Donald Wright

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Donald Richard Wright
Wright (left) swearing in Jerry Brown (right) as Governor of California on January 6, 1975.
24th Chief Justice of California
In office
April 17, 1970 – February 1, 1977
Appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Roger J. Traynor
Succeeded by Rose Bird
Associate Justice of the California Courts of Appeal, Second District, Division Two
In office
1968 – April 16, 1970
Appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan
Succeeded by Lynn Compton
Personal details
Born (1907-01-23)January 23, 1907
Placentia, California, U.S.
Died March 21, 1985(1985-03-21) (aged 78)
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Margaret W. McClellan (m. 1932)
Alma mater Stanford University (A.B.)
Harvard Law School (LL.B.)

Donald Richard Wright (February 2, 1907 – March 21, 1985) was the 24th Chief Justice of California.


Born in Placentia, California, Wright earned his Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University in 1929 and his Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1932.[1][2] Admitted to the California State Bar in 1933, he worked in private practice at the law firm of Barrick, Poole & Knox in Pasadena, California until 1953, except for 1942–1946 when he served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.[2]

In 1953, Governor Earl Warren appointed Wright to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, where he served until 1961 when he was elected to the Los Angeles County Superior Court.[3][4] In June 1968, Sirhan B. Sirhan appeared in court for arraignment on the charge of first-degree murder of Robert F. Kennedy, and Wright as presiding judge assigned a public defender to the case.[5] In 1968, Wright left the Superior Court when Governor Ronald Reagan appointed him as an Associate Justice of California Second District Court of Appeal, Division Two. In 1970, Reagan appointed Wright as the 24th Chief Justice of California, where he served from April 17, 1970, until his retirement on February 1, 1977.[6] In the November 1970 judicial retention elections, Wright received 80.6% of the vote.[7] When Wright stepped down, Governor Jerry Brown named Rose Bird as Wright's replacement.[8]

Among Wright's notable cases is People v. Anderson (1972), striking down the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, and in violation of the state constitution.[9] In another opinion, Vesely v. Sager (1971), Wright crafted the doctrine of host liability for a provider of alcohol to someone who later injures another.[10]

On March 21, 1985, Wright died in Pasadena.[11]

Honors and legacy[edit]

In 1971, the University of the Pacific conferred on him a LL.D. (honorary). In 1972, the California Trial Lawyers Association named Wright the Appellate Judge of the Year. In 1977, the Orange County Bar Association awarded him the Judge Franklin G. West Award.[12] The Pasadena Bar Association annually awards the Donald R. Wright Distinguished Service Award for contributions to law and society.

His papers are held at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.[13]

Personal life[edit]

In 1932, Wright married Margaret W. McClellan.[9]


  1. ^ "Committee Appointments". The Stanford Daily (72 (3)). 5 October 1927. p. 4. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Malnic, Eric; Morain, Dan (March 22, 1985). "Ex-Chief Justice Wright, Foe of Death Penalty, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  3. ^ "Warren Names Judges". San Bernardino Sun (60 (26)). California Digital Newspaper Collection. UPI. 30 September 1953. p. 3. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  4. ^ "Those Tire Marks Don't Mean A Thing". Madera Tribune (141). California Digital Newspaper Collection. 28 October 1957. p. 6. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  5. ^ "Sirhan To Have Public Defender For His Lawyer". Madera Tribune (21). California Digital Newspaper Collection. UPI. 12 June 1968. p. 1. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  6. ^ "Justice Wright to Retire". Desert Sun. California Digital Newspaper Collection. UPI. 31 January 1977. p. A2. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  7. ^ Braitman, Jacqueline R.; Uelmen, Gerald F. (2012). Justice Stanley Mosk: A Life at the Center of California Politics and Justice. McFarland. p. 151. ISBN 1476600716. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  8. ^ Hepperle, Winifred L. (January 1984). "Book Review: Framed: The New Right Attack on Chief Justice Rose Bird and the Courts". Golden Gate University Law Review. 14 (3): 505–517, 506, fn 5. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Donald R. Wright, 78; Was California Justice". New York Times. Associated Press. March 22, 1985. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  10. ^ Vesely v. Sager, 5 Cal. 3rd 153, 486 P.2d 181, 95 Cal. Rptr. 623 (1971)
  11. ^ "Editorial: Wright: Justice of Principle". San Bernardino Sun. California Digital Newspaper Collection. 28 March 1985. p. 10. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  12. ^ "Past Franklin G. West Award Honorees" (PDF). Orange County Bar Association. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  13. ^ "Finding aid for Papers of Donald R. Wright, 1933-1977 (bulk 1970-1977)". Huntington Library. Retrieved July 11, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Roger J. Traynor
24th Chief Justice of California
May 1, 1970 – February 1, 1977
Succeeded by
Rose Bird
New seat Judge of the California Court of Appeal for the Second District, Division Two
December 23, 1968 – April 29, 1970
Succeeded by
Lynn Compton