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Retired Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Martin Rothenberg, whose lengthy legal career included approving the bonds to establish BART, died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 86. Contra Costa Presiding Judge Thomas Maddock, who appeared before Rothenberg as a young attorney, called the retired judge a “trailblazer” who set standards for those who followed him on the bench. “He had an innate ability to settle cases that needed to be settled,” Maddock said. “He could find what the common ground was among the parties and get them to a place where they said, ‘Yeah, that is a good settlement.’ That was remarkable. He saved the taxpayers a lot of money.” Born in Modesto in 1918, Rothenberg attended UC-Berkeley and graduated from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1942. After four years in the U.S. Air Corps, he opened a solo practice in Pittsburg in 1946. In the 1950s, he served on the Pittsburg City Council and worked as the town’s part-time city attorney. Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown appointed Rothenberg to the bench in 1959, and he ran unopposed for reelection four times. One of Rothenberg’s most memorable roles was determining the validity of $790 million in bonds to start the Bay Area Rapid Transit District. Approving the multijurisdictional tax won him the title “Father of BART” in judicial circles. Rothenberg was also known for principled stands in his rulings, judging in favor of open access to the courts and other constitutional issues. In 1981, he ruled that California teachers did not have to sign oaths of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and in opposition to communism, issuing an injunction preventing schools from enforcing three sections of the California Educational Code. Rothenberg, who retired in 1982, served in later years as an independent arbitrator, a private and temporary judge, a court-appointed referee and special master. He deliberately chose not to sign up with a particular arbitration group because “he cherished his independence,” said longtime friend Michael Bloom. Rothenberg was also a founding member of B’nai Shalom, one of the East Bay’s largest synagogues, where his funeral will be held at 1 p.m. today. Afterward, he will be buried in Oakmont Cemetery in Lafayette. Rothenberg is survived by his wife of 63 years, Reva; sisters-in-law Sarah Ruby, Leah Yaffee and Ruth Yaffee; brother-in-law Harry Yaffee and many cousins, nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations be sent to the Congregation B’nai Shalom Facility Expansion Fund (74 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek, CA 94596) or Sutter VNA & Hospice (1900 Bates Ave., Concord, CA 94520).

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