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Federal appeals judge, and trailblazer, Arthur Alarcon dies in Los Angeles

Arthur Alarcon

Arthur Alarcon  (Youtube)

Arthur L. Alarcon, a judge who served on California and federal benches for 50 years and was the first Latino appointed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has died. He was 89.

Alarcon had cancer and died at his home Wednesday in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles, according to a statement from the appellate court.

"Judge Alarcon dedicated his life to the law and the pursuit of justice and was highly esteemed by his colleagues and members of the bar," 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas said in the court statement.

The son of a baker, Alarcon was born in Los Angeles, served in the Army during World War II and was wounded in combat. He attended law school on the G.I. Bill.

In the late 1950s he worked for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, where he helped prosecute Robert L. Ewing Scott for the murder of his wealthy wife at their Bel Air estate, David J. Madden, a spokesman for the 9th Circuit court, said in an email.

Jurors found Scott guilty despite the lack of a body — authorities believed he had burned it — making him the first person in U.S. history to be convicted of murder purely on circumstantial evidence. He got a life sentence, was released in 1978, and acknowledged the killing before his death in 1987.

In the 1960s, Alarcon worked in the administration of California Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown on criminal issues. At one point he was responsible for investigations to help the governor decide whether to commute death sentences and also briefly chaired the California Adult Authority, which is the parole board for men, according to the appellate court.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she worked with Alarcon when he headed the authority and became a close friend. In the court statement, she called him "a person of deep thought and great integrity."

"He had a keen intellect, a real love of the law, and was committed to justice for all," she said. "I will always remember his booming laugh, which was one of the world's best. I will miss him very much."

Alarcon served on a variety of local, state and federal courts before his appointment to the 9th Circuit appellate court in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. The nation's largest federal appellate court, it handles cases for nine Western states, the territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, according to the court. He served until taking senior status in 1992.

Alarcon continued to fill in on courts as late as last summer, including in seven federal circuits. He also worked with judges in Chile and Argentina under international judicial exchange programs.

In 2013, Alarcon wrote an opinion for the 9th Circuit ordering immigration officials to review their decision not to grant asylum to a gay man who said he was attacked in his native Russia because of his sexuality.

Alarcon said the government had failed to show that the Russian government "was able and willing to control" private citizens who attacked homosexuals.

In recent years, Alarcon was a strong proponent of death penalty reform.

One of his sons, Gregory Alarcon, is a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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