Stephen Reinhardt of 9th Circuit : Liberal U.S. Judge Swims Against Conservative Tide

Times Staff Writer

The most outspoken and combative judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was eager for yet another battle.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles, one of the court's most liberal jurists, was tangling this time with conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist, who had just insulted 9th Circuit liberals at a judicial conference in Seattle.

Commenting on the Supreme Court's 99% reversal rate on 9th Circuit cases in 1984, Rehnquist had upset Reinhardt by remarking:

"Some panels of the 9th Circuit have a hard time saying no to any litigant with a hard-luck story."

Chasing a reporter down a Seattle street, Reinhardt immediately launched his counterattack.

"It is not that we can't say no," he said. "Many of us feel an obligation to uphold the rights of citizens against the government. That's what we think the Constitution is there for.

"Some members of the Supreme Court these days think they are there to protect the government against the citizens."

Since that exchange two years ago, the 9th Circuit's liberal image has faded and the court's growing number of conservative new judges has helped cut the reversal rate to 62%.

Reinhardt, 55, now finds himself one of a dwindling band of liberals on the 28-judge court--no longer so frequently in control of the three-judge panels that decide most cases.

But the continuing shift in the court's composition from Democrat to Republican has not quieted Reinhardt nor diminished his readiness for combat with the conservative forces around him.

A major figure in Los Angeles Democratic politics for almost two decades before his judicial appointment in 1980, Reinhardt has carried his flair for controversy to the federal bench.

The most colorful of the 9th Circuit judges in his written opinions and also the most vocal in denouncing conservative views, Reinhardt has emerged as the court's most controversial figure.

'A Man of Conscience'

"I think he has a lot of courage, a lot of humanism and a lot of compassion," said 9th Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson of Los Angeles, another of the court's most liberal Democratic judges. "He is a man of conscience and a great judge."

Said a conservative Republican district court judge: "I'm told by his brethren that he can't disagree without being disagreeable. He's a guy championing causes. I'm not sure that's what a judge should be doing."

Reinhardt, one of the court's hardest-working judges despite heart problems and a triple bypass operation three years ago, draws mixed reviews from others--including Santa Clara Law School Dean Gerald F. Uelmen, a leading liberal expert on the 9th Circuit.

"I think he's more likely to be outspoken. He doesn't pull his punches," Uelmen said. "But he may have a tendency to be a little preachy at times."

Among federal prosecutors and trial judges, Reinhardt is thought of as one of the 9th Circuit judges most likely to reverse a criminal conviction, and the statistics support that view.

Rate of Reversals

His reversal rate in more than 1,000 criminal cases he has decided in almost six years on the appellate court is 29.8%--compared to 15.7% for the 9th Circuit as a whole.

"I hate his guts," said one assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. "He's one of the liberal judges who is looking to reverse every criminal case that comes along. In my mind he's the Rose Bird of the 9th Circuit."

In an interview last week in his chambers at the U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles, Reinhardt repeated his criticisms of the Supreme Court and of the nation's conservative trend.

"This seems to be a period where people are more interested in themselves than in society," he said. "The message they get from their leaders is you don't have an obligation to help people.

"The Supreme Court is less interested in expanding the protections of the Constitution and more interested in reducing the role of the federal courts," he added.

Reinhardt said it "can be a frustrating experience" to be a liberal judge in a conservative time.

Dissent 'Valuable'

But he added that he believes it is "valuable" to have strong liberal voices in dissent, and he predicted that the national mood will eventually shift back toward his own philosophies.

"It's going to change. I just don't know when," he added. "I can't believe we're going to stop caring. I'm sometimes pessimistic on a day-to-day basis, but I'm not pessimistic about the future of man or the essential good of the country."

Reinhardt, disputing suggestions that he is more aggressive or politically oriented than other 9th Circuit liberals, said he does not view himself as controversial and portrayed himself as "an average judge" trying to keep up with his caseload.

But neither his critics nor his admirers suggest that they think there is anything average about the judge or ever has been.

Before he was a judge, Reinhardt was first a top Los Angeles labor lawyer, then one of the leading strategists of the Democratic Party in California, finally a top aide to Mayor Tom Bradley.

'Brilliant' and 'Devious'

Remembered as both a "brilliant" and a "devious" political tactician, Reinhardt was among those most responsible for the successful campaigns of Bradley and former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., among others.

As a Brown supporter, Reinhardt orchestrated a move that "torpedoed" San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto's chances for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1974, former political associates said.

Alioto, they recalled, was basing his campaign on support from organized labor. Reinhardt, however, used his close ties to labor to persuade union leaders to remain neutral in the Democratic primary election campaign, depriving Alioto of any official labor endorsement and setting the stage for Brown's victory.

His most brilliant political maneuver, according to many, was his handling of Yvonne Braithwaite Burke's successful Democratic primary race for state attorney general in 1978 against Los Angeles City Atty. Burt Pines.

Although Pines was favored at the beginning of the race, Reinhardt built a winning strategy around a last-minute newspaper ad charging him with direct involvement in the shredding of Los Angeles Police Department intelligence files.

'Last-Minute Smear'

Pines, who claimed that he had learned of the file-shredding only after the fact, called the ads a "last-minute smear," but was unable to recover and lost the race.

"Steve (Reinhardt) had a lot of success because he is very smart and very tough and, above all, very political," one friend said. "He is also devious. In the political world, you had to watch what he was doing."

As a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Reinhardt achieved his own political prominence during a five-year running battle with the Police Department that made him one of the city's most controversial public figures.

Reinhardt's nomination to become a federal judge while serving on the Police Commission also was marked by controversy. There were charges, denied by Reinhardt and unsubstantiated by Justice Department investigators, that as a labor lawyer he had ties to organized crime.

Some of his strongest political enemies--including Police Chiefs Ed Davis and Daryl F. Gates--turned out to defend him in the fight over his nomination, and Davis, now a Republican state senator from Chatsworth, speaks almost fondly of his former adversary.

Not 'Warm and Cuddly'

"I think Steve is an honest liberal. He doesn't hide his opinions or attempt to shade them," Davis said. "He is not very warm and cuddly, but I respected him.

"Steve is a warrior," he added. "He is very dogged, more like a bulldog than the other commissioners I remember."

While there was no controversy to it, even Reinhardt's boyhood was far from average.

Born in New York as Stephen Shapiro, Reinhardt changed his name after his mother, Silvia, divorced his lawyer father and remarried in 1942 to one of the most famous Hollywood movie director-producers of the 1930s and 1940s, Gottfried Reinhardt.

Gottfried Reinhardt was the son of an even more famous figure in the theater world, Max Reinhardt, who shaped modern European theater and founded the annual performing arts festival at Salzburg, Austria.

Stepfather's Influence

While Stephen Reinhardt later decided on a career as a lawyer, he was influenced strongly during his teen-age years by his new stepfather and the theater heritage of his legendary grandfather, a German Jew who died in the United States in 1943, nine years after fleeing Nazi persecution.

As a teen-ager, he ran errands on Hollywood movie sets and "got Cokes for the chorus girls" at Broadway stage productions when his stepfather was directing live theater in New York.

Reinhardt, one of the first three Jewish judges appointed to the 9th Circuit during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, divides his early memories in life between the horrors of discovering Nazi atrocities in Europe and the later delights of growing up in a Hollywood home where the dinner guests ranged from Thomas Mann to Marilyn Monroe.

"I met her (Monroe) just before I was going off to law school, and I asked her out," Reinhardt recalled. "She said to give her a call, and we left it that I'd call when I got back at Christmas. But I never got around to it."

Reinhardt said that he really didn't know what he wanted to do in life, but his stepfather steered him toward the law and away from show business. After graduating from Yale Law School, he spent two years as a Pentagon lawyer, then clerked for a year in Washington for a federal district judge.

Entertainment Lawyer

In 1957, Reinhardt returned to Los Angeles at a time when many of the city's major law firms were just beginning to hire Jews. He was hired as the second Jewish lawyer at O'Melveny & Myers and given a job as an entertainment lawyer.

"They were getting a lot of pressure from the movie industry to hire Jews," Reinhardt said. "I didn't know any of this at the time."

Reinhardt said his liberalism can be traced at least partly to his own experiences as a Jew growing up in an anti-Semitic society. "I guess part of it was being Jewish at the time of World War II," he said. "It had to be compounded by living in a country that was still openly prejudiced against Jews.

"At the same time, I remember traveling across the country by train, with blacks kept away from whites in the dining cars," he added. "Then there were the pictures of the concentration camps at the end of the war. It would be hard not to feel very strongly about fairness and justice after all that."

Reinhardt began his involvement with politics while at O'Melveny & Myers when he was asked to do some legal research for Paul Ziffrin, then the Democratic national committeeman for California and a close friend for the last 25 years.

He became active in the beginning stages of the club movement in the Democratic Party and was a national committeeman himself within a decade. In that role, Reinhardt organized the Democratic Party behind Bradley's first unsuccessful race for mayor in 1969, and stayed on a top adviser in Bradley's later successful campaigns.

By then, Reinhardt was a partner in a law firm originally known as Bodle & Fogel, which represented many of the major labor unions in California as well as the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

He said he had no thoughts about becoming a federal judge until 1978 when he was approached by William A. Norris, another liberal active in Democratic politics, who suggested that Reinhardt consider seeking one of several 9th Circuit vacancies then being filled by Carter.

By the end of Carter's presidency, a record number of 15 new judges had been named to the 9th Circuit, including both Reinhardt and Norris. For a brief period, the court appeared to have taken a sudden liberal tilt.

Under the Reagan Administration, however, the 9th Circuit has again become more conservative. The present lineup of active judges includes 13 Democrats, who range from liberal to conservative, and 13 Republicans, almost all of whom are solid conservatives, with two current vacancies to be filled by conservatives.

Tries to Win Converts

Attempting to persuade conservative judges to take a liberal view of any case is a task most liberals readily abandon, but Reinhardt is known as the judge who spends the greatest effort trying to win converts to his side.

Reinhardt is thought of as being too much of a liberal lobbyist by some conservatives, particularly on the court's current major concern--political asylum for refugees from El Salvador and other Latin American countries. The view, however, is not unanimous.

"I like him, even on cases where we disagree, and there are certainly some of those. One thing about him is that he has a sense of humor," said Judge Alex Kozinski of Pasadena, one of the newest Reagan appointees to the court.

"I think he's very persuasive," Kozinski added. "Anybody who is forceful causes some ruffled feathers from time to time, but I enjoy sitting with him. I would rather have an adversary who is bright and has a sense of humor."

Reinhardt plays down his reputation as a political operative both on and off the court.

'A Bad Connotation'

"I was never a politician," he said. "The word has such a bad connotation. My primary concern was always being a lawyer. Some people like to rake the garden. My hobby was to try to improve government through the political process.

"Politics is like a game," he added. "I never would have made it my career. Twenty years of doing anything was enough. It took me 10 seconds to give up politics."

While Reinhardt said he no longer has contact with Bradley or functions in any advisory capacity to the mayor, his wife, Maureen A. Kindel, president of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, remains one of Bradley's top political strategists.

"People assume he's advising Bradley, but he's not," Kindel said. "We do talk about things. But, frankly, we're both usually too tired at the end of the day to talk much about our jobs. I'm tired of sewers and politics and he's tired of his work, too. We talk about other things."

Only once, Kindel said, did Reinhardt ever consult her about one of his legal opinions while in the process of writing it.

Quotes President Carter

The case involved the constitutionality of an anti-obscenity statue in the State of Washington, and Reinhardt struck it down because state legislators had included the arousal of "lust" as part of their definition of obscenity.

Reinhardt declared in his opinion that lust was no longer something frowned on by most people and therefore failed to meet Supreme Court standards of obscenity. In proving his point, he cited President's Carter's 1976 public confession that he had "looked on a lot of women with lust and committed adultery in my heart many times."

"We do not think that President Carter was describing a shameful or morbid interest; rather, he was obviously expressing a healthy, wholesome, human reaction common to millions of well-adjusted persons in our society," Reinhardt wrote.

"I was in the other room working when he read it to me and said, 'What do you think?,' " Kindel said. "I think he was worried about the taste of mentioning President Carter. He asked the wrong person. I said, 'Sure, put it in.' "

Others More Critical

While Reinhardt's wife liked his opinion, others were more critical. The opinion ultimately was reviewed by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the problem could be solved simply by eliminating the word and not the statute.

It was one of four Reinhardt decisions that have reached the Supreme Court--all four have been reversed.

But Reinhardt takes his reversals philosophically:

"In a conservative era, liberals have an obligation to express their views. . . . There may be frustrations, but you can still accomplish a good deal."

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