For Richard Neidorf, court is finally adjourned ‘ permanently.
Courthouse workers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, friends and family are expected to gather for a party in the Santa Monica jury room Friday, May 11th, to say good-bye to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Neidorf, as he begins his retirement after more than 25 years of hearing and trying cases in Santa Monica.
‘After 38 years (of working in law enforcement), retirement is a little scary,’ the 61-year-old judge, who heard his last civil case this week, joked before the festivities. ‘I’m finally going to have to learn how to relax.’
In an interview prior to the retirement party, Neidorf reminisced about being enthralled by two family friends who were attorneys that he met as a young man growing up in Covina.
‘They spoke in paragraphs, and were leaders of men, in stature and in the community,’ Neidorf began, still impressed by the memories. ‘I remember thinking that I didn’t fit the mold to be an attorney, because they were so tall,’ the judge, who is five-foot-four, said.
Neidorf, unlike some judges, has admirers from many arenas of the criminal justice system. Dan Bratt, a retired Los Angeles County Probation officer, talked about how he and Neidorf would tease each other sometimes during the 20-plus years that they worked together at the Santa Monica Courthouse, where Neidorf was a deputy district attorney before he became a judge. He recalled the day that the judge was appointed to the bench.
‘I walked into his office to congratulate him,’ Bratt remembered. ‘I said, ‘Richie, I don’t think that they make judges’ robes that short!”
‘He’s a fabulous guy,’ added Judge Gerald Rosenberg, a very close friend of Neidorf’s. ‘He’s such a kind and caring person who reaches out to everyone, and I’m truly going to miss him.’
Another Santa Monica jurist, Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz told The Argonaut, ‘We’re all very saddened that Judge Neidorf has decided to retire. He’s a very special person.’
Neidorf began his career in law enforcement as a narcotics officer in the late 1960s with the U.S. Department of Justice. Working the sometimes mean streets of Los Angeles taught the young agent that life is not always cast in shades of black and white.
‘On the streets, you see real life, real people and you deal with complex situations,’ the judge said. ‘You meet people from all different walks of life, including the parents and relatives of the people that you arrest.’
Neidorf was involved in a case where he and his partner were supposed to make an $8,000 undercover drug buy ‘ which was a large buy-bust operation in the late 1960s ‘ from a dealer who had other ideas. ‘It turned out to be a robbery,’ said Neidorf. The botched narcotics-buy turned into a shootout with the would-be robbers, but fortunately no one was hurt.
During his time as a narcotics agent ‘ a period that the judge described as ‘kicking down doors and chasing people through the streets’ ‘ he made several appearances in court, where he had the opportunity to witness prosecutors and defense attorneys at work.
‘That’s when I began to realize that I could do what they were doing,’ said Neidorf. ‘So many people underestimate their talents, and after watching many of the lawyers, whom I didn’t think were that effective, I decided to go to law school.’
Upon graduation from California State University at Los Angeles with a B.S. in political science in 1967, Neidorf enrolled at Southwestern University School of Law two years later. He was admitted to the bar in 1972.
‘Richard Neidorf has always conducted himself with a level of professionalism and enormous dedication to his job,’ said Daniel Brookman, a noted long-time Santa Monica criminal defense attorney who has known the judge since they were in law school together nearly 40 years ago.
‘Throughout the years that I have known him, he has always been very reasonable, and always tries to see the bigger picture.’
As a deputy district attorney, and later as a judge, Neidorf discovered that he was able to apply much of what he learned about people as a narcotics detective to his new job. ‘There are people who are redeemable,’ the Santa Monica jurist said.
Brookman, who tried cases against Neidorf as a deputy district attorney and before him as a judge, praised his long-time friend for his pragmatism and his fairness.
‘He always called them like he saw them,’ the attorney noted.
One case that the Santa Monica jurist says he remembers well occurred in the early 1980s. A man killed two jewelers in an armed robbery in Santa Monica, and the district attorney’s office asked for the death penalty. Neidorf won the case, becoming the first prosecutor in Santa Monica to win a capital punishment verdict in decades.
‘At the time, no one thought that a Santa Monica jury would ever come back with a death penalty verdict,’ Neidorf recalled. ‘I could tell that the jury was afraid of (the defendant).
‘I was shaken by the verdict,’ the judge continued. ‘I found it very distastefulÖ it was very emotionally draining.’
That was the first, and last, capital punishment trial that he ever tried.
Appointed to the bench by former Governor George Deukmejian in 1987, Neidorf presided over cases in criminal court for nine years in Santa Monica, and spent another seven in civil and family court.
The judge had many kind words for those who are scheduled to attend his party on Friday, like his good friends Brookman and Bratt, whom he called ‘an excellent probation officer,’ and his court assistant Judy Cintron.
And now, after nearly four decades spent in the courts, Neidorf is saying so long.
‘I always loved my job,’ said the judge, who plans to go back to night school to learn woodworking skills. ‘This week I’ve been reminiscing about the cases that I’ve heard and tried, all of the people I’ve metÖ it’s been a great job.’
‘(Neidorf) has a depth of understanding of the human condition that is incredible,’ said Brookman, the defense attorney. ‘The bench, and the larger community, is losing a valuable asset.’