Tribute to justice Stanley Mosk.

AuthorUelmen, Gerald F.
PositionCalifornia Supreme Court Justice

The image of justice flowing like a mighty river has been celebrated in songs and poems and prayers. Today, we celebrate that image in remembering the career of Justice Stanley Mosk. Like the mighty river of justice, the legacy of Justice Mosk flows long, it flows wide, and it flows deep.

The length of this river stretches back through sixty-five years of California history. Stanley Mosk began his career in public service as executive secretary and legal advisor to Governor Culbert Olson in 1939. He handled Governor Olson's pardon of labor activist Tom Mooney, ending a quest for justice that bounced back and forth between the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court for twenty years. (1) When Governor Olson was defeated for reelection by Earl Warren, Governor Olson rewarded Stanley Mosk with a midnight appointment to the bench before Olson left office. At the age of thirty-one, Stanley Mosk was sworn in as a Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. (2)

Judge Mosk's rulings on the Superior Court bench included several noteworthy cases. Two years before the Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive real estate covenants in Shelley v. Kraemer, (3) Judge Mosk upheld the transfer of a Hancock Park home to a black man, ruling that a racially restrictive covenant was unconstitutional. That same home, incidentally, was later sold to Mayor Tom Bradley.

In the 1950s, Judge Mosk presided over the high profile trial of a law student accused of murdering the wealthy Bel Aire matron who had hired him as a houseboy. (4) John Crooker was convicted and sentenced to death by Judge Mosk. (5) Eight years before Miranda, (6) in Crooker v. California the Supreme Court rejected Crooker's argument that his confession should have been suppressed because police did not advise him of his constitutional rights. (7) In a five-to-four decision, the Court concluded that anyone who made it through the first year at Southwestern Law School should know what his constitutional rights are. (8) Stanley Mosk, incidentally, received his own law degree from Southwestern in 1935, after having completed his first two years at the University of Chicago School of Law.

Crooker's death sentence was the first death sentence commuted by Governor Pat Brown. (9) In his wonderful book about his struggle with the death penalty, Brown offered some fascinating reflections on the Crooker commutation. (10) Initially, when he heard that Stanley Mosk had imposed the death sentence, Governor Brown resolved to uphold it. He wrote:

I knew Mosk well.... I also knew he was not only an excellent jurist but one of the most compassionate men I had ever met, a staunch foe of capital punishment.... If Mosk had reviewed the trial transcript and found the sentence just, there was little room for doubt. "That's good enough for me," I said. (11) Governor Brown later changed his mind; and he said that the principal reason he did so was a note from Stanley Mosk, saying he would not object to a commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment. (12) Crooker was subsequently released on parole and became a model citizen. Justice Mosk took great delight in his annual receipt of a Christmas card from John Crooker.

Stanley Mosk was elected Attorney General of California in 1958. (13) During his tenure as California Attorney General, Mosk established both constitutional and consumers' rights sections within the Department of Justice; he actively defended civil rights; and he restored the enforcement of the state's antitrust law. (14) Mosk's battle to integrate the Los...

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