November 18, 2019

Samuel Mayerson, District Attorney and Judge, 96

Samuel Mayerson, renowned for his role as prosecutor in the 1976 Patty Hearst trial, died Sept. 30, less than a week before his 97th birthday. 

Mayerson was born Oct. 6, 1922, in Corpus Christi, Texas. His father was a merchant who eventually ran a mattress factory. Mayerson graduated from high school at the age of 15 and attended Corpus Christi Junior College. After graduating in 1941, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He served in North Africa and Italy, and after being discharged in 1945, settled in Los Angeles. He graduated from UCLA and earned his law degree at USC.

Mayerson joined the L.A. County District Attorney’s office in 1952 and was eventually named to lead the office’s felony crimes unit. It was in that capacity he tried Hearst, the granddaughter of multimillionaire media magnate William Randolph Hearst. The 20-year-old heiress was kidnapped by the urban guerilla group the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Two months after her abduction, the group released an audiotape of Hearst claiming to have joined the SLA. She took part in the group’s robberies. 

At the trial, Mayerson agreed to a plea bargain with Hearst. In return for pleading no contest to the charges of armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, she received a sentence of seven years’ probabtion. Mayerson said he accepted the deal because Hearst had been sentenced to seven years in a federal bank robbery case and had already been held in custody for a year and a half. 

Mayerson was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1981 and served as a judge until 1994. He was back on the bench less than a year later under a state program that brought in retired judges to ease the backlog of Superior Court cases. He was known for being a fair and friendly judge but one who had little patience when attorneys were unprepared. Linda Deutsch, an Associated Press reporter, told The New York Times “he was very devoted to the law.”

Ruth, Mayerson’s wife of more than 60 years, died in 2016. Mayerson is survived by their children, Matthew (Leslie) Mayerson and Julie (Mark) Mayerson Brown, and four grandchildren: Mickey Brown, Madeline Mayerson Adler, Samuel Brown and Anna Mayerson.