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March 14, 2014

A case Professor Emeritus William Bassett assisted with recently received a landmark unanimous decision by the California Supreme Court, reversing what legal observers see as nearly two decades of misguided jurisprudence in family law. Adjunct Professor Robert Arns ’75 was the primary counsel in the case, Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten.

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Professor Emeritus William W. Bassett

“Ceja is the most important family law decision in this decade,” Bassett said. “The court reversed 18 years of muddled rulings below, and restored to family law and personal injury practice the true meaning of equity and fairness in redress of wrongdoing for all the people of the state.”

The case focused on Nancy Ceja’s wrongful death claim as a surviving widow whose husband, construction worker Robert Ceja, had been killed in a 2007 workplace accident. Her claims were denied by the construction company, which argued she did not have a right to press them as a legal spouse because the couple had married while Robert Ceja’s divorce papers to his previous wife were still in the waiting period. But the Supreme Court ruled that a marriage is valid if there is proof of “good faith” belief in its legality, illustrated by such things as holding a wedding ceremony and presenting financial matters as a married couple. 

Bassett, who each year updates his book, Bassett on California Community Property Law, became involved with the Ceja case after seeing himself quoted in the opinion issued by the 6th District Court of Appeal. When Bassett saw that Arns, who had been a student of Bassett’s, was the attorney of record on the case, he asked if he could assist with the case as it went before the state Supreme Court. Bassett worked with attorney Jonathan E. Davis, providing him with relevant materials and attending arguments before the court.

“I’m happy that Bill is continuing his service to the law and particularly Community Property law since his retirement from teaching,” said Professor Tim Iglesias. “In this case he had the vision, insight, and deep grounding in the law to challenge and successfully reverse 18 years of misguided jurisprudence.”