Frank S. Petersen, former judge and legislator, dies in Fort Bragg

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Frank S. Petersen, a former judge, district attorney and state senator, died Monday at his Fort Bragg home. He was 88.

"He set the bar for my family," said his nephew, Ukiah attorney Erik Petersen, one of six law-practicing Petersens.

Frank Petersen was born June 20, 1922, in a Mendocino Coast logging camp.

After graduating from Fort Bragg High School in 1940, he joined the U.S. Navy Seabees, serving during World War II.

After the war, he briefly worked in the woods, then headed for college. He obtained his law degree at the University of San Francisco and began practicing law in Ukiah in 1952. He went to work for the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office in 1954 and was appointed district attorney in 1960, a position he held for two years.

During that time he became embroiled in the notorious "War of the Warrants."

It began as a dispute between two Mendocino County judges and Sheriff Reno Bartolomie over an alleged wife-beating case that the sheriff and Petersen refused to prosecute. It grew to involve other issues and additional county officials, a reporter and the state Attorney General's Office.

More than 50 arrest warrants — including one for Petersen — were issued during the siege. The case culminated in a 94-day trial that convicted the two judges, a deputy sheriff and the alleged assault victim for obstruction of justice.

In 1962, Petersen was elected as state senator for the 4th Senate District. While still serving in the Legislature, Petersen was appointed to the Superior Court of Del Norte County.

He served as a Superior Court judge for 22 years, during which time he also presided in 18 other counties, family said. He was president of the Cow County Judge's Association and lectured on small court management at UC Berkeley School of Law from 1978 to 1980.

He retired in 1988 and resumed practicing law in 1990. But he returned to the bench in 1993 as part of the Assigned Judges Program, working throughout the state.

He continued to work until a few years ago, Erik Petersen said.

Petersen was both compassionate and professional in his demeanor as a judge, friends and family said.

"I appeared before him as a young lawyer probably 30 years ago. It was a refreshing, comfortable experience," said longtime friend and former Mendocino County Judge James Luther. "He made people feel like each one of them was his best friend."

Petersen was equally at ease hunting in the woods and wearing a tuxedo and rubbing shoulders with power brokers at political events, his nephew said.

"He was a man's man," Erik Petersen said.

Petersen is survived by his wife, Marianne, six children and four brothers.

A time of reflection will begin at 1 p.m. June 4 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Fort Bragg, followed by a prayer service at 3 p.m. A celebration of life will be held at the Redwood Coast Senior Center in Fort Bragg at 4 p.m.

A Mass will be held at St. Joseph's church in Crescent City at 1 p.m. June 10, followed by a fellowship at the Lighthouse Inn on Highway 101 in Crescent City.

— Glenda Anderson

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