Harmon Groesbeck Scoville

Harmon ScovilleDecember 21, 1922 - September 19, 2008
Judge, Orange County Municipal Court, 1967-1969
Judge, Orange County Superior Court, 1969-1987
Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, 4th District, Division 3, 1988-1990

Harmon G. (Bud) Scoville was born in Ogden, Utah. At age 11, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he began working at his father’s broom manufacturing business, a job which caused him to resolve to “do something that I could wear a shirt to.” In 1943, Scoville served in the U.S. Army in Germany, although he never saw combat.

Scoville received his bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 1947, and his legal degree from Stanford University in 1950. He said he chose over Harvard Law School, where he also was accepted, because it was the “best in the country.”

Following his graduation, Scoville worked for a well-established civil litigation firm in Los Angeles. Eventually, he accepted a position at a law firm in Orange County.

In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan named Scoville for a position on the municipal court. A year later, he was elevated to the Orange County Superior Court, where he rose to supervise probate and law-and-motion departments, eventually becoming the court’s presiding judge for two consecutive terms.

Among Scoville’s leading trial court cases was Phipps v. Saddleback Valley Unified School Dist., where he ordered an 11-year old boy with AIDS antibodies returned to class. His order was affirmed by the Court of Appeal, in an opinion authored by Justice Sheila Sonenshine. (See 204 Cal.App.3d 1110.)

In 1988, Governor George Deukmejian nominated Scoville, who had gained a reputation as a “judge’s judge,” to replace Presiding Justice John K. (Jack) Trotter.

As an appellate justice, Scoville authored one of the leading premises liability opinions on duty of care. In Knighten v. Sam’s Parking Valet (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d 69, the court held that neither a restaurant nor a valet service had a duty to withhold keys from an intoxicated patron of the restaurant. “The right to act,” Scoville wrote, “is far different from a duty to act. The two should not be confused.”

In like fashion, in a widely-quoted opinion, Scoville analyzed the state’s potential liability for harm caused by a parolee. (Brenneman v. State of California (1989) 208 Cal.App.3d 812.)

In Chaparro v. Superior Court (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 560, Scoville, writing for the court, held that inmates of a state youth authority were entitled to notice and hearing before being transferred to the general court system for resentencing to summarily commit them to prison.

In January 1989, Scoville shepherded the appellate court’s move from rented office space to a two-story gabled structure on Spurgeon Street, doubling the court’s space, and allowing it to remain at the same location for decades.

Scoville resigned as presiding justice, effective April 1990, to accept a position as special master of the Buck Trust, which had assets of more than $250 million. In his honor, the Orange County Bar Association established the Harmon G. Scoville Award, for a member of the Orange County legal community “whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession . . . .” Scoville was the first awardee in 1990.

Scoville greatly enjoyed being a settlement judge. At the superior court, Scoville took pride in settling more than half the cases that were sent to him. Following his elevation, Scoville established Division Three’s judicial settlement program. Even after his retirement, Scoville returned to the court to serve as its judicial settlement officer for more than five years. He was known for charming litigants into settling by his courtly manners, and by plying them with donuts.

On his death, Scoville was survived by his wife, 6 children, 40 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.