The Honorable Justice M.O. Sabraw or, as he modestly introduced himself, “Mo Sabraw” was a member of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation any society has ever produced.”
Born in Canada in the twenties and having grown up during the great depression, Mo and his family moved to the Bay Area in 1937. As a teenager, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served as a paratrooper in the South Pacific during WWII. (Mo was only 15 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor.)
Following the war, Mo went to U.C. Berkeley to get his undergraduate degree and then to Boalt Hall School of Law. He then settled in the Fremont area where he was active in many civic organizations. He was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1968 and the Superior Court in 1971, where he served until 1985 when he was elevated to the California Court of Appeals, First District. At the end of the 1980s, Justice Sabraw left the court to serve as a private Mediator and arbitrator. Mo leaves an extensive family of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren too numerous to list here.
But Mo belonged to a judicial family as well, consisting of his wife of 18 years, Bonnie Sabraw (who refers to him as “Mody”) and his son, the Hon. Ron Sabraw, both of whom served on the Alameda Superior court bench.
I and many of my peers who appeared before Justice Sabraw can attest to the near-perfect judicial temperament he always exhibited. He was unflappable and paid close attention to what was going on in his courtroom but never gave a clue to what he was thinking. Even though he was very smart, he never once embarrassed a fumbling young lawyer, despite many opportunities to do so (a few of which I can personally vouch for). But, more importantly, besides having an ideal judicial manner, Justice Sabraw saw his role as a judge as doing the right thing, not just following the law. As one colleague of mine put it, “he followed the law with a compassionate heart.”
It was not until he was off the bench that I discovered what a terrific sense of humor he had. I only wish I had the chance to know him better.
-Eric Ivary is a full time Neutral with ADR Services Inc., resolving disputes involving employment, medical malpractice, and insurance cases. This article was originally published in the Winter Edition of the ACBA Trial Practice Section Newsletter.