Judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County
(1970 – 1984)
Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second
Appellate District, Division Five (1984 –
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the
State of California (1987 – 1991)
The Supreme Court of California convened in
its courtroom in the Ronald Reagan State Office
Building, Third Floor, South Tower, 300 South
Spring Street, Los Angeles, California, on October
8, 2003, at 9:00 a.m.
Present: Chief Justice Ronald M. George, presiding,
and Associate Justices Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar,
Chin, Brown and Moreno.
Officers present: Frederick K. Ohlrich, Clerk;
and Gail Gray, Deputy Clerk.
MEMORIAM: HONORABLE DAVID N. EAGLESON
October 4, 1924 - May 23, 2003 Justice David N.
Eagleson served as the 102d justice on the Supreme
Court of California from March 1987 until his
retirement in January 1991. Prior to his appointment
to the Supreme Court, Justice Eagleson served
for three years as an associate justice of the
Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division
Five from 1984 to 1987, and for 14 years as a
judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court
from 1970 to 1984, including a term as presiding
judge in 1981-1982. He was president of the California
Judges Association from 1979 to 1980. He graduated
from the University of Southern California Law
School in 1950. Justice Eagleson began his legal
career as an attorney in Long Beach, where he
practiced general and civil law, both as a senior
partner in two firms and as a sole practitioner
from 1951 to 1970.
CHIEF JUSTICE GEORGE:
Good morning. We meet today to honor Justice David
N. Eagleson, who served with great distinction
as an associate justice of this court from March
1987 to January 1991. I would like to begin by
introducing the members of the court. To my immediate
right is Justice Kennard, and to her right is
Justice Werdegar, and then Justice Brown. At my
far left is Justice Moreno, then Justice Chin,
and then Justice Baxter. On behalf of the court,
I wish to welcome Justice Eagleson’s wife,
Lillian, his daughters, Beth and Victoria, and
other family and friends.
Justice Eagleson joined the Supreme Court after
a distinguished career both on the bench and as
a member of the bar. He joined this court after
almost 2 1/2 years as an associate justice of
the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District.
Before that, he served as a judge of the Los Angeles
Superior Court for almost 14 years, where he was
an active participant in the court’s administration
as well as its courtroom work.
In 1981 and 1982, he served as presiding judge
of the Los Angeles Superior Court—a challenging
job then and now. He had a history at the court
of handling a variety of demanding executive and
administrative roles, and during his tenure as
presiding judge he was particularly recognized
for his efforts at reducing delay in the processing
of civil cases. I was a judge of the Los Angeles
Superior Court during that time, and I was an
admirer of Justice Eagleson’s deep interest
in and knowledge of the intricacies of the Los
Angeles Superior Court system, and of his efforts
to improve the court’s ability to serve
Our career paths also crossed in a different context.
Justice Eagleson was president of the California
Judges Association from 1979 to 1980. Three years
later, I assumed that position. He was a very
helpful resource to me in taking on the challenges
of that role, and I sought his counsel on many
Before taking the bench, Justice Eagleson was
engaged in the private practice of law in Long
Beach, focusing on civil law, particularly probate
and business matters. A native of Los Angeles,
except for a few years during college and in the
armed forces, he remained a California resident
throughout his life.
On the Supreme Court, he was known for his straightforward
and practical approach to problems—whether
they arose from issues in a case or concerns about
improving the court’s functions. His legacy
at the court includes not only a body of lucid,
intelligent, and carefully crafted opinions, but
also the lasting mark he made on the court’s
internal processes and procedures.
Justice Eagleson was the driving force behind
a special court meeting convened to determine
how the court would implement a stipulation into
which it had entered, agreeing to treat cases
as submitted on the date of oral argument rather
than on the date the opinion was filed. This new
approach required the court to change the way
it processed cases in order to comply with the
constitutional requirement that decisions be rendered
within 90 days after a matter has been submitted.
Under the former practice, years could (and sometimes
did) pass between the date of oral argument and
the issuance of an opinion, and the public and
the parties had no way to anticipate when an opinion
might be filed.
The new procedure has provided useful predictability
to parties and the public—and is a direct
result of Justice Eagleson’s work.
We are fortunate to have someone here today who
possesses a far better acquaintance with Justice
Eagleson’s work than I have. It is my pleasure
to introduce my former colleague and predecessor,
retired Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas, who shared
many a golfing trip, fly-fishing expedition, and
legal discussion with Justice Eagleson.
Chief Justice Lucas:
CHIEF JUSTICE LUCAS:
An historical era called the Scottish Enlightment
occurred in the 1700’s. Famous philosophers
came to the fore. One of the greatest Scottish
philosophers was Thomas Reid. He became a central
figure in a school of philosophy, the philosophy
of common sense. Reid and other philosophers argued
that all human beings came equipped with an innate
rational capacity called common sense, which allowed
them to make clear and certain judgments about
the world and their dealings with it.
Justice David Eagleson would have been a leading
advocate of this philosophy.
He was inquisitive, penetrating, unsentimental,
impatient with pious dogmas or cant, relentlessly
thorough, rational, but buoyed by a tough-minded
sense of humor and a grasp of the practical. He
always insisted that decisions be written in clear
and straightforward language, avoiding any legal
or technical jargon, so that any citizen could
read and understand them.
He believed, with Chief Justice John Marshall,
this was part of a judge’s responsibility
to the principle of self-government, and part
of the public’s education in the rule of
law, because, as Chief Justice Marshall observed,
the entire basis of the rule of law in a democratic
society was the “consent of those whose
obedience the law requires.” The better
ordinary people understood the law, the better
for the law, and the better for democracy.
Justice Eagleson had a practical approach to opinion
writing. He believed that opinions are written,
not for the appellate courts, and not for the
author’s pride. They were simply tools to
be used by busy lawyers and trial judges. He said
a trial judge should be able to pull a volume
of the California Reports from the bookshelf and
know the holding of a case within 15 seconds.
And holdings should be drafted so that they can
be quoted in a brief or later opinion in only
one or two sentences. As he put it, “too
many opinions are like mystery novels.”
The authoring judge is confident the reader wants
a long, leisurely read of this beautiful opinion
and wants to ferret out the holding somewhere
in the middle of the opinion. There is food for
thought in this view.
I was with him during his entire stay on the Supreme
Court. He was a prodigious worker and demanded
clarity in his opinions–say what the case
stands for, say it up front and give the bench
and the lawyers a bright line to follow, if possible.
He played it right down the middle. He made life
better for me and for his colleagues.
David’s last words to his wife Lillian before
his death were: “It’s been a wonderful
life. I have done everything I wanted to do.”
And so he had.
He had enjoyed his last years with his beloved
and loving partner, Lillian, in happiness and
As a member of the judiciary he had done everything
he wanted to do: a superior court judge, presiding
judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court,
president of the California Judges Association,
associate justice for the Court of Appeal, Second
Appellate District, and then a justice on the
California Supreme Court.
All these positions he fulfilled with integrity,
dignity, and common sense.
Having done everything he wanted to do didn’t
just encompass his professional accomplishments.
He had two wonderful daughters and beautiful grandchildren
that he loved, and these relationships encompassed
many chapters in his book of life.
I know during the course of my life I have met
many people, but none more decent and honorable
than David Eagleson.
How blessed we have been to have had the privilege
of knowing David. We have all benefited from this
extraordinary man. He enriched our lives. He lightened
our load. He brightened our day.
He will be long remembered.
CHIEF JUSTICE GEORGE:
Thank you very much, Chief Justice Lucas. It is
now my pleasure to introduce Mr. Richard Seitz,
a senior staff research attorney at the Supreme
Court, who now heads Justice Marvin Baxter’s
staff. Rick worked on Justice Eagleson’s
staff during the justice’s tenure on the
Supreme Court, and we have asked him to share
some of his recollections with us.
MR. RICHARD SEITZ: Thank
you, Chief Justice George, associate justices,
and friends and family of Justice Eagleson. May
it please the court:
David Eagleson left an extraordinary legacy in
life, in his chosen profession, and in California
jurisprudence. Chief Justice George, and Chief
Justice Lucas, his great friend, have recounted
much about his record of achievement and his capacity
for personal affection. To each stage and facet
of his distinguished career, he brought the remarkable
competence, acuity, loyalty, stability, integrity,
and leadership skill that defined and identified
I first met Justice Eagleson when he was elevated
to this court in 1987, and I worked as his staff
attorney until his departure in 1991. Chief Justice
George has alluded to Justice Eagleson’s
significant influence on the court’s internal
procedures. I’ve been asked, from a staff
perspective, to share a few thoughts and memories
about what he meant to this institution, and to
those who so willingly served him here. I do so
with pride and pleasure. And I will try to keep
it short. When you’ve worked for David Eagleson,
you know how important that is.
As all remember, Justice Eagleson arrived at the
time of the court’s greatest crisis. In
November 1986, the voters had declined to retain
three members of the court. Its public image was
at an all-time low. Those chosen to fill the vacancies
created by the election faced the task of guiding
the court through the storm-tossed waters and
restoring public confidence in its stature.
Californians can be thankful that Justice Eagleson’s
abilities and temperament amply fitted him for
the task. His service, and that of his colleagues
on the so-called Lucas Court, fulfilled the hope
that the court would weather the storm. The role
these justices played in preserving the health
and stability of the California Supreme Court
can’t be exaggerated. David Eagleson deserves
his full share of the credit for that vital contribution.
I was a staff attorney for Joseph Grodin, one
of the justices defeated in the November 1986
election. The court relies on a cadre of “permanent”
or “career” staff lawyers, but in
fact, there is no tenure for legal staff. Lawyers
may be dismissed at pleasure. This rarely happens,
but it was feared, in the toxic atmosphere of
the time, that the replacements for the defeated
justices would “clean house,” believing
they needed new staff with no loyalties to the
Like his fellow newcomers, Justices Arguelles
and Kaufman, Justice Eagleson declined to take
that path. Encouraged by Chief Justice Lucas,
the new arrivals embraced the long-standing court
policy that career staff be retained, if possible,
for their legal ability and perspective, and for
institutional memory and continuity. Justice Eagleson
brought to San Francisco one of his trusted Court
of Appeal research attorneys, but he also retained
me and every other Supreme Court attorney who
wished to stay. We all remained, our loyalty redoubled
by his kindness (and good judgment), until his
last day at the court in 1991.
His decision to retain staff was consistent with
his temperament and philosophy. Though often branded
as a no-nonsense conservative, he was, above all,
a pragmatist. He distrusted ideology as the enemy
of clear and practical thinking. He knew who he
was, and he appreciated in others the candor and
honesty he himself possessed. As a result, he
was comfortable with diversity of views. His Supreme
Court staff held wide-ranging legal opinions,
which were freely expressed and considered. They
could prevail, if persuasive, over his own initial
view, but there was never any doubt about who
was in charge.
He also believed in order, decency, hard work,
and good behavior. This led him to support the
institutions, public or private, that promoted
and enforced these values. His acceptance of institutional
values, and his love of efficient administration,
fueled his realization that the court’s
permanent legal staff would be a help, not a hindrance,
in performing his judicial duties.
Pragmatism, decisiveness, efficiency, candor,
fair-mindedness, and institutional respect are
also the hallmarks of his opinions for the court.
Certainly he was productive. He wrote 54 majority
opinions during his four-year tenure, including
many time-consuming death penalty cases. All his
opinions are marked by clarity of prose and reasoning,
and by an instinct for the crux and realities
of a legal issue.
Many of these well-reasoned decisions favored
the People in criminal matters, and business interests
and defendants in civil matters. But he never
swerved from his determination to approach each
case on its own merits, apply the law to the facts,
and let the chips fall where they might. He called
them as he saw them, and the results defy simplistic
Thus, in New York Times Co. v. Superior Court
(1990) 50 Cal.3d 453 and Delaney v. Superior
Court (1990) 50 Cal.3d 785, he confirmed
the strong free-press protections contained in
California’s newspersons’ shield law.
He sided with environmental interests in such
cases as Laurel Heights Improvement Assn.
v. Regents of University of California (1988)
47 Cal.3d 376, which tightened the requirements
for an environmental impact report under California’s
Environmental Quality Act, and Western
Oil & Gas Assn. v. Monterey Bay Unified Air
Pollution Control Dist. (1989) 49 Cal.3d
408, which upheld the authority of the state Air
Resources Board to regulate nonvehicular air pollution.
In S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department
of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d
341, he forthrightly concluded that a corporate
produce farmer could not avoid workers’
compensation coverage for its seasonal farm workers
by requiring them to sign so-called sharefarmer
agreements designed to make them independent contractors
rather than employees.
His relations with his colleagues were unfailingly
courteous and collegial. He would stretch to sign
other justices’ opinions if he could do
so without violating his own conscience. This
policy marked his respect for his fellow justices,
and for their views on matters open to reasonable
debate. It also highlighted his unsentimental
conviction that, in many cases, any rule was better
than no rule, and that the court’s ability
to speak with one voice whenever possible promoted
both efficiency and credibility.
He conveyed these values to his staff. He insisted
that our legal analyses be clear, concise, and
cognizant of the practical interests at stake.
Any new treatise on effective appellate opinion
writing was sure to find its way from the judge’s
desk to ours. He reminded us time and again that
the court’s opinions were not for scholars
and academics, but for working lawyers and their
clients, who must be able to divine and apply
the rules we were announcing.
He had an acerbic wit, which he often kept under
gentlemanly wraps. But he could reveal his sense
of humor in the service of court collegiality.
Once, a staff lawyer—known for his polemic
talents—submitted a draft dissent couched
in passionate hyperbole. Justice Eagleson read
the text, smiled ruefully, handed it back, and
said, “I think we’re going to have
to edit this with a fire hose!”
Consistent with his lifelong modesty, he always
credited his staff for their contributions, while
downplaying his own. He was too self-aware to
be self-important. He often insisted that he was
on the court only because he had been in the right
place at the right time, while we were the real
legal brains. It was a gross exaggeration, but
we appreciated the compliment.
His adjustment to the court was not entirely smooth.
He was not fond of San Francisco’s climate,
or its ambience, and he missed his beloved Long
Beach. When short-sleeved business shirts and
plaid golf pants made their appearance, we knew
it was an effort to preserve the trappings and
comforts of home.
And when he decided it was time to come home,
he did not hesitate. He returned to Southern California
and began a new career, applying his exceptional
talents to become a respected and sought-after
private judge. He continued this work, with great
success, until very shortly before his death.
He did not, however, forget the relationships
he had forged on the court. Whenever he passed
through San Francisco on business, or en route
to one of the fishing expeditions he loved so
much, he made sure to round up his former staff
members for lunch and lively reminiscence. Though
the years advanced, he remained unchanged—quick
and sharp, in command, and radiant with glowing
health. It is almost impossible to believe he
But our sadness at his passing is tempered by
our understanding that he lived a good and satisfying
life—in many ways, the best of lives. He
was true to himself, he did everything he wanted
to do, and he left a record of public service
few can match. What more can anyone ask?
Thank you all for gathering today in his memory.
CHIEF JUSTICE GEORGE:
Thank you very much, Rick. I now would like to
introduce Ms. Elizabeth Eagleson, one of Justice
Eagelson’s daughters, who is a practicing
lawyer in San Diego.
MS. ELIZABETH EAGLESON:
Thing v. LaCusa, 48 Cal.3d 644. Most
legal professionals will remember this as an important
case in which this court limited a bystander’s
cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional
distress. I remember it for an entirely different
reason, because when I reached two paragraphs
on page 666, where Justice David Eagleson explained
that emotional distress is a condition of living
that simply has to be borne, I was transported
back to the living room of the home in Long Beach,
where my sister Vicki and I grew up. I was standing
again in front of my dad, perhaps near his lawyer’s
briefcase that he always left there when he came
home, hearing very similar words about one of
my childhood or adolescent catastrophes. And as
I envisioned myself in that place again, I thought,
“Oh no, no, NO! He is giving his ‘no
sniveling’ lecture to the entire state of
“No sniveling” was our dad’s
watchword, for himself and for his family. Complaints
and fears were invariably greeted with some variation
of “no sniveling.” It was hard for
us to take sometimes, but we could see that his
rigorous application of his philosophy to himself
served him well.
“No sniveling” meant discipline. Without
the benefit of college-educated role models in
his family, Dad lived by the motto “do today’s
lessons today. Tomorrow’s will take care
of themselves.” Every day presented a new
opportunity for accomplishment.
“No sniveling” made Dad decisive.
Most of you know he proudly attended USC. What
you may not know is how he choose to attend there.
Dad had been discharged from the Navy after World
War II and was ready to use his GI bill at –
UCLA. The enrollment line was long, and by the
time his turn came the admissions office was closing.
Rather than bemoan a wasted day, Dad recovered
his paperwork. He drove across town to USC, where
he enrolled on the spot! This, of course, turned
out to be a fortunate decision for both.
Dad never complained that others had advantages
he didn’t. He figured that hard work would
create advantage. His rise from a young lawyer
in a sole practice, who typed and served his own
papers, to a justice of this court is certainly
a testament to the soundness of his belief. Dad’s
success was not entirely his own, however. Our
mother, Virginia Eagleson, chose Dad when he was
a law student with an uncertain future. As equal
partners, they built his career. Mom did not live
to see Dad serve so proudly on this court. But
he knew that her efforts made his service possible.
“No sniveling” also meant frugality.
Except for fishing gear and golf equipment, Dad
was not a collector. Except for fishing and golf
clothes, Dad was not a fashionista. And when it
came to interior design, recycled, old, ugly metal
office furniture was his choice. Fortunately,
our mother had more style. Shortly after they
bought their home, the same one where the lectures
happened, our mother had upholstered furniture
designed for the formal living room, used semi-annually.
Nearly 20 years later, in response to changing
color trends, Mom wanted to have the furniture
recovered. Dad was appalled! Having been sat on
no more than three times a year, he could not
understand how new upholstery could possibly be
needed! Our mother, however, was a tough negotiator,
and the furniture was recovered. But, as a condition
of the settlement, Dad began to take his morning
newspaper onto the off-limits furniture, sitting
on a different piece every morning to satisfy
himself that the next time she wanted new upholstery
there would be a reason to get it!
Dad looked for value everywhere, even from the
family dog. Dad wasn’t a fan of pets, believing
the inconvenience outweighed any arguable psychic
benefits. But one day Vickie came home with a
puppy. Believing that a dog should be useful,
not merely decorative, Dad decided he would train
her to fetch his morning paper. His training method
was this: To carry her out to the paper, cradled
in his arms like a baby, put her down, and show
her the paper. Her response was to immediately
trot back to the house, empty-mouthed. This “training”
was never successful. But, for many years after
that, the dog kept him company while he walked
outside to get the paper himself.
By now, I might have led you to believe that Dad
was an ascetic curmudgeon. Nothing could be farther
from reality. The application of the “no
sniveling” philosophy to his life never
caused him to skimp on the things he really valued:
travel, music, family, friends, his hometown.
Although Dad’s work often kept him away
from family dinners during the week when we were
small, he would come home to sit with our mother,
each in an identical rocking chair, one lap for
each child, singing to Vicki and me before putting
us to bed, then returning to work. He had lifelong
friendships because he always made time for them.
More recently, he became friends with his five
grandchildren, showing them how to fish in Montana
and Mexico. And, of course, in his final years
he shared all of these interests and attributes
with his wife, Lillian. He loved Long Beach and
California. For all his travels, he never really
wanted to be anywhere else.
When I read Thing v. LaChusa, I recognized
not only Dad’s life philosophy, but I heard
his voice. I know many of you knew him and will
miss him deeply. Sometimes you will wish you could
hear his voice again. When you feel like that,
do what I will: read those paragraphs in Thing
v. LaChusa, listen with your hearts and memories,
and you will, like me, hear his voice again. For
those of you who never knew him, but want to know
what kind of man he was, read Thing v. LaChusa.
Dave Eagleson is there and will tell you everything
you need to know.
CHIEF JUSTICE GEORGE:
Thank you very much, Ms. Eagleson.
I am pleased to see so many justices of the Second
District Court of Appeal in attendance here today,
along with the Administrative Director of the
Courts and senior members of his staff.
I want to express my appreciation again to all
those who contributed their special and memorable
remarks to this morning’s memorial session.
In accordance with our custom, it is ordered that
the proceedings at this memorial session be spread
in full upon the minutes of the Supreme Court
and published in the Official Reports of the opinions
of this court, and that a copy of these proceedings
be sent to Justice Eagleson’s family.
(Derived from Supreme Court minutes and 31