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Richard Amerian, 63; Left Court of Appeal to Become Private Judge

November 09, 2001|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Amerian, a former associate justice on the California Court of Appeal who retired in 1984 and became one of the state's first private judges, has died. He was 63.

Amerian, a Toluca Lake resident actively involved in Southern California's Armenian community, died in his sleep Sunday while vacationing with his family in Las Vegas.

Amerian, who retired from the Court of Appeal to enter the growing field of mediation and arbitration, specialized in insurance, real estate, business and construction.

"In private judging, people come to you because they want to: They selected you. And, because they are paying for the proceedings, they are motivated to settle the dispute," he said last year in Verdicts & Settlements, a publication of the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Soft-spoken and reserved, Amerian was known for his quiet manner and patience on the bench and his warm personality off the bench.

"I've always been, I think, a kind of public service-oriented person, in school and in other community activities," Amerian told the Daily Journal in 1983. "I looked on the opportunity to be a judge as a form of public service."

Born in Los Angeles in 1937, Amerian won a scholarship to USC, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1959. He earned his law degree in 1962 at the USC School of Law, where he served as managing editor of the law review.

After two years with a small law firm in Redondo Beach that handled a variety of civil cases and occasional criminal defenses, he joined a larger firm in downtown Los Angeles.

When Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1970 at age 32, he was one of the youngest to be selected as a judge in the state.

Eight years later, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the Superior Court and, in 1982, named him to the Court of Appeal. Amerian also sat as a pro tem justice on the state Supreme Court in 1982.

Amerian's father, orphaned during the massacre of nearly 2 million Armenians by Turkish forces before and during World War II, arrived in the United States in the early 1920s. He operated a plating business in southeast Los Angeles for many years.

Richard Amerian served as a delegate to and a chairman of the assembly of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church and was a founder and president of the Armenian Professional Society.

"I think the preservation of our culture is important and the preservation of our ethnic identity is important too," he told the Daily Journal, "and unless people who are young, vigorous, and in leadership roles assume that kind of responsibility, there's a real risk we will lose our identity through assimilation or otherwise.

"There are some Armenians who say, in that way, if there's assimilation, then the Turks will be successful in wiping out the Armenian identity where they were unsuccessful in wiping it out through their efforts in the genocide."

Amerian is survived by his son, Michael of Toluca Lake; daughter, Melissa; sister, Frances Bozajian of Tarzana; and brothers, Roger of Malibu and Jim of Encino.

A memorial will be held at 7:30 p.m. today at Forest Lawn, Glendale. A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter Armenian Church, 17231 Sherman Way, Van Nuys.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Justice Richard Amerian Scholarship Endowment, USC Law School, Room 100, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0071.

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