Norman R. Dowds, 86; judge in Superior Court for 2 decades

Times Staff Writer

Norman R. Dowds, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who served two decades, ruling on such issues as the propriety of City Hall Christmas light displays and whether $8 could buy a night's lodging for a homeless person, has died. He was 86.

Dowds, a longtime resident of San Marino who retired from the bench in 1988, died Dec. 15 of pneumonia at Pasadena Highlands, an assisted-living community, said his daughter, Mary Anne Amitin.

In 1976, Dowds blocked the lighting of City Hall windows in the shape of a cross, ending a 30-year tradition at Christmas and Easter. He called it an unconstitutional pairing of church and state, and two years later the state Supreme Court upheld the decision.

He also prohibited county officials in 1984 from handing $8 checks to the homeless unless officials could prove that a night's shelter could be found for that amount. Within a week, the county agreed to pay whatever was necessary to provide a bed for every homeless person who sought one.

By 1981, Dowds was presiding over class-action suits.

"Those are hard cases, assigned to people the court has trust in," said Linda K. Lefkowitz, a Superior Court judge who clerked for Dowds early in her career. "He taught me a lot about objectivity and doing what was just."

In 1987, Dowds ruled that there was insufficient evidence in a $1-billion class-action lawsuit against the Church of Scientology to support charges that two corporations helped the religion's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, plunder church coffers. Another judge threw out the entire suit the next year.

Norman Roy Dowds was born May 24, 1920, in Los Angeles to a county counsel and his teacher wife.

He obtained a bachelor's degree in 1940 and a law degree in 1943, both from USC, and joined a firm that became known as Schultheis, Laybourne & Dowds. He stayed until then-Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the bench.

After retiring as a Superior Court judge, Dowds worked as a private arbitration and mediation judge for an additional dozen years.

With Martha Jane, his wife of 62 years, he traveled to "every continent, nook and cranny on Earth," said Amitin of Glendale.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dowds is survived by two sons, Curtis of San Diego and Gordon of Agoura Hills; a sister, Dorothy Beeman of San Diego; and seven grandchildren.

A service will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Church of Our Saviour, 535 W. Roses Road, San Gabriel.


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