Belvedere resident Beverly Bloch Savitt was Marin’s first female superior court judge
Beverly Bloch Savitt, the first female Marin County Superior Court judge who was regarded as a trailblazer for women in the county’s legal community, died of natural causes at her Belvedere home June 24. She was 97.
Savitt was brilliant and wise as a legal mind, said longtime friend and colleague Judge Verna Adams.
In addition to being the first woman judge named to the Marin Superior Court, Savitt was the sixth woman to join the Marin County Bar Association and second to serve as its president.
She was also a founding member of several organizations dedicated to promoting women in the law, Adams wrote in an obituary posted on the Marin Bar Association website, including the Marin County Women Lawyers, the county chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus and California Women Lawyers.
“Her reputation for representing her clients both vigorously and well, but without forgetting the concerns of the person on the other side of the case, was well known throughout the county,” Adams said in a phone interview.
Savitt was born May 12, 1926, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to traveling salesperson Gustave Bloch, who grew up in Pennsylvania, and Molly Bloch, who emigrated from Romania in her youth. Savitt had an older sister, Erma, and a younger brother, Alan.
As a child, Savitt would ride her tricycle around the family’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and try to talk to as many people as possible, said her daughter, Susannah McNamara of Monterey County, a lecturer at Santa Clara University who represents criminal defendants on appeal and was previously a public defender.
Even in her youth, Savitt expressed an interest in politics. At age 5, she tried to contribute to political conversations her mother and siblings had, often hearing from her mother, “You’re too young for your opinion to count,” McNamara said. Later in life, Savitt found herself in her mother’s shoes when a young McNamara chimed in on conversations her mother had with law school classmates visiting for dinner.
McNamara said she was interested in the debate, conversation, and exchange of ideas that took place in her home, appreciating that she was “seeing into (her mother’s) world and being influenced by it.”
Savitt’s son, Charles “Chuck” Savitt, also emphasized his mother’s passion for politics, noting she was interested in the world and in justice.
“She was a critical thinker and spent a lot of time forming opinions and then held them very strongly,” said Chuck, who works on environmental and public policy in Washington, D.C., and described himself as one of the “few non-lawyers in the family.”
Savitt graduated in 1946, at age 20, from what is now Carnegie Mellon University, then known as the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
While at the university, she met Jacob “Jack” Savitt, who had just begun attending classes after returning from fighting in World War II. She married Jack, then 23, the same day she graduated college; they were together until his death in 2014.
After marrying, the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Savitt was briefly an elementary school teacher until she had Chuck.
It was in Washington that Savitt made her first foray into politics, volunteering with the Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters.
About 1955, Savitt and her family moved to the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. She continued her volunteer work in politics, campaigning locally in 1956 for Adlai Stevenson’s presidential run, joined by then 5-year-old Chuck, and for John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Savitt was then elected a Park Forest trustee, the equivalent of a councilmember, in 1961 — the first woman to serve in the role.
As a trustee, she got involved in the community’s integration, knocking on white neighbors’ doors to let them know that Black families would begin to move in — and that they were to be welcomed to the community.
“That was just her way of being in the world, was to work to make things better for other people,” McNamara said. “That’s the model she set for me.”
Getting involved in local politics was what drew her to go to law school, her children said. She first attended DePaul University’s law school for two years before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley School of Law when the family moved to their Fern Avenue home in Belvedere in 1965.
Savitt had to repeat a year of law school, as Berkeley required two years of attendance. She graduated in 1967 and was admitted to the state bar that same year.
“Her principal interest was in politics and policy, and that’s why becoming a lawyer … and then a judge was sort of a natural place for her to end up,” Chuck said.
Savitt first began practicing in 1968 as a volunteer for Legal Aid, according to a recollection she wrote for the county bar association. She then became an associate and then a junior partner at the firm Ann Diamond and David Baty, where she initially worked on referrals from the two before shifting her caseload toward family law.
After Baty became a judge for the county municipal court in 1971, Diamond and Savitt brought Ann Cook and Sandra Terzian on to the team, creating an all-woman law firm. It was the first in Marin and one of the first in the nation, McNamara said.
That same year, Verna Adams, just a year out of law school and unhappy with her work at a tax firm, read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Savitt’s law firm in San Rafael.
The article didn’t mention the firm looking for new lawyers, but Adams sent her resume to Savitt anyway.
“She called me up and I had lunch with her, and they offered me a job, which I accepted,” Adams said. “And the rest is history.”
Adams said she considers Savitt a mentor. Savitt taught Adams how to practice law, helping her with difficult cases while providing encouragement along the way. She recalled occasionally working weekends in the office with Savitt on deadline to file appellate briefs, something she enjoyed.
Adams also considered Savitt one of her best friends, and the two vacationed in Europe, Mexico and Hawaii together alongside their husbands.
“I just wish they all could have known her like I did,” Adams said.
Savitt and Adams continued to work together until 1983, when Savitt began serving as a Marin Superior Court judge. She was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1982, at the end of his first governorship. Savitt served on the bench until her retirement in 1995, was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame the same year and then became a private arbitrator.
Savitt’s work as a lawyer and judge had an impact, from making recommendations to improving Marin’s juvenile court system to developing questionnaires for grand jury selection that are still in use today, Adams wrote for the county bar association. Savitt was instrumental in introducing new ways to resolve family law, Adams wrote, adding that she also advocated for alternative methods to conflict resolution.
While Savitt was aware of being a woman in a male-dominated field, McNamara said, she never let that get to her and always maintained a “can-do” attitude.
“She never saw it as an impediment,” McNamara said. “She could do whatever anyone else could do and she was going to do it well — and she did.”
Chuck Savitt noted that while his mother paved the way in her field, “there’s still obviously a huge glass ceiling and lots of places where prejudice impacts women’s ability to reach their goals, as well as all kinds of other people who have been discriminated against.”
In her later years, Chuck said, Savitt had become disillusioned with American politics and how polarized society had become, noting that in her career she was regularly able to work with judges who had different opinions and issues.
“She believed that … if you had facts and evidence, people of goodwill could come to understandings and appropriate decisions,” Chuck said.
In what McNamara described as Savitt’s “last official act as a judge,” Savitt officiated the wedding ceremony for McNamara’s son, Nathan, and his wife, Woonmin, a month prior to her death.
“That was very significant for here, as well as for my son — and for all of us — that she was able to be the one to marry him,” McNamara said. “That was very, very sweet.”
Savitt was preceded in death by her parents; her sister, Erma, who died in 2007; and her husband.
In addition to her children, she is survived by two grandchildren, Nathan and Nona, and her brother, Alan, a senior U.S. district judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
A memorial and celebration of life is set for Nov. 3. Those interested in attending can email email@example.com for more information and to receive a formal invitation.
Reach Francisco Martinez at 415-944-4634.