Hon. Bernard Samuel Jefferson
(June 29, 1910–March 17, 2002)

Bernard Samuel Jefferson was born June 29, 1910 in Coffeeville Mississippi.  He was the youngest of four children born to Eldora M. and Nelson E Jefferson.  Wanting to better their children’s educational opportunities, the family moved to Denver, Colorado where Bernard began his early education and where his extraordinary academic ability was first noticed.  Shortly thereafter the family made a permanent move to Los Angeles, California. 

Bernard attended public schools in Los Angeles.  It was there that his brilliance continued to evidence itself by his outstanding performance as an orator and debater.  He took up the trumpet and played in the marching band.  Bernard graduated from Manual Arts High School in 1927 as class Valedictorian.  He then matriculated to UCLA where his achievements continued to be demonstrated by his award winning participation on the debating squad.  His superb academic record resulted in his election to Phi Beta Kappa honorary scholastic society.  During his time at UCLA Bernard followed in the footsteps of his older brothers Edwin and Ronald and became a member of the distinguished fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc.  He also continued playing trumpet in UCLA’s marching band.  In 1931 UCLA awarded him the A.B. degree in Political Science, Suma Cum Laude.

He then received a scholarship to Harvard University Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, receiving the LL.B degree, Cum Laude in 1934.  From 1935-1941 Bernard served as a Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law. He returned to Harvard to pursue graduate studies leading to his S.J.D. Degree (Doctor of Juridical Science) in the field of Evidence in 1943. Upon his return to Washington D.C. he was Assistant General Counsel, Office of Price Administration, from 1942-1946.

In the Winter of 1946 he returned to Los Angeles, California where he entered into the Private Practice of Law until his appointment in 1959 as Judge of the Municipal Court by California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr. In May 1960 he was then elevated to Judge of the Superior Court where he served with distinction and uncompromising integrity that resulted in his appointment to the Court of Appeals in 1975.

During his years on the bench Justice Jefferson distinguished himself as one of the country’s foremost legal scholars, capping a brilliant and unparalleled judicial career that manifested itself in his authorship of the now legendary “California Evidence Benchbook” published in December 1972, by the Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB), for the Conference of California Judges.  This was a 957-page book.  In July 1975, he authored a 344-page supplement and in 1978, a 644-page supplement.  In 1982 Bernard authored the Second Edition of the “California Evidence Benchbook,” a 2-volume work of 1900 pages.

Justice Jefferson’s outstanding judicial reputation is exemplified by his numerous awards, citations and organizational memberships that span the entirety of his career.  These include membership of the California Bar since 1934, American Bar Association, Los Angeles County Bar Association and Langston Bar Association.  He is the author of numerous legal articles published in various journals, including the Harvard Law Review, Columbia Law Review, and Boston Law Review.

In 1967 he became a faculty member, California College of Trail Judges, serving as Dean in 1974 and 1975.  Conducted Seminar on Evidence and Civil Trials for Alaska’s district court judges in Anchorage, Alaska in February 1969, under the auspices of the National College of the State Judiciary.  Conducted a Seminar on Evidence for Judges of the District Court of the State of Minnesota in January 1972.  Conducted a Seminar on Evidence for Hawaii’s Judiciary in April 1974.

He was a member of the California State Bar’s Joint Advisory Committee on Continuing Education of the Bar and member of the subcommittee on Trail Practice since 1973.  Member of the Executive Board of the Conference of California Judges in 1973 and 1974.  In 1973 he received a citation from the Conference of California Judges.  In November 1974 he received an award from the California Trial Lawyers Association as “Superior Court Judge of the Year.”  Also in 1974 he received an award from the Langston Bar Association, the citation reading: “Outstanding contribution to the field of law.” 

In 1976 Bernard received the “Professional Achievement Award” from UCLA.  The Lawyer’s Club of Los Angeles County, Judge of the Year Award  for  “Outstanding Service to the Public and Legal Profession.”  Also in 1976 he received from the California Center for Judicial Education and Research an award “For 10 Years of Distinguished & Devoted Services as Dean and Faculty Member of the California Trial Judges College Session.”  In 1977 he received from the Criminal Courts Bar Association its award for “Judicial Excellence.”  Also in 1977, he received from the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Association “The Appellate Justice of the Year Award.”

The Los Angeles County Bar Association honored Justice Jefferson with the Shattuck-Price Award  for “Outstanding Dedication to the Improvement of the Legal Profession and the Administration of Justice.”  In 1979 he received the “Associate Justice of the Year Award” from the California Trial Lawyers Association.  Also in 1979 he received from the California Association of Black Lawyers the Bernard S. Jefferson Jurist Award “In recognition of Juridical Excellence and Appreciation for Outstanding Contributions to the Legal Profession.” In 1980 Justice Jefferson received the Minority Bar Association Award for distinguished Merit for “Outstanding Contribution to the Legal Community and Humanity.”  In addition he was awarded the “St. Thomas More Medal of the Loyola Marymount University Law School” and the “Order of the Coif from USC Law School.”

In June 1980 Justice Jefferson retired from the position of Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals and returned to his lifelong love of teaching by accepting the position of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University of West Los Angeles School of Law in Culver City.  In 1982 Justice Jefferson became President of the University of West Los Angeles School of Law in addition to teaching courses in Evidence and Criminal Procedure.  His tenure as President was instrumental in the expansion of the school’s curriculum and his presence and dynamic persona served to introduce, motivate and mentor countless numbers of students and faculty in the study of law.

Throughout the years Justice Jefferson found time to serve his community in various activities.  He served on the board of Directors of the Los Angeles Urban league, serving as its president for six years.  He was on the Board of Trustee’s First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles; Board of Managers Wilshire Branch YMCA; District Commissioner of Boy Scouts of America, eight years; Regional Board of Directors National Council of Christians and Jews; Member of the Pacific Southwest Area Council of YMCA; Member National Council of YMCA’s; Board of Directors of the Welfare Planning Council, Los Angeles Region; Budget Sub-Committee of the Los Angeles Community Chest; Member of the Minority Employment Advisory Committee of the Department of Employment; Examiner for the California State Bar.  Member of the Angel City #18 Prince Hall Mason.

Bernard’s Judicial activities were only a part of his life.  In 1935 he married Devonia Spratlin of Denver Colorado and their union produced one son Roland Spratlin Jefferson Sr., and lasted until her death in 1946.  In 1958 he married Betty Young of Salt Lake City Utah.  Their union has lasted a wonderful and glorious 43 years.  During their time together the Jefferson’s reared daughter Cassandra and traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and overseas.  Bernard always took great pleasure in watching the growth and development of his four grandchildren. He enjoyed performing marriages and found himself marrying his son Roland, daughter Cassandra and oldest grandson Roland Jr., as well as other family members and friends.  A lifelong music lover, he and Betty enjoyed season tickets to the Philharmonic and immersed themselves in one of Bernard’s earliest and favorite pleasures, that of the Opera.

For more info contact Royce Bernard Jefferson via email royce@roycejefferson.com