OBITUARIES    Oct. 20, 2009
Leading Critic of Supreme Court Dies

By Laura Ernde

Daily Journal Staff Writer

Stephen R. Barnett, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley School of Law and a voice for transparency in the state's legal system, died Tuesday from complications of a cardiac arrest on Oct. 2. He was 73.

An expert on the California Supreme Court, Barnett was also the court's harshest critic at times. He spoke out against the court's policy of allowing most Court of Appeal opinions to be unpublished and, therefore, not citable as precedent. He also disapproved of the court's high rate of unanimous opinions.

"In his scholarship, Steve was a devastating critic of the practices of the California Supreme Court and the California State Bar Association," said Berkeley Law professor Melvin Eisenberg. "He did a lot of acute, penetrating research that no one else has done regarding judicial transparency and legitimacy."

Barnett always backed up his opinions with research, said veteran court-watcher Gerald Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.

"Steve was a very good scholar," Uelmen said. "His criticism was taken quite seriously because people knew he wasn't just talking through his hat."

Barnett brought litigation in 1999 to force the Commission on Judicial Performance to disclose the way its individual members vote and in 2001 to allow State Bar board-of-governors candidates to make policy statements on the election ballot.

Berkeley Law Associate Dean and professor Stephen Sugarman called Barnett "probably California's leading analyst and critic of the way the California Supreme Court goes about its business."

Barnett was an expert in intellectual property law, the news media and First Amendment issues who joined the Berkeley law faculty in 1967 after clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. and working as an associate with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York and Washington, D.C.

He served in the U.S. Justice Department from 1977 to 1979 as a deputy solicitor general, briefing and arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He returned to UC Berkeley in 1990, where he was bestowed with the Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt Chair in 1990. He retired in 2003.

Born Dec. 25, 1935 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in West Hartford, Conn., Barnett graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1957. He was note editor of the Harvard Law Review and earned his law degree in 1962.

He leaves behind his wife of eight years Karine Barnett; their son, Alexander, 5; and his stepson Levon, 23. He is also survived by his sister, Linda Beizer, of Avon, Conn., and three nephews.

The family is planning private services. Memorial donations may be made to the Parkinson Association of Northern California.

laura_ernde@dailyjournal.com

 

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