Justice Reynoso Hands Down a Popular Ruling

Times Staff Writer

It was a traditional lawyer's wedding. The judge was kept waiting.

But the judge in this case, California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, couldn't be riled. He was an old friend of the groom, Samuel Paz, and, he said, he has always liked to perform weddings.

"A wedding is a very special time. It's one of the few occasions when a judge can do something that pleases everyone," Reynoso said.

This wedding, held in a gaily decorated backyard in Alhambra on Saturday afternoon, was supposed to have a special meaning for Reynoso, who is running for reelection and is one of three Supreme Court justices targeted for defeat by conservative opposition groups.

To help Reynoso, Paz and his bride, Angela Weimer, asked guests to give money to the justice's campaign instead of giving wedding presents.

"I've been married before, and we don't need any more toasters," said Paz, a former president of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has worked from time to time for the Reynoso campaign.

It was apparent from the stack of gifts visible Saturday that the bride and groom may have to contend with more toasters. But Paz said that at least $500 in contributions to Reynoso had been received by the afternoon of the wedding.

As weddings and elections go, this one was somewhere between a nail biter and a hair puller. By 2 p.m., the appointed hour, everyone was present but the bride. As the minutes passed, the bridesmaids smoked while the groom's men told jokes about faint-hearted brides. The musicians played and replayed the same jolly songs. The groom studied his watch.

"Get a substitute," someone yelled.

Reynoso, however, remained calm. In fact, he took a nap.

"People are supposed to be late to their own weddings. It's an old tradition," he said.

Arrives in Pickup

Finally, the bride, whose limousine had broken down, arrived. She roared into the backyard in a pickup truck, bursting through an arbor of pink and white balloons and emerging to the hearty applause of her guests.

For Reynoso, it was a chance to wax philosophical.

"I think the fact that you arrived in a pickup truck and not a limousine to your wedding is an indication of how unpredictable life can be," he said, as the bride and groom stood before him.

"The future is uncertain," Reynoso continued. "But by your marriage, you have agreed to share the uncertainties, to share your hearts and your heartaches."

While Reynoso's own uncertain future has kept him busy campaigning most weekends, he insisted that Saturday's wedding stay free from political conversation.

"I'm not going to make any speeches. This is not a political occasion," said Reynoso, who often seems ill at ease in the role of a political candidate, a role he must succeed at if he is going to retain his seat on the state Supreme Court.

First Latino on Court

Reynoso, who is the first Latino member of the court, likes to tell audiences at political gatherings a story about a Latino firefighter who assumed that the judge was a politician like any other politician.

As Reynoso tells it, the firefighter asked him what the judge could do for him in exchange for his vote.

"Nothing, I told him nothing," Reynoso said. "And, furthermore, I told him 'that's a good reason why you should vote for me, because, as a judge, I can't and won't trade favors for votes.' "

Reynoso is one of six high court justices facing reelection in November. Along with Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justice Joseph Grodin, Reynoso has been singled out for criticism because of his voting record on the death penalty. He has voted for the death penalty once since he joined the court in 1982.

Reynoso has said he will vote for the death penalty as long as the sentence is imposed in accordance with constitutional guidelines.

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