by the Honorable Thomas M. Goethals
I first met Justice William W. Bedsworth during the fall of 1976. It was my third year of law school and I had somehow managed to secure an externship with the Office of the Orange County District Attorney, which in those years was led by the Honorable Cecil Hicks. I was assigned to what was then known as the Writs and Appeals Unit, and one of my first assignments was to argue against a motion to dismiss a vehicular manslaughter case. The motion was filed by the late, great Keith Monroe. Soon after I received the case, I was informed by some sensitive soul that recently Mr. Monroe had successfully argued a groundbreaking search and seizure case before the United States Supreme Court. You can perhaps imagine the level of my anxiety in the face of that news.
The motion was set in Department 38 (now C38) in Santa Ana, before the Honorable James Perez, known affectionately to many as “El Jefe.” Fortunately for me, my supervising attorney in the DA’s office was a young hotshot introduced to me as Billy Bedsworth. This guy was Mr. Cool. Intelligent. Vaguely athletic. Funny. Confident. Soon I learned he had played baseball at Loyola University,1 before graduating early to study law at Boalt Hall.2 Beds heavily edited my written opposition to the motion, coached me up on the fundamentals of oral argument, and off we went. Against all odds, Judge Perez ruled in favor of the People. And so began my forty-year friendship with Bill Bedsworth.3
We are not always familiar with the details of our Franklin G. West Award winner’s personal life. This cannot be said of our 2019 recipient since, as Beds himself often observes, he may be the “most overexposed judge” in history.4 This is because, for the past thirty-seven years, he has been sharing intimate details of his life with us each month through his award-winning column,5 “A Criminal Waste of Space.”6 As a result, we know all about his family: His lovely wife, his accomplished children, his brilliant grandkids. We appreciate his interest in caskets and ice hockey. We feel like we have vacationed in his home in upstate New York. And don’t get me started on his medical history. You name it, we have read about it.7 But despite all of this knowledge concerning the breadth and depth of Beds’ life, this still seems like an appropriate occasion to review some of the highlights of that life for those of you who may recently have relocated to Orange County or emerged from a coma.
Justice Bedsworth has spent his entire legal career, nearly fifty years, here in Orange County. For most of that time, he has been an engaged member of the Orange County Bar Association.8 Over the years, he has probably entertained every OCBA section, practice group, and holiday party.
Beds began his career working for fifteen years as a deputy district attorney; he literally led the brain trust of the DA’s office as the deputy in charge of the Writs and Appeals Unit. Elected a Superior Court Judge in 1986, he served ten years as a distinguished and respected member of that bench before he was elevated to sit as an Associate Justice in Division Three of the Fourth District of the California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. He is now the senior justice on our court with his twenty-one years of service.
When the governor nominated me to become one of Justice Bedsworth’s appellate colleagues just over a year ago, Beds referred me to one of his recent columns for a job description. “The primary requirement for the job is a willingness every month to go through the physical and intellectual steel-cage mud run that is oral argument.”9 He likely learned this from one of his early mentors, Justice Tom Crosby.10 If that description is accurate, Beds has learned to negotiate our monthly mud run with aplomb as, over the course of the last two decades, he has exercised his writing muscles by authoring hundreds of opinions that have helped shaped the law of this state. The current dean of his law school, Erwin Chemerinsky,11 once declared, “I don’t know anyone in the legal profession who writes better than William Bedsworth.” Indeed, Beds has entered the legal lexicon as in some quarters a particularly well-turned legal phrase will be described as Bedsworthian.12
You should not be surprised to learn that Justice Bedsworth has won his share of awards. Walk into his chambers one day and look around. It is difficult to find a bare spot on any wall what with all of his plaques and certificates. In 2015, the OCBA awarded him the Presiding Justice David G. Sills Award for Appellate Excellence. He has won six awards in the California Newspaper Publishers’ Better Newspapers competition. The American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) recently named a new award after him—the William W. Bedsworth Judicial Civility Award—and made Beds its first recipient. He was also the first recipient of the Lavender Bar Association’s Leadership Award (2011). He has been named judge of the year by both the Hispanic Bar Association (1996) and the Celtic Bar Association (2011). After he wrote in a column that “there is no nonculpable explanation for monkeys in your underpants,” The Times of London awarded him its Judicial Wisdom of the Year Award.13 No wonder he is running out of wall space.
Many members of the local legal community feel that a lawyer practicing anywhere near Orange County has not really arrived until he or she has been named in one of Beds’ columns. My warm and fuzzy moment arrived several years ago when I was mentioned along with Judge Bob Fitzgerald.14
When I learned that Justice Bedsworth would receive the Franklin G. West Award this year, I sent him an email in which I congratulated him and wondered how many oak clusters15 would be included as I was certain he must have received “the West” sometime in the past. When he humbly informed me that my assumption in this regard was ill-founded, that this would be his first Franklin G. West Award, I was shocked. Every past recipient has been eminently qualified and richly deserving, but tell me this: Who is more deserving of the Orange County Bar Association’s lifetime achievement award, based on his entire body of work, than Justice Bedsworth?
I will conclude with a final thought. When you think about the Orange County Bar Association, who comes to mind? With all due respect to Deirdre Kelly and her predecessors,16 OCBA presidents come and go. As do Boards of Directors and official spokespeople. For nearly four decades now, the one constant in our lives as members of OCBA has been Bill Bedsworth. Every month through his column we look forward to learning some ridiculous new legal factoid, or sharing a very personal laugh with Beds. So who is the face of OCBA, both here and nationally? I respectfully submit that face, now aging but still cherubic, belongs to Justice William W. Bedsworth.
Congratulations, Beds, on this richly deserved, and long overdue, award.
The Honorable Thomas M. Goethals is a justice at the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division 3. He hopes to have captured the essence of his friend and colleague in this article.