A three-generation firm in Fresno

by Kathleen O. Beitiks
Staff Writer

If it's Tuesday, you'll find 96-year-old Gasper H. Magarian in the Fresno law offices of Dowling Magarian Aaron & Heyman.

Tuesday is Magarian's day to come into the office "to help the boys out," he says.

The boys include his son Donald, 62, and grandson Mark, 29. In fact, three of his five grandchildren are lawyers, and grandchild is a paralegal.

Magarian's been practicing law for nearly 70 years and has the distinction of being the oldest active member of the State Bar of California.

Needless to say, he has seen plenty of changes in the legal and justice system since he was admitted to the California bar in 1926.

Some of those changes are positive, he says, but others make him long for the good old days.

His biggest criticism is with lawyers themselves. "Lawyers used to cooperate with each other as friends," says Margarian. "It seems like there was more integrity and honesty."

Nowadays, he laments, everyone tries to "win by hook or by crook."

Magarian is also distressed about lawyer advertising. It just doesn't seem dignified, he says, and all it does is increase overhead. "And they don't tell the truth about themselves. I know they don't know a doggone thing."

Magarian longs for the days "when the law was simple." It seems now that everytime the legislature gets a brilliant idea we end up with more and more changes, he says.

In those days a simple, uncontested divorce would be over in a week. Now, says Magarian, a divorce takes forever and can cost "$5,000 or more."

It's virtually impossible to talk about law today without the "Trial of the Century" working its way into the conversation. On the subject of the O.J. Simpson double murder case, Magarian says, "He's guilty---he got away with murder. It shows what you can do if you've got money and you've got enough experts to create a doubt."

After graduating from law school at Stanford University in 1925, Magarian practiced general law in San Francisco until 1934 when he moved back to Fresno.

He graduated from law school in the middle of the Depression when lawyers "were hardly making a living" and has sympathy for today's young attorneys getting ready to tackle the job market.

After nearly seven decades of practicing law, Magarian has cut back to one day a week and lends a hand with the firm's probate work, occasionally seeing clients.

He likes the work because it helps keep his mind sharp. "I want to keep my membership active," he says, "because I have clients now and then and I need to keep up with the law."

Born July 2, 1899, in Billerica, Massachusetts to Armenian immigrants, Magarian has four brothers and two sisters---all of whom are living. He's the oldest at 96 and his "baby sister" is 83.

His family moved to the farming community of Fresno in 1904 and established a truck gardening farm on about eight acres of land on the westside of Fresno. Today, some of that land is rented to immigrant Hmong farmers.

His family was poor, he says, and couldn't really afford much, but tuition at Stanford was free and he worked every summer on the farm to meet expenses.

One of the positive changes he's seen in the legal profession is the increase in women lawyers. It's a subject of special interest to him since two of his granddaughters are attorneys and his wife Aznive, 94, spent a year in law school before getting married and starting a family.

Although Magarian admits he has slowed down through the years, he manages to keep up with his weekly work day and occasionally spends a few hours working at home.

He's not up to the boxing and wrestling he did in college, but until recently "when I began to have a hard time getting out of the pool," he was swimming on a regular basis.

Retirement doesn't seem to be a word in Magarian's vocabulary. So for now, a little probate work, a few games of bridge and gin rummy, and time with his wife and family all make for a contented life.