First Amendment prof, Stephen Barnett, dies at 73
The Associated Press
Posted: 10/16/2009 03:29:21 PM PDT
Updated: 10/16/2009 04:33:20 PM PDT

BERKELEY, Calif.—Stephen Barnett, a First Amendment professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and prominent critic of the state court system, has died. He was 73.

The school said Barnett died Tuesday after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Colleagues said Barnett, who retired in 2003, was a tireless advocate of free speech rights and had spent his last years as a vocal critic of the speed with which the California Supreme Court handed down its decisions.

"In his scholarship, Steve was a devastating critic of the practices of the California Supreme Court and the California State Bar Association," Berkeley Law professor Melvin Eisenberg said. "He did a lot of acute, penetrating research that no one else has done regarding judicial transparency and legitimacy."

Retirement did not slow down Barnett, who continued working as a board member of the First Amendment Coalition, a free speech legal organization.

"He just lived and breathed the law of freedom of speech and freedom of the press," Peter Scheer, the coalition's executive director, said. "He didn't have much patience for people too quick to compromise on questions of First Amendment rights. He believed in pressing as hard as you could."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Barnett graduated from Harvard Law School in 1962 and clerked for a year for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. before moving to California to teach at Berkeley.

He left the school for two years in the 1970s to serve in the U.S. Justice Department as a deputy solicitor general, where he argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Later in his career, Barnett fought for the rights of attorneys to cite unpublished lower court opinions that could help exonerate their clients, a practice currently forbidden by the state's high court.

"Steve questioned, 'How can a criminal defendant be prevented from bringing to a court's attention exonerating appellate decisions?'" his colleague Mike Schmier said.