Jerold A. Krieger, a Los Angeles Municipal and Superior Court judge who championed civil rights for gays, minorities and the disadvantaged and helped found what is believed to be the world’s first gay-lesbian synagogue, died of cancer Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 58.
Krieger was the fifth gay lawyer named to the bench by Gov. Jerry Brown. The appointment came on Brown’s last day in office, Dec. 31, 1982. The earlier appointments, beginning with that of Stephen Lachs, had provoked a furor of public debate.
“The importance of my appointment was in the fact that it did not make headlines,” Krieger told the Daily Journal, a Los Angeles-based legal newspaper.
During Krieger’s nearly two decades on the bench, lawyers consistently gave him high marks for his legal knowledge, evenhanded decisions and ability to keep jurors involved and interested, even through long arcane trials.
He served on the Los Angeles Municipal Court bench from 1983 to 1988, when he successfully ran for an open Los Angeles Superior Court seat.
In the lower court, he became presiding judge of the Encino branch, and as a Superior Court judge he heard criminal and civil cases downtown and in the Norwalk, San Fernando and Van Nuys branches.
Among his most memorable cases, Krieger said, was “the first time I imposed the death sentence.” By contrast, he quipped, “civil trials are easy. Heck, it’s only about money.”
In 1986, he sat, by special temporary appointment, on the 2nd District Court of Appeal and, before cancer struck a year ago, expressed an ambition to join the state appellate court permanently.
In recent years, Krieger had served on the state Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Access and Fairness, heading its sexual orientation committee. The council examines and works to improve treatment by state courts of women, minorities, gays and lesbians, senior citizens and the disabled.
The son of an ophthalmologist, Krieger was born and grew up in Los Angeles. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at UC Riverside and a law degree at UCLA. He served as a deputy state attorney general for eight years, and in 1974 was elected president of the Assn. of Deputy Attorneys General.
From 1977 until he took the bench, Krieger was in private practice handling civil cases.
He also was building a reputation as a civil rights activist and political strategist for Democratic candidates. He helped found Los Angeles Lawyers for Human Rights in 1979 and later became its president.
In 1980, Krieger was the campaign chairman and treasurer for Mike Roos’ successful run for the state Assembly. Roos, who went on to become Assembly majority leader, recommended Krieger as a judicial appointee.
Krieger joined a handful of other gay and lesbian Jews in 1972 to found Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim--the House of New Life--on Los Angeles’ Westside as a predominantly homosexual synagogue.
Partly through his efforts, the temple won acceptance a year later by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the official body of Reform Judaism. Similar temples began to spring up in San Francisco, Miami and elsewhere.
“In the gay community, you don’t feel you can be Jewish, and in the Jewish community, you don’t feel you can be gay,” Krieger told The Times in 1983, explaining why he had worked so hard to establish the progressive temple. “I’m still a Jew, and I’m also gay. The temple brings it together.”
Krieger is survived by his life partner, Jon Smith; his father, M. Morton Krieger; a brother, Michael; and a sister, Renee Garrick.