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Retired High Court Justice Dies

California and the West

Judiciary: Raymond L. Sullivan crafted the 1974 California Supreme Court decision separating school financing from local property taxes. He was 92.

October 22, 1999

Retired California Supreme Court Associate Justice Raymond L. Sullivan, who wrote the landmark 1974 decision that removed school financing from local property taxes, died at his home in San Francisco. He was 92.

Sullivan, who was known for his eloquently written decisions and his impeccable scholarship, was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1966 by Gov. Jerry Brown. He served on the court nine years.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 25, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 14 Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Justice Sullivan--An obituary in Friday's editions should have stated that retired California Supreme Court Justice Raymond L. Sullivan was appointed to the high court by Gov. Pat Brown, not his son, Gov. Jerry Brown. Sullivan died on Thursday.

Sullivan then taught at Hastings College of Law until his retirement in 1993.

"During his tenure on the court, Justice Sullivan was known for the eloquence and clarity of his writing, his keen insight and compassion, and the unfailing cordiality with which he treated everyone," said Chief Justice Ronald M. George. "His unparalleled mastery of appellate procedure set a standard difficult to match, and he will long be remembered for his authorship of several landmark opinions."

The best known of these stemmed from a 1971 case filed in Los Angeles by John Serrano Jr. to challenge the fairness of public school financing, which was based on local property values.

After the Supreme Court's pretrial opinion that disparities in education due to financing would be unconstitutional, the Legislature sought to remedy the defects in the system by passing two school financing bills.

In the 1974 trial to determine whether there were such disparities, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge decided that the patchwork financing system still was not acceptable.

The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court by state and local government officials, who were defendants in the case. The court's decision, written by Sullivan, stated that the disparities in school funding violated the state Constitution.

The impact of the ruling was enormous. The state was forced to equalize district funding and eventually move away from local property taxes as a school revenue source.

The decision also influenced the property tax reform movement in California, which culminated in the passing of Proposition 13, the 1978 tax-cutting initiative.

In 1975, Sullivan wrote another influential decision involving accident victims. A long-standing rule had denied all damages to injury victims if they were at fault to any degree. The court abolished that rule, reducing victims' damages only by the proportion of their own fault, which became standard in all states.

Sullivan was born in San Francisco and graduated from the University of San Francisco in 1928 magna cum laude. He received his law degree from the university two years later.

He practiced law in San Francisco for 31 years and then was appointed to the Court of Appeal for the 1st Appellate District. He was associate justice from 1961 to 1964 and was presiding justice from 1964 to 1966.

In 1975, the California Trial Lawyers Assn. named him appellate judge of the year.

When Sullivan was in his 80s, students at Hastings College of Law voted him outstanding teacher of the year.

Sullivan, a widower, died Wednesday. He is survived by five children.

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