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Adrian Kragen, 97; UC Berkeley Law Professor, Author

March 28, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Adrian Kragen, a UC Berkeley law professor and vice chancellor who became nationally known as an expert on income tax law, has died. He was 97.

Kragen, who was also a Hollywood lawyer, died Friday in Walnut Creek, Calif., after several years of declining health, the university said. The cause of death was not reported.

The onetime high school dropout, along with his colleague John McNulty, wrote a textbook on tax law, "Cases and Materials on Federal Income Taxation," now in its fourth edition.

Kragen, who taught at UC Berkeley's law school, Boalt Hall, from 1952 until 1994 and was vice chancellor from 1960 to 1964, also argued tax cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, drafted legislation and wrote widely in legal journals.

"I've never been able to understand why other people didn't have as much fun as I did with tax law," he told California Monthly alumni magazine in 1998 when he received the Berkeley alumni association's Alumnus of the Year Award. "I've always found it very interesting."

His students may not have had quite as much fun, but conceded they learned from Kragen. Former California Gov. and U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, who graduated from Boalt Hall in 1962, told the alumni magazine he was "terrified, along with my fellow students, when I was in his income tax class."

"He challenged us to think critically and logically, and demanded that we be prepared," Wilson said in the 1998 interview. "Professor Kragen had a legendary reputation for nailing students."

Another former student, David Flinn, who went on to become a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge, told the magazine: "Income tax law is tough enough to begin with. But with Adrian you knew that he knew everything there was to know about taxation....

"In 1954, soon after he arrived [at Boalt Hall], the Internal Revenue Service drastically revised the federal tax code, and Adrian became one of the country's leading experts on the new code," Flinn said. "Listening to him talk about it was like listening to Einstein talk about the atom."

Born in San Francisco, the son of a furniture maker, Kragen left high school a semester short of graduation to work for a jewelry company. "Theoretically, it was a management position. They put me in charge of four brooms," he said, joking, years later to the California Monthly.

When a friend suggested they try college, after earning diplomas in a crash prep-school course, Kragen agreed and became the first in his family to enroll. He graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley in 1931 and earned his law degree from Boalt three years later, inspired by a tax course taught by future California Supreme Court Justice Roger John Traynor.

"He was tough," Kragen said in 1998. "But I knew right away that law was what I wanted to do. Roger Traynor really framed my life. I modeled my career on him."

After five years in private law practice in Oakland, Kragen served as a deputy attorney general under California Atty. Gen. Earl Warren, who would later become governor of California and chief justice of the United States.

From 1944 until 1952, Kragen practiced with the Los Angeles-based powerhouse law firm Loeb and Loeb, representing 11 Hollywood studios, including Universal and Paramount. He also served as lawyer to such stars as Cary Grant, William Holden, Deborah Kerr and Mickey Rooney.

But when Boalt Hall beckoned, Kragen responded immediately and returned to teach law -- for a fifth of his salary at Loeb and Loeb.

"My father left behind the power, the money and the glitter of Hollywood to do what he knew in his heart was the right thing, the thing he loved the most -- to teach," Kragen's son, Ken, personal manager for such entertainers as the Smothers Brothers and Lionel Richie, and a 1986 UC Berkeley Alumnus of the Year, told the alumni magazine when his father received the award.

Kragen's wife of 54 years, Billie, died in 1987. In addition to his son, Kragen is survived by a daughter, Robin Merritt; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A public memorial service is to be held.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Adrian Kragen 1998 Alumnus of the Year Achievement Award Scholarship at the California Alumni Assn., 1 Alumni House, Berkeley, CA 94720.

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