SAN FRANCISCO Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd partner Sanford Svetcov, a fixture in the Bay Area appellate bar, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer Friday. He died at his home in Larkspur at age 72.
Svetcov pioneered the role of appellate chief at the Northern District of California U.S. attorney's office during the 1980s and argued nearly 400 appeals during his career, primarily at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He also organized the court's pro bono volunteers for more than 20 years.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sandy Svetcov, a long-time friend and supporter of the Ninth Circuit," the court's chief judge, Alex Kozinski, said in a written statement. "By serving as a pro bono attorney himself, he led by example, influencing many of his colleagues to also volunteer their time and services. He will be sorely missed."
Svetcov was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 16 months ago, but continued to practice while undergoing chemotherapy. "Appellate practice is great emotional therapy," he told The Recorder last year.
He was writing and editing briefs until just a few weeks ago, winning a ruling from the Ninth Circuit in December that reinstated a $1.8 billion securities suit against Verifone Holdings. That decision caused him to run into the office hallway and shout "Yipee!" at the top of his lungs, Svetcov said.
A native of Brooklyn, Svetcov graduated from UC-Berkeley School of Law in 1964 and was a Navy officer before joining the California attorney general's office, where he once defended prison officials against the San Quentin Six in a monthlong trial over their conditions of confinement. He also handled appeals stemming from the Patty Hearst case and the People's Temple shootings.
Svetcov joined the U.S. attorney's office in 1978 when it decided to formalize its appellate practice. As chief assistant he brought appeals, edited other lawyers' appellate briefs, ran moot courts and recommended overall legal strategy.
Rory Little, who worked for Svetcov and would succeed him in the role, said in an interview last year that his encyclopedic knowledge of law and love of kibitzing made Svetcov a natural mentor for younger attorneys. "You'd walk into his office saying, 'I've got a problem,' and walk out with three case citations," said Little, who's now a UC-Hastings law professor.
Svetcov left the office in 1989 to work at Landels, Ripley & Diamond and joined Milberg Weiss, which later split off into Robbins Geller.
He "argued every case with a street-fighter's passion and a twinkle in his eye," his family said in an emailed obituary. "Sandy would like to thank all his friends and family for their regular calls and visits over the last 14 months, and for putting up with 'the curmudgeon' over the last 72 years."
Survivors include Svetcov's wife of 42 years, Carol; a son, Eric, and his wife, Dagmara; a daughter, Danielle Svetcov, and her husband, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Waldinger; four grandchildren; and a sister, Naomi. His first wife, Anne, died in 1969 from lupus.
Services will be held Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Sha'arei Shalom, Mount Tamalpais Cemetery, 2500 Fifth Ave. in San Rafael.