Retired Tulare Superior Court Judge Kenneth Conn, who was beloved in the legal community for his civility, fairness and integrity, has died. He was 82.
Mr. Conn died Sunday at home in Visalia after a yearlong struggle with cancer, his family said.
He was appointed to the Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in January 1978 and served until December 1998.
Tulare Superior Court Presiding Judge Gary Paden said the mood in the courthouse among the staff and judges who worked with Mr. Conn was “pretty somber.”
“He was one of our very best judges,” Paden said. “When you walked into his courtroom, you knew you were going to get a fair shot.”
Mr. Conn was a leader in the early resolutions of civil disputes and wrote a book about settlement conferences, Paden said.
“He took great pride in his ability to resolve civil matters,” Paden said.
Mr. Conn was his mentor, Paden said.
He was one of our very best judges.
Gary Paden, Tulare Superior Court judge
He said Mr. Conn gave him a photograph with a saying on it: “A ship is always safe in a harbor, but that’s not what a ship is designed to do.” On the back he wrote, “Don’t be afraid to make the tough call. That’s your job.”
Retired Visalia attorney Joe Altschule said when he was a young lawyer in the public defender’s office, Mr. Conn, a lawyer representing a co-defendant, visited to discuss a motion he was about to file.
“He was very civil,” Altschule said. “I had an immediate liking for him.”
Mr. Conn’s “unquestioned civility and integrity” also earned him respect in the community at large, he said.
“Words cannot express the very high regard that the entire legal community had for Ken,” Altschule said. “I appeared in many trials in Ken’s courtroom and he was always fair, prepared and understanding.”
Mr. Conn was an accomplished artist who had a well-attended one-man art show last year, said his daughter, Jennifer Shirk – also a Superior Court judge in Tulare County.
Mr. Conn was raised by a single mother who moved to Tulare in his junior year in high school, Shirk said.
“He said that was the best thing that ever happened to him,” she said.
When he expressed interest in quitting school to join the military during the Korean War, his counselor advised him to join ROTC, which got him to Stanford and the U.S. Navy, where he was a naval aviator.
A high school friend talked him into going to law school and he was accepted at Boalt Hall, now known as the UC Berkeley School of Law. A summer internship in Visalia resulted in being hired by attorney Nat Bradley around 1961.
Last month, Mr. Conn received a plaque from the California Supreme Court, thanking him for 50 years in the service of justice.
Mr. Conn’s wife, Carmelita, said he was known for his wit. He left specific instructions for his funeral, she said, including “anyone who starts a family fight must pick up the bar tab.”
Born: Oct. 20, 1933
Died: Oct. 16, 2016
Occupation: Retired Tulare Superior Court judge
Survivors: Wife, Carmelita; daughters Jennifer Shirk and Melissa Smith, both of Visalia, Pam Flores of McKinleyville and Marjie Roldan of Exeter; seven stepchilden; and several grandchildren.
Services: 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Visalia