Paul Egly, the judge who oversaw court-mandated integration efforts of Los Angeles schools in the late 1970s, has died at his home in Laguna Beach, it was reported Monday. He was 97.

California’s Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that Los Angeles Unified School District must work to desegregate its schools in Crawford vs. Board of Education, and Egly was assigned the job in 1977 of overseeing the district’s development and implementation of an integration plan.

He started as a well-liked judge known for his jovial nature and ability to get along with different groups, and tried to bring racial integration to Los Angeles schools through collaboration rather than force, the Los Angeles Times reported. But over the four years that he oversaw the case, Egly faced resistance from white communities and politicians, an effort to recall him and a change to the state constitution that heavily stymied integration efforts.

“He was willing to take a case that nobody in Los Angeles would touch and he tried his best to reason with people,” Gary Orfield, the co-director of UCLA’ Civil Rights Project and one of Egly’s advisors during the case, told The Times.

Despite L.A.’s liberal leanings, desegregation was never a popular endeavor — many white families did not want their children bused to schools in primarily black and Latino neighborhoods. The L.A. Superior Court judge who initially ruled that the schools were segregated was voted out of office the next year.

In March 1977, before the hearings began, a Times reporter asked whether the idea of losing voter support concerned him. Egly said, “Of course it does. I thought about it and swallowed it, with a gulp. But I have been a judge for a long time, and a judge’s job is to judge.”

By July of that year, after he rejected the district’s initial desegregation plan and demanded a more comprehensive one, a Times story noted that he had received multiple death threats, and “may well be the most unpopular judge in Southern California.”

About 30 years ago Egly began slowly losing his eyesight to macular degeneration, and lost his eyesight completely about five years ago, his wife, Jane Egly, told The Times. A voracious reader, he learned Braille and listened to audiobooks. He suffered from diabetes and died on June 26 while in hospice care, with his wife and a niece by his side.

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