Preble Stolz, gubernatorial assistant and law professor who wrote a controversial book critical of one of his former students, then California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, has died. He was 65.
Stolz, who taught at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, died Tuesday of a heart attack while sailing on San Francisco Bay, his family said Thursday.
A former California deputy attorney general, Stolz was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. in 1975 to serve as his director of planning and research.
In 1981, Stolz published “Judging Judges: The Investigation of Rose Bird and the California Supreme Court.” The book detailed the extraordinary and unprecedented 11-month inquiry into the court’s behavior by the state Commission on Judicial Performance in 1979.
The investigation stemmed from reports that the court had delayed controversial decisions until after the 1978 general election to help Bird win voter confirmation of her appointment by Brown. Bird, who won 51.7% of the voters’ approval then but left the court after voters in 1986 declined to approve another term, called the investigation “a full year of constant harassment.” No formal charges were ever filed against any justice.
Part of the hearings were held in public--the only time in history an appellate-level court has been subjected to such scrutiny. Justice Stanley Mosk successfully sought an order by an ad hoc Supreme Court that the public hearing was unconstitutional, and the inquiry was concluded in secret.
Stolz had frequently accused Bird, who had been Brown’s secretary of agriculture, of inefficiency and poor administration contributing to a logjam of death penalty cases before her court. In his book he said she was “temperamentally ill-suited” for her job.
An attorney reviewing Stolz’s book for The Times said the author “manages to address all the right issues: the role and duties of a free press when covering the often abstruse activities of an appellate court, the politicization of the courts . . . the need for collegiality and cooperation of the court, the implications of the ‘litigation explosion’ and consequent massive workload with which the courts are now saddled.”
But the critic also chided Stolz for “a virulently anti-Bird bias” and “unseemly nit-picking in his execration of Bird.” Many observers said the two Democrats had developed mutual animosity as Brown co-workers because of their diverse personalities and Bird’s fast approach to problems compared with Stolz’s slow, academic methods.
Denying any bias, Stolz told The Times that his “noble intention” in writing the book was to improve public knowledge of the judiciary by focusing attention on the Supreme Court’s problems, including the growing case backlog and the justices’ inability to get along with one another.
Stolz had unsuccessfully sought a judicial appointment himself.
A highly respected authority on civil procedure, administrative law and legislation, Stolz was a frequent contributor of articles to the op-ed page of The Times and other publications. He earned his law degree from the University of Chicago and clerked for justices on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
He is survived by a son, Christopher of Ojai; two daughters, Gail of Anchorage, Alaska, and Peggy of Redding, Calif.; and seven grandchildren.