Justice Marcus Kaufman, a sharp-tongued conservative and self-proclaimed "redneck with a high IQ," announced his retirement today from the California Supreme Court after just two years on the panel.
Kaufman, 60, steps down officially Jan. 31 but said he will complete work on cases currently assigned to him.
In his resignation letter to Gov. George Deukmejian, Kaufman said his decision to step down was for a "myriad of personal reasons," including a desire to spend more time with his family and the demands of caring for an elderly mother.
Kaufman also referred to his surgery for colon cancer two years ago.
"Such an experience brings one face to face with the fact of our own mortality and argues persuasively against continuing in work so demanding that little time exists for family life or recreation," he wrote.
The justice said he plans to write, teach and practice law part time after his retirement.
Kaufman, who began his legal career as a research lawyer on the state's high court in the 1950s, spent 20 years on the bench, beginning in 1970 with an appointment by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Bernardino.
Deukmejian named Kaufman to the state Supreme Court in the aftermath of the bitter 1986 election ouster of Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and two other liberal justices.
The trio of Deukmejian appointments tipped the 30-year liberal dominance of the seven-member court to a decidedly conservative 5-2 split.
Court-watchers widely predicted that Kaufman would lead the court's bend to the right.
But the sometimes acerbic justice surprised many observers with his recent willingness to break ranks with the conservative knot of five and join the liberal minority in some rulings, especially in important civil decisions.
He broke with the conservatives, dissenting on far-reaching rulings that restricted the right of wrongfully fired workers to sue their former employers; prohibited the use of California antitrust laws against corporate mergers, and barred the liability of a school district for sexual misconduct by a teacher.
Kaufman became the youngest of the three replacement justices appointed to the court after the 1986 election defeat of Bird. He is the second of those three to leave the court.
Justice John Arguelles, 62, retired last March 1. The only remaining one of the three is Justice David Eagleson.