He helped shape California’s labor regulations, served as a judge on the state’s highest courts, and has influenced countless students during more than 55 years teaching at UC Hastings. Those are a few of the achievements lauded in a new short film honoring Prof. Joseph Grodin, produced by award-winning filmmaker Abby Ginzberg ‘75.
In Pursuit of Justice: The Life & Legacy of Joe Grodin, premiered on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at a university event marking the year of Grodin’s 85th birthday and the release of the latest edition of his book on California constitutional law. The tribute was part of a Conference on Advancing Equal Access to Justice, a cause close to Grodin’s heart, which UC Hastings and Stanford Law School cosponsored. At the premiere, UC Hastings raised money to establish a fund in Prof. Grodin’s name that will support legal access for low-income workers.
Prof. Mark Aaronson, Grodin’s colleague of 25 years, decided to organize the tribute last year.
“This was an opportunity to recognize Joe Grodin as an especially wonderful human being whose career has been remarkable. It seemed like the right thing to do and the right circumstances,” Aaronson says.
The film traces Grodin’s appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown to California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the first such body in the nation, in 1975. Among other innovations, the board adopted a rule allowing farmworkers to organize on growers’ fields. Gov. Brown later appointed Grodin as associate justice to the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. One of the decisions he wrote, in Pugh v. See’s Candies, extended protections for workers.
“The film speaks to the kind of person Joe is,” Aaronson says. “He’s the epitome of an activist and academic who is driven by his concerns about social justice and how hard it is to achieve.”
Grodin, who grew up in Piedmont, Calif., earned a B.A. from UC Berkeley, a law degree from Yale and a Ph.D. in labor law from the London School of Economics. He started his career as a lawyer primarily representing labor unions. After teaching at UC Hastings as an adjunct professor since the 1950s, he joined the faculty full-time in 1972 and returned in the late 1980s. He still teaches part-time as an emeritus professor. An avid outdoorsman, Grodin wrote a guide to hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada with his daughter, Sharon.
Ginzberg, who spent six months making the film, says Grodin inspired her when she took his labor law class in the early 1970s. She spent several years working for state and federal worker safety agencies before becoming a filmmaker focused on social justice issues.
"He’s very humane and likeable, and I wanted that to come through, along with all of his notable achievements,” she says.
Ginzberg’s other films include Cruz Reynoso: Sowing the Seeds of Justice, about the first Latino justice on the California Supreme Court, and Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson’s American Journey, about the second African American appointed to Northern California’s federal district court. Her 2014 film about an anti-apartheid lawyer, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa, won a Peabody Award.
Established by Joseph and Janet Grodin, the purpose of the Grodin Justice Fund is to promote access to justice for low-wage workers. A major initial focus will involve using technology to enhance the participation of UC Hastings students and the availability of free legal services at the Workers’ Rights Clinic, a joint project of UC Hastings and the San Francisco Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center. Click here to support: http://bit.ly/uch-grodin-justice-fund.