Obituaries » Kenneth Allen Black
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November 20, 1949 - May 11, 2016
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Kenneth A. Black, Judge of the Superior Court, Dies at 66
Judge Kenneth A. Black, often described as a “rock star” of Family Law, passed away on May 11, 2016 at the age of 66 after a brief, sudden illness. As was so eloquently said by Justice Lee Edmon at an LACBA awards ceremony on May 12, 2016, “We have just lost one of the brightest, smartest and hard working former judges our Court ever had, Judge Kenneth A. Black, a man who was a mentor to me and all the Family Law judges when he was on the Bench. It was a comfort to know he was down the hall, there if there was a question to be answered, an issue to discuss or a concept to talk about. We will greatly miss him.”
Judge Black was well known for his “Blackisms”, expressions which so well described the reality of the complex area of Family Law that he chose for his career. Sayings such as “Mother Teresa does not usually marry Adolf Hitler,” “people in criminal court are bad people on their best behavior, while people in family court are good people at their worst,” and after his retirement “have gavel, will travel.”
Born to Mark and Esther Black in 1949, his fondest memories of growing up in Brooklyn included playing stickball and attending Erasmus High School. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at the State University of New York at New Paltz after 3.5 years in 1971. He later graduated from the UCLA, School of Law, in 1974.
Judge Black served for two years as the first permanent clerk for the Supervising Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, Juvenile Division: Judge Richard A Gadbois. He had a lifelong friendship with Gadbois and fondly recalled, “When I met Richard on December 21, 1974, he asked me, ‘Where do you want to be 10 years from now?’ I told him that I wanted to have his job.” After receiving notification of his appointment to the Superior Court by Governor Deukmejian in 1987, his first telephone call was to his parents. His second was to Judge Gadbois. Judge Black fondly recounted the conversation that began with him simply saying: “Two years and two months late.” Judge Gadbois swore him in as a Superior Court Judge the next day. Judge Gadbois so influenced his life that Judge Black gave his son the middle name: Richard.
After leaving his clerk position in the Juvenile Division, Judge Black became a civil litigator with Montgomery, Bottum, Regal & McNally in 1976. He left the firm in 1979 and practiced Family Law as a sole practitioner until 1982. From 1979 until 1982, he concurrently served as an “as-needed” Juvenile Court Referee. Judge Black was interviewed and selected by a panel of Superior Court judges to become a Commissioner of the Los Angeles Superior Court, Family Law Department, in 1982. He continued to serve the public in that role until his judicial appointment.
After his appointment on February 27, 1987, by Governor Deukmejian, Judge Black served as a Family Court Judge, including his service as a very effective Supervising Judge of the Family Law Department for 3 years from 1991 until 1993. In 2008, he retired from the public Bench and started his incredibly successful private judging career.
During his time on the Superior Court, Judge Black received many awards and accolades. He was named the State Bar Family Law Section Judicial Officer of the Year in 1989. He received the Los Angeles County Bar Association Family Law Section’s Spencer Brandies Family Service Award in 1993. He was honored with the Harriet Buhai Community Service Award in June, 2002 and served as a member of the Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law’s Advisory Council.
Judge Black was a much sought after speaker and participated in many continuing education programs for organizations such as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers whose Southern California Chapter named him Judicial Officer of the Year in 1995. He presented numerous Continuing Education of the Bar programs and participated in many Los Angeles County Superior Court Annual Family Law Symposiums and Child Custody Colloquiums. He participated in a bevy of panel discussions and CLE presentations for the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and the Family Law Section of the Beverly Hills Bar Association. He was a longtime contributing author of the Rutter Group’s California Practice Guide to Family Law and a presenter of many CLE programs for it.
Judge Black was known for his photographic memory, his knowledge of case law, and his thorough preparation for hearings. He was also known to read every piece of paper submitted to him. His motto was “be prepared,” and he always was. He said that he found Family law “so interesting because the legal issues cross over into many other areas of law: probate, estate planning, taxation, evidence and real property.” He actively promoted case settlement and was willing to stay on well after the close of court hours in order to facilitate an agreement. Although he expected attorneys to be well prepared and argue at the top of their game, he allowed those representing themselves the extra time necessary to present their case. Many attorneys said of Judge Black: “If you represent the good guy, you want this judge. If your case has complex issues and you are on the right side of the facts, you want this judge.” Sorrell Trope commented, “Ken Black was undoubtedly the smartest, most knowledgeable Superior Court Judge during the entire time of his service on the bench. In any given case before him, whether you won or lost, you knew that a great deal of thought and knowledge went into the decision and the result was the correct one. A memory like no other, he could remind those appearing before him of the names of past witnesses from cases which were before him 10-20 years previously. Ken was a great person who we will all miss.”
As noted by Justice Edmon, Judge Black was also respected by his colleagues. Judge Thomas Trent Lewis of the Los Angeles Superior Court commented: “Passionate. Driven. Purposeful. Dedicated. Judge Black devoted his legal career with an eye toward a perfect understanding of the law. Possessed of a photographic memory he was sometimes viewed as indomitable, but his center always searched to do the right thing. Judge Black mentored many through his teaching, dedication to the judiciary, and his unstinting willingness to always be “all in.” Whatever the endeavor, Ken put all of his intellect, emotion, and relentless drive into it. Encourager. Courageous. Resilient. These are the characteristics the public saw. Along with this big personality, there was a compassionate, caring, dedicated friend. I miss him beyond words. I am comforted by the thought that we have walked near the footsteps where a great blaze of intellect, care, and hope has burned. And though he is not with us, the light of his life still glows in our hearts. His legacy will outlive all of us.”
After serving more than 20 years on the bench, and climbing to number 16 on the Superior Court’s seniority list of 431 judges, Judge Black retired from the public Bench in 2008 to become a much in demand private judge. He conducted settlement conferences, mediations, discovery hearings and trials throughout the state. As a tribute to his success, reputation and devotion to his “job,” Judge Black seldom had an open space on his calendar. However, he would often extend his day and work well into the night in order to facilitate settlement, as he had when he was on the public Bench.
He loved spending time with his children, 50’s music, and basketball. Judge Black is survived by his children, Catherine A. Black and Jordan R. Black, their mother and his former spouse Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D., as well his present spouse Cynthia S. Black, and a huge community of judges and lawyers who have admired and respected him for decades. His presence will be greatly missed by all.
Services for Judge Black will be held at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary (6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, CA) on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 1:00 p.m., and at the Los Angeles Superior Court, Department 2 (111 N. Hill St., Los Angeles, CA) on Thursday June 2, 2016 at 4:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Judge Black’s name to the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law (3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 710, Los Angeles, CA 90010)