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Joseph Sax Dies At 78; Law Professor Wrote Influential Article On Public Trust Doctrine

Publication Date: 
March 10, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Bettina Boxall

Professor Barton "Buzz"  Thompson reflects on the impact of the work of the late Joseph Sax for The Los Angeles Times.  

In 1970, Joseph Sax wrote a law review article that laid the foundation for a court case that would become famous in the annals of California water.

More than a decade after publication of Sax's seminal essay on the public trust doctrine, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state had a duty to take into account the public trust in allocating water resources — an opinion that ultimately forced Los Angeles to reduce diversions from the Mono Lake basin in the Eastern Sierra.


"I think Joe, more than anybody else, is responsible for the very existence of the field called 'environmental law,'" said Barton "Buzz" Thompson Jr., a Stanford law school professor who with Sax wrote a leading textbook on water law. "Joe came up with some of the central concepts that are still key to environmental law."


He hiked in the mountains and took his family on jaunts to national parks. "He was a solid environmentalist," Thompson said. "He took the world seriously. To him it was not simply an academic exercise."