Superior Court Judge Irwin J. Nebron retired to his Van Nuys chambers and left a telephone message for Brenda Jones in Sacramento: "Tell her this is her dad calling from Southern California."
Next he dialed the number of Superior Court Judge Dennis G. Adams in San Diego County and instructed the secretary to have Adams "call his dad in Van Nuys."
A third call was placed to Richard Curtis, a Superior Court commissioner in Pomona. When Curtis got on the line, Judge Nebron said, "Hello, son, how are you?"
Nebron, 59, and his wife, Ruth, have been married 32 years, and have only one child, Catherine, 26.
But Nebron also has a strong paternal instinct that has prompted dozens of attorneys, judges and political aides throughout California to refer to him as "Dad."
"I love the old guy," said Adams. "He means a lot to me."
Nebron, who handles civil jury cases, is the patriarch of what has become around the state an equal-opportunity "family"--a loosely knit group of people, mostly between the ages of 35 and 45.
Nebron also played a major role in starting two organizations geared to young people--Justice Lodge of B'nai B'rith in the late 1960s and the Juvenile Justice Connection Project in 1980.
Nebron has helped his own "youngsters" with their careers, their love lives and their personal problems. He listens and gives advice. The two telephones in his chambers rarely stop ringing.
"He tries to keep me from flying off the face of the earth," said Adams.
The largest family reunions with Nebron occur in Sacramento, which is home to many members in politics and law.
Municipal Court Judge Jeffrey L. Gunther said one of the latest and most enjoyable gatherings took place at a restaurant overlooking the Sacramento River. Everybody "watched the river go by and discussed the world situation," Gunther said.
In what has become a ritual before Nebron's trips to Sacramento, the judge visits a delicatessen in the San Fernando Valley to pick up food for the transplanted Southern Californians in need of a fix.
Nebron says he has not given much thought to the reason he cultivates special relationships with men and women 20 to 30 years his junior. The answer may lie in his own childhood.
His older sister died when he was 3, and as a child, he suffered from a painful ear ailment. Nebron's parents sent him at 7 to the now-defunct Black/Foxe Military Institute in Hollywood so he would get the proper medical care as well as an excellent education.
The institute sapped the family's financial resources. While young Irwin went to school at a cost of $50 per week, his parents remained in Ventura, living in a $4-a-week hotel room. They cooked their meals on a hot plate.
The older he gets, the more he appreciates the sacrifice his parents, now deceased, made on his behalf, Nebron said. "I know that my parents loved me a great deal," he said.
His Second Family
The roots of Nebron's second family go back to 1969, when he had already spent four years as a Municipal Court judge. He became friendly with a man in the Los Angeles city attorney's office named Evan Anderson Braude, who was just 23.
"I hated to be in his courtroom," said Braude, now a city councilman in Long Beach. "He didn't let me get away with anything." The judge watched Braude as closely as he would have watched his own son.
Courtroom tensions aside, the two were soon sharing private thoughts. Both Braude and Nebron are Jewish, and they spent a lot of time discussing their religion.
"If he had things he could not talk to other people about, he would say them to me," Nebron said.
Without knowing it, Braude had launched the family.
At around the same time, Nebron was struck by what he saw as the growing confusion and dissatisfaction of many young people. He recalls driving along Sunset Boulevard and seeing clusters of youths going nowhere. Their aimlessness seemed not only self-destructive, but a threat to society.
Partly in response, Nebron helped start Justice Lodge of B'nai B'rith, which trained potential leaders of all backgrounds and both sexes. Some of its graduates are judges and attorneys in Southern California. According to Nebron, the program had as many as 500 members during its heyday, the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A more recent project in the same vein is the Juvenile Justice Connection Project.
The project, whose budget has grown from $21,000 annually to a projected $557,000 for 1986-87, provides a way for juvenile offenders to receive help for problems that often go undetected.
Doctors, therapists, counselors and others donate their services.
Nebron has thrown himself into the program with a level of energy that astounds his younger friends.
When executive director Sheila Fulton was hired, Nebron asked her if she would mind being called at 4 a.m. Fulton said the judge has never gone that far, but 6 a.m. calls are not uncommon.
Nebron's chambers are dotted with big jars of black licorice, red licorice, tootsie rolls in three different flavors and gum. He has devised a game in which these treats are used as rewards.
Each time a group of schoolchildren tours the Van Nuys courthouse, Nebron asks how many of them want to be attorneys. Inevitably only two or three kids raise their hands.
The judge ushers these budding lawyers into his chambers, where he delivers a brief lecture on the legal profession. At the conclusion of his remarks, he gives them each a handful of candy and sends them back to the rest of the group.
Their peers, eyes widening at the sight of these treats, suddenly decide they would love to be attorneys. Nebron then allows them into his chambers to claim their prize.
Members of Nebron's extended family are rewarded not with candy, but with lots of attention. Nebron arranges dates, provides job contacts, offers a sympathetic ear.
One friend thinks the judge gets the most fun out of playing Cupid. "Irwin's idea of going to heaven would be as the official matchmaker," he said.