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Malibu Judge John Merrick Dies at 93

Merrick served as a judge for more than two decades and helped shape most of modern Malibu.

Malibu's original judge, John J. Merrick, died Tuesday at the age of 93.

A celebration of life service is set for noon Saturday, Aug. 25 at the George Elkins Auditorium at .

His son Brian Merrick, who is a realtor in Malibu, said his father's death was not unexpected.

"He was a loving father and a good friend. We were pretty close he and I, more than the others," said Brian Merrick, who has seven other siblings.

Brian Merrick added that his father had been in poor health for some time as he got older.

"The doctors and everybody wrote him off three or four years ago … We all just refused to believe that," Brian Merrick said. "We worked with him. Those were some of the best three or four years that we’ve had."

The Merrick family has lived in Malibu since 1945 on Latigo Beach and Point Dume.

Brian Merrick said it was difficult to sum up his father's life in a few words because he touched so many lives.

"When nobody wanted to be in Malibu, he was here. Before there was a city council, he pretty much ran the town. He was the judge. The county always consulted with him with the things that they were doing. He’s responsible for so many things that we see today in modern Malibu," Brian Merrick said.

The Merrick family released the following obituary:

Honorable Judge John J Merrick of Malibu passed away peacefully on the morning of July 31, 2012. 

Born February 10, 1919 in New Haven, CT and raised in the Bronx he was the first born son of Irish immigrants. During World War II as a commander of a tank destroyer unit, John was shipped out to Southern California after Pearl Harbor where his job was to protect the coastline from Manhattan Beach to Malibu. 

At the conclusion of the war John elected to remain in California and make Malibu his home. He worked as a trust officer for Beverly Hills National Bank and as a comedy writer for the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy radio show. A graduate of Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles John opened a private practice in Beverly Hills until 1964 when he was elected Judge of the Malibu Judicial District where he served on the Bench for 22 years.  

Known as "The Law West of Topanga" during his judgeship he participated in many famous cases including signing of the search warrant for Charles Manson and subsequent trials of Manson Family members. His crowning achievement in Law was a stint on the California Appellate Court where he wrote several published legal opinions. 

As a Justice, John presided over many high profile wedding ceremonies including Lee Marvin, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn and Madonna.

In addition to his public duties he taught at Pepperdine University and Santa Monica College. Malibu was his true love and he was one of Malibu's founding fathers.

John started and founded several charitable organizations throughout Malibu including the Optimist Club, Pepperdine Crest Associates, Malibu Historical Society, Heart Association, Malibu Lagoon Museum, and the Township Council.  

With a keen interest in the history of Malibu from the Chumash to the Rindges, he wrote many books and was cited as the foremost historian of Malibu.  

John, a 66 year resident of Latigo Beach and Point Dume, was preceded in death by his wife Marge Merrick and is survived by his eight children: Shelly Merrick, Maria Merrick, Vicki Curran, John Merrick, Liz Klein, Robert Rowland, Patricia Howard, Brian Merrick, countless grandchildren and great grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers the family asked that a donation be made to the "John Merrick Law Scholarship" at Pepperdine University School of Law, which is awarded to students with an interest in public service. Donations can be sent to Pepperdine School of Law, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu Ca 90263-4633; Attn: John Merrick Law Scholarship/Erin Herrera.

Laureensills@gmail.com August 04, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Judge Merrick married my us on the beach off Sea Lane 23 years ago this month. We felt so lucky to have the legend marry us but when my family, all from the New Haven, CT area found out that the celebrated Judge was actually a local from our neck of the woods in Connecticut, it made for a very special occasion for all of us. Rest in peace, your honor. We will hoist a glass in your name on our anniversary and send our thoughts and prayers to your lovely family.
Linda Androlia August 04, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I hope his family writes a book on his life. I would be honored to have it on my coffee table along with my Adamson house books.
Tami Lyyn August 04, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Judge and friend to everyone. John, you are greatly missed. You are an amazing man. My love and prayers to the family. Btw, he married my husband and I as well. --Tami Lyyn of Malibu
Veronica Barton-Schwartz August 04, 2012 at 03:09 PM
We met Judge John Merrick when we moved to Malibu in the 70's and he was Mr. Malibu. He was kind to everyone and a true gentleman. He will be missed and never forgotten. My thoughts and prayers to your beautiful family.
Malibumom August 04, 2012 at 04:37 PM
The man, the myth and Malibus true legend, Judge John Merrick may you rest in peace. My condolences to your family which is huge. Your presence was a present ;) I was in your courtroom yesterday where your great portrait hangs upon the wall. You will be missed Your Honor. Looking forward to celebrating your life on the 25th. God Bless
Debbie Zak August 04, 2012 at 05:02 PM
When ties got tough for us, John Merrick helped us in his court. I am deeply saddened at his demise. He was one terrific man who changed the lives of many. Rest in Peace.
M Stanley August 04, 2012 at 05:07 PM
May you be as free as the wind As soft as sheep's wool As straight as an arrow That you may journey into the heart of God An old Celtic blessing, fitting for a man with that indisputable twinkle in his eyes and a heart of pure devotion. I can easily imagine him reciting this passage from a sermon, calming and assuring his loved ones - Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? 
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
 All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
 One brief moment and all will be as it was before. 
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.
Jackie Robbins August 04, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I was married in his chambers and it made me feel like a celebrity. May you rest in peace Judge Merrick, you are an icon of Malibu.
Eden August 04, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Thank you Brian and Judy for taking such wonderful loving care of Pops. We join the city in celebrating all that Judge Merrick has done for Malibu for over 50 years. May the Lord bless and keep him. The Danaher Family: Tony, Eden, Collin and Aidan
Betty Lucas August 04, 2012 at 05:56 PM
He will be sorely missed by Malibu! I was fortunate to have been married to my husband, Paul Lucas, in his chambers between cases. Oct. 1, 1986. I believe it was his last day of work, or soon to be that week, as he was getting ready to retire. My husband told him he'd married his mother and father. The Judge was shocked and said he couldn't have gone back that far, but Paul laughed and said, no he meant step father, in the 70's.
Paul Grisanti August 04, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Terrific, kind man with an incisive wit who always tried to do what was best for the community and the parties involved. A huge loss for the community. May he continue to look out for Malibu from above.
Mark Randall August 04, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Malibu has lost a great man. Even if he did give me a lot of grief for speeding when I was a youngster. I am proud to know Brian and Judy who took great care of him for a long time. He will be missed by many. God Bless and Rest in Peace.
R Y A N August 04, 2012 at 08:01 PM
John was a man of honor -- not just Honorable Judge John Merrick. His connection to Malibu is a permanent part of our "good" history. We are all blessed by the work, wisdom, dedication, and devotion of such a loving man who created a positive legacy. He brought out the "good" in people, sometimes under trying circumstances.
Jane Bellomy August 04, 2012 at 08:27 PM
RIP Judge John Merrick...you represent one of the more stable eras in judicial history, common sense and fairness delivered w/ a firm hand; then ably leading our Malibu Historical Society to the acquistion of the Adamson House when L.A. County was going to turn it into yet another parking lot at Surfrider Beach; and finally, that beautiful day back in l983 after the massive storms wreaked havoc along our SoCal coast that found our family, along with you and Ron Merriman, climbing over the Rindge Railroad tracks that had been unearthed by the powerful waves, a little moment in Malibu history not shared by many b/c the tracks were behind the gates at Sea Level where we owned a home at the time - still have photos of that 'carpe diem' day...
Robert Feigel August 04, 2012 at 09:42 PM
By example, Judge Merrick taught me many things that have enriched my life. He treated everyone the same and with the same directness, honesty, and genuine interest and concern. He also gave me the advice I needed when I turned to him during a particularly troubled time as a young adult. My deepest condolences to the Merrick family ... and to all of those whose lives have been made richer by knowing him. "Goodnight sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Requiescat in pace Semper culti in memoria
J Riddle August 05, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I remember going in front of the Judge when I was 16 I was so nervous pleading my case for double parking looking for a place to park at surfrider,he just said did you get the space you were waiting for? I said yes sir and he just said case dismissed !. I also remember Roy Seaman always getting busted for speeding his V W bus with a Corvette engine through Malibu canyon and telling us at our MSA meetings about how Judge Merrick kept telling Him Don't let me keep seeing you in this court room and slow it down .
Jeff Redman August 05, 2012 at 03:42 AM
I remember seeing Judge Merrick in his golf cart looking at the sunset at PDS with a smile on his face.
Alessandra DeClario August 05, 2012 at 05:28 AM
What a beautiful memory Jeff! My encounters with Judge Merrick began about 2 years after his retirement. We shared the fact that we were both from the east coast... but his support of the arts was the thing that we spoke about the most. Judge Merrick launched the Malibu Art Association (MAA) - incorporated in 1963 - and began Malibu's "Public Art Program" by encouraging the MAA members to exhibit their works in the court room where he judged. The program continued for the next 48 years - until the economy forced that division to move to the Santa Monica courthouse last year. It's ironic that Judge Merrick passed during this time of craving venues to exhibit/perform, and the formation of the first Malibu Arts Commission. He's passing the job on.... and Jeff Redman's memory has given me the vision of the Judge's happy shiny face smiling at the sunset! What a full life! Thanks Patch - I'm not in Malibu this weekend but can always look on Patch for any breaking news! He was a true gentleman!
Wendy Lee August 05, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Heartfelt condolences to Shelley, and the entire Merrick family, on this loss.
Lou Drobnick August 05, 2012 at 08:29 AM
John Merrick was a true "friend" of Malibu. He spent his entire career as judge making Malibu a better place for all of us--he was always very fair and measured with all of his decisions. He loved his family and he loved his community. Thank you to all of John's family for sharing John with all of us in Malibu--he will be missed by all and never forgotten. Lou Drobnick L
CAROLYN RODIONOFF August 05, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Jane, Had to smile when I read your comment...We walked those same tracks after the storm...love thinking that we were all out there together...and I love your slice of history (Malibu Historical Society/Adamson House). Blessed to have been a part of that era...and the lives of legends (like you, Ron and Judge Merrick). Nick Rodionoff
CAROLYN RODIONOFF August 05, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Mr. Malibu - definitely fits. Every time we drive by the courthouse, in our minds, Judge Merrick is still sitting the bench with the twinkle in his eye, his easy and ready smile, his quick wit and friendly demeanor, his fair and consistent treatment of all...on and off the bench. He will forever be remembered as one of our very best! We send our blessings and condolences to his family. What a truly wonderful man! - Nick and Carrie Rodionoff
Bill Tompkins August 05, 2012 at 03:35 PM
In all my years of living in Malibu I had never heard one bad remark when it came to Judge Merrick. He was a fair and kind man to everyone he knew. Malibu is a better place because of Judge Merrick. It was a privilege and honor to know him. -Bill Tompkins
Gwen Lucoff August 05, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Terry and I were very lucky to have Judge Merrick marry us in front of the peacock fountain at the adamson house in 1984, we were one of the last "free" weddings there. We told our fiends and family to show up at 9am, and with a boom box of music, we had our beautiful ceremony! I'm so glad that I got to see him several more times in and around Malibu, he was Mr Malibu, and his name should be on heathercluff road and none other. RIP a true Malibu local!
Malibueast August 05, 2012 at 08:16 PM
The only true, real, "Mr. Malibu". Anyone else is just a farce.
John Mazza August 07, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Truly a great friend of Malibu and a man who cared about the long gone Malibu lifestyle. I can remember back in the 70's if you crossed the double yellow line in Malibu canyon and got caught you were in real trouble with the Judge (for good reason). God bless him.
CAROLYN RODIONOFF August 07, 2012 at 11:28 AM
John...Nick and I remember that too...we were JUST saying that yesterday.
Gail Sumpter August 11, 2012 at 11:43 PM
What a truly classy man; a man of honor who cared about Malibu and a key figure in "old" Malibu. He was an asset to Malibu and its residents. Malibu is better off for having had him as a resident and community leader.
Skylar Peak August 14, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Judge Merrick committed his life to servicing community and being a father. Malibu would never be what it is today without his years of service and contributions to our little beach town. He is deeply missed.
Fletch Birge August 26, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Judge John J. Merrick was a refined Christian jurist and gentleman. When he spoke, you were captivated. When you spoke to him, he listened and cared. He was a life member and past president of the West Coast Association of the Veterans of the New York 7th Regiment. The legacy of the regiment's gallant soldiers is remarkable. He is now in the presence of his Savior Jesus Christ. In Psalm 1 we read, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates both day and night." We will miss our dear John, and until our glorious reunion above, rest in peace, beloved friend. The Birge, Hutcherson, and Allen Families

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