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Judge Also Does a Little Publishing : O.C. Jurist Admits His Output of Tiny Books Is Small-Time

August 16, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Calling a contact number for Judge Leonard Goldstein, folks might think they have reached a 900 number by mistake. There is a female voice on the other end, one speaking in a whisper so that soft words aren't coming through, only a tickling sibilance on the hairs of the ear. Finally, the words "Department 25" register, along with the realization that the phone on the other end is in a courtroom , and court is in session. You find yourself whispering back, not wanting to disturb the decorum.

It must be a strange gig--right up there with convent life--to don the robe and have people always whispering around you, to be enclosed in an aura of deference, civility and order; to be seated above the fray and have book-lined chambers to which to repair; to be just .

"Judges are human," maintains Orange Superior Court Judge Goldstein, whose specialty is complex civil law. "You don't step through some magic mirror and become a judge. It's not euphoria. It's not celestial well-being. You don't hear horns and go up to heaven. Judges are not gods. Judges are just human beings with a very responsible job. They get tired. Sometimes they lose their temper. They do everything all people do in the usual circumstances."

Including having hobbies.

Goldstein's hobby is decidedly more refined than, say, monster-truck racing, but it gets points for having such a high pun potential it is a true effort to not resort to any in this story.

The judge collects and publishes miniature books. He has amassed some 500 tiny editions; a modest collection, he says, contrasted with one woman he knows with more than 12,000. His publishing output is similarly small. With only six volumes issued in the past 13 years, it may be with no false modesty that he claims, "I'm probably one of the least-known publishers there is."

But, though they are easily palmed, his small books are far from toys. He says it can take at least nine months and as much as $10,000 to see one into production, and to look at them, you'd believe it.

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We talked last Thursday in Goldstein's indeed very book-lined chambers adjoining his courtroom on the seventh floor of the 700 building in the Civic Center. The walls and shelves were adorned with likenesses of Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, while a computer screen behind the judge flashed the message, "Welcome to CHAOS," which Goldstein explained is the apt acronym for the courts' intercommunications system.

At 63, Goldstein looks a bit like a more-civilized Allen Ginsberg. In his 18 years on the bench--17 of those as a Superior Court judge--he has gained a reputation for seeing his way through grindingly complex civil cases with a thoroughness and evenness that has earned praise even from litigants who come out on the losing side.

He was first attracted to miniature books in the early 1960s, when, looking for a gift for a friend in government service, he found a volume containing John F. Kennedy's inaugural address published by one Achille St. Onge, who had been making miniatures since 1935.

"And because I was taken by the quality of the work, and because of the attraction of the miniature, which may have some unconscious appeal to one's youth, I wrote to Mr. St. Onge and asked if he had other titles in print, and he kindly sent me a catalogue, and I promptly started collecting," Goldstein said.

He continued to correspond with the Massachusetts-based publisher for 20 years, and after St. Onge died, Goldstein was moved to first publish his own books. Though his premiere 1981 volume, "Duke Ellington Remembered," was a tribute to the great composer and pianist penned by the jazz critic of the New Yorker, in style and materials (including the type style, gilt page-edges and crushed calf-skin cover with a rounded spine) it was a tribute to St. Onge.

Though the output of the Gold Stein publishing house has been limited thus far to six volumes, the titles are impossible to pigeonhole. Along with the book on Ellington, there are works on Halley's comet, the Statue of Liberty, early female race-car drivers and two poems by Ray Bradbury.

*

How does he pick his titles?

"The primary consideration is that it lends itself to miniaturization, which means that it cannot be overly long. But it's surprising how much material and information you can get into a small book. The Duke Ellington book, when it originally ran in the New Yorker, ran for 2 1/2 pages, about 3,000 words, and that's about right. I don't print anything you can't read without magnifying glasses."

Goldstein does own a copy of what is regarded as the world's smallest book, but he got it only because he knows its author and publisher, Scottish writer Ian MacDonald.

"His is a quarter of an inch square, and it's almost impossible to read. I like to be able to read books. I think a book ceases to be a book when it doesn't lend itself to being read," he said.

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