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Allen E. Broussard; Ex-State High Court Justice Wrote Key Death Penalty Opinion


Former California Supreme Court Justice Allen E. Broussard, a self-described moderate who wrote key opinions on the death penalty and the environment, died Tuesday. He was 67.

Broussard, an African American who had co-chaired the Judicial Council's Advisory Committee on Racial and Ethnic Bias, died at his home in Oakland after a brief illness.

Appointed by Gov. Edmund D. "Jerry" Brown Jr. in 1981, Broussard joined the high court's controversial liberal majority headed by Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.

That court angered law and order politicians, including future Gov. George Deukmejian, by overturning scores of death penalty cases. A key opinion written by Broussard in 1983 requiring proof of intent to kill in most death penalty cases gave the court the legal basis for many of its rulings. Ironically, Broussard, an experienced trial judge in criminal courts, was the only one of those justices who wrote an opinion affirming a death judgment.

Broussard also wrote an opinion establishing the state's authority to protect the environment by restricting diversion of water from lakes and streams. That ruling was reversed in 1987, despite his dissenting opinion, by a reconstructed conservative court majority.

Broussard faced election a year after he was appointed to fill the vacancy left by William P. Clark, who resigned to serve in President Ronald Reagan's Cabinet. The new justice faced a minor challenge from a conservative group called the Californians for Judicial Reform but did win the "yes" vote that gave him a full 12-year term.

The challenge to Broussard was a forerunner of a well-organized campaign in 1986 that unseated Bird and two other justices.

Broussard quickly became the leading writer of dissenting opinions on the revised court headed by Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas. One exception written by Broussard for the court was the unanimous ruling in 1989 that upheld the initiative for state regulation of insurance rates.

Broussard retired from the high court in 1991.

The former presiding judge of the Alameda County Superior Court, Broussard was the second African American on the court after Wiley Manual. Broussard voiced opposition to having a "black seat" on the Supreme Court, saying that he preferred a court that fairly represents the state's diversity.

When Deukmejian challenged him as a liberal at confirmation hearings, Broussard said: "My liberal friends call me moderate and conservatives call me a liberal. I guess we'll find out."

Born in Lake Charles, La., Broussard moved to California with his family when he was a child. He was educated at UC Berkeley and the university's law school at Boalt Hall, where he served on the Law Review.

After two years in the Army, Broussard practiced law privately until Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown named him to the Oakland-Piedmont Municipal Court in 1964. He was elevated to the Superior Court in 1975.

Broussard was the first black president of the Conference of California Judges, more recently known as the California Judges Assn.

"I think I've earned the reputation of being a fair judge and an industrious judge," Broussard said when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. "I [also] think it is important for a judge to be compassionate."

Broussard also served as vice president of the East Bay Big Brothers and chaired the Oakland Men of Tomorrow.

After his retirement from the bench, he became a partner in the firm of Coblentz, Cahen, McCabe & Breyer in San Francisco.

He is survived by his wife, Odessa, and his mother, Eugenia, both of Oakland; a brother, James of West Pittsburgh; a sister, Rita of Oakland, and two sons, Keith of San Francisco and Craig of Oakland.

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