Former California Supreme Court Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas died yesterday at home in Los Angeles after a battle with cancer that had been diagnosed earlier this year. He was 89.
“Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas was a man of great dignity and grace,” said current Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. “He came to the court during a time of upheaval in the judicial branch and he brought stability, peace, and leadership to the court. He was devoted to public service and especially to the court system. He will be greatly missed.”
Governor George Deukmejian appointed Chief Justice Lucas to the state high court in 1984 and elevated him to chief justice in 1987. Lucas retired from the court in 1996.
“My friend and colleague Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas brought a steady hand to the stewardship of the California Supreme Court and our state’s vast judicial system,” said Former Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who succeeded Lucas when he retired from the court. “His wise counsel and collegial approach to the resolution of legal and administrative issues set an excellent example for me and for other judges, and helped pave the way for many of the ensuing reforms in California’s judiciary.”
During his tenure, the California Supreme Court issued landmark decisions on reapportionment, insurance law and employment law, among other issues. He is widely regarded as restoring confidence in and respect for the Supreme Court and implementing numerous administrative reforms in the high court’s internal operations that improved procedures and streamlined the decision-making process.
In addition to his leadership on the high court, he is credited for helping to increase the efficiency, stability, and fairness of the entire judicial branch. As chair of the Judicial Council of California, he presided over implementation of the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act, was a strong proponent of increasing the state’s responsibility for funding the trial courts, and oversaw the creation of committees on gender, race, and ethnic fairness in the courts. In addition, in 1992, he oversaw the development of the first strategic plan for the judicial branch.
Further evidence of his support for the importance and sanctity of the judicial system, Chief Justice Lucas helped create the Supreme Court Historical Society, along with co-founding board members California Supreme Court Associate Justice Stanley Mosk and legendary legal scholar and author Bernie Witkin.
Before his elevation to the California Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lucas served as a U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California (1971-1984) and as a judge for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (1967-1971). Prior to his appointment to the bench, Lucas was in private practice at Lucas, Deukmejian & Lucas, specializing in civil litigation. He received his J.D. from the University of Southern California Law Center (1953) and his B.A. from the University of Southern California (1950).
Chief Justice Lucas is survived by his wife, Fiorenza Courtright Lucas, two children, and six stepchildren. Information on funeral services is not yet available.