Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News Fall 2015, Vol. 24, No. 2

A Tribute to Joseph L. Sax*

by Antonio Rossmann**

In a few moments the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of California will present its inaugural lifetime achievement award to Joseph L. Sax. As members of this bar, we are grateful that our section leadership has made this wise selection. But we are also saddened that although Joe’s nomination and selection were underway while he was still with us, we cannot enjoy his presence tonight. Yet we are equally grateful for the presence this evening of his three devoted daughters, Kathy, Valerie, and Amber, to receive our award for your beloved dad.

"Beloved" is the right word. Many titles Joe earned in his lifetime—teacher, writer, advocate, counselor, colleague, and friend—but more than those Joe has been to us in this room our inspiration. His brilliance and energy have not only guided our work; they have given worth and value to the products of our own lives.

But ahead of professional markers, we must first remember Joe Sax as a man of irreverent humor and impish wit. Consider the titles of his publications. After the State Water Resources Control Board rejected his analysis establishing the board’s statutory authority over all groundwater hydrologically connected to the surface, Joe took his case against the board to the higher plane of legal scholarship, with the scolding title, "We Don’t Do Groundwater." Addressing those public and private owners who would deny a trusteeship in their temporal possession of cultural treasures, Joe characterized them as "Playing Darts with a Rembrandt." In one of our visits with Joe in the hospital, a polite new orderly entered the room and asked how he preferred to be addressed. Joe’s answer: "Excellency? Would that do?"

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