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Amy White Fixler, 80; Attorney Worked for Women's and Children's Rights

October 12, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Amy White Fixler, a pioneering attorney who worked for early legislation to improve collection of child support payments, has died. She was 80.

Fixler died Wednesday in Encino of unspecified causes, her family announced.

Motivated by her experience as a divorce lawyer helping women collect delinquent child support, Fixler wrote the 1974 state law that first authorized deduction of court-ordered payments from a father's paycheck.

Fixler drafted the legislation after working with the Assn. for Children Deprived of Support and other women's groups, which hoped to win federal legislation requiring the withholding of child-support payments much like income taxes or Social Security contributions.

She first proposed the California law as a resolution by the state's Court Reform Blue Ribbon Committee, which caught the attention of Gov. Ronald Reagan's legal affairs secretary, Herbert E. Ellingwood. The bill was carried by Assemblyman Alister McAlister (D-San Jose) and signed into law in 1974.

One of Fixler's arguments that helped sway the Legislature was that failing to enforce court-ordered child support not only caused harm to children, but also to taxpayers who had to support the youngsters through Aid to Families With Dependent Children and other welfare programs.

Real reform would happen, Fixler repeatedly urged in speeches to women's groups, when more women won election to state and federal legislatures and to the courts. In the early 1970s, she pointed out, the California Assembly had only three female members, the state Senate none, and no woman sat on a divorce court bench.

A Republican, she ran unsuccessfully for an Assembly seat in 1974 and a congressional seat in 1976.

The economic security of divorced women and their children was worsened, Fixler said, by passage of California's Family Law Act of 1970, the so-called "no-fault divorce" law. She said that the act necessitated a spate of reform legislation in child-support laws, and worked for the divorce law's repeal.

"Many legal minds, mostly male, think I am a radical," Fixler told The Times in 1972. "But this law is breaking down the basic concept of the American family."

Fixler was born in Monticello, Ark., on Jan. 26, 1925. She was a part of the Army Air Forces in World War II. She graduated from Loyola University Law School in Chicago in 1954 and soon moved to Encino with her late businessman husband, Philip, and young son, Philip Jr. She practiced law from 1956 until her retirement in 1995.

Among her divorce clients was Ella Mae Cooley, wife of western band leader Donnell C. "Spade" Cooley. Before Fixler could initiate divorce action, her client was murdered in 1961. Fixler instead testified about the planned divorce at Cooley's murder trial, and became the attorney for Elizabeth Kidwell, Ella Mae Cooley's sister and executor. Cooley was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In addition to divorce cases, Fixler handled suits for homeowners associations protesting such problems as airport noise, union contracts that increased grocery and clothing prices, and the location of a low-income family center.

Fixler was also active in her own community. She served as president of the Encino Business and Professional Women's Club, director of the San Fernando Valley Soroptimists, and was an active speaker for women's and children's rights groups.

Preceded in death by her husband and her son Philip Jr., Fixler is survived by another son, Mage, and a brother, Virgil Dansby White of Philadelphia.

The family has asked that memorial contributions be sent to the Encino Women's Club Trust Fund, 4924 Paso Robles Ave., Encino, CA 91316.

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