bowl championship in 95 years, defeating Wisconsin. There were plenty of goofs during those 95 years. Good things can happen with the passing of time. Loren reminded us that even judges have to face up to their shortcomings. We have higher courts to remind us of that.
     I met Loren when he was first appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court. In the summer of 1975, Frances Rothschild was Gov. Jerry Brown’s first appointment to that court. I think she had just passed puberty. She is now an Associate Justice on the California Court of Appeal. On Aug. 18, 1975, now superstar attorney Elwood Lui received a call from Brown appointing him to the municipal court. It must have been a few minutes after the governor called me to inform me of my appointment to the Los Angeles Municipal Court. To this day, Elwood insists that he received the first call. The Governor refuses to shed light on the issue. Apparently, he has a few more important things on his mind.
      Justice Richard Mosk of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, then a successful lawyer, arranged to have his father, Justice Stanley Mosk, swear me in on Labor Day. I think Elwood found out about my impending swearing-in ceremony and arranged to be sworn in the day before me. He still lords it over me that he will always have seniority, even though he is a few years younger. A week or so after that, Loren was appointed to the municipal court.
      Loren, Elwood and I became close friends. I have a group photo of our formal swearing in. Pictured in the photo is Loren, Elwood, me, Justice Frances Rothschild and Presiding Justice Norman Epstein, Gov. Ronald Reagan’s last judicial appointment to that court. It looks like a junior high school graduation photo. We were all in our 30's.
     Both Loren and Elwood dared me to write a column about one of our shenanigans at California's premier Judges College in Berkeley. The college presented newly appointed judges with an intensive two-week course on a variety of subjects that were invaluable training for new judges.
     We were serious students. But after class was another matter. Loren's expertise in short sheeting was legendary, a skill he demonstrated with consummate artistry one evening. As witness to this feat, accomplished with stunning deftness in a matter of 25 seconds, I can assure you it was performed in the evening after court hours. I will not reveal the well-known judge who was my roommate and who, along with his bed, was the object of the short sheeting. The unsuspecting judge was momentarily out of the room when the skillful maneuver was performed. Because of the oath Loren administered to me, I swore not to reveal the trap that had been set. I went to bed early that night and fell asleep before my roommate quietly prepared for bed. After slipping between the covers of his adjoining bed, he swore so loudly that he woke me up. Can you believe that? Well, he got over the incident. And when he learned Loren was the perpetrator, he thought he must have deserved it.
     Loren lived to see a better world. He mentioned to me that his grandfather was a slave. His father, the renowned judge, writer, editor and lawyer, Loren Miller, won many civil rights cases, including Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) 334 U.S. 1, which abolished restrictive racial housing covenants.
     A firm commitment to justice is firmly ingrained in the DNA of the Miller family. Loren was a judge of unscrupulous fairness. He applied the law and imposed tough sentences when required, but at the same time had a heart. He was compassionate and kind. Even the most hardened felons who received tough sentences at his hand revered him.
     Loren's daughter Superior Court Judge Robin Miller Sloan and his son Michael, a public defender, and daughter Nina, a school teacher, carry on the tradition of their father and grandfather. Their father set a great example. We can take heart that Loren lives on through them and through what he has taught us. Along with his commitment to the rule of law was his recognition that judges, though charged with awesome responsibility, are simply human, and that justice and compassion are compatible.
     Good-bye Loren. We will not forget you.

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