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Obituaries

Judge Ronald Cappai; Issued Key Ruling in Sex-Discrimination Suit

July 20, 2001|ELAINE WOO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Cappai, whose 17 years on the bench included a controversial sex-discrimination case in the 1990s, died Tuesday at the age of 60.

A court spokesman said Cappai's family declined to disclose the location or cause of his death. The jurist had been on leave since March 2.

Cappai was appointed to the Superior Court in 1984 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian after 12 years as a civil litigator. He was initially assigned to the criminal division of the court and later concentrated on civil lawsuits.

Among his most notable cases was a 1991 lawsuit against Texaco in which the jury awarded nearly $7 million to a 48-year-old woman who said she was passed over for promotions twice because of her gender. It was at the time the largest amount ever awarded to an individual in a sex-discrimination case.

The decision also set a precedent in awarding a significant amount to a person in middle management, a group that had not previously been represented in sex-discrimination complaints.

The day after the jury decision, Cappai said in court that the award was grossly disproportionate and asked each of the 12 jurors whether they included any punitive damages in the $6.8-million award. After acknowledging that they had erroneously done so, they reduced the award to $2.6 million. That amount was later doubled because of fraudulent inducement when it was established that Texaco had promised a promotion when it persuaded the woman to transfer from Houston to Los Angeles.

But in the punitive phase of the trial, the jury added $15 million, bringing the total award to more than $20 million. Cappai ordered Texaco to promote the woman.

In 1992, however, Cappai ordered a new trial, which essentially tossed out the landmark award. He also rescinded the order for a promotion.

The woman, Janella Sue Martin, eventually settled with Texaco for a reported $2 million.

Cappai was born in San Francisco and earned a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Santa Clara in 1963. His 1966 law degree was from the University of California's Hastings College of Law.

After a brief stint with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, he became a civil litigator, working first with prominent personal-injury lawyer William Camusi and then with the downtown firm of Parker, Milliken, Clark, O'Hara & Samuelian.

He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Jane; a son, Craig; two daughters, Angela Loewel and Carrie Bauccio; four grandchildren; his mother, Rose; and a sister, Carolyn.

A funeral Mass will be recited at 4 p.m. today at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1501 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena.

Donations may be made to Santa Clara University Alumni Family Scholarship Fund, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053-0335.

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