by Don Queen, OLLI member

Retired Presiding Judge and author Lise Pearlman will join the OLLI faculty this fall to teach a class entitled "Landmark Trials of the 20th Century." She states that "It’s a comparison of so-called trials of the century." In this course, the class will study and discuss which trial really deserves to be called "The Trial of the Century." The trials selected are different from those previously taught at OLLI, with no reading assignments.

Judge Pearlman grew up in Connecticut and was a member of Yale’s first coed graduating class. The first major trial that Pearlman experienced was that of Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale in New Haven. Pearlman, along with other undergraduates, assisted in canvassing local neighborhoods for residents' views on the presumption of innocence. After receiving her degree in Classics, she moved to Berkeley in 1971 to attend Boalt School of Law. This was during the trial of The Black Panther’s other co-founder, Huey Newton, for the murder of Oakland Police Officer John Frey. She notes that the trial nearly brought the city to a standstill.

In her third year of law school, Pearlman served as an extern for Justice Mathew Tobriner on the California Supreme Court, and later clerked for California's Chief Justice Donald Wright. She then served as a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School for a year before beginning civil litigation and appellate practice in Oakland. In 1984, Pearlman received widespread publicity as the first woman to be a managing partner of an established California law firm at the same time the U.S. Supreme Court was belatedly deciding whether it was possible for a woman to be a law partner. Five years later she was selected as the first Presiding Judge of the California State Bar Court, appointed by the California Supreme Court to oversee the panel of specialized judges handling attorney discipline cases statewide. Subsequently, Pearlman has served as a private judge arbitrating and mediating civil cases through Alternative Resolution Centers.

A frequent lecturer and panelist on programs for practicing lawyers, Pearlman co-authored her first book in 1985 on writing jury instructions in plain English. She also taught professional responsibility as a guest lecturer at Boalt Hall and Santa Clara University law schools.

Judge Pearlman has selected from her book, The Sky’s The Limit: People v. Newton: The REAL Trial of the 20th Century? (Regent Press, 2012), trials such as Big Bill Haywood, the Scottsboro Boys, and Leo Frank, as well as the heretofore overlooked Huey Newton trial. They serve as a prism to focus on issues such as labor rights and racism. These are the issues which polarized 20th century America and were pivotal in social changes and the conduct of the justice system.

In the forward to her book, Judge Pearlman quotes a Yale Law School's dean: "The quality of a civilization is largely determined by the fairness of its criminal trials..." In this course, the class will not only have the opportunity to judge how America did in the 20th century, but how we are doing today.