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John H. Saunders; Municipal Judge

December 21, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John H. Saunders, who for 18 years ran the "one-judge court" of the Santa Anita Municipal Court District and chaired the countywide association of municipal judges, has died. He was 80.

Saunders died Wednesday of cancer in Arcadia, where he had lived for half a century.

"Municipal Court is the court where people's civil rights are first protected," he said when he took his oath of office in 1966.

Appointed by Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr., Saunders was the second judge named to the solitary job in the small district, established in 1954, covering Monrovia, Arcadia, Bradbury and Duarte. The Los Angeles Municipal Court, by contrast, has scores of judges.

As one of a kind, Saunders reached out to the community he served, giving anti-drug abuse talks to students at Monrovia High School. Relating the outcome of actual cases, he told the students that prison was the easy part. The real suffering came, he said, with a prison record that would prevent them from getting good jobs and being able to afford the lifestyle they wanted.

Although he held down a lonely bench, Saunders was highly respected by other judges, who elected him chairman of the Los Angeles County Municipal Judges Assn. when its more than 140 members represented about 25 municipal courts.

"When municipal courts were set up, they were supposed to be community courts and reflect the values of that community," he said in a Times interview in 1981. "This is a conservative law-and-order district where people expect the court to be fair but firm. I try to temper that with compassion and an interest in people."

After his retirement in 1984, Saunders was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission for Children's Services. He chaired the group in 1991 and 1992, and helped to develop the county's Children's Court.

Saunders was active in his community, serving as president of the Kiwanis Club of Monrovia and on the boards of the Legal Services Corp., the Arcadia Welfare and Thrift Shop, Help Our Youth, the Santa Anita Family Service and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Boy Scouts.

Saunders was a native of South Pasadena who attended UCLA and the Boalt Hall and USC law schools. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II.

He began his legal career as general counsel, secretary and assistant treasurer of the Filtrol Corp., then spent 10 years in private practice before his appointment to the judiciary.

Saunders' wife, Jeanne, died in 1987. He is survived by two daughters, Sherry Saunders Rees of Washington, D.C., and Susan Saunders Brusa of San Francisco; a son, John Hamilton Saunders of Brea, and six grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at Church of Our Savior, 535 W. Roses Road, San Gabriel.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Friends of Child Advocates, 201 Center Plaza Drive, Suite 3, Monterey Park, CA 91754, or to San Gabriel Valley Council of Boy Scouts, 3450 E. Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107.

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