By the HONORABLE ANDREW J. GUILFORD, RET.
I could not possibly turn down the honor of writing an article about Justice William W. Bedsworth and his forty years of writing the column “A Criminal Waste of Space” for our Orange County Lawyer. But I’m not worthy to write about the greatest writer I know.
And now I must pick 1,800 words or so out of maybe a million and put them together in a way that makes sense and honors my friend Beds. A theorem says that a monkey pounding a typewriter (dating this theorem to typewriter times) will eventually come up with a piece of Shakespeare, but that’s with an infinite deadline. So consider this. Beds, under deadline, has been putting together words worthy of Shakespeare in his column every month for forty years, going back to when many Orange County lawyers weren’t born. That’s 40 x 12 columns, give or take a few. And he’s done it in a unique style that makes people laugh while they are learning about all sorts and conditions of people and the legal world and much more. Plus, Justice Bedsworth has his day job, and all the other things that fill his very full life.
It hurts my head to think about what Beds has done, especially what his head has put into mine. No doubt, Beds writes wonderfully, like no other. And long ago, I learned that good writing is mainly good thinking. We can all be taught the rules of good writing,1 but you can’t teach the mental power required to be a great writer. Thoughts must flow logically and clearly. Those who can’t do that are called bad writers, but really they are bad thinkers. Bill’s brainpower is part of what makes him great. And like William Shakespeare, our own Bill the Bard, our Bill the Quill, is a thoughtful observer of human nature, with the ability to pick and arrange words for us that entertain while they enlighten.
Since mortals like me scribble in the shadow of Bedsworth’s greatness, you should ask why you are reading these scribbles when the real stuff is in Bill’s column just a few pages away. (It’s one of his best!) Why am I strutting and fretting about my word count when I could just simply quote from Bill’s past columns? After all, there are more than 400 of them. So here are words straight from Beds. One of Bill’s editors, Gialisa Gaffaney, has happily noted Bill’s character includes humility2 in columns like “Technopeasantry,” where he begins as follows.
I am a technopeasant.
Like the medieval serfs who gazed up at the castle with no real conception of what life was like for the lord of the manor and his confederates, I stand dumbfounded and agape before the miraculous technological edifice that is 21st century electronica. I meekly accept the fact that the people inside the castle are somehow better, more deserving than I and resign myself to begging the occasional handout from the Lords of Internet Technology.
After all, these people are so high above us peons, they might as well be in a cloud. What’s that? They are in a cloud? There is something called “cloud technology”? Verily, the work of wizards, Sire.
That’s Beds at his humble best in his style enjoyed by so many. His editor at the Orange County Lawyer, Gialisa Gaffaney, seemed to follow the Bedsworth style in writing, “I have not read Beds’ column for forty years (yet) but for the past decade, each month, I eagerly await what promises to result in at least a chuckle, or more often a belly laugh. (If I’m honest, during the past year of covid, reading Beds’ column counts as my abs workout for the day.) But I also learn a lot. For example, non-readers might never have learned that the new slogan for a Wisconsin license plate could have ended up as “Eat cheese or die.” (Voting Rights . . . and Wrongs, October 2018).”
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, our beloved former UCI Law School Dean known for his clear and logical communication, wrote in the Daily Journal, “I don’t know anyone in the legal profession who writes better than William Bedsworth.” He recently added, “When I am looking to show an example of superb writing, I often point to Justice Bedsworth’s columns. They are not only entertaining, but insightful and wonderfully written.”
Professor Shaun Martin, a leader in reviewing legal writing, and author of the California Appellate Report, wrote:
Justice Bedsworth is amazing. His writing style is unique, engaging and downright fun. A reader can tell that an opinion is by Justice Bedsworth even before reaching the part where his name is attached. It’s not just that opinions written by Justice Bedsworth are eminently readable. It’s also that, on the merits, they are cogent, compassionate, and almost always right. The substantive and stylistic effort that Justice Bedsworth consistently puts into his opinions is truly impressive. The legal world is a much better—and more fun—place as a result of Justice Bedsworth’s writing both in and outside of court.
Franz Miller, former Orange County Bar Association President and Orange County Superior Court Judge, wrote, “Bedsworth will forever be one of my literary heroes. The span over which he has been writing and I have been reading his ‘wastes of space’ bodes poorly for both of our actuarial tables. The word that best describes my reaction to his columns: jealousy. In the world of clever, he is nonpareil.”
Marge Fuller, a Franklin G. West Award winner, admits to “reading and enjoying the Bedsworth column for the whole forty years, and look forward to forty more. The ideas are truly creative, and the writing is elegant. Unlike other judicial commentary, the columns are never boring. As one of Justice Bedsworth’s heroes (A. Lincoln) stated in a book review, ‘People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.’ I like this sort of thing.”
Jennifer Keller, another former OCBA president, echoes the sentiment that Bedsworth’s words reach far and wide:
For decades we in the OCBA have enjoyed our very own Dave Barry in a Robe. We may be the only lawyers in the United States who impatiently check our mailboxes for a bar association magazine, and sweat if it’s overdue—all because we crave our fix of “A Criminal Waste of Space,” which is anything but. Recognizing that any attempt to regulate human behavior inevitably leads to absurdities, Bill Bedsworth makes us laugh out loud at the nutty statutes, farcical rulings, and wacky arguments dangling from the margins of “The Rule
Trudy Levindofske, CEO and Executive Director of the OCBA, says she “can’t imagine Orange County Lawyer magazine without Justice Bedsworth’s ‘A Criminal Waste of Space.’ Through the decades and all sorts of changes in the legal community, OC Lawyer readers have looked forward to seeing what Beds has to say each month.”
And beyond the quotes, Bill’s writing has brought him much bling-bling. He has six awards from the California News Publishers Association, which named his column that you read right here in this magazine THE best newspaper column in California in 2019. I doubt that any other bar journal can surpass that! He has won awards for exemplary legal writing from the Green Bag experts on writing. It’s no wonder that for the last twenty years, Bill’s column has been nationally syndicated by American Lawyer Media, which at the insistence of Beds, grants the OCBA the only exception to ALM’s exclusive publication rights. Thus, Bill’s column appears in a dozen or so big-city legal and financial papers including the National Law Journal, Legal Times, and Texas Law.
So Justice Bedsworth helps put our beloved Orange County on the map. Not surprisingly, the OCBA awarded him its highest honor, the Franklin G. West Award, and a nominator wrote the following observation.
Justice Bedsworth IS Orange County to many people around the Country and Globe. . . . He is the longest serving appellate justice in the history of the Fourth District, Division 3! He has served as a guest speaker for virtually every Orange County bar group, section, and organization, in some cases multiple times. . . . The column has been described by at least two bar presidents (Gary Pohlson and Jennifer Keller) as “the best reason to join the OCBA.” Beds spreads our fame by speaking to bar associations in other states and countries: Alabama (state bar); Nebraska (state bar twice); Hawaii State Bar; Washington (King County Bar Association); Oklahoma (Tulsa Bar Association); London, England (American Bar Association, International Law Section); as well as within the state (California State Bar three times), American Bar Association (Convention of State Bar Presidents, San Diego), and dozens of specialty bars and organizations throughout the state. With all this writing and speaking, Orange County could not ask for a better ambassador for our judicial community than Beds!”
As noted, Justice Bedsworth has managed all this communication excellence while engaging in a very active life. We all have favorite glimpses of Beds. He loves sports and was inspired like many of us by Sportswriter Jim Murray. He especially loves sports with sticks, so we have memories of him as goal judge for the Anaheim Ducks. I recall dreading to see him at third base gobbling up sure base hits off my bat. And now he plays with golf clubs. He proves his patience by rooting for the Angels, a team that has the wrong city in its name and hasn’t won the World Series since some readers of this were in elementary school. Maybe Beds can return that team to its true place on the map.
As a student of humanity, Beds likes people, and they like him. When I think of family, I recall the column Beds wrote, after some serious medical difficulties, telling us all to keep perspective on the true values of life, count our blessings, and call our mothers often. If you want to know the real Beds, ask him to talk about his parents, or his wife Kelly McCourt, or other family members, as he sometimes does in his columns. And I am blessed to know part of Beds by having his extraordinary daughter, Caitlin, clerk with me in federal court. Her writing reflects a Bedsworthian mind that brought excellent justice to all her work. It’s no surprise that my chambers were just the beginning, and Caitlin’s judicial talent has now blessed other chambers up to the Ninth Circuit.
So when you count your blessings, include the chance we have had to conveniently read Bill’s writings monthly in our Orange County Lawyer—forty years’ worth for old folks like me. That’s a lot of words he has picked and packed into columns that give us the insights of this great thinker and writer. Yes indeed, he’s been productively pounding away since the days of typewriters, if not quills, every month, under a deadline. And—no monkey business—he gives us Shakespearean prose every time.
(1) Some say one such rule is not to use footnotes, but Bedsworth scores with his dissent on this. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and I can’t argue with Beds, thus, there be footnotes here.
(2) Editing Bedsworth’s writing style is like correcting the running style of Maury Wills. An editor would prefer a humble response rather than outrage at trying to improve perfection. Both Maury and Beds belong in the Hall of Fame for their crafts.
Hon. Andrew J. Guilford, Ret. is now at Judicate West after serving as a federal judge. He is a West winner and former president of the OCBA and State Bar. He has known Bedsworth forever as Beds is at the heart of Orange County and a great friend.