Robert K. Puglia, 75; Appellate Court Justice

Times Staff Writer

Robert K. Puglia, who served as presiding justice of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento for 24 years, has died. He was 75.

Puglia died of cancer Saturday in Sacramento, the Judicial Council of California announced.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George praised Puglia in a prepared statement for his “keen intelligence and dedication to the administration of justice” and for his “devotion to a strong and independent judiciary.”


Puglia, who retired from the bench in 1998, was such a popular figure in the state capital and the legal community statewide that Sacramento radio station KCTC-AM (1320) broadcast an hourlong “Big Band Tribute to Bob Puglia” on Feb. 27.

“Big band music is an American treasure.... Retired Justice Robert Puglia is likewise an American treasure, and a pillar of our community ... a Sacramento hero,” host Jerry Healey said in promoting the program.

The show was produced for the station by Puglia’s law firm, McDonough, Holland & Allen, and the Presiding Justice Robert K. Puglia Federalist Society of Sacramento. Featured were 13 big-band songs selected by Puglia from his own collection of recordings, and introduced by colleagues including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown.

Born Oct. 16, 1929, in Westerville, Ohio, Puglia completed high school in Columbus, then worked in California as a milk truck driver and a firefighter for the California Department of Forestry. He attended UC Berkeley for two years, washing dishes in a restaurant 40 hours a week to help pay his out-of-state tuition, then completed his degree at the less expensive Ohio State University.

Graduating at the time of the Korean War, he shipped out with the U.S. Army infantry in 1952. Puglia never forgot the fierce artillery fire before a truce took effect at 10 p.m. July 27, 1953.

“It was the longest day of my life,” he told the Sacramento Bee on the 50th anniversary of the truce. “You think, with all that crap coming at you ... ‘one of them’s bound to come in right on top of me.’ Then about 9:55, just eerie as hell, things slacked off and there was just utter, complete silence. You get out of your foxhole and look at the clear sky and stars. It was really kind of magnificent. There was a sense of elation that you had lived through the war.”


Mustered out in 1955 at Ft. Benning, Ga., Puglia drove to California to study law at Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley. He began his legal career in the San Francisco office of then state Atty. Gen. Pat Brown, transferred to the Sacramento office and in the summer of 1959 joined the staff of Sacramento County Dist. Atty. John Price, where he spent a decade, most of it as Price’s chief deputy.

After another two years in private practice with the McDonough firm, Puglia was appointed to Sacramento County Superior Court by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1971.

Three years later, Reagan elevated him to the Court of Appeal to replace Frank Richardson, whom he had just named to the Supreme Court, and soon promoted Puglia to presiding justice of his appellate court.

Puglia was a former president of the California Judges Assn. and of the Council of Chief Judges of Courts of Appeals.

In retirement, he returned to his old law firm as a mediator and continued to take on assignments for his community. In 2002, Sacramento Catholic Diocese Bishop William K. Weigand named Puglia the first chairman of an independent review board to review cases of church personnel accused of sexual misconduct.

Puglia is survived by his wife of 46 years, Ingrid; three sons, David, Peter and Thomas; a daughter, Susan; and three grandchildren.