Appellate court Justice Norman L. Epstein founded
the Witkin Medal Award to honor a friend and respected colleague,
never realizing the prestigious prize would eventually come full
circle and land squarely on him.
Epstein, 68, is the award's ninth recipient
since it was founded in 1993 in honor of fellow educator Bernard E.
Witkin, now deceased. Epstein was selected in secret by the panel he
recommended when he first pitched the award.
But the 2nd
District Court of Appeals justice expressed some reservations about
being placed among the intellectual giants who comprise the previous
winners, including Witkin himself, the late state Supreme Court
Justice Stanley Mosk and trial attorney Joseph A. Ball.
"I hope I'm not getting the award simply
because I came up with the idea," Epstein said.
The award recognizes attorneys, judges and legal
scholars whose lifetime body of work has altered the legal landscape.
It was presented by State Bar President Palmer
Madden at a Sept. 8 reception during the State Bar's Annual Meeting.
Epstein, a recent appointee to the Judicial
Council of California, was appointed to the appellate bench by former
Gov. George Deukmejian in 1990. Along with California Criminal Law,
Second Edition, the Los Angeles native has written and lectured civil
law and procedure and criminal law.
He also was a lecturer at the University of
Southern California law center and served on numerous bench and bar
Epstein is a former dean of the California
Judicial College and has been a faculty member since 1978.
Since the 1970s, he has been honored with various
awards, including the UCLA School of Law Alumnus of the Year Award,
the Bernard Jefferson Award for distinguished judicial education, and
the Distinguished Trial Award given by the Los Angeles County Bar
Epstein said he created the award to honor Witkin
after the bar expressed interest in honoring the famed attorney with
an oral history project on the occasion of his 88th birthday.
"Bernie - that's what his friends called
him - just didn't want to do it," Epstein said. "I was trying
to think of something significant that would recognize (him)."
He added: "Bernie is unique in California;
there probably will never be anyone with the breadth in his ability to
understand, analyze, synthesize and articulate the entire body of
California law . . . in a way that is so useful to lawyers."