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  • Writer's pictureJill

Seth Hufstedler's 100th Birthday!

I'm disappointed that I didn't get better video of Seth on his !00th birthday. (I got lots of good video of my feet!) Luckily I wasn't the only one taking video - there was a professional photographer there as well! AND my friend Sandy, who is a fabulous photographer, took some lovely photos that I also included tonight. So because you won't have the privilege of knowing this extraordinary man, I want you to read a little about his amazing life. Robert gave some remarks about Seth and his 100 years, and I thought you might like to read them.

Seth's wife, Shirley Hufstedler, was also an extraordinary person. She was Jimmy Carter's first Secretary of Education -- and was the first woman on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We feel lucky to have been even a little part of their lives.

Here's Robert's remarks:

Seth Hufstedler’s 100th Birthday

September 20, 2022

I am honored to say a few words about our good friend, Seth Hufstedler, on the occasion of his 100th Birthday, which is today, September 20, 2022.

Seth was born in Oklahoma, the youngest of three children. His two older sisters were considerably older than Seth, so he sometimes says that he was raised by three mothers.

His father ran a general store and at one point purchased a bankrupt railroad. He was active in politics, eventually being elected to the Oklahoma assembly—as a Democrat, of course!

In 1927, when Seth was five years old, his father decided to move the family to California, to be near relatives in the Bay Area. On the way, the family stopped at a motor hotel in Bakersfield. Seth’s father liked what he saw and bought the business—called Camp Comfort.

Seth grew up at the motor court in Bakersfield, performing odd jobs such as plumbing and electrical work, and dealing with guests.

When the circus came to Bakersfield, they stayed at Camp Comfort, so Seth got a lot of experience dealing with a wide variety of personality types—a secret to his future success as a superb trial lawyer and leader of the bar.

Seth attended Bakersfield High School, where he was a standout student. He was a member of the speech and debate team [He finished first at the State Championships in Extemporaneous speaking.] And as a member of the bowling team, Seth achieved the individual high score at the state championships!

In 1939, Seth drove over the Ridge Route from Bakersfield to attend the University of Southern California. At USC, Seth enrolled in the ROTC. He was, of course, the captain of the Honor Guard and led that group in the raising of the flag at the Rose Bowl in 1944.

Seth took an astronomy class at USC from the Chief Astronomer of the Griffith Observatory, who invited Seth to help run the planetarium shows using the then-state-of-the-art Zeiss projector. He can still tell you the exact longitude and latitude for the settings on the projector necessary to begin the show! [34° 07' 6.82" N. Longitude: -118° 18' 1.33" W.]

During Seth’s time at Griffith Observatory, he witnessed an extraordinary event in the history of Los Angeles—the so-called Battle of Los Angeles on February 24th-25th, 1942. For a period of several hours, battleships in the Port of Los Angeles fired their guns at phantom targets off the coast. It turned out to be an errant weather balloon.

Three years ago, I arranged for Seth to visit with the current Griffith Observatory Director, who interviewed Seth. The Director asked Seth if he remembered the Battle of Los Angeles and Seth recounted his memories of that night. The Director then produced an employee sign-in book for 1942 and showed us Seth’s signature on February 24th, 1942, with a notation under Seth’s signature saying, “Battle of Los Angeles.”

Seth also took a cryptography class while he was at USC—and of course excelled at the class as well, so much so that when it came time for Seth to accept his commission in the Navy, his cryptography professor called US Naval Intelligence—then called OP 20g, and said that there was a smart kid in his class who should go into Navy Intelligence. Shortly thereafter, Seth reported to Naval HQ in DC for training. In short order, Seth was decoding the Japanese wartime code, called Code Purple, which was a first cousin to the Enigma Code used by the German military. Seth was later dispatched to Hawaii to help decode the Japanese naval code (JN25).

Each day, three intelligence groups attempted to decipher that day’s encrypted message from the Japanese Navy. Seth did so from Hawaii, the US military did so at its HQ in DC, and the British did so at Bletchley Park in Britain. Seth was almost always the first to decipher the code each day, so the units in DC and Bletchley park gave up and just let Seth crack the Japanese code each day.

To give you an idea of just how sensitive the intelligence was that Seth was handling, one day when he decrypted a message, he was told to hand carry that message to the White House and was, for the first time in his military career, given a firearm to protect himself on the way to the White House. I have asked Seth what was in that message and he claims not to know—showing that he can keep a defense secret confidential for nearly 80 years—which is more than we can say for some modern politicians!

Seth returned to the states from Hawaii on the death of his father, and while he was in the states, he went on leave that ended his service in the Navy. During that so-called terminal leave, Seth and a buddy applied to and were accepted to Boalt Hall and USC Law School. With time on their hands, they decided to visit the Stanford Law School campus where, fortuitously, they ran into the acting Dean of the Law School. They apparently had a nice conversation, because about a week later, Seth and his friend received acceptance letters admitting them to Stanford Law School without ever taking an admittance exam!

Seth was, as usual, an outstanding student at Stanford. Seth graduated first in his class, with Shirley (his future wife) and Warren Christopher graduating in a tie for third. And of course, Seth (and Shirley) helped to found the Stanford Law Review, where Seth was the Legislation Editor. And Seth’s law review article appeared in Volume I, Issue 1 of the Stanford Law Review. It was entitled "Who Owns the Clouds?" - which is still cited today!

I have, of course, buried the lead, which is that Seth and Shirley met and fell in love at Stanford, and married shortly after graduation. For their honeymoon, they studied for the bar together at a mountain cabin, and after the bar they drove south on the precursor to the Pan American highway all the way to Guatemala. They then set up their residence in Los Angeles, and had their son Steven, who was the love of their lives.

Seth began his legal career at a predecessor of Lillick McHose and Charles, while Shirley ghost-wrote briefs for lawyers who wouldn’t hire her directly. On Seth’s first day of work, he was given a stack of a dozen case files and told to handle them on his own. He was permitted to ask questions, if absolutely necessary.

Seth had met Chuck Beardsley when he was looking for his first job. Two years later, Chuck was about to begin his term as president of the State Bar and needed help to run his practice. He offered Seth a job, and the rest is history.

As I close, I want to say that one of the blessings of my legal career was to come to Morrison & Foerster, where I reconnected with Seth (after having served as a summer clerk at BH&K in 1980). We have become close friends and Seth has been a mentor, guide, and intellectual companion who has helped broaden my horizons. I am deeply grateful for his friendship. Happy 100th Birthday Seth!


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