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Outspoken, Controversial : Municipal Judge Mayo Steps Down; Cites Health

June 04, 1985|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Controversial and conservative Municipal Judge Ronald A. Mayo, who once likened himself to James Watt for "always putting his foot in his mouth," was granted disability retirement Monday.

Mayo, 57, said he suffers from rheumatoid spondylitis, a disease similar to arthritis that has caused a fusion of six vertebrae and the atrophying of muscles in his shoulders and neck.

"I only have about 5% of the ability to turn my neck to the right and left or up and down. That is where the pain is," Mayo said.

Mayo said his doctor recommended he resign a year ago, but he rejected the suggestion.

"I said I could handle it. Again this year during my annual physical he suggested I step down, and I did," Mayo said.

He said he tried taking muscle relaxants so he could continue working, but they made him groggy so that he felt "ill-equipped to sit on the bench."

Mayo said he applied for the disability in February, and it was approved last week by Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird and by the state Commission on Judicial Performance. He said he will receive 65% of his pay for the rest of his life.

Mayo's retirement was announced to other judges in a memo from Presiding Municipal Judge Frederic L. Link.

Mayo was considered a loner on the court and was often criticized by other judges who said that his controversial comments embarrassed them.

But after the announcement Monday, Judge Robert C. Coates said Mayo "did exactly what a judge is supposed to do--call the decisions as he saw them under the law. Maybe he has not always been as tactful as he could have been, but in my opinion, that's what he always did."

Coates said that in confidential meetings Mayo "would bring things to our attention that needed to be brought up."

Mayo, who was elected in 1976, beating incumbent George Crawford, said he plans to renew his attorney's license so he can give legal help to his friends and family.

He said he plans to donate his research services to lawyers defending Mayor Roger Hedgecock in the mayor's second perjury and conspiracy trial.

"If they accept my services, fine. If not, that's fine, too. Roger is a battler, someone who takes on the system, and so am I. I like Roger," Mayo said.

Mayo, a native of Chicago and self-described "ultraconservative," has been known for his colorful and controversial comments from the bench and for his strong dislike of the press.

He made headlines about 1 1/2 years ago when, from the bench, he called nuclear protesters "lousy rats who lie in the street and foster civil disobedience."

In that case, he warned a protester that he was not an appointee of former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and, therefore, no "Brown wimp"--a comment that ruffled the feathers of Brown appointees on the court.

In an interview after the remark, Mayo said that former Secretary of the Interior James Watt's "problem is the same as mine, always putting his foot in his mouth. . . . "

Watt has often attacked the press for exaggerating his comments. Mayo said Monday that what he learned on the bench was that "judges do not have First Amendment rights."

"The press will not permit judges to express themselves as people. Their ideal of a judge is what they want a judge to be. They don't want a judge to express passion or feeling or political ideology. They want a judge to sit up there as a robot and usually as a liberal," Mayo said.

He said he regrets that he will not be able to run for office again in 1988, when his term expires, because, "despite the fact that the (San Diego) Union and The Tribune and probably the Los Angeles Times would have opposed me, I would whip their butts."

Mayo admitted that he tends to express himself emotionally rather than intellectually and said he does not expect to change.

"I tell people what I think at the time I think it. My wife is the first to say, 'Why don't you think before you speak. . . . I don't. Sometimes I am sorry, and I say I am sorry."

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