Bernard E. Witkin

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Bernard E. Witkin
Born(1904-05-24)May 24, 1904
DiedDecember 23, 1995(1995-12-23) (aged 91)
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA, LLB)
Occupation(s)Lawyer, writer, scholar
EmployerCalifornia Supreme Court
Known forTreatise on California law
Alba B. Pichetto Kuchman
(m. 1978)
Jane F. Kauffman Lemert
(m. 1969; died 1977)
Gladys L. Burke Schwatka
(m. 1957; div. 1968)
ChildrenCara Monson, Lucy Davaly, Joel Witkin
Parent(s)Albert Witkin
Pauline Horvitz
WebsiteWitkin Legal Institute

Bernard Ernest Witkin (May 22, 1904 – December 23, 1995) was an American lawyer and author. He is best remembered as the founder of the California law treatise, Summary of California Law, which came to be known as "Witkin" and gave rise to the Witkin Library of legal treatises.


In 1928, Witkin was an unhappy law student at Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley) who thought that the Socratic method used in law school teaching was not an efficient way to learn the law. He seldom went to class and was in danger of flunking out. About the time the dean told him he needed to shape up, Witkin had an epiphany: law is like any other discipline; it has rules that can be taught. He thought legal education should be more like science education and should teach students the rules of the discipline in an organized way. As Samuel Williston and Arthur Linton Corbin had done with their treatises on contracts, Witkin's approach was to reduce case law to black letter rules. He created an outline for each of his courses and started selling his notes to his fellow students.[1]

Following graduation, Witkin took a job with a law firm in San Francisco for two years, while continuing to develop and sell his outlines. Following that job, Witkin clerked for the California Supreme Court. At the same time, he started to teach a bar review course.[2]

Witkin later clerked for the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Around the same time, Witkin developed his outlines into a lengthy hardcover book arranged by subject matter.[2]

In 1940, Witkin became the California Reporter of Decisions.[3] In that role, Witkin standardized the rules of appellate practice and wrote the California Style Manual.[4][5][6] Later he became interested in judicial education and legal reform. Over the years, his Summary of California Law[7] grew into four inter-related treatises, which still reflect his original work.

In 1968, Witkin gave a speech roasting each member of the California Supreme Court, and displayed his trademark colorful good humor.[8]

Witkin died in 1995 at the age of 92.

Honors and legacy[edit]

Witkin's treatises continue to be updated by the Witkin Legal Institute. Among many other honors, the California State Law Library is named in his honor. His collection of science fiction publications is held by the University of California, Davis Library.[9] Just prior to his death in 1995, he and his wife received the Benjamin Ide Wheeler Award for service to the City of Berkeley.[10] On March 27, 1983, Loyola Law School awarded Witkin the St. Thomas More Medallion, with speeches by former justices Otto Kaus and Donald R. Wright.[11]

In San Diego, the Law Library Justice Foundation holds an annual awards ceremony in honor of Bernard E. Witkin.[12] The Bernard E. Witkin Award honors members of the legal community for civic leadership and excellence in teaching, practice, enactment, or adjudication of the law.

Personal life[edit]

In 1978, he married Alba B. Pichetto Kuchman (November 15, 1919 – December 26, 2014), who helped establish his charitable foundation.[13][14] He was previously married to Gladys L. Burke Schwatka (m. 1957, div. 1968), and also Jane F. Kauffman Lemert (m. 1969), an arts patron who died on August 10, 1977.[15] In 1981, Witkin donated Jane's art collection to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California.[16][17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chiang, Harriet (January 12, 1996). "OBITUARY -- Bernard E. Witkin". San Francisco Gate. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Oliver, Myrna (December 28, 1995). "Bernard Witkin, Expert on California Law, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  3. ^ "Supreme Court of California Appoints New Reporter of Decisions". California Supreme Court. September 30, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2017. Lawrence Striley follows in the footsteps of some remarkable public servants, including legal giant Bernie Witkin.
  4. ^ Jessen, Edward W. (2000). California Style Manual: A Handbook of Legal Style for California Courts and Lawyers. Eagen, MN: West Group. ISBN 0314233709.
  5. ^ "UCLA School of Law Legal Research and Writing Guide: California Style Manual". UCLA Law Library. Retrieved June 16, 2017.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Karnow, Curtis E. A. (Winter 2012). "Revising the California Style Manual" (PDF). San Francisco Attorney. San Francisco, CA: The Bar Association of San Francisco: 42–45.
  7. ^ "Summary of California Law, 10th (Witkin Library)". Thomson Reuters. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  8. ^ Witkin, Bernard (2007). "Speech of Bernard Witkin given April 11, 1968, at the Lawyers' Club of San Francisco's Annual Luncheon" (PDF). California Supreme Court Historical Society: 2. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  9. ^ "Bernard E. Witkin Collection". Online Archive of California. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  10. ^ "Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal: Past Recipients". Berkeley Community Fund. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  11. ^ "California Law Authority Honored" (PDF). Loyola Lawyer. 2 (3). Spring 1983. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  12. ^ "Bernard E. Witkin, Esq., Award Ceremony". San Diego Law Library Foundation. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  13. ^ "Alba Witkin, philanthropist and civic activist, dies at 95". December 29, 2014. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  14. ^ "Philanthropist Alba Witkin Dies of Cardiac Arrest at 95 Was Widow of Legal-Treatise Writer Bernard Witkin". Metropolitan News-Enterprise. December 30, 2014. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  15. ^ "Obituary: Jane Witkin". Berkeley Daily Gazette. August 10, 1977. p. 25. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  16. ^ "Deaccessioning Works of Art from the Crocker Art Museum". City of Sacramento, California. April 28, 2015. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  17. ^ Landauer, Susan (2017). Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0520292208. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  18. ^ Koplos, Janet; Metcalf, Bruce (2010). Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. p. 321. ISBN 978-0807895832.


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