Judge had passion for law, service
Milton Schwartz, who died Monday, is remembered for his dedication and work ethic

by Steve Gibson and Denny Walsh Bee Staff Writers

Milton L. Schwartz, a retired Sacramento federal judge known for his attention to detail and love of the law and who devoted his life to public service, died Monday night of complications from a stroke.

He was with his wife and three of his four children when he died at Sutter General Hospital, according to a family member. He was 85.

A native of Oakland who moved to Sacramento as an infant, he attended local schools and then the University of California, Berkeley.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II before returning to UC Berkeley and earning a law degree at Boalt Hall.

Returning to Sacramento after law school, he tried his first cases as a prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office.

In 1953 he founded - along with Bruce F. Allen, Henry Teichert and the late Martin McDonough - a law firm then known as McDonough, Holland, Schwartz, Allen & Wahrhaftig. Still one of Sacramento's largest and most influential firms, it is now called McDonough, Holland & Allen.

"He was a great trial lawyer, a hard worker who was always, always better prepared than anyone else," said former law partner Bruce F. Allen.

As a trial attorney, there was no detail too small, and he accepted nothing less from those who appeared before him.

A diminutive figure with a courtly manner and a favorite-uncle demeanor most of the time, he could lose his temper when he encountered sloppy lawyering.

"This brief looks like it was written by a monkey who typed with his feet," he once told (admonished?) an attorney appearing in his courtroom.

"If you weren't prepared, he would yell ... he called it venting," Fred Morrison, who as a federal prosecutor often appeared in Schwartz's courtroom, recalled with a chuckle. "He was a wonderful judge, just so evenhanded," said Morrison, now a state appellate court judge. "He really did have high standards."

A moderate Republican who campaigned for Democratic U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston in 1970, Schwartz was appointed to the federal bench by another Democrat, President Carter. He retired in 2002, after 23 years on the bench.

He presided over a wide range of civil and criminal cases, ranging from state Capitol corruption to bias against gays in the military.

Earlier in his public life, he served on the city school board and was named to the state board of education in 1964 by Democratic Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown.

Leo Rennert, a retired Bee reporter who covered the local and state boards, remembers Schwartz as a result-oriented trustee.

"Milt was far more of a workhorse than a showhorse. He didn't seek the limelight but focused on practical educational improvements," Rennert said in an e-mail.

Chief Judge David F. Levi of the Eastern District Court called Schwartz "the best possible judge and colleague."

In a statement, Levi, a former U.S. attorney in Sacramento, added, "I knew both as a fellow judge and as someone I practiced before, and in both capacities, I had utter confidence in his dedication to the law.

"As a person, he was just delightful. He always made time when one of the judges sought his advice," Levi said.

Schwartz was married for 63 years to the former Barbara Ann Moore, whom he met while they were students at Sacramento High School.

In an interview three years ago, Schwartz expressed confidence in ordinary citizens to rise to the demands of jury service.

"When you give jurors the respect, the information and the responsibility, they can do amazing things," he told The Bee.

Milton L. Schwartz Born: Jan. 20, 1920.

Died: Oct. 3, 2005.

Remembered for: Service on the Sacramento City Unified School District board, the State Board of Education and 23 years as U.S. District Court judge.

Survived by: Wife Barbara Moore Schwartz of Sacramento; sons Dirk Schwartz of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Damon Schwartz of Sacramento; daughters Tracy Matthews of Mountain View and Brooke Schwartz of Oakland; brother Colman Schwartz of Sacramento; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral services: Pending.

The Bee's Steve Gibson can be reached at (916) 321-1085 or sgibson@sacbee.

RETURN TO CourtHistory.org.

Obituary 2005. The Sacramento Bee. Webpage 2006 United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Historical Society.