James Randal Ross (1926-2007)

Legendary outlaws and dirty jokes aren't typically mentioned in the obituaries of Superior Court judges in OC, but as the panel of judges who censured him in 1998 could have told you, James Randal Ross was not a typical judge.

Ross, who served as an Orange County Superior Court judge from 1983 to 1995, died of a heart attack at his Fullerton home on Monday. He was 80 years old.

Somewhat ironically for someone who served as a judge, Ross will probably be best remembered for his relationship to a criminal-- Jesse James. Ross was James' great-grandson, a fact he liked to emphasis  emphasize. He even wrote a book about his felonious great-grandpa, I, Jesse James, which earned him great respect among outlaw aficionados, but also helped to bring his judicial career to an ignoble end.

As the Associated Press notes in it's obituary of Ross.

Ross was censured in 1998 for "egregious misconduct" by the state Commission on Judicial Performance and was barred from "receiving any assignment, appointment or reference of work from any California state court."

During an appearance before a three-judge special masters panel appointed by the commission, Ross defended himself against a variety of allegations, including using his courtroom to sell "I, Jesse James."

He also was accused of unfairly threatening to jail a lawyer, telling a dirty joke in court and sleeping during trials. His censure was based in large part to his unrepentance.

Grim as that may sound, there was more to Ross' time on the bench than naps, book-flogging, and dirty jokes.

Of all the cases he handled, Ross was most proud of one involving Disneyland banning gays from dancing at the Anaheim amusement park, [Ross' cousin] Eric James said.

Disneyland had imposed the ban in 1957, when dancing was first allowed. In 1980, a homosexual couple was kicked out of the park for dancing together. When the case made it to Ross' court, he ruled in favor of the gay couple.

In July 1985, Disneyland lifted the 28-year-old ban.

And with that one ruling, Ross proved himself a far better man than his famous ancestor.


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