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Obituaries

Laughlin E. Waters, 87; U.S. District Judge and Politician

June 06, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laughlin E. Waters, U.S. District Court senior judge based in Los Angeles and a Republican stalwart who served as an assemblyman and once ran briefly for governor, has died. He was 87.

Waters died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of natural causes, court officials said Tuesday.

Known for issuing tough sentences in violent and drug-related crimes, Waters more regularly decided civil trademark infringement cases or entertainers' contract disputes. In the last few years, he presided over cases to revamp special education in Los Angeles schools, and enable Venice Beach boardwalk performers and vendors to continue peddling their wares. He forbade limiting the number of flights at Los Angeles International Airport to curb noise.

Waters examined the courtroom from a plaintiff's point of view in 1994, when he and his wife, Voula, sued their insurance company after a fire at their Hancock Park home. He told The Times afterward that every judge should have such an educational experience, and that, although he won his case, the trial made him doubt particularly whether cross-examination brings out the truth.

"I perhaps will give more thought," he said, "about whether I should exercise greater latitude in allowing someone to explain himself when I'm back on the bench."

Waters was named to the Central District federal bench in 1976 by President Ford and served for 10 years before taking senior status, which halves a judge's caseload.

Before he moved into semiretirement, the courtly Waters offered an opportunity to the 1,981 attorneys who had appeared before him to tell him what they thought of his performance. Almost 650 returned the questionnaire, which was to be answered anonymously.

"One guy referred to me as a crusty old judge, and that's probably not too inaccurate," Waters told The Times. "The responses overall were extremely encouraging. I got passing grades in every area by a substantial margin."

The questionnaire was part of an experimental project among federal trial judges in the jurisdiction of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Waters said he felt obligated to be the first federal judge in Los Angeles to take part because he was chairman of the circuit's lawyer and judge evaluation program. He said the survey results included comments indicating that he was sometimes too impatient and that his criminal sentences were too severe.

Waters' federal judicial appointment by the Republican Ford capped a long dual career in law and politics characteristic of his family. After serving briefly as a deputy state attorney general, Waters was elected to the Assembly in 1946 from the same Wilshire-area district previously represented by his father and brother Frank. His sister, Mary, was a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge.

When Waters left the Legislature in 1953, he was named by Republican President Eisenhower as U.S. attorney for what was then California's Southern [now Central] District, based in Los Angeles. He served until President Kennedy, a Democrat, took office in 1961.

Waters, former Republican state chairman as well as legislator, in 1965 became the earliest announced candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination to challenge Democrat Gov. Pat Brown. But four months later, the politically moderate Waters withdrew from the race in favor of former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher in the mistaken belief that Christopher could defeat conservative Ronald Reagan in the primary.

In the Nixon administration, Waters was named consultant to international conferences in London and Prague and was appointed a member of the White House Conference on Aging.

A native of Los Angeles, Waters was educated at UCLA and the USC School of Law. As an Army captain, he led a rifle company onto Utah Beach in Normandy on D-day, June 6, 1944. His efforts in France earned him the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with cluster.

Survivors include his wife, Voula, son Laughlin Jr. and four daughters, Maura, Deirdre, Megan and Eileen. Services are planned for Monday at St. Brendan's Church in Los Angeles.

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