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The smartest, coolest madman on the whole West Coast is dead. And if all the integrity in the state could be had last month for a hundred dollars, you could get it today for $87.50. A large part of our collective conscience has moved on, and he will not easily be replaced. On a personal level, I have lost as good a friend as I ever hope to have. Brilliant, fiercely loyal, and absolutely fearless, he was someone I knew I could always count on. But mostly I counted on him to remind me that life is for laughing. He laughed easily and completely, joyously and often. His opinions were memorable, but his laughter was unforgettable. I loved him. And although we played Gladstone and Disraeli for three decades, I miss him terribly. I met Tom Crosby 32 years ago. It was October of 1971, and I had landed a job as a law clerk in the Orange County district attorney’s office while awaiting my Bar results. Having spent two weeks working for Oretta Sears (later our county’s first elected woman judge) and two weeks working for Alicemarie Stotler (now of the federal district bench), I was shunted off to the Fraud Unit, which at that time consisted of a future judge, a future bank president and Cros. He was electric even then. In an office firmament which included an all-star team of nova-magnitude line lawyers, you had to shine pretty brightly to stand out. Tom did. He was scary smart — one of those people for whom life is a chess game in which they easily see five moves ahead. He was adept at not just understanding the law, but understanding how its application would affect the real world. I didn’t realize then what a rare talent that is. And his enthusiasm for prosecution was positively incendiary. He made me excited to be working in a prosecutor’s office and excited to be working on fraud cases. He made the bait and switch of a television set sound like ethnic cleansing. He made the case sound like it belonged at Nuremberg, and he made me want desperately to find legal precedents that would put anyone who would commit such heinous crimes in jail. At the time, I thought he hated criminals. I later learned he hated untruth — no matter what its source, no matter what its outcome, no matter whom it benefited. The truth was his gospel; anything less was anathema. Years later, when he joined the criminal defense bar, that abhorrence of falsehood stood him in good stead. Tom had the lowest righteous indignation threshold of anyone I’ve ever met. He could get genuinely irate about things most of us shrugged off. I thought it was a quirk at first. But over time, I realized it ran much deeper than that. Tom became indignant because Tom saw what many of us blink at. Tom saw that any violation of the rules — whether by the accused, the police, the prosecution or the court — is basically a lie. And a lie not only diminishes all of us, but also desensitizes us to the next lie, and the one after that, and the one after that. I am embarrassed to admit that it was a long time before I was able to realize he wasn’t just the biggest pain in the ass in the entire defense bar, he was the most effective and relentless pain in the ass in the entire defense bar. And, as I began to see how effective and relentless he was, I came to understand that he was right about little lies being the precursors of big ones. And I began to agree with him that while we might understand a flawed justice system, we should never tolerate it. And — paradoxically — I began to love my job more. Because Cros made me see how important every case was. Because I realized I could fight for justice just as hard from my side of the table as he could from his. He made me see that the battlefield wasn’t the counsel table. It wasn’t a file or a statistic or a point of law — it was people’s lives. And watching him fight for people’s lives inspired me to fight just as hard. He was a great defense attorney. In a county where you could find an Olivier-caliber performer plying his trade in the criminal courts almost any day, Tom Crosby was always a marquis name. But he will best be remembered as a justice of the Fourth District Court of Appeal. It was a job he loved and a job that loved him. I’ve never known a smarter lawyer than Cros. And his legacy would have been secured by the mere dint of bringing that spectacular intellectual firepower to bear on the legal problems he faced in his two decades on the court. Nobody as smart as Tom Crosby could fail to leave his mark on the state’s law. God, what a wonderful mind. Only 16 years of Republican governors stood between him and the California Supreme Court. And, while he loved to joke that the Supreme Court played a box-and-one defense on him — that the junior justice of the court was assigned to do nothing but scan Crosby’s cases for the treacherous error doubtless lurking in all of them — he had the admiration, and apprehension, of every member of every appellate court in the state. No one rested easy who found himself on the other side of an issue from that mind. But Tom never decided a case with his intellect alone. He was blessed with a blast furnace of a heart. And every opinion formed by applying his intellect to facts and law was tested for impurities in that passionate kiln. His mind made him good; his heart made him great. It is often said about appellate justices — as a compliment — that every case was a big case to them, that they never saw a case they regarded as unimportant. I’ve never understood that as a compliment. It suggests the judge didn’t know any better, that only a lack of discernment caused him or her to work hard on every case. I guarantee you Tom Crosby knew the difference between big, important cases and little, unimportant ones. The measure of his greatness was that he did know that and still devoted the same unrelenting effort to all of them. Whether it was a $100 million judgment or a $12,000 fee award, a life sentence or a topless bar ordinance, Tom Crosby was on it like ugly on a bulldog. Because somewhere in every case — civil or criminal, big or small — there was untruth. Someone in every case — intentionally or inadvertently — was flying the banner of falsehood. And that would always pull Tom Crosby into the fray, regardless of whether it looked big or small to the rest of us. But the ones he loved most — the ones that lit him up and caused people to turn in the hallway to see what was causing that bright light at the other end of the building — were the ones where he felt the individual was being abused by the state. Tom had spent his entire life doing battle with adversaries who proved unworthy. So when he found himself on the side of the individual, with all the power of the state arrayed against him, when he found himself convinced that justice favored a small-time crook against all the people of the state of California, or a band of homeless vagrants being turned out by the municipal machinery of the city of Santa Ana, then he had an adversary worthy of his considerable skills. And he was always at his best when he could take out that formidable pen and do battle with dragons. The field that lies behind him now is littered with dragons. He was an awesome force in the court of appeal. Those of us who worked with him there know just how different the law is today from what it would have been without him. And all of us who knew him know the world is a better, fairer, more just place for all of us because he passed through it, even if he passed through it too quickly. When I was a boy, my daily curfew was 5:30. I had to be home by then for dinner. In winter, the sun was down by 5, but there was enough light to let us play ball for another half-hour, if we really worked at it. And we did. I was never home a minute early; I hated to see those days end, and I squeezed every drop of light out of every one of them. Well, now the sun’s gone down again. As bright and warm a day as we shall ever see has come to an end — long before we were ready to let go of it. But daylight is never extinguished; it just moves to another part of the heavens. While Cros can no longer be seen in our firmament, it will be a long time before his brilliance fades from the sky. And it’s our task now to squeeze every drop of light out of the incandescence that was this great man. I will not see Halley’s Comet again. But I saw Tom Crosby. That’s good enough for me. Contributing writer William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. He can be reached at [email protected]

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