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Lawrence J. Appel, 1942-2024

By Wisdom Howell | Jul. 10, 2024


Jul. 10, 2024

Lawrence J. Appel, 1942-2024

Retired judge was an antitrust expert who championed judicial system.

Retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge Lawrence John Appel died at his Oakland home on June 30. He was 81.

Friends and colleagues said Appel, an antitrust lawyer before he was appointed to the court in 2003, had an unwavering faith in the judicial process and was dedicated to the fundamental idea of free enterprise.

"He was a great advocate because he believed in the jury system," his former law partner, Joseph M. Alioto, said. "He thought that it was a very important part of the United States' [judicial system] and the division of power. It was very important to him to write opinions and to administer justice. We would always talk about inequalities [in the judicial system] of wages, revenue, wealth under the free enterprise system. We were free enterprise guys and against monopolies in general."

On the Superior Court, Appel presided over criminal and civil cases until his retirement in 2017. In a 2013 Daily Journal profile, Appel talked about his respect for the work of the court. "A courtroom is by definition a very special place," he said.

Appel and Alioto met and became friends as students at Saint Mary's College in Moraga. After Appel graduated in 1969 from what was then Hastings College of the Law, he joined Alioto & Alioto, a firm founded by Joseph L. Alioto, the former mayor of San Francisco and father of his classmate.

Appel worked at the Alioto law firm until he opened his own practice in 1985, the Law Offices of Lawrence John Appel, where he would continue his work in the antitrust space before his appointment to the bench.

The younger Alioto said that Appel's appointment to the bench was hard won. At 60, he was thought to be too old for a judicial appointment, and Gov. Gray Davis was looking to diversify the judiciary, Alioto said.

"He was older than most and that was a big drawback. At the time there was a formative effort, that was needed and necessary, to make sure that the judiciary was more compatible with what the society was and Larry was, shall we say, different than those criteria. During that time period there was an effort to make sure they had women, minorities, and people of color on the court," Alioto said. "He was able to get a lot of people to recommend him to the governor and because of his tenacity and desire to be a judge, he succeeded. I know that he had contacted a number of attorneys he had cases with as well as opposing counsel in other areas. I know he sent letters to a lot of letters to opposing counsel and a recommendation from opposing counsel is a strong recommendation."

Lawrence G. Papale, a former colleague of Appel's at the Alioto law firm, echoed Alioto's sentiments regarding Appel's hardworking nature.

"When I first started as a young lawyer, he was a mentor to me and to other young lawyers there," said Papale, who now has a practice in St. Helena. "He was extremely well versed in antitrust law and an exceptionally intelligent, hardworking lawyer. That kind of spilled over to when he became a judge. I mean, he was an extremely hard-working judge.

"He was very well versed in the history of jurisprudence, in general, but his particular dedication was to the idea that everyone should be entitled to a trial by jury when there were reasonably legitimate questions of fact, to be decided. He would follow the facts without favor. He was dedicated, I think, to the idea or principle that everyone is equal under the law. He didn't favor one side or the other."

Alioto recalled a case he and Appel successful tried before a jury on behalf of a farmer's cooperative known as Dimmitt Agri Industries Inc. They accused corn manufacturer CPC International Inc. of fixing prices at unreasonably low rates to exclude competition, especially Dimmitt, from national markets for cornstarch and corn syrup. The verdict was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1982. Dimmitt Agri Indus., Inc. v. CPC Int'l, Inc., 80-2065 (5th Cir. July 12, 1982).

That case turned on internal memos between CPC executives. Alioto said it was Appel's attention to detail that helped win the case. "All of our cases were antitrust cases, so they were conspiracy cases where the defendants tried to hide information. He was excellent at being able to find the kinds of statements that would demonstrate motive," Alioto said.

Prior to law school, Appel briefly taught English at St. Elizabeth's High School in Oakland. His passion for education continued throughout his law career. He was president of the East Bay Scholarship Fund; a nonprofit organized that helps underprivileged students attend Saint Mary's College.

Dr. Raymond B. Graber II, another close friend of Appel's from college, called Appel "one of the brightest people I've ever met."

Appel is survived by wife Maureen and four children - Anne, Katie, Joe, and Claire - and eight grandchildren, and four siblings - Joseph, Michael, Anne and Pati.


Wisdom Howell

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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