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Stephen Reinhardt of 9th Circuit : Liberal U.S. Judge Swims Against Conservative Tide

August 17, 1986|WILLIAM OVEREND | Times Staff Writer

Remembered as both a "brilliant" and a "devious" political tactician, Reinhardt was among those most responsible for the successful campaigns of Bradley and former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., among others.

As a Brown supporter, Reinhardt orchestrated a move that "torpedoed" San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto's chances for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1974, former political associates said.

Alioto, they recalled, was basing his campaign on support from organized labor. Reinhardt, however, used his close ties to labor to persuade union leaders to remain neutral in the Democratic primary election campaign, depriving Alioto of any official labor endorsement and setting the stage for Brown's victory.

His most brilliant political maneuver, according to many, was his handling of Yvonne Braithwaite Burke's successful Democratic primary race for state attorney general in 1978 against Los Angeles City Atty. Burt Pines.

Although Pines was favored at the beginning of the race, Reinhardt built a winning strategy around a last-minute newspaper ad charging him with direct involvement in the shredding of Los Angeles Police Department intelligence files.

'Last-Minute Smear'

Pines, who claimed that he had learned of the file-shredding only after the fact, called the ads a "last-minute smear," but was unable to recover and lost the race.

"Steve (Reinhardt) had a lot of success because he is very smart and very tough and, above all, very political," one friend said. "He is also devious. In the political world, you had to watch what he was doing."

As a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Reinhardt achieved his own political prominence during a five-year running battle with the Police Department that made him one of the city's most controversial public figures.

Reinhardt's nomination to become a federal judge while serving on the Police Commission also was marked by controversy. There were charges, denied by Reinhardt and unsubstantiated by Justice Department investigators, that as a labor lawyer he had ties to organized crime.

Some of his strongest political enemies--including Police Chiefs Ed Davis and Daryl F. Gates--turned out to defend him in the fight over his nomination, and Davis, now a Republican state senator from Chatsworth, speaks almost fondly of his former adversary.

Not 'Warm and Cuddly'

"I think Steve is an honest liberal. He doesn't hide his opinions or attempt to shade them," Davis said. "He is not very warm and cuddly, but I respected him.

"Steve is a warrior," he added. "He is very dogged, more like a bulldog than the other commissioners I remember."

While there was no controversy to it, even Reinhardt's boyhood was far from average.

Born in New York as Stephen Shapiro, Reinhardt changed his name after his mother, Silvia, divorced his lawyer father and remarried in 1942 to one of the most famous Hollywood movie director-producers of the 1930s and 1940s, Gottfried Reinhardt.

Gottfried Reinhardt was the son of an even more famous figure in the theater world, Max Reinhardt, who shaped modern European theater and founded the annual performing arts festival at Salzburg, Austria.

Stepfather's Influence

While Stephen Reinhardt later decided on a career as a lawyer, he was influenced strongly during his teen-age years by his new stepfather and the theater heritage of his legendary grandfather, a German Jew who died in the United States in 1943, nine years after fleeing Nazi persecution.

As a teen-ager, he ran errands on Hollywood movie sets and "got Cokes for the chorus girls" at Broadway stage productions when his stepfather was directing live theater in New York.

Reinhardt, one of the first three Jewish judges appointed to the 9th Circuit during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, divides his early memories in life between the horrors of discovering Nazi atrocities in Europe and the later delights of growing up in a Hollywood home where the dinner guests ranged from Thomas Mann to Marilyn Monroe.

"I met her (Monroe) just before I was going off to law school, and I asked her out," Reinhardt recalled. "She said to give her a call, and we left it that I'd call when I got back at Christmas. But I never got around to it."

Reinhardt said that he really didn't know what he wanted to do in life, but his stepfather steered him toward the law and away from show business. After graduating from Yale Law School, he spent two years as a Pentagon lawyer, then clerked for a year in Washington for a federal district judge.

Entertainment Lawyer

In 1957, Reinhardt returned to Los Angeles at a time when many of the city's major law firms were just beginning to hire Jews. He was hired as the second Jewish lawyer at O'Melveny & Myers and given a job as an entertainment lawyer.

"They were getting a lot of pressure from the movie industry to hire Jews," Reinhardt said. "I didn't know any of this at the time."

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