A longtime Santa Clarita judge known for his tough but fair reputation and giving troubled youth a second chance through a local teen court died last month. He was 86.
The job wasn’t only about justice for Judge Floyd Baxter — it was about helping people help themselves, according to his daughter Wendy Stevenson, in a phone interview Monday.
“To help people, not just give them a consequence,” she said Monday, in reference to her father’s legacy. “So, if someone had … a drinking problem, he always wanted them to go to (Alcoholics Anonymous) and he wanted to help them get resources so they can improve.”
Baxter was first appointed to what was then known as Newhall Municipal Court in 1985 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, according to a report in The Signal at the time.
Prior to his appointment, Baxter was a 48-year-old attorney with his Newhall-based firm, Baxter and Hoodack, with 11 years of experience practicing law, nine of them in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Service was a constant throughout Baxter’s life, and he was a U.S. Air Force pilot in the Combat Air Medical Evacuation missions during the Vietnam War. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and earned awards for his contributions, including the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal and the Gallantry Cross with Palm during his time in the Air Force Reserve from 1966 to 1986.
He was recalled during Desert Storm, and Stevenson said he also reenlisted as a volunteer in the judge advocate general’s court after 9/11.
He was in the pages of The Signal numerous times, for both his community contributions, which included being a founding member of the local teen court, and his actions from the bench, which drew both praise and complaints that, at times, he was overly strict.
“Teens get judged by jury of peers” was one of several articles in The Signal’s archives that looked at how Baxter sought alternatives for juvenile incarceration that still offered a form of accountability and consequence.
“The philosophy behind the court is that youth do not continue with their offenses when a jury of their peers decides their fate — almost a kind of positive peer pressure,” according to a 1998 article about the program, which noted it handled 92 trials in its first three years and “only had three failures.”
When he felt it was time for a stern rebuke, though, Baxter was unafraid to deliver during his time on the bench, which was approximately 1985 to 2006. While a judge, he also taught business courses at College of the Canyons.
Baxter drew fire from The Signal in 2001 for his handling of the sentencing of “PTA mom” Linda Jensen, who backed into a truck at the parking lot of a home improvement store. Jensen received six days in jail, three years’ probation and 65 hours of community service, and she was remanded into custody after being denied bail, which resulted in a Signal editorial that characterized his handling of the case as draconian.
Baxter maintained that she was a flight risk because she left the scene of a fender-bender, and also pointed out to The Signal that she lied on the witness stand and falsified evidence. He was also defended by a number of Signal letter-writers, including a fellow soldier he rescued during a Vietnam War mission and a Castaic mom who referred to him as fair, unbiased, innovative and approachable for his work on the Teen Court.
Baxter suffered a stroke and died March 16 at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital surrounded by his family.
He was preceded in death by his first wife, Marian Frances Baxter, who died in 2008. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie Baxter; his four daughters, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A service will be held 10 a.m. Friday at Eternal Valley, where, as a veteran, Baxter also will be recognized by the presence of the honor guard. There will be a memorial at 11 a.m. in The Sanctuary Church in Friendly Valley.