John R. Lewis, a retired Sacramento Superior Court judge who was a former professor at McGeorge School of Law, died Nov. 2 of cancer, his family said. He was 77.
Appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown during the final hours of his last day in office in 1983, Judge Lewis spent 18 years on the bench in Sacramento Municipal and Superior courts. He won election to three six-year terms with no opposition and was Municipal Court presiding judge in 1989-90.
He presided over many civil and criminal trials and proceedings, including a class-action suit involving hundreds of funeral homes and mishandling of human remains that was settled for $4.17 million. In a major case in 1994, he blocked state officials from using $1.4 billion in California Public Employees' Retirement System funds to balance the state budget.
Judge Lewis oversaw a busy civil law-and-motion calendar in Superior Court during his last five years on the bench. Honored as 2000 judge of the year by the Sacramento County Bar Association, he was widely respected for his strong work ethic, well-reasoned opinions and courtesy to lawyers and litigants.
Humble and self-effacing, he told The Bee at his retirement in 2001 that he could not find words to describe "what a remarkable experience" he had as a judge.
"You can't begin to comprehend how remarkable the system is until you sit in a volume court and watch the people come in," he said.
Judge Lewis previously spent 13 years as a full-time professor at McGeorge School of Law. Besides teaching substantive and procedural courses related to civil litigation, he was the first associate director of the school's Center for Legal Advocacy.
He graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law in 1966 and began his career at major Sacramento law firms. He practiced law and taught at McGeorge with Anthony M. Kennedy, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Born in 1935 in Nebraska, John Randolph Lewis Jr. was the son of a federal government worker who moved his family throughout the Midwest and East. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1958 and served three years as a Navy ensign aboard a destroyer. He signed up for three extra years teaching in the ROTC program and earning a master's degree in business at Rochester University in New York.
He was married to the former Lee Ann Pratt since 1958 and lived for many years in the College Glen neighborhood in Sacramento. Since 2001, the couple lived in Port Ludlow, Wash.
Judge Lewis mentored new judges in court and enjoyed visiting with McGeorge students as a speaker and mock court judge. He was a member of the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court and joked about his car being stolen while he attended one of the group's meetings.
"John told me he knew he should have gotten rid of the car long before," said Justice George Nicholson of the 3rd California Court of Appeal, "because it was the brand, model and year favored by car thieves who appeared in his courtroom."
John R. Lewis
Born: Jan. 1, 1935
Died: Nov. 2, 2012
Survived by: Wife, Lee Ann Lewis of Port Ludlow, Wash.; niece, Carol Lee Galvan of Elk Grove