Former California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian, an advocate for rape victims, dies at 83

Armand Arabian, a former Los Angeles prosecutor and judge who rose through the ranks to serve on the California Supreme Court, has died. He was 83.

Arabian died in his sleep Wednesday at his home in the San Fernando Valley, said Robert Armand Arabian, his son. The retired judge had appeared to be healthy until the end.

“I think he died of a broken heart,” the son said. “He was missing my mom extremely.”

Nancy Arabian, Armand’s wife of more than five decades, died 16 months ago.

Arabian, the son of Armenian immigrants, served on the state’s highest court from 1990 to 1996.


An appointee of former Gov. George Deukmejian, Arabian was part of a conservative majority on the court after the ouster of the late Chief Justice Rose Bird and two colleagues.

He was a strong supporter of the death penalty and a prolific producer of court opinions.

He stood out for his legal writing, which was unusually lively and often punctuated with literary allusions.

After announcing his retirement from the court at age 60, he said he most wanted to be remembered as a jurist for his work on behalf of rape victims.

He broke legal ground as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in 1973 when he refused to tell a jury in a rape trial to consider the victim’s testimony with caution.

Judges were required at the time to tell juries that a rape charge “was easily made and once made, difficult to defend against.” Arabian’s decision bucked the law.

But the California Supreme Court overturned the instruction two years later, and Arabian went on to write law journal articles and other pioneering rulings on the subject.

In 1991, he wrote a California Supreme Court decision that said the city of Los Angeles could be forced to pay damages to a woman raped by a police officer who had detained her.

In 1994, he authored a unanimous California Supreme Court decision that broadened the parameters for criminal culpability in rape cases.

He wrote that a man could be convicted of rape even if he was unarmed during the act and the victim submitted without a struggle, a ruling that might seem obvious in the current #metoo era but was bold at the time.

Lawyers said at the time that the ruling would make it easier for prosecutors to win convictions in rape cases when the victim failed to call for help or resist.

In other areas of the law, Arabian authored a ruling that said doctors were not required to give patients statistical odds to obtain informed consent for a procedure.

One of his most memorable legal writings was a dissent in a case about cats, an animal he adored.

He called the other justices “chary” for upholding a condominium association’s right to ban cats and other pets from units.

Arabian, quoting Albert Schweitzer, wrote: “‘There are two means of refuge from the misery of life: music and cats.’ ”

He was often seen on the courthouse steps in San Francisco petting cats brought there by a rescue group, and a cat named Redboy was his constant companion after the death of his wife.

Arabian also frequently spoke often of his Armenian heritage and addressed Armenian groups. His grandfather and uncle were killed in the 1915 Armenian genocide.

After leaving the state high court, Arabian worked as a private judge and became involved in civic matters in the San Fernando Valley, his son said.

He was an avid Dodgers fan, collected signed baseballs and spent his free time shopping for antiques.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Thursday that Arabian “made a significant contribution to the courts.”

“During his time on the Supreme Court of California, he authored a substantial number of opinions,” she said. “He was a vibrant and engaging person.”

Arabian was born Dec. 12, 1934, in New York City, the eldest of five children. He served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army as an Airborne paratrooper and received undergraduate and law degrees at Boston University.

After admission to the California Bar in 1962, he worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and then entered private law practice in Van Nuys.

Former Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed Arabian to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1972 and later elevated him to the Superior Court.

Deukmejian, who befriended Arabian after the two met opposing each other in a case, put Arabian on an intermediate court of appeal before promoting him to the state high court.

Arabian is survived by his daughter Allison Arabian, an Orange County lawyer; his son, Robert Armand Arabian, a police commander and lawyer; four grandchildren, two sisters; and a brother.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Twitter: @mauradolan