Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 9:37 p.m.
John Joseph Golden had a hand in North Coast history from his seat on the bench of Lake County's Superior Court.
Golden presided over hearings that gave swaths of Mendocino County property near Branscomb Road to the Nature Conservancy.
He struck down part of a deal made in the 1999 Headwaters Forest acquisition in Humboldt County because it allowed the Pacific Lumber Co. to alter streams and destroy wildlife habitat.
Golden was the trial judge when Eugene “Bear” Lincoln was acquitted in 1999 of the 1995 slaying of a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy.
His ruling delayed the artist Christo's “Running Fence,” an 18-foot wall that sprawled over mostly private land across Marin and Sonoma counties for two weeks in 1976.
The judge kept a signed copy of a photo book of the “Running Fence” that the artist sent to him, said his son John F. Golden of Sacramento.
“He always got a chuckle because he was responsible for throwing a wrench in the project,” his son said. “He was definitely not one to let his opinion of a subject sway the outcome of the case.”
Golden died Nov. 18 at Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa after an infection. He was 87.
Golden was born in 1925 in Long Beach to Ottilia and William Golden. He served in the Navy and recently told his daughter about one night on watch duty on a boat floating down a Chinese river.
In thick darkness, he spotted a light coming toward them and changed the boat's course. The next day the log book noted: “Golden made a course correction to avoid a collision with the moon,” said his daughter Mary Golden of Ukiah.
After serving during the war, Golden earned degrees in English and Spanish at the University of Oklahoma. In 1950, he graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Law.
Golden, known as Jack, practiced law in Ukiah and was a partner with Rawles, Nelson and Golden.
Golden married Catherine Thomas of Ukiah and the couple raised two daughters. The pair later divorced.
He was counsel for the Russian River Flood Control District as it negotiated rights to water stored behind Coyote Dam in Mendocino County, his children said.
Golden married Gail Evans of Ukiah around 1971 and they raised three children.
In 1974, Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed Golden to Lake County Superior Court.
The courthouse at the time had a significant backlog, and Golden quickly pushed to clear caseloads and establish a timely pace, said Dan Grothe, 87, a longtime friend and former probate referee for Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt counties.
“In my opinion, he set the tone in the superior courts in Lake County for hard work and thoroughness,” said Grothe, who currently lives with family in Ada, Okla.
Although Golden had a front seat to significant cases that shaped the region, he did not talk much about work at home, his children said.
Golden was a “Renaissance man” with intellectual pursuits who could wield a chainsaw. He taught his children to read and research, just as taught them to hunt and fish, they said.
If a child had a homework question, he'd march him or her over to a row of encyclopedias, said his daughter Hilary Conklin of Thousand Oaks. He also taught them to prepare budgets and set aside money.
Golden's wife, Gail E. Golden, died in 2006.
Golden retired from the superior court in 1994. He continued to fill in as a trial judge throughout Northern California until he was 85.
Golden is survived by daughters Mary Golden of Ukiah, Carol Bjorndahl of Stockholm, Sweden, and Hilary Conklin of Thousand Oaks; sons Todd Golden of Mission Viejo and John F. Golden of Sacramento; and his partner, Janice Stokes of Lakeport.
At his request, no memorial services will be held.
— Julie Johnson
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