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Category: law

Moshe Landau, chief judge in 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial, dies at 99

Moshe Landau, chief judge in the 1961 trial of Nazi arch-criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, died Sunday in Jerusalem on the eve of the annual memorial day for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the government said. He was 99.

Landau was an Israeli Supreme Court justice when he was picked to head the three-judge panel for the Eichmann trial. Eichmann, who was in charge of the Final Solution, the Nazi plan to kill the Jews of Europe, was kidnapped from Argentina in 1960 by Israel's Mossad spy agency. He was convicted and hanged.

Landau was an accomplished jurist by the time of the Eichmann trial. Born in Danzig, Germany, in 1912, he studied law at the University of London and moved to Palestine in 1933, 15 years before the state of Israel was created.

He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1953. In 1980, he was named chief justice, retiring in 1982. He was given the Israel Prize, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1991.

More later at

 -- Associated Press

David R. Thompson, a senior judge on U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, dies at 80 [updated]

Thompson David R. Thompson, a senior judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, has died after an illness, court officials announced. He was 80.

Thompson, of San Diego, died Saturday in San Francisco, where he had traveled to hear oral arguments in several cases.

He was nominated to the appeals court by President Reagan and was appointed in December 1985. The court says he ranked 19th in seniority among its 48 active and senior judges.

Before he became a judge, Thompson's private law practice was in business litigation and general trials. He also served for three years on a committee that advises the judiciary's national governing body.

The complete Times obituary is here.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Judge David R. Thompson in 1985. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Controversial British judge James Pickles dies at 85

James Pickles, an outspoken and controversial judge who didn't shy from insulting Britain's legal establishment, has died. He was 85.

Pickles, who had been ill for some time, died Saturday at his home in Halifax, northern England, his family said Wednesday.

Pickles, who was appointed a circuit judge in 1976, survived on the bench despite describing the lord chancellor, England's top law officer, of being a "brooding quixotic dictator" and calling another senior jurist a "dinosaur."

"I am the human face of the judiciary, unlike the majority who adopt a Trappist-like silence," said Pickles, who after retiring vented his opinions as a newspaper columnist and wrote a raunchy novel.

He once famously asked in court, "Who are the Beatles?"

In 1985, Pickles accused the lord chancellor, England's senior judge, of being a "brooding quixotic dictator" born with a golden spoon in his mouth. Pickles survived demands for his resignation, and the episode led to a relaxation of rules which had forbidden judges from making comments on public issues.

Pickles was embroiled in controversy in 1990 when he sentenced a young mother to prison with her child, saying he wanted to discourage women from becoming pregnant to avoid jail.

"I don't say you deliberately became pregnant to avoid prison. But I have to consider that others might," he said, sentencing the woman to six months in prison.

She was released by an appeals court after two weeks.

Pickles responded by calling a news conference in a pub, where he described the senior appeals judge, Lord Lane, as "a dinosaur living in the wrong age."

The woman, a supermarket checkout clerk, had allowed friends to go through without paying. Pickles did not sentence the friends to jail.

Pickles retired in 1991, and became a columnist for the Sun, Britain's biggest mass-market daily tabloid. He later moved to the Daily Sport, a paper featuring soft porn and fanciful headlines such as "Hitler Was a Woman," "Aliens Turned Our Son into a Fish Finger" and "Donkey Robs Bank."

While still a judge in 1987, Pickles authored "Straight From the Bench," a book in which he advocated legalized prostitution and described pornography as something "most men have some interest in."

"Judge for Yourself," published in 1992, was a further defense of his legal career. The following year he turned to sexy fiction in "Off the Record."

Pickles' wife, Sheila, died in 1995. He is survived by two sons and daughters Carolyn Pickles, a British-based actress, and Christina Pickles, based in the United States, who appeared as the mother of Ross and Monica Geller in "Friends."

-- Associated Press

Laurie Bembenek, former police officer and Playboy bunny convicted of murder, dies at 52

Laurie Laurie Bembenek, a former Milwaukee police officer and Playboy Club bunny who gained national notoriety after she was convicted of murder and then escaped from prison, has died. She was 52.

Bembenek died Saturday at a hospice care center in Portland, Ore., said her attorney, Mary Woehrer. The cause of death was liver failure, she said.

Bembenek was convicted in 1982 of fatally shooting her police detective husband's ex-wife and sentenced to life in prison. She escaped in 1990 and fled to Canada.

Supporters cheered her flight, selling "Run Bambi Run" T-shirts and bumper stickers.

Bembenek was captured but later released after pleading no contest to second-degree murder. Her story was made into a TV movie starring Tatum O'Neal.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Laurie Bembenek in 1992. Credit: Associated Press

[For the record, 2:18 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Bembenek as a Playboy Club model.]

One year ago: John J. O'Connor III


John J. O'Connor III was a successful Phoenix lawyer and husband to Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice. He died one year ago of complications arising from Alzheimer's disease.

O'Connor, a Stanford University law school alumnus, gave up a partnership at a venerable Phoenix law firm to accompany his wife to Washington after she became a Supreme Court justice in 1981.

He appeared unfazed at having to switch to a more supporting role in the relationship.

"Sandra's accomplishments don't make me a lesser man. They make me a fuller man," he once told a reporter.

In Washington, he practiced at the law firm of Miller & Chevalier but in 1988 switched to another firm, Bryan Cave, which allowed him to spend time in Phoenix and take advantage of his contacts there.

The O'Connors were fixtures on the Washington social circuit and were known for their ballroom dancing. John O'Connor was once described as "a magnificent man full of Irish humor and tales" by family friend Alan K. Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming.

For more, read John J. O'Connor's obituary by Times reporter Valerie J. Nelson.

--Michael Farr

Photo: John J. O'Connor III dances with his wife, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in 1998 at the annual Meridien Ball in Washington, D.C. Credit: Karin Cooper / Getty Images

Sandra Day O'Connor dances with her husband, John, in 1998 at the annual Meridien Ball in <runtime:topic id="PLGEO100101200000000">Washington, D.C

One year ago: John O'Quinn

John-oquinn John M. O'Quinn was a Texas lawyer who lived a lavish lifestyle furnished by the riches he received from high-profile lawsuit victories over wealthy corporations. He died one year ago at age 68 in an auto accident that also killed his passenger.

The 6-foot-4 O'Quinn, one of Houston's best-known trial attorneys, was known as a Texas-sized lawyer with a Texas-sized ego and a wallet to match. His John M. O'Quinn Foundation donated millions of dollars to the University of Houston, the Baylor College of Medicine and other institutions.

He also was the single largest contributor in the Texas governor's race, giving Democrat Chris Bell $1 million and loaning him an additional $1.7 million.

O'Quinn said he took in $3 billion from more than 3,000 breast-implant cases between 1992 and 2000. In 1995, Dow Corning, an implant manufacturer, cited his lawsuits as reasons for its bankruptcy filing.

Among his biggest prizes was a $3.3-billion fee he shared among five lawyers for helping the state of Texas settle its lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

For more on the high-spending Houston lawyer, read the entirety of John M. O'Quinn's obituary that appeared in The Times.

--Times staff and wire reports

Photo: John O'Quinn in 2006. Credit: Associated Press

Burton B. Roberts, model for judge in 'Bonfire of the Vanities,' dies at 88

Burton B. Roberts, the outspoken judge who was the model for the cranky jurist in "The Bonfire of the Vanities," has died in New York City. He was 88.

The Hebrew Home for the Aged in the Bronx said Monday that Roberts, a resident there, died Sunday.

Roberts spent a half-century in public service law as a prosecutor, judge and chief administrative judge in the Bronx.

Roberts was the model for Myron Kovitsky, a rare hero in Tom Wolfe's acclaimed novel "The Bonfire of the Vanities." Both the real and the fictional judges were famous for their tempers and rants from the bench.

But Roberts was also greatly admired for his compassion, his sense of justice and his legal acumen.

"He's one of the great figures in New York," Wolfe has said of Roberts, to whom "Bonfire" is dedicated. "Probably the greatest single figure I've run into."

Roberts' career began as a Manhattan prosecutor in 1949. He became Bronx district attorney in 1968 and a Bronx judge in 1973. He became the county's administrative judge in 1984. The position largely involved staffing, scheduling and assigning cases, but Roberts also occasionally presided over contentious trials and hearings.

One of the most notorious was the 1991 trial of Julio Gonzalez, who killed 87 people by setting fire to an illegal social club called Happy Land. With the courtroom packed full of sobbing, angry relatives — many of them Honduran immigrants — and reporters fighting over scarce seats, Roberts made a daily practice — at top volume — of lecturing lawyers, cutting off rambling witnesses and chewing out journalists for rustling their papers.

It was like a scene right out of "Bonfire."

"That case had to be run in a fashion so that both sides would receive a fair trial," Roberts said. "No histrionics. No emotion run amok. I know how to control the condition of a courtroom. I can be tough when it's important to be tough."

He left the court in 1998 at the mandatory retirement age of 76.

But retirement for the indefatigable Roberts lasted only about as long as other people's vacations. Three weeks after walking out of the courthouse, he walked into a new job in Manhattan at the heavyweight, politically connected law firm of Fischbein Badillo Wagner Harding.

It was the first time he had ever worked in the private sector. Yet within a year, he had turned his legal smarts into an incredible legal coup: He masterminded a successful effort to move from the Bronx to Albany the trial of four police officers charged in the notorious killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant.

Roberts, working for the defense, argued that pretrial publicity made it impossible for the cops to get a fair trial in the very courthouse where he himself had worked for decades.

An appeals court agreed and took the exceedingly rare step of granting the change of venue from a mostly minority county to a mostly white county.

"If ever a case warranted this extreme remedy, this is it," Roberts said.

The officers eventually were acquitted.

Roberts held degrees from Cornell University School of Law and New York University School of Law. He served in the Army in Europe for two years during World War II.

He is survived by his wife, Gerhild. The couple had no children.

-- Associated Press


James F. Neal, who prosecuted Jimmy Hoffa and defended Exxon, dies at 81

Neal James F. Neal, who successfully prosecuted Jimmy Hoffa and key Watergate figures and later defended such prominent clients as Exxon Corp. after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, has died. He was 81.

Neal died Thursday night at a Nashville hospital after battling cancer for several months, said his law partner, Aubrey Harwell.

In 1964, Neal successfully prosecuted Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa on jury-tampering charges in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Neal was the special Watergate prosecutor who in 1974 won the convictions of onetime Richard Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Atty. Gen. John Mitchell.

He was working as a special assistant to then-U.S. Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy when he secured the government's first conviction against Hoffa -- sending him to prison. Four previous government efforts to convict Hoffa had failed.

In private practice, Neal successfully defended Ford Motor Co. against reckless-homicide charges in Indiana after the gas tank of a 1973 Ford Pinto exploded, killing the car's driver.

A year later, in 1981, he also successfully defended Dr. George Nichopoulos of Memphis, Tenn., against charges that he over-prescribed drugs to Elvis Presley.

After actor Vic Morrow and two others died in 1982 during the filming of the movie "The Twilight Zone," Neal successfully defended director John Landis against charges of voluntary manslaughter in 1987.

He was hired in 1990 to represent Exxon Corp., which was charged with polluting the Alaska shoreline with the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill.

Neal, who grew up on a farm in Tennessee, was a graduate of the University of Wyoming and Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville. He received a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington.

He was U.S. attorney for middle Tennessee from 1964 to 1966. Neal then entered private practice and in 1973 was called to Washington to become chief trial lawyer for the Watergate special prosecutor's office.

In 1982, he was chief counsel to a special Senate committee that investigated the federal government's Abscam bribery allegations.

Neal was very animated, slapping people on the back and calling them "pal." But in the courtroom, he fixed a steely gaze. Though intensely competitive, he expressed a liking for many he met in court.

He said in a 1981 Associated Press interview, "Jurors are people. I like people. All kinds of people."

-- Associated Press

Photo: James F. Neal. Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Albert L. Gordon

Gordon Albert L. Gordon, a lawyer who died a year ago at 94, spent much of his professional career fighting for gay rights.

"Before there was a straight-gay alliance in America, there was Al Gordon," said the Rev. Troy Perry, a longtime activist and founder of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Churches. "When other people wouldn't touch us, he did. He was a hero."

Gordon, a heterosexual whose twin sons were gay, didn't become a lawyer until he was 47.

"He helped change the legal system in California, particularly in Los Angeles," said Thomas F. Coleman, who was a UCLA law student when he began working with Gordon in the early 1970s. "The gay and lesbian community really owes him a debt of gratitude."

Gordon's obituary appeared in The Times on Sept. 6, 2009.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Albert L. Gordon in 1975. Credit: Rusty Morris

One year ago: Robert M. Takasugi

Takasugi A victim of Japanese American internment during World War II, federal Judge Robert M. Takasugi had a sensitivity for targeted groups that he demonstrated often during his 36-year judicial career.

Takasugi described the three years he spent at the internment camp at Tule Lake, Calif., as "an education to be fair."

The veteran jurist handled a number of high-profile cases, including a 1980 case that led to a Los Angeles Police Department ban on choke holds and the 1984 cocaine-trafficking trial of automaker John Z. DeLorean.

He was seen as the epitome of judicial restraint, keeping a straight face and calm demeanor even during outrageous courtroom antics.

Takasugi was also known for having a high standard for prosecutors and demanding that the government make a strong case for classifying something as a matter of "national security."

"He was vigilant that the power of prosecutors not be abused," said Andrea Ordin, who appeared before Takasugi when she was a U.S. attorney in the late 1970s. "The prosecutors during the years I was there became better advocates because of it."

Among Takasugi's other high-profile cases: a battle between a University of California historian and the federal government over the FBI files of former Beatle John Lennon, and a 2002 ruling in which he threw out an indictment against seven Los Angeles residents who had been accused of fund-raising for an Iranian group listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

For more on the judge, read Robert M. Takasugi's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Robert M. Takasugi. Credit: Associated Press

Chess icon Bobby Fischer's body exhumed over paternity case

Fischer Authorities in Iceland have exhumed the body of American chess champion Bobby Fischer to determine whether he is the father of a 9-year-old girl from the Philippines.

Police district commissioner Olafur Helgi Kjartansson said Fischer's corpse was dug up from a cemetery in southern Iceland early Monday in the presence of a doctor, a priest and other officials. He said Fischer's body was reburied after DNA samples were taken.

Fischer died in Iceland in 2008 after a long illness. He was 64 and had lived in Iceland since 2005.

Last month, Iceland's supreme court ruled Fischer's body should be exhumed so DNA testing could determine whether he was the father of a girl whose mother says she had a relationship with Fischer. You can read the complete Associated Press story about Bobby Fischer here.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Bobby Fischer in 1965. Credit: Associated Press


Martin Ginsburg, husband of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dies at 78

Martin Ginsburg, the husband of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a prominent lawyer, has died. He was 78.

Ginsburg died at home Sunday from complications of metastatic cancer, according to a statement from the Supreme Court.

The Ginsburgs celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary last week. They met on a blind date as undergraduates at Cornell University.

Martin Ginsburg was an expert in tax law and taught at New York University, Columbia University and Georgetown University over the course of his career.

More later at

-- Associated Press


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