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Justices, research attorneys and other staffers at Santa Ana’s Fourth District Court of Appeal were in shock Monday upon learning about the death of retired Justice Thomas Crosby Jr. Friends and co-workers said Crosby, a 19-year court veteran before retiring in 2001, had not been sick, and they had no idea what caused his death. The 63-year-old died at his home Friday night. “I think we’re all in a state of shock,” Presiding Justice David Sills said Monday. Justice William Bedsworth, who had known Crosby for 33 years, said tears were being shed all around the court and that some employees were so grief-stricken that they had gone home for the day. “And these weren’t people especially close to him,” Bedsworth said. “They were people who were just touched by him. He was something special.” Crosby was appointed to the appellate bench in 1982 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, after having served 13 months as a judge on the Orange County Superior Court. A 1965 graduate of Boalt Hall School of Law, he first worked as a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in San Francisco before quitting to spend two years with the Peace Corps in Peru. He also taught for a year at the University of Peru School of Law. Upon his return, Crosby worked briefly as a deputy district attorney in Orange County, then as a partner at two firms — Crosby & Luesebrink and Crosby, Garey & Bonner — before running his own private practice in Newport Beach from 1978-81. Presiding Justice Sills said Crosby so loved the law that he would even debate cases while playing golf. “There was one case we had opposite views on,” Sills said, “and I think we argued the whole 18 holes.” More than one person noted that Crosby was most proud of his 1994 ruling in Tobe v. City of Santa Ana, which struck down an anti-camping ordinance police used in sweeps against the homeless. To his dismay, however, the California Supreme Court reversed 6-1 the next year. “I tell everybody, and I mean it, he was the smartest lawyer I ever knew,” Justice Bedsworth said. “And his heart was bigger than his mind. This was a guy who was at his best, and I’d say his happiest, when he could see himself as the last line of defense for the poor and the underprivileged.” Sue Castillo, Crosby’s assistant for eight years, may have offered the best compliment of all when she said, through tears, “I was a better person for knowing him.” Survivors include Crosby’s wife, Patty, and two sons, Brett and Scott. Robert Wolfe, supervising attorney for the Fourth District’s Judicial Settlement Program, said there would be no formal funeral service “in keeping with [Crosby's] dislike of pretension and overblown rhetoric.” Instead, he said, family, friends and colleagues will gather Saturday at Crosby’s home “to swap stories and share memories.”

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