Zenoff, former justice of Supreme Court, dies

Wed, Oct 5, 2005 (8:59 a.m.)

Former Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice David Zenoff long felt that many bad kids could become good kids if shown the proper path in life.

As a district judge in the 1950s and '60s, he was a driving force behind the creation of the Spring Mountain Youth Camp to rehabilitate youths.

"Young people need help to return to the right highway because they've gotten on the wrong road," Zenoff said in a July 15, 1969, Sun story. "If there is anything poignantly apparent today, it is that our most serious problem is people pollution. And it's no wonder that the children are behaving like they came from sewers, judging from the conduct of the grown-ups."

Zenoff, who served 11 years on the Nevada Supreme Court, was one of the founders of the juvenile justice system in Clark County and also championed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He died Tuesday of a respiratory ailment at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, Calif. He was 89.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 57 years are at 2 p.m. Thursday at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego. No local services are planned. Since retiring from the Nevada Supreme Court in 1976, Zenoff has maintained dual residency in Las Vegas and Carlsbad, Calif.

Gov. Kenny Guinn on Tues-day ordered the state .ags to be lowered to half-staff. In 1967, as chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, Zenoff gained international recognition for presiding over the civil marriage of Elvis Presley and 21-year-old Priscilla Anne Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel.

Zenoff's daughter Terrie Zenoff Sanders of Phoenix said that her father also had the distinction of presiding over the divorce of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and attending the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor to Fisher -- both in 1959.

But, Sanders said, her father was much more proud of his work with the lesser known and much less fortunate.

"Spring Mountain, in his mind, had little to do with punishment -- it was for rehabilitation," she said. "His motto for those who were sent to the youth camp was 'you got yourself in there, now work yourself out.' "

Former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Al Gunderson, a friend since 1958 who helped Zenoff in the creation of the youth camp, called him "a very human guy."

"David believed children who had gone wrong had the potential to be shaped in a corrective manner -- that was what he focused on very heavily," Gunderson said. "He was very much a pioneer in improving all aspects of the juvenile system and you could always count on him to be fair."

Clark County's juvenile detention center is named for David Zenoff.

"Justice Zenoff was a caring, intelligent and dedicated individual," Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Becker said. "He worked hard for the children of this state and I remember thinking, as a young lawyer and judge, 'That's the type of person I want to be.' "

Born March 8, 1916, in Amherst, Wis., Zenoff was the youngest and last swurvivor of six children of Russian immigrants Louis and Lena Zenoff. He earned his law degree at the University of Wisconsin and served in the Marines during World War II, earning a Bronze Star.

Zenoff came to Las Vegas and was admitted to the Nevada Bar in 1948. After a stint in pri-vate practice and service as an associate Las Vegas Municipal Court judge, Zenoff was appointed to the District Court on Dec. 23, 1958. He spent six years there hearing juvenile cases in the days before there was a family court.

Zenoff also hired then-Basic High School teacher Mike O'Callaghan as his chief juvenile probation officer. Zenoff later supported fellow Democrat O'Callaghan in his bid for governor. O'Callaghan served two terms as governor and 25 years as chairman and executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun until his death last year.

Zenoff was appointed to the Nevada Supreme Court on April 26, 1965, and served several years as chief justice.

After leaving the bench, Zenoff served as a member of the board of directors of Southwest Gas, the Golden Nugget Hotel and Irwin Molasky's Paradise Development and Realty Holdings Inc.

Zenoff won several humanitarian awards and served on the civil rights committee of the Anti-Defamation League.

In addition to his daughter, Zenoff is survived by his wife of 65 years, Beverly Zenoff of Carlsbad; a son David Zenoff Jr., of Las Vegas; another daughter, Lisa Zenoff of Denver; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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