California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - January 2000
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News Briefs
Former Unruh aide appointed to serve on State Bar board
Ardaiz, O'Leary named jurists of the year for '99
Judicial Administration fellowships
Public law section online library
Board meets Feb. 4-5
51.2 percent pass July '99 bar exam
Board hires search firm for new bar chief
Litigation section offers MCLE week in legal London
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Trials Digest
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From the President - Reciprocity reform: The future is now
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For most Americans, our system is a failure
Ethics 2000: On target, or lost in space
Letters to the Editor
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Public Comment
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MCLE Self-Study
Of Counsel: Avoiding Conflicts
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Important Information About Your 2000 Membership Fee
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You Need to Know
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Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Ethics Byte - Warding off the foul tort in a new year
Bankruptcy attorney disbarred after abandoning clients
Attorney Discipline
Former chief justice Rose Bird dies after long bout with breast cancer
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Continued from Page 1
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personal integrity and resolve.”

Chief Justice Ronald George called Bird a trailblazer on the court, which now has three women justices. “As a jurist, she was a strong and eloquent advocate for her views,” George said.

Bird was only 40 when she was named to the Supreme Court by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1977 after serving as his secretary of agriculture and services.

The appointment was immediately controversial, and Bird faced opposition from critics because she had never served as a judge and because she was a woman. Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, who chaired the state Agriculture Labor Relations Board and with whom Bird clashed repeatedly, questioned Bird’s “emotional stability.” Then-San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson warned that she would be the “champion of criminal defense attorneys.”

Despite the opposition, Bird was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments and began a tenure marked by rulings favoring tenants, consumers and employees, and an unyielding refusal to impose the death penalty.

Rose BirdHer opposition to capital punishment was based on a belief that the death penalty is applied disproportionately to blacks and other minorities. “We need to continue this dialogue with the people of California to let them know that the rule of law has to apply not only to the weak, but to the powerful, and not only to the popular, but to the unpopular as well,” she wrote of the death penalty.

Bird dissented from a ruling upholding the tax-slashing Proposition 13, arguing that the initiative was unconstitutional because it treated owners of similar property unequally, based on when their property was purchased.

She concurred with a decision granting public employees the right to strike, but went further by saying they have a fundamental constitutional right to strike.

Bird grew up poor in Arizona and New York, but won a scholarship to Long Island University, graduated magna cum laude and later enrolled at Boalt Hall. Then began a series of legal “firsts:” first woman law clerk at the Nevada Supreme Court (where Justice David Zenoff pronounced her “intellectually marvelous”), first public defender in Santa Clara County (where she became chief of the appellate division), first woman to teach law at Stanford University, first woman to hold a cabinet-level position in California, first woman chief justice.

Bird herself claimed to be under attack from the moment of her appointment.

In a 1986 interview, she said, “I’ve always said when you’re the first of your sex or race in a position, three things apply to you. One, you’re always placed under a microscope. Two, you’re allowed no margin for error. And three, the assumption is always made that you achieved your position based on something other than merit.”

After leaving the court, Bird led a quiet life out of the public eye. She lived with her mother until her death in 1991 in a Palo Also cottage. She gardened, swam, walked her dog, and for awhile, volunteered at the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, where she remained anonymous, helping with clerical work, until someone realized who she was.

Bird suffered from cancer for more than 20 years. She underwent a modified radical mastectomy in 1976 and a full mastectomy 20 years later.