Stephen Barnett, California Supreme Court Expert, Dies At 73

By Andrew Cohen, School of Law

UC Berkeley
16 October 2009

BERKELEY — Stephen Barnett, professor emeritus at the University of
California, Berkeley, School of Law, died of complications resulting
from cardiac arrest on Tuesday, Oct. 13. He was 73.

Stephen BarnettStephen Barnett (Jim Block photo) Barnett was a
prominent expert on intellectual property law; the news media; the
legal institutions of California, principally the California Supreme
Court; and First Amendment issues.

"In his scholarship, Steve was a devastating critic of the practices of
the California Supreme Court and the California State Bar Association,"
said Berkeley Law professor Melvin Eisenberg. "He did a lot of acute,
penetrating research that no one else has done regarding judicial
transparency and legitimacy."

Berkeley Law Associate Dean and professor Stephen Sugarman said Barnett
"was probably California’s leading analyst and critic of the way
the California Supreme Court goes about its business – how promptly
it delivers its decisions, when the judges prepare their opinions,
the Court’s control over the briefs of parties and the role of oral
argument, and the role of unpublished opinions and de-published
opinions of lower California courts."

Born on Dec. 25, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York, Barnett was raised
in West Hartford, Conn., by his parents, Leona (Nurkin) Barnett and
Abraham M. Barnett. He graduated from the Loomis School in Windsor,
Conn., and was editor of The Loomis Log.

In 1957, Barnett graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University,
where he was president of the Harvard Crimson. He also went to law
school at Harvard, serving as note editor of the Harvard Law Review
and graduating magna cum laude in 1962.

After law school, Barnett spent a year as a law clerk in New York
to the late Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit. He then clerked for one year for the late
Justice William J. Brennan Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court b, Steen &
Hamilton in New York and Washington, D.C. He joined the UC Berkeley
School of Law faculty in 1967, where he taught classes in copyright
and trademarks, torts and California legal institutions.

>>From 1977 to 1979, Barnett served in the U.S. Justice Department
as a deputy solicitor general, briefing and arguing cases before the
U.S. Supreme Court. He then returned to the Berkeley Law faculty and
was awarded the Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt Chair in 1990.

"Steve became the leading critical commentator on the problems
generated by federal legislation allowing the newspaper industry
to enter into production and revenue-sharing agreements under the
umbrella of antitrust immunity," said Berkeley Law professor Richard
Buxbaum. "In legislative hearings, participation in litigation, and
innumerable op-ed pieces, he kept this problematic exception under
constant public scrutiny."

Buxbaum added that Barnett also maintained a leading role "in shaping
public policy concerning the industrial structure and public regulation
of both print and visual media, which brought him international
attention. He was an important participant in the academic studies that
influenced new European regulations of these sectors in the 1980s."

Barnett co-authored the book Law of International Telecommunications
in the United States in 1988, which provided the first comparative
evaluations of national data on the subject and analyzed the role of
international organizations in facilitating such communications.

"Professor Barnett’s wide engagement with legal systems and legal
education in many other countries allowed him both to help other
nations benefit from American insights and practices and to help us
think about ways of improving ours," said Sugarman.

Barnett, who lectured in many countries, was a visiting professor
at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, in 1981 and at the
University of Paris in 1987. He also served as a visiting fellow
at the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany, in 1983 and at the
University of Sydney in 1 t was a contributing commentary writer to
California Lawyer magazine, and served as nonresident dean of the
law department at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan,
Armenia. He retired from Berkeley Law in 2003.

Toward the end of Barnett’s teaching career, his litigation included
a 1999 suit that compelled California’s Commission on Judicial
Performance to disclose the way its individual members vote, and
a suit that the California State Bar settled in 2001 by allowing
board-of-governors candidates to make policy statements on the
election ballot.

Barnett is survived by his wife, Karine, their son, Alexander, and
his stepson, Levon. He also leaves behind his sister, Linda Beizer
of Avon, Conn., and three nephews: Bill Beizer of Newton, Mass.,
Jon Beizer of Hillsborough, Calif., and Matt Beizer of Simsbury, Conn.

"Steve was a wonderful stepfather to Levon, and as he pondered his
life accomplishments at retirement he rued the fact that he had
never fathered any children of his own," said Barnett’s sister. "He
became a father for the first time to Alexander at age 69, and they
spent virtually every waking hour together and enjoyed a very close

A private service honoring Barnett’s life is being planned by the

Donations in Barnett’s memory may be made to the Parkinson Association
of Northern California, (916) 489-0226.