Judge Armand Arabian

Retired Supreme Court Justice Arabian Dies


TARZANA, Calif. (Metropolitan News-Enterprise) – Armand Arabian, who served on the California Supreme Court from 1990-96, and before that on the Los Angeles Municipal Court, the Los Angeles Superior Court, and the Court of Appeal, has died.

He was 83. Arabian died Wednesday, March 28, after suffering from ill health following the death of his wife, Nancy Arabian, two years ago.

They had been wed for 54 years.

Although Arabian penned 99 majority opinions for the high court, he is best known for a ruling in 1973 as a Superior Court judge. Arabian declined to give the mandatory instruction that the testimony of an alleged rape victim was to be viewed with caution.

High Court Affirmance

The defendant was convicted and appealed on the basis of that refusal. Affirming, the California Supreme Court said, in a 1975 opinion by Chief Justice Donald Wright (since deceased) in People v. Rincon-Pineda:

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“The trial judge was of the opinion that a once unimpeachable rule of law could not appropriately be applied to circumstances such as those present herein. Because he considered it to be demeaning of the victim in the instant case, the judge refused to deliver to the jury a cautionary instruction which originated in the 17th century and which reflects adversely on the credibility of the complaining witness in a prosecution for sexual assault. The judge’s failure to so instruct the jury is the sole objection before us on this appeal. We have previously held the instruction in issue to be mandatory, and the omission of the instruction was accordingly erroneous. However, upon reviewing the evidence before the jury we conclude that the error was not prejudicial. Moreover, we are of the opinion that as presently worded the instruction is inappropriate regardless of the particular evidence which might be adduced at trial.”

Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian, now of counsel to Sheppard Mullin, said Arabian’s decision not to give the “centuries old so-called cautionary instruction in a rape case was a massive advance for the rights of rape victims,” adding:

“He continued to fight and win for rape victims’ rights through his judicial opinions on the Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court and his scholarly and impassioned articles in many publications.”

Philibosian termed Arabian “a bold and courageous judge.”

Friend, Mentor

He reflected:

“I am shocked and greatly saddened at Armand’s passing. Shocked because he was such a vital and vigorous person and saddened because he was such a loyal friend and mentor to me. His persona was ‘larger than life.’

“Armand was a brilliant legal mind wrapped in a high moral character. His devotion to his family, his friends, his community and the law is legend.

“When former Governor George Deukmejian first ran for the State Assembly, Armand was one of his earliest and most ardent supporters. That friendship of those two men who would become Governor and Supreme Court Justice has benefited generations of Californians.

“On a more closely personal note, we were neighbors in Tarzana. When Armand was a Superior Court Judge and I was a deputy district attorney in the Van Nuys Courthouse, we would sometimes carpool and converse on myriads of topics. When we were not commuting together I would sometimes see Armand in his white Corvette speeding along ahead of me.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to his children, Allison and Robert, and our boundless thanks to them and their dear departed mother, Nancy, for sharing Armand with all of us.”

Chief Justice’s Tribute

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said yesterday, March 29:

“Associate Justice Armand Arabian made a significant contribution to the courts, having served on the bench at every level during his judicial career spanning more than four decades. During his time on the Supreme Court of California, he authored a substantial number of opinions. He was a vibrant and engaging person.”

Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four reflected:

“I’ll miss Armand Arabian. Affable, astute, and articulate.

“As an appellate judge he demonstrated a marked ability to cut through Gordian knots of seemingly conflicting precedent and reach a reasoned and reasonable solution. (See People v. Guiton (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1116 as an example, which he authored while a member of the California Supreme Court.)

“And I have never forgotten the particularly impressive address he delivered about the Armenian genocide and the hardships his family endured during that early 20th century period. He made his own way, and it was a good way.”

Justice Gilbert’s Homage

Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Arthur Gilbert of this district’s Div. Six offered these words:

“Armand Arabian was sui generis. I knew him going back to the 1960s when he was a scrappy, fearless criminal defense attorney, vigorously defending his clients. He had no compunctions telling DAs and judges when he thought they were wrong on the law, or anything else.

“We both belonged to the San Fernando Bar Association and used to trade war stories over a drink at bar meetings. We were even co-counsel on a case. During the trial Armand took over the courtroom. I did, however, manage to ask some questions.

“I was under the impression Armand was an uncompromising liberal. I was set straight when he became a judge. He was a tough on sentencing, but gave all sides a fair trial. In that sense, ‘uncompromising’ fairness is a ‘fair’ appraisal.”

Gilbert continued:

“Armand and I shared impressions, and stories as colleagues on the Court of Appeal, although on several occasions we interpreted the law through different lenses. He made a lasting impression as a trial court judge, and as an appellate and Supreme Court Justice. He challenged us to think carefully about our positions on the law and the implication of our decisions.

“Armand, may your rest in peace. You made a difference.”

Braun Comments

Attorney Brent Braun, a longtime friend of Arabian, hailed the jurist as “a giant in the legal world,” noting:

“He once wrote a footnote to a parental rights child custody case which later was adopted for codification in our California statutes.”

Braun added:

“Armand was consistently driven by doing the right thing no matter how unpopular a position might be, that is a manifestation of true and honorable character.

“Armand will be missed for his legal excellence, wit, blunt and straightforward demeanor, remaining respectful and of course a great sense of humor.”

Retired U.S. District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian said:

“I lost a good friend and mentor. The legal profession lost a leader and trailblazer.”

Alpert’s Reflections

Lee Kanon Alpert, an attorney, mediator and civic leader, remarked:

“He truly was the man’s man in the activities he partook in, from jumping out of planes, for the hell of it with the Israeli paratroopers, to his strong and unfiltered approach in public statements as to what he did and did not believe in. Armand loved all people and loved them strongly. He was a man of great courage in his belief’s which included his love of America, Armenia, his actions taken by showing his courage and creating new laws to protect women and their rights, by refusing to go along with the antiquated, denigrating and biased laws and jury instructions of the past involving the rape of women. He was a true advocate for all. One of Armand’s greatest attributes, was his truly letting you know what he believed in and where he stood in policy, politic, people, etc. He also let you know in no uncertain terms where you stood with him!

“What many people don’t know was his activities in the community before, during and after he left the bench of the Supreme Court. He participated actively in many, many organizations from charities to business organizations and worked for those organizations as well. He didn’t just let his name be used. As a result, the Encino Chamber of Commerce named a now prestigious community award the Armand Arabian Achievement Award which I was proud to be a recipient of in the past. The annual luncheon has grown to overflow capacity, numerous awards are given each year to deserving community individuals and businesses as well as scholarships to those young people in need and whom have earned it. The event is now sold out annually. That was Armand.”

Antonovich’s Recollections

Another recipient of that award was then-Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, now retired, who said:

“Armand was a good friend and dedicated his life to public service.

“He was very proud that he was a paratrooper in the United States Army.

“His commitment to upholding the law began as a Deputy District Attorney and continued with appointments to the Municipal and Superior Courts, Court of Appeal and California  Supreme Court.”

New York Native

Arabian was born in New York City to parents who emigrated from Armenia. He was the eldest of five children.

He received his law degree Boston University Law School in 1961 and upon passing the California bar exam the following year, moved here and became a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney—one of only 50 at the time.

After a year, Arabian went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney. He was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1972 by Gov. Ronald Reagan, and elevated by Reagan to the Superior Court a year later.

He was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1983 by Gov. George Deukmejian. It was his second appointment to that court.

In 1979, when Gov. Jerry Brown was out of state, then-Lieutenant Gov. Mike Curb appointed him—an appointment which Brown rescinded upon his return. The California Supreme Court upheld Brown’s power to do so.

Deukmejian appointed him to the California Supreme Court in 1990.

Arabian is survived by his daughter Allison Arabian, an Orange County attorney, and son Robert Armand Arabian, a police commander and attorney, and by four grandchildren, two sisters and a brother.

Services were held in private.

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