Mathew Tobriner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Mathew Oscar Tobriner (1904 – April 7, 1982) was an Associate Justice on the California Supreme Court from July 1962–January 1982. An appointee of Democratic Governor Pat Brown, he had worked as a labor lawyer until 1959, when Brown appointed him to the California Court of Appeal. After three years on the Court of Appeal, Tobriner was appointed by Brown to the Supreme Court. As one of the three members on the California Commission on Judicial Appointments, Tobriner cast the deciding vote in approving the nomination of Rose Bird as the first female Chief Justice on the California Supreme Court.

Tobriner was admitted before the California Bar in April 1928.[1]

Tobriner wrote the 1974 decision of Green v. Superior Court, 517 P.2d 1168, that established the doctrine of implied warranty of habitability in residential leases in California, which requires landlords to maintain leased dwellings in a habitable condition.

Tobriner wrote the 1976 decision of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976), the ruling that held that mental health professionals have a duty to protect individuals who are being threatened with bodily harm by a patient. He famously wrote, "...the confidential character of patient-psychotherapist communications must yield to the extent that disclosure is essential to avert danger to others. The protective privilege ends where the public peril begins..."

Tobriner also wrote the majority opinion in People v. Woody, 394 P.2d 813 (Cal. 1964), overturning a conviction for peyote use by a Native American Church member on First Amendment grounds.[original research?] Weighing the asserted compelling state interest in controlling drug abuse with the Free Exercise Clause, he found that the balance favored constitutional protection of the peyote use and practice, stating:

"On the other hand, the right to free religious expression embodies a precious heritage of our history. In a mass society, which presses at every point toward conformity, the protection of a self-expression, however unique, of the individual and the group becomes ever more important. The varying current of the subcultures that flow into the mainstream of our national life give it depth and beauty. We preserve a greater value than an ancient tradition when we protect the rights of the Indians who honestly practiced an old religion in using peyote one night at a meeting in a desert hogan near Needles, California."

A native of San Francisco, Tobriner attended Lowell High School and was a member of its famed Lowell Forensic Society, the nation's oldest high school debate team.

One of Tobriner's law clerks was Jerry Brown, the son of Governor Pat Brown, who had appointed Tobriner to the Court and who was still Governor when the younger Brown clerked for Tobriner. Jerry Brown would serve as Governor of California from 1975–1983 and again in 2011, and Attorney General of California from 2007 to 2011.[2]

Another of Tobriner's law clerks, Laurence Tribe, became a professor of law at Harvard University and a preeminent expert on United States constitutional law.[3]

Tobriner's grandson, Ben Wildman-Tobriner, is the 2007 World Aquatics Champion in 50-meter freestyle swimming and won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics.[4]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Jerry Brown". California Department of Justice. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "USA Swimming - Athletes - Ben Wildman-Tobriner". United States Olympic Committee. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
Maurice T. Dooling, Jr.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California
Succeeded by
Cruz Reynoso