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William Newsom III, California judge and environmental advocate, dies at 84

William Newsom III, left, a former California appeals court judge, shakes hands with son Gavin after swearing him into office as California’s 49th lieutenant governor in 2011.
William Newsom III, left, a former California appeals court judge, shakes hands with son Gavin after swearing him into office as California’s 49th lieutenant governor in 2011. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)
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William Newsom III, a former California judge, environmental advocate and the father of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom (D), died Dec. 12 at his home in San Francisco. He was 84.

His death, less than a month before his son will be sworn in as California’s 40th governor, was announced by Nathan Click, a spokesman for Gavin Newsom, who did not give a precise cause.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed Mr. Newsom to the Placer County Superior Court in 1975, during Brown’s first term as governor, and put him on the state Court of Appeals in 1978. Mr. Newsom retired in 1995.

In a statement, Brown said Newsom was “a longtime friend, a champion of the environment and someone whom I was proud to appoint to the superior court and court of appeal.”

Mr. Newsom ruled on an array of cases, from the right to privacy for HIV-positive patients to the liability of the San Francisco 49ers over a player’s crippling knee injury.

In one prominent case, he ruled that the Bohemian Club, which counted Ronald Reagan as a member, could not enforce a ban on hiring women.

A staunch advocate for environmental protection, he served on the boards of the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club Foundation, the organization’s charitable arm. Occasionally, Newsom was restricted in how much environmental advocacy he could do while serving as a judge, said friend and former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope.

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Mr. Newsom made a home in the community of Dutch Flat in the Sierra Nevada foothills and fell in love with the landscape and nature there, Pope said. It inspired him to help form the Mountain Lion Foundation and lead a 1990 ballot measure to ban mountain lion hunting.

Mr. Newsom was a close friend of Gordon Getty, the son of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, and managed his personal finances. During Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial run, critics painted him as a son of wealth and privilege because of his connections to the Getty family. Gordon Getty helped finance Gavin Newsom’s first wine shop in 1992, which later grew into a successful business line.

During his gubernatorial run, Gavin Newsom said his favorite memories with his father were spent camping and backpacking along California’s rivers. His father once had a river otter as a pet, he said. His father also helped shape his views on drug policy and racial justice.

In addition to his son, Mr. Newsom is survived by a daughter, Hilary Newsom. His marriage to Tessa Menzies ended in divorce.

— Associated Press

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