North Orange County Municipal Judge Sidney Maleck, a former El Monte city attorney, shot himself to death Tuesday in his Fullerton home, authorities said.
The 64-year-old judge left a note saying he was depressed about personal problems, Fullerton police said. Family and friends said Maleck suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.
One family member said the stress of campaigning for the June 7 judicial election, which he won easily, may have been a factor in his suicide. Maleck's competence was questioned during the campaign.
But one close friend said Maleck was despondent about a lawsuit against him and several members of the El Monte City Council, where he was city attorney until his appointment to the bench nearly two years ago.
'Didn't Want to Be Strain'
"He didn't want to be a strain on the family," said one of his two daughters, Jackie Gomberg, 42, of Huntington Beach.
His wife of 46 years, Charlotte, found Maleck in a bedroom about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, with a gunshot wound to his head. A .22-caliber revolver was beside him. Police said the gun was registered to the judge.
Maleck had spent most of his legal career outside Orange County. He had been city attorney in El Monte for 10 years at the time he was appointed to the bench.
El Monte became involved in a dispute with the neighboring city of Arcadia over a 100-acre parcel of land while Maleck was serving as city attorney. One of the companies involved in a series of lawsuits over the issue, Public Storage Inc., sued Maleck and the El Monte council members.
Secret Sessions Alleged
The suit alleges that Maleck and the council met in illegal secret sessions to prepare an ordinance that would have imposed a 5% sales tax, which the company contended was targeted at it. The tax eventually was rescinded.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge last month refused the city of El Monte's request to dismiss the part of the suit involving Maleck.
El Monte Councilman Jack Crippen, a close friend of Maleck's, disagreed with those who said that Maleck was despondent over the lawsuit.
"Sid was strong mentally; I just think he has been worn out physically," Crippen said.
"He was a great strength in our community," said El Monte Police Chief Wayne C. Clayton. "He involved himself, with the Boys Club, with the Red Cross. . . . I just don't know where he found the time."
While in El Monte, Maleck laid the groundwork for SB 969, passed by the Legislature two years ago, which protects municipal employees from punitive damages in lawsuits against municipal bodies, Clayton said. Maleck's involvement stemmed from the lawsuit against the city of El Monte.
Passage of the bill generated great support for Maleck from law enforcement officers, Clayton said.
Maleck was appointed to the bench in West Orange County Municipal Court by Gov. George Deukmejian in December, 1986. The governor transferred Maleck to North Orange County Municipal Court when a judgeship opened there last October.
Maleck was the only incumbent municipal judge in Orange County's June election to face a challenger. During the campaign, his opponent, lawyer Michael A. Leversen of Anaheim, accused Maleck of incompetency.
Leversen and his supporters criticized the judge's jury-selection procedures in a misdemeanor case, and Maleck responded by accusing Leversen of running a "sleazy" campaign.
Leversen received the endorsement of the Orange County Deputy District Attorneys' Assn., unusual support for a challenger.
Leversen also received a higher rating than Maleck in an Orange County Bar Assn. poll. Leversen got nearly twice as many "highly qualified" ratings as the judge. And Maleck received more than twice as many "unqualified" ratings as Leversen.
Nevertheless, Maleck won the election easily, with nearly 60% of the vote.
Maleck served in the Navy during World War II. He received his undergraduate degree from St. John's University and graduated from the New York Law School in 1952.
He was in private practice in New York until 1959, then became a corporate lawyer there. He moved to Orange County and began a private practice in Santa Ana in 1970.
Maleck became an assistant city attorney in San Bernardino in 1972. Two years later, he became an assistant city attorney in Burbank. He remained there until 1977, when he was appointed city attorney of El Monte.
He was a former president of the Los Angeles City Attorneys' Assn., and is a former chairman of the San Gabriel Valley Red Cross chapter. He was also on the board of directors of the San Gabriel Valley Boys' Club from 1978 to 1987.
Times reporter Floyd Whaley contributed to this story.