H. Keith Byram, Retired Newhall Municipal Court Judge
By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor
Monday, October 13, 2003
Keith Byram, a Newhall Municipal Court judge from 1983 to 1998, died Sunday from congestive heart failure. He was 77.
Byram, who had struggled with heart and kidney failure since retirement, awoke at his Sand Canyon home Sunday at about 4 a.m. complaining of shortness of breath, his widow said. He was rushed by ambulance to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where he died at about 6 a.m.
"He was an icon from the old school ... who cut through the form to get to the substance," said Judge Alan Rosenfield, who served in Santa Clarita alongside Byram since 1990. "He had a knack for the business. He understood people and he understood their problems."
Byram, born March 7, 1926, in Sacramento, was a 30-year-old detective with the Sacramento Police Department when he married Virginia, also a Sacramento native. He had a daughter, Michael, and a son, Patrick, from a previous marriage and raised Virginiašs son, Kevin, from age 2.
In 1958 he passed his police narcotics test, joined the California Department of Justice and moved his family to Los Angeles.
Attending Southwestern Law School at night, he passed the bar exam in June 1967 and went into private practice as an attorney in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles for the requisite five years before he could apply for a court commissioner position.
As a Municipal Court commissioner he handled traffic violations in downtown Los Angeles before being transferred to San Fernando.
When Newhall Judge Jack Clark announced his intent to retire in 1982, Byram decided to try for the job. It would prove to be one of the most rancorous judicial elections in memory.
Six candidates tossed their hats into the ring. When the dust settled, attorney Dan Hon a local mover and shaker with a lengthy community service record had the most votes in the June primary election.
But no candidate won 50 percent, so Byram and Hon were forced into a November runoff.
Words flew and accusations over campaign hijinks turned into threats of lawsuits. By Nov. 2, the other four candidates most importantly attorney Rick Patterson, who finished a close third in June had thrown their support to the candidate with more experience on the bench, Byram.
Voters picked experience over civic activism as Byram captured a 58-percent majority.
"Dan (Hon later) said that the right man had gone to the bench. It was very big of him," Virginia Byram said Sunday.
No one ever challenged Byram at the ballot box after that first election. Reelected in 1988 and 1994, it was only when his heart started to give out in 1997 that he gave up the bench for good in February 1998.
He got rid of his boat, too.
"Sailing became too much for him," Virginia Byram said, "so we took up golf."
Byram is survived by his widow, Virginia, of Santa Clarita; his daughter, Michael (and Robert) Haugland, of Sacramento; his son, Patrick, of Big Bear; Virginiašs son, Kevin (and Irene) Bradshaw, of Twin Falls, Idaho; and three grandchildren.
His body will be cremated. There will be a memorial service but arrangements have not yet been announced.
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