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Robert Puglia, long a fixture at Sacramento’s Third District Court of Appeal, died Friday of complications related to cancer. He was 75. Appointed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, Puglia spent 24 years at the court, all but six months of it as presiding justice. “Bob was sort of a towering figure,” said Justice Coleman Blease III, a Jerry Brown appointee who nonetheless enjoyed lunching — and arguing — with Puglia over the years. Puglia was known for conservative rulings, including one that said a landlady could refuse to rent to unmarried couples, and another that said the Boy Scouts could exclude girls. “He had controversial — for me — opinions on private things, but those didn’t intrude on his ability to judge cases,” Blease said. In a prepared statement, Chief Justice Ronald George, who first met Puglia when the two served as young lawyers on the State Bar’s Criminal Law and Procedure Committee, praised Puglia’s “keen intellect and dedication to the administration of justice,” adding that his “sense of humor, legal insight and enjoyment of legal endeavors will be greatly missed.” Puglia was known for speaking his mind. In 1996, he went head to head with Rita Gunasekaran, the leader of the State Bar Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission, over the appointment of state Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown. Brown was the first Supreme Court nominee rated “not qualified” by JNE. Puglia, a Brown supporter, complained that JNE “dings conservatives” and derided the commission as “institutionally flawed.” Sometimes Puglia’s decisions surprised other conservatives. As a member of the Commission on Judicial Appointments, he voted in 1996 to confirm Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin and Chief Justice Ron George, despite vocal opponents who opposed the two men’s record on abortion rights. “I don’t think Bob [Puglia] was necessarily predictable,” said Jay-Allen Eisen, a Sacramento appellate attorney who argued many cases in front of Puglia. “He was conservative, he had firmly held opinions, and he was always willing to listen to an argument and agree that he might hear something that would change his mind.” Before his appointment to the Third District in 1971, Puglia served as a Sacramento County Superior Court judge. Prior to that, he was a deputy and, ultimately, chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County. He also spent a year as a deputy attorney general in 1959. He served on the California Judicial Council from 1987-89, and spent a year apiece as president of the Council of Chief Judges of Courts of Appeal and as president of the California Judges Association. A University of California Boalt Hall graduate, he received the school’s Lowell Jensen Public Service Award in 2003. He was also the founder of the Anthony M. Kennedy Inn of Court and served as its president from 1990-93. Following his retirement, he returned to his former law firm, McDonough, Holland & Allen, where he arbitrated and mediated disputes. Puglia is survived by his wife, Ingrid, his children, Susan, Peter, David and Thomas, and three grandchildren.

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