Stephen Barnett, a retired UC Berkeley law professor and a prominent analyst
and critic of the California Supreme Court, died October 13 of complications
following cardiac arrest, the university said. He was 73.
Professor Barnett, an honors graduate of Harvard University and its law
school, was a Berkeley faculty member from 1967 until his retirement in 2003,
except for his service in the Justice Department from 1977 to 1979, where he
argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
He specialized in media and antitrust law, and was a frequent commentator on
the Newspaper Preservation Act, the 1970 federal law that allowed papers in the
same market to cut costs by merging some of their operations.
Professor Barnett argued that the law, intended to maintain competition and
editorial diversity, was prone to abuse and often resulted in the death of the
weaker newspaper when the joint agreement ended. He also co-authored a 1988 book
on the law of international telecommunications.
He was a leader in "shaping public policy concerning the industrial
structure and public regulation of both print and visual media," said
Richard Buxbaum, a fellow Berkeley law professor.
Professor Barnett was best known for his astringent commentary on the state
Supreme Court. His writings in recent years described it as a "bureaucourt,"
whose justices overly rely on staff attorneys to crank out opinions that are too
long and unfocused.
A political moderate, he became a vehement critic of liberal Chief Justice
Rose Bird, who was voted out of office in 1986 along with Justices Cruz Reynoso
and Joseph Grodin after a campaign that focused on their votes to overturn death
sentences. Professor Barnett said he objected to Bird not because of her
ideology, but because, in his view, she let her personal and political opinions
influence her judicial decisions.
He wrote in 1992 that the court under Bird's conservative successor, Chief
Justice Malcolm Lucas, had brought "a needed balance to California law
after almost 50 years of liberal hegemony." But when Lucas retired in 1996,
Professor Barnett said the court had not been able to meet the legal challenges
He filed a lawsuit in 1999 that succeeded in requiring the state Commission
on Judicial Performance to disclose how its members voted in disciplinary cases.
"In his scholarship, Steve was a devastating critic of the practices of
the California Supreme Court and the California State Bar," said another UC
Berkeley colleague, Melvin Eisenberg. "He did a lot of acute, penetrating
research that no one else has done regarding judicial transparency and
Professor Barnett is survived by his wife, Karine; their son, Alexander; his
stepson, Levon; and a sister, Linda Beizer of Avon, Conn.
The family is planning a private service and suggests donations in Professor
Barnett's memory to the Parkinson Association of Northern California, 900 Fulton
Ave., Suite 100-5, Sacramento, CA 95825-4516.