Charles Springer 1928-2019
Historian James Hulse: “He was a good public servant for many decades.”
Former Nevada attorney general and state supreme court justice Charles Springer of Reno died in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, on the eve of his 91st birthday.
Springer, known advocacy of the rights of workers and women, also served as Washoe County’s first juvenile court master. He was co-author of the Nevada Women’s Legal Guide (1995) and author of Justice for Juveniles (1986).
Born in Reno in 1928, he married fellow University of Nevada student Jacqueline Sirkegian of White Pine County in 1951. After taking a law degree at Georgetown University, he eventually formed a law firm with two colleagues, the firm’s name inspiring some comment: Springer, McKissick and Hug. In 1961, the firm established an award for graduate students.
Springer was an ally of Gov. Grant Sawyer in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Sawyer appointed him attorney general, where he called for action to protect air and water quality eight years before the first Earth Day.
A rupture in his relationship with Sawyer led to the two men facing off in the 1966 Democratic primary when Sawyer sought a third term. Springer lost, then ran as an antiwar candidate for governor in 1970, his campaign fueled by students who gathered the signatures to put him on the ballot. Democratic leaders then repaid his 1966 run, tying his candidacy up in court until just days before the election, when the courts approved his ballot status. too late for him to succeed.
After an unsuccessful run for the state high court, Springer was elected to the court in 1980, serving until 1993 after being reelected twice without opposition.
Springer was sometimes attacked for his defense of unpopular figures. In 1974 while running for the Supreme Court, a newspaper attacked him for serving as a lawyer for a black student threatened with expulsion from the University of Nevada, Reno. His opponent, Gordon Thompson, reprinted the editorial in ads. Toward the end of his Supreme Court tenure, Springer was damaged by his support of a lower court judge accused of ethical transgressions.
On the court, Springer won praise from conservatives when he was the only justice who criticized law enforcement drug war behavior: “Interstate buses are being commandeered in Winnemucca by small posses of lawmen. … In my opinion, these incursive boarding parties should be stopped because they are violative of state and federal constitutional prohibitions against unlawful searches and seizures.”
He pleased liberals in a Harrah’s case with criticism of a state policy of allowing employers to fire workers without cause: “Nevada now becomes the only state in the nation that puts this burden on its employees. ”
A memorial for Springer will be held March 16 at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the Snows Church, 1138 Wright St.