McMaster was a founding director of the Alliance of California Judges, a reformist group formed in 2009 that now counts a membership of roughly 500 judges. A statement from the Alliance Tuesday lauded McMaster as an unwavering advocate of local trial court independence and an outspoken critic of waste in the state’s judicial bureaucracy.
“In addition to being an early and prominent leader of the Alliance of California Judges, he was widely esteemed on this bench and the bar as a truly fine judge,” Sacramento Judge Steve White, ACJ president, said Tuesday.
“He took his judging quite seriously and did his work as a judge superbly, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He had a great sense of humor.”
McMaster was appointed to the bench by Governor Gray Davis in 1999 and elected for a six-year term in 2002. Health problems led to his retirement in 2010, but he was one of the first to question around that time the spending of hundreds of millions on the Court Case Management System, an enormously expensive and unwieldy statewide court software that was used in only a few courts, including in Sacramento.
His objections were vindicated by a 2011 investigation by the California State Audit, finding the judicial bureaucracy-then called the Administrative Office of the Courts-had mishandled the project and disguised its true cost.
“He was a courageous individual. he took abuse for the early alarms he sounded about CCMS,” White said.
Even after he left the bench, McMaster continued his involvement in judicial issues, penning a letter to the Strategic Evaluation Committee, a group of judges appointed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in 2011 to make sure the AOC was fulfilling its intended purpose of serving the courts without wasting funds.
In his letter supporting the SEC’s recommendation to downsize the bureaucracy, McMaster referred to himself as “a retired Superior Court Judge who has retained an interest in supporting the proper functioning of the Third Branch of Government.”
McMaster was no stranger to controversy in his career. In 2004, he successfully fought against same-sex marriage opponents who waged a recall campaign against him in response to his upholding of California domestic partnership laws.
“He never flinched,” said the Alliance in a statement.
McMaster drew support for his decision from the California’s Attorney General and the Sacramento City Council, which adopted a resolution in opposition to the recall effort.
His fellow jurists also rushed to his defense. Judge James Mize, then president of the longstanding California Judges Association, told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2004, “Honorable judges who make rulings appropriately based on law would eventually all be recalled. The only ones left would be those very, very few who are willing to make their decisions based on public opinion.”
In a 2008 interview, McMaster told a reporter, “Although I don’t recommend it as a process, actually I found it to be very positive because of all the support.”
McMaster was also famous for his witticisms from the bench, famously issuing a tentative ruling against a cause of action for intentional infliction for emotional distress wherein he recited the poem:
“Defendant planted a creeping vine
That crept and crawled and soon entwined
Itself in plaintiff’s roof, and made a mess
Causing plaintiff to suffer great distress
This lawsuit follows but leaves unsaid
Why plaintiff didn’t whack the vine instead.”
In its statement, the Alliance lauded McMaster’s tireless devotion to his work, noting that he would work a full day “even when he needed to bring an oxygen tank to his chambers.”
“We will miss Judge McMaster deeply. He embodied the virtues of wisdom, integrity, and courage to which we as judges aspire,” the Alliance said. “We remain dedicated to the cause of judicial independence for which he was so steadfast a champion.”
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