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James H. Hastings dies at 91; retired California appellate court justice

He ruled that the health and safety of society was paramount over the right of privacy in a case involving a woman who had contracted a disease from a man during consensual intercourse.

March 29, 2009|Jon Thurber

James H. Hastings, a retired justice of the state Court of Appeal, died Tuesday of cancer at his Rancho Palos Verdes home, according to his son, retired Justice J. Gary Hastings. He was 91 and was diagnosed with the disease in July.

His significant appellate court rulings included the 1984 case "Kathleen K. v. Robert B." in which he overturned a lower court ruling on a case involving an allegation of fraud, misrepresentation, negligence and battery brought by a woman who had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from a man during consensual intercourse.

A lower court had dismissed the case, saying the constitutional right of privacy protected the defendant from the action. But Hastings ruled that the health and safety of society was paramount over the constitutional right of privacy in this matter, and he ordered the suit be reinstated.

That same year in "Bartling v. Superior Court," Hastings ruled that competent, adult patients with serious illnesses deemed incurable but not diagnosed as terminal have the right, over the objection of hospitals or physicians, to have life-support apparatus discontinued, despite the fact that such an act would hasten death.

His son said the ruling was on his father's mind when he recently decided to end chemotherapy and radiation treatment and begin hospice care.

"He had a copy of it on his desk at home," his son said.

Born Nov. 17, 1917, in Los Angeles, Hastings graduated from USC, where he played water polo.

He served in the Navy on a destroyer in the North Atlantic during World War II and later taught navigation and seamanship at UCLA. After his discharge in 1945, he was active in the naval reserves for another 20 years before retiring with the rank of captain.

After the war, he earned his law degree, also at USC, and joined his father's law firm.

Hastings was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972 and elevated by Reagan to the Court of Appeal a year later. He retired in 1987 and formally left the bench in 1989. He later worked in the assigned-judges program, where retired jurists fill in for vacationing judges. He also was a private judge with the Alternative Resolutions Center.

In addition to his son Gary, who also served on the Court of Appeal, Hastings is survived by his wife, Margaret; sons Neil and Dean; and five grandchildren.

A celebration of Hastings' life will be held at a later date.

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jon.thurber@latimes.com

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