Judge Puglia Remembered As ‘Honest, Smart and Fair’
Spectrum staff writer
Nearly 1,000 people gathered at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium Monday to pay their final respects to Judge Robert K. Puglia, a highly-respected legal scholar who served 24 years as presiding justice of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in California.
Puglia, known statewide for his gracefully written legal opinions, clear reasoning and sharp intellect, died on March 18 at age 75 of complications from cancer.
“In the 3rd Court of Appeals, we have lost our legend, and our friend,” Fred Morrison, associate justice on the 3rd District Court of Appeal, said in his opening eulogy. “It was a life of accomplishment, of duty, of love, respect, learning, and a life of joy and laughter.
“He was a great husband and father, and grandfather,” Morrison continued. “He was a friend to so many – just look around – and a great judge. Honest, smart, fair, and a gifted writer [of legal opinions].”
As a slide presentation showed a moving retrospective of Puglia’s youth, his military days and his family, the Memorial Auditorium stage was adorned with flags representing the United States and the states of California and Ohio – Puglia’s home state. The California National Guard performed the presentation of colors and military honors.
California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown said of Puglia, “He was a treasure to Sacramento’s legal community. It’s no exaggeration to say that his wit and wisdom is irreplaceable. He was my very dear friend.
“His opinions were intelligent, wise, made clear and completely accessible,” she continued. “Justice Puglia deserves a place in the pantheon of great American judges. He exemplified the finest of judicial virtues - impartiality, mastery of the craft, persuasiveness and candor. He was the kind of man who earned and could command our respect.”
Born on Oct. 16, 1929, in Westerville, Ohio, Puglia completed high school in Columbus and moved to California, where he worked as a milk truck driver and firefighter for the Department of Forestry. Puglia attended the University of California in Berkeley for two years and transferred to Ohio State University, graduating in 1952.
After serving in the U.S. Army from 1952-55, including a tour of duty in Korea, Puglia graduated from UC’s Boalt Hall School of Law. He began his legal career in the San Francisco office of then attorney general Pat Brown and was later transferred to Brown’s Sacramento office. In 1959, he joined the Sacramento County District Attorney’s staff as a prosecutor.
Puglia spent 10 years in the county district attorney’s office and another two years in private practice before Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Sacramento County Superior Court in 1971.
Three years later, Reagan promoted Puglia to the Court of Appeal to replace Frank Richardson, who had been named to the Supreme Court.
Arthur G. Scotland, presiding justice of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, said, “An oral argument before Bob Puglia was truly an exhilarating experience, because you just knew that you had to be on your toes. He seemed to know everything about anything. One of the reasons, I think, that Bob was never stumped by virtually any question was his amazing mind. Virtually everything that went in, stayed. It was absolutely remarkable.
“Until he was diagnosed with cancer, I thought he was invincible,” Scotland concluded. “He was the most remarkable person I have ever known.”
Puglia served on the Council of Chief Judges of Courts of Appeal, was an adjunct professor at McGeorge School of Law, and was a former president of the California Judges Association. He retired from the bench in 1998.
In 2002, the Sacramento Catholic Diocese named Puglia the first chairman of an independent review board that would review cases of church personnel accused of sexual misconduct.
Away from the courtroom, Puglia enjoyed travel and was a student of Civil War history. He was also an avid baseball fan – the Cincinnati Reds in particular – who visited nearly every major league baseball stadium.
Bob Hemond, executive vice president of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats baseball team, used his eulogy to address Puglia’s lifelong passion for baseball.
“[Puglia] became friends with Branch Rickey III, president of the Pacific Coast League,” Hemond said. “Bob often consulted with Mr. Rickey, and the PCL, on how to improve civility in baseball, on and off the field. [Rickey] couldn’t be here today, but asked me to say that ‘as a human being and a judge, he’s clearly irreplaceable.’”
Puglia is survived by his wife, Ingrid; his sons David, Peter and Thomas; a daughter, Susan; and three grandchildren.