Raphael Konigsberg; Politics Delayed Admission to State Bar


Raphael Konigsberg, whose politics kept him from becoming a lawyer for more than 25 years after he first passed the California State Bar examination, has died in Ventura.

April Wayland, his niece, said her uncle was 80 when he died June 3 of pneumonia.

In a belated footnote to the McCarthy Era, Konigsberg was finally admitted to the California State Bar in 1978, more than two decades after successfully passing the examination on his first try.

But shortly after Konigsberg passed, a witness appeared before a Bar Assn. committee of examiners with, among other things, articles which Konigsberg had written for a community newspaper that supposedly "followed the Communist Party line." He persuaded the committee not to admit Konigsberg to practice, although the committee never found any evidence that would have discredited his moral character or loyalty.

In 1958, the U. S. Supreme Court rejected the Bar Assn.'s ruling. But it took many years and several subsequent reviews by both the state and federal high courts before Konigsberg finally became a lawyer.

On May 15, 1978, accompanied by friends, family and fellow law school graduates, Konigsberg was admitted to practice by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jerry Pacht, who acknowledged that "we are assembled here to right a wrong."

Konigsberg was a political activist throughout his life. In 1947, he was a candidate for the Los Angeles School Board of Education but lost in a campaign marred by revelations that he had been fired as a state welfare worker in 1940 because of his political views. In 1972, he was one of three Californians who unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the Vietnam War. The U. S. Supreme Court--in a 7-2 vote that year--ruled that Congress was within its constitutional limits when it delegated its war declaration powers to the President in 1961.

Konigsberg, a slight, silver-haired man who earned his living as a real estate broker after his legal career was doomed, was a World War II Army veteran who was in his 40s when he enrolled in USC's Law School on the GI Bill.

When the U. S. high court first overturned the California State Bar, Justice Hugo L. Black said: "A bar composed of lawyers of good character is a worthy objective, but it is unnecessary to sacrifice vital freedoms to obtain that goal."

And when the Southern California Law Review devoted its March, 1979, issue to Konigsberg, it wrote years after his struggle began, "It is sad to realize that Raphael Konigsberg needed only to sacrifice his personal belief in the sanctity of the Bill of Rights and respond only minimally to the demands of the Committee of Bar Examiners in order to realize his lifetime ambition to be a member of the Bar. . . .

"He chose instead to stand on his principles. . . . "

Besides his niece, Konigsberg is survived by his wife, Sylvia, a daughter, Paula, two grandchildren, three brothers, four sisters and several other nieces and nephews.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World