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Mosk, High Court's Elder Statesman, Stays Well Above the Fray

October 21, 1986|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Stanley Mosk's mother sat at her kitchen table 42 years ago and hand-addressed scores of postcards asking voters to support her son, the judge, and "preserve a fearless and independent judiciary."

His mother has died and Mosk left the trial court long ago. But in this, his final campaign, Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk still keeps his organization in the family. And judging from opinion polls, he will win again--easily.

With help from his son, Richard, Mosk has employed a sophisticated, subtle and behind-the-scenes campaign that has silenced critics who once counted him among their targets for defeat on Nov. 4.

Gov. George Deukmejian, one of the court's harshest critics, swept away any lingering doubt about Mosk's support in August by announcing that he would vote for Mosk, even though Mosk has written some of the court's most far-reaching and controversial decisions of the last two decades. With his support shored up, Mosk will raise no money and mount no visible campaign.

"What's more effective for him--a 30-second television spot, or having the governor say he's going to vote for him and the major groups not oppose him? That is better than a $1-million media campaign," said Stu Mollrich, a media consultant responsible for many anti-court advertisements.

For his part, Mosk calls it "a nice way to run a campaign." During an interview in the office he has occupied for 22 years, Mosk quipped that "people don't shun you thinking you're going to ask them for a contribution."

He professes to be uncertain why he was not targeted, except that perhaps court critics "may look at the life expectancy tables and figure they will get this seat sooner or later so they might as well relax."

At 74, Mosk remains one of the court's most prolific members. He said in an interview early this year, however, that he might quit within four years, which would allow the winner of this year's gubernatorial race to appoint someone to fill out the rest of Mosk's 12-year term.

Appointed to the high court in 1964 by Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Mosk had aspired to be chief justice. But Brown's son, Edmund G. Brown Jr., passed him over by naming Rose Elizabeth Bird chief justice in 1977. Mosk said he has given up hope of becoming chief justice. However, he has a role that he very much enjoys--that of the court's elder statesman. With Bird facing defeat, and the campaign against her and other justices tarnishing the court's standing, Mosk sees that role as being even more important in the future.

"I hope I can be useful in restoring some of the prestige of the court, which has been affected by the political campaign," Mosk said. "All of that polarization," he added, "has been unfortunate for the judicial process. I hope that, with my years of experience, I can be helpful in repairing that."

Active Speaker

Mosk maintains that he is not campaigning, although he acknowledges that his son has placed a few calls. Mosk seems to have stepped up his speaking engagements, although he always has been an active public speaker.

His topics vary from the state Constitution to a speech that is a series of one-liners. Without mentioning his colleagues by name, he gets across his message--that he is different.

He told a class at the University of California, Berkeley, that justices vote as individuals and "expect to be evaluated as individuals." He told a small gathering at a friend's Beverly Hills home that although the electorate might "vote all the rascals out," he has faith that voters will be "more selective."

Although Mosk says he will vote for his colleagues on Nov. 4, he has distanced himself from the campaigns to reelect the justices by insisting through his son that their campaigns drop any mention of him.

Son's Demand

Richard Mosk, for example, made such a demand of Justice Cruz Reynoso's campaign director, Neil Rinkover, in August after Rinkover was quoted in a newspaper article referring to Mosk's liberal record. Rinkover and Reynoso declined to discuss the matter.

"Richard Mosk went to quite a few places. . . . I don't think anybody thought it was anything other than a gracious gesture by a son," said Janet Byers, spokeswoman for the anti-court campaign.

Richard Mosk, a West Los Angeles attorney, described his efforts by saying simply: "I have certainly talked to people on behalf of my father. I don't think it was necessary. I'm the only son and I do whatever I can for him."

His father's biggest fan, Richard Mosk lists law enforcement figures who not only support his father but are his friends, from former Los Angeles police chiefs Tom Redden and Sen. Ed Davis (R-Chatsworth) to San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith.

'Known Quantity'

"Having been in politics, he happens to have friends who are conservative Republicans," said the younger Mosk. ". . . When it came to various groups--business groups, law enforcement groups, Republican groups--he had the benefit of being a known quantity."

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