Judge Stoll dies; leaves ‘old-school’ court legacy
He was a public servant from the old school, a proficient litigant whose unpretentious, even-handed style as a jurist ushered in a new era at the Nevada County courthouse.
He was also a Nevada County lawyer, district attorney, Superior Court judge and Northern California visiting magistrate.
For almost 60 years, those were Vernon Stoll’s calling cards.
“He was the old-school, white shirt, suit-and-tie type of public servant,” said Leo Todd, who worked with Stoll as deputy district attorney for eight years in the 1950s. “He set an example for all the young judges that followed him for fairness, courtesy and understanding of the law.”
Stoll was 99 when he died at home Jan. 19. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Nevada City.
Age, however, was never a burden to the Red Bluff native who, as a visiting judge, handled cases until his eighth decade of life.
Stoll moved to Nevada County in 1928 and opened a practice on Mill Street after graduating the previous year from the University of California Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.
After operating his practice for several years, Stoll won and lost elections for district attorney in the early to mid-1950s. When Nevada County District attorney Ward Sheldon died in office, the Board of Supervisors appointed Stoll district attorney, a post he would hold until 1957.
When Nevada County Superior Court judge James Snell retired, Stoll took his place as well and served as judge until 1968, when he began a third career as a visiting judge in Northern California.
As district attorney, he prosecuted a case in 1952 involving two defendants who killed a Chester man before traveling to Nevada City where they killed a man in what Todd called “a gold deal gone sour.”
As a visiting judge, he also handed down indictments against alleged murder defendants who had connections to Angela Davis, the university professor, Black Panther and member of the Communist Party who was charged with orchestrating a bloody shootout to free supporter George Jackson from prison. The ambush ended with a shootout in front of the Marin County courthouse in 1970. Davis and her followers believed Jackson had been wrongly imprisoned for his role in a robbery.
Todd and others described Stoll as a student of the law.
“When you asked Vernon for a legal opinion, you didn’t get a simple answer. He researched everything extensively,” said Catherine Veale, who worked for Stoll during his time as district attorney.
Former public defender and district attorney Harold Berliner, who often sparred with Stoll in the courtroom when both were presenting cases, considered Stoll a gentleman, first and foremost. It was a trait that served him well on the bench.
“He knew how to treat people very well, and he did that always. He was an excellent jurist, far better than he was a district attorney,” said Berliner, who was district attorney for 16 years ending in 1973.
Stoll had a penchant for vacationing every Fourth of July – one of the few vacations he took while serving the county. On one Independence Day during his tenure as district attorney, Todd and Stoll’s family said, the slot machines and card tables came out all over town. When Stoll returned, he let people know it wasn’t going to happen again, his son Matt Stoll of Grass Valley said.
“There was a certain sense with him of ‘let the people have their fun.’ He knew about (the illegal activity), but he wouldn’t admit it. He was not a law-and-order guy just for the sake of law and order,” Matt Stoll said. “There were certain things that would go on, and my father didn’t see any point in making a fuss about it.”
That he wasn’t a rough-and-tumble man didn’t diminish his capabilities. “It made him better,” Matt Stoll said.
After retiring, the elder Stoll enjoyed working out at Club Sierra Sports and Fitness, as well as rafting and other outdoor activities.
In addition to his son, Matt, Stoll is survived by his wife Georgia of Grass Valley; son, Paul of Camarillo; daughter Mary of Oakland; and one grandchild.
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