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Andrew J. Weisz, 81; set tone of civility as presiding judge at Beverly Hills court

August 22, 2007|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Andrew J. Weisz, the judge who presided over Beverly Hills Municipal Court for more than 20 years and sought to create an atmosphere in which judges, attorneys and the accused were expected to treat one another with an uncommon civility, died Sunday of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades. He was 81.

The judge presided from 1965 until 1986 and saw his courthouse as a standout. It had a small-town flavor, he said, and high expectations.

"It's different here," Weisz told the Daily Journal in a 1980 article. ". . . We try to treat lawyers as professionals and gentlemen, something that's disappearing elsewhere."

The court was also different because of the geography it covered: affluent Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, which was then known as "hippie headquarters." The wealth of Beverly Hills residents, not to mention the high-profile names, had implications for the courts.

"Most people think of a criminal proceeding as a quick thing," Weisz said. "But what happens if you have a rich man who hires a big attorney for a barking-dog case? This just drags out. Even our shoplifting is different. Because of the names sometimes involved, we don't just grind it out."

Weisz handled many cases involving celebrities, including Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and Richard Dreyfuss. He also dealt with matters that reflected the turmoil of the times. In 1979, after a demonstration at the home of the sister of the shah of Iran, Weisz quashed a bid by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to subpoena unused television footage and newspaper photos from local media outlets.

The judge was also responsible for innovations at the court, said his son, attorney Barry Weisz, including a new calendaring system. He remained in Beverly Hills because he loved it.

"He would walk to and from the courthouse, actually reading," his son said. "Everybody knew him along the route, neighbors, storekeepers. It was a mile-plus each way, and my dad almost never drove. . . . He really enjoyed being a part of the city."

Weisz was born Nov. 25, 1925, in New York City. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army and served in the Philippines and Japan, his son said.

He left the Army in 1946 but remained in the reserves and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring in 1968.

At City College of New York, Weisz earned a bachelor's degree in social sciences in 1948. He later married his first wife, Estelle, with whom he had two children. The couple moved to Los Angeles, and Weisz studied law at USC, where he was on the law review, along with Arthur L. Alarcon, now a senior judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"I considered him to be the most articulate member of the law review on the most complex issues," Alarcon told The Times. "He had great communication skills and a very incisive mind."

After receiving his law degree in 1952, Weisz spent a year as a law clerk for California Supreme Court Justice Roger Traynor. For the following three years he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney, and in 1962 he entered private practice. By November 1964 Weisz had won election as a judge.

Weisz retired from the bench in 1987 but continued working as an arbitrator and mediator. He also joined a practice with his son.

"He was highly regarded as a judge of the Beverly Hills Municipal Court upon his retirement," Alarcon said. "I know he was very highly respected by the lawyers."

In addition to his son, Weisz is survived by his second wife, Judith Ubick; a daughter, Donna Jones, of Templeton, Calif., who is a former assistant city attorney for Los Angeles; and a brother, Alex Weisz, of Santa Cruz. Estelle Weisz died in 2001.

Memorial donations may be sent to Junior Blind of America, 5300 Angeles Vista Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90043.

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jocelyn.stewart@latimes.com

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