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Influential Attorney Leonard S. Janofsky Dies

March 02, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leonard S. Janofsky, founding partner of the Los Angeles law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker and president of several county, state and national attorneys organizations, has died. He was 90.

Janofsky died early Wednesday in his Westwood home of heart failure, said his son, attorney John S. Janofsky of Palos Verdes Estates.

A respected trial lawyer in labor relations, Leonard Janofsky guided the firm as it grew from its original four partners in the 1950s to more than 650 attorneys today. And Janofsky's titles as head of legal associations mounted as regularly as his courtroom victories, giving the lawyer political clout far beyond his native Los Angeles.

From the podium of each organization, Janofsky advocated methods for relieving court congestion and confusion, making litigation affordable for people of all economic levels and maintaining honesty in his profession, and became a voice for lawyers on political issues.

In 1968, Janofsky was elected president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., then in its 90th year with 7,200 members. As head of the growing group, Janofsky opposed one of the earliest California property tax cut initiatives--a precursor to the successful Proposition 13--saying the proposal was full of legal holes.

In 1972, he became president of the State Bar of California, which then had 40,000 lawyers. He soon had to extricate the organization from a sticky political debate over the legalization of marijuana. Janofsky made clear that a 234-217 vote by the bar's conference of delegates in support of a legalization ballot measure had been advisory only and had been rejected by the Board of Governors. No, he asserted, lawyers were not supporting legalization of marijuana. The measure was defeated at the polls.

Janofsky also headed the State Bar in the Watergate era--and had the task of disclosing the group's investigation of California lawyers involved in the scandal, including, eventually, President Richard Nixon. Even though bar disciplinary measures were customarily kept confidential until reaching court, Janofsky said Aug. 1, 1973: "On balance, we have concluded that more good than harm will come from making a public statement with respect to this matter at this time."

He said the image of lawyers had been "denigrated" by the Watergate episode, but pointed out that lawyers as prosecutors were also "in the forefront . . . insisting that the facts be brought before the public and the appropriate courts."

After serving as president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents in 1974-75, Janofsky was elected to the American Bar Assn. Board of Governors in 1977 and to the association's presidency for 1979-80. When he took office, the national group had about 250,000 members, roughly half the country's practicing lawyers. Janofsky was the first Californian to have been elected to head the ABA in 25 years.

Shortly before that time, U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger had tongue-lashed the nation's trial lawyers for widespread incompetence. So Janofsky made improving lawyer competence a cornerstone of his administration.

Long after relinquishing his various titles, Janofsky continued to speak out for affordable justice. In 1995, he contributed an article to The Times' opinion section advocating federal funding for legal aid to low-income people.

Janofsky was known for his energy and enthusiasm. When he began practicing law in Los Angeles, he became fluent in Spanish so he could converse with a wider spectrum of clients.

When he served as a Navy aviator in World War II, he was assigned to teach Brazilian pilots navigation, so he became fluent in Portuguese. Later, he translated Brazilian labor law into English. The Brazilian government presented him its highest civilian award in 1989 for his work with the Brazilian Air Force.

Designated in the 1960s to study Soviet labor conditions, Janofsky learned Russian in UCLA night classes.

He vigorously pursued his hobbies of swimming, hiking and playing the trumpet.

Born in Los Angeles, Janofsky attended Occidental College, where he was student body president and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honorary society. He was elected to the college's board of trustees in 1963 and served as the board's chairman in 1968-69.

After earning a law degree from Harvard, Janofsky immersed himself in what was to become his specialty, labor law, as a regional attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Nancy; a daughter from a previous marriage, Irene Hartzell of Shoreline, Wash.; a stepdaughter, Claudette Shaw of Newport Beach; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Memorial services are pending. The family has asked that any donations in Janofsky's honor be sent to the American Heart Assn., or the LIFE Foundation, which aids autistic children, at P.O. Box 642145, Los Angeles, CA 90064.

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