Irving H. Perluss, a retired Sacramento judge who handled controversial cases on segregation and the teaching of evolution in schools, died Sunday at 97, his family said.
Judge Perluss retired from Sacramento Superior Court in 1983 with a reputation as a top legal mind. He was appointed in 1963 by Gov. Pat Brown after serving four years as director of the California Department of Employment.
He heard many politically sensitive cases, including a 1981 trial pitting religious fundamentalists against scientists over the theory of evolution in California classrooms. He ruled that teaching evolution did not violate religious rights but ordered the state to expressly forbid dogmatism in presenting Darwinism to schoolchildren.
In his first year on the bench, Judge Perluss became the first California judge to rule de facto segregation unconstitutional. In 1965, he abolished a voter-approved ban on pay TV in California, paving the way for the introduction of cable TV.
He angered Gov. Ronald Reagan, who publicly criticized the judge over a 1967 decision that invalidated efforts to reduce Medi-Cal spending. He received bags of hate mail for ruling in 1975 that the state could not automatically assume immigrants were in the country illegally and thus deny them welfare benefits just because their status could not confirmed by federal immigration officials.
Although he was a justice pro tem for the state Court of Appeal in 1972 and 1982, Judge Perluss expressed disappointment in an interview just before he retired that he had not been appointed permanently to the appellate bench and said he paid a price for some rulings. But he added that he had no regrets.
"You do what is required of you," he told The Bee in 1982. "I've never been interested or concerned about looking over my shoulder to see what kind of political reaction there is."
Born in 1915 in Los Angeles, Judge Perluss graduated from UCLA and earned a law degree from Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley. He entered public service as a lawyer for the state Board of Equalization and served in the Army during World War II. He was a California deputy and assistant attorney general before he was appointed head of the state employment department.
He was married for 59 years and had two sons with Pan Kauffman Perluss, who died in 2001. A Gold River resident, he was married since 2004 to Raquel Grossman Perluss, who survives him. He was a longtime member and former officer of Congregation B'nai Israel and served on the boards of Home of Peace Cemetery and Mental Health Associates of Sacramento.
He served as a Sacramento Superior Court presiding judge. After retiring from the bench, he worked into his 90s as a lawyer "of counsel" with the firm now known as Greve, Clifford, Wengel & Paras.
Judge Perluss mentored generations of lawyers including his son Dennis, a presiding justice of the California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, who said his father tried to decide tough cases with common sense and compassion.
"He tried to be inclusionary," Dennis Perluss said. "Even though he ruled one side was right, he was happier if there was some basis of compromise or reconciliation available."
Irving H. Perluss
Born: Nov. 23, 1915
Died: Nov. 25, 2012
Survived by: Wife, Raquel Perluss of Gold River; sons, Sheldon Perluss of Los Angeles and Dennis Perluss of Los Angeles; stepson, John Boze of Sacramento; five grandchildren; one great-grandson
Services: 11 a.m. today at Home of Peace Cemetery, 6200 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento
Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to charity.