Raymond Clark Clayton, Sr., one of our treasured Emeritus Attorneys with the Ventura County Volunteer Lawyer Services Program (VLSP), passed away Dec. 27, 2013. He was 85 years old. Ray was born on Dec. 11, 1928 in Fresno, and grew up in the Central Valley. He attended Fresno State College, achieving a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1951, while at the same time volunteering for the National Guard of California, receiving an honorable discharge in 1949. Ray earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1960 and was admitted to the State Bar in 1961.

Ray began his legal career as a Deputy District Attorney for Madera County before becoming the Assistant City Attorney of Bakersfield. In 1969 Ray became the first full-time city attorney of Thousand Oaks. He and then-City  Councilman Charles Cohen (later his law partner) drafted the Thousand Oaks Oak Tree Ordinance, enacted in 1970, protecting the trees for which Thousand Oaks was named.

From 1973 to 1998, Ray practiced law first with Chuck Cohen and Leonard Alexander, and later under the firm name Alexander, Clayton & Wilson in Thousand Oaks. He continued to serve governmental entities in his private practice as General Counsel for South Coast Area Transit (Gold Coast Transit), receiving a 35-year service commendation, and was special counsel to the Conejo Recreation and Park District in Thousand Oaks between 1995 and 1998 for the purpose of acquiring, with director Tex Ward, the McCrea Ranch.

Throughout his career, Ray was involved in many civic, community, and nonprofit organizations. One of his many legal contributions was the work he did as co-counsel with Channel Counties Legal Services Association (CCLSA) for the Rancho Sespe Farmworker Housing Development in Fillmore. In the late 1980s CCLSA represented farmworker residents in Rancho Sespe who had been organizing under the United Farmworkers’ Union for better pay and working conditions. Rather than negotiate with the UFW, the ranch owners sold the ranch and the new owners evicted all the farmworker residents from the ramshackle housing they occupied. CCLSA defended the farmworkers in the trial court, but the court ordered the workers to be evicted. CCLSA then successfully brought an action before the Agricultural Labor Relations Board on behalf of the workers to stay their evictions because their housing was art of their employment.

For the next nine years, 100 farmworker families struggled to maintain their deteriorating housing while the ranch owner refused to make repairs. Ultimately, Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation helped to locate land upon which to build replacement housing for the farmworkers. A conditional use permit had to be obtained from the County of Ventura, but neighbors opposed the application, not wanting farmworker housing in their community. These neighbors filed suit to stop construction, and again the court ruled against the farmworkers and in favor of opponents to the project. It was at this point that Carmen Ramírez, then executive director of CCLSA, sought Ray’s help with the appeal. As co-counsel with CCLSA, Ray brought his great wealth of knowledge, credibility and expertise as a former city attorney, and the case was reversed on appeal. The success he achieved for the farmworker community can be seen today from Highway 126, where 100 dwelling units, a community center and childcare center comprise the Rancho Sespe development.

In 1998 Ray “retired” to devote most of his time to pro bono work, along with his hobbies of reading, travel, participating in the Osher Continuing Education Program at California State University Channel Islands, lecturing with the Lewis & Clark Foundation and contributing routinely to his church, Westlake Community Christian. He passionately pursued fly-fishing, spending many summers with his family in Southwest Montana. It was in his “retired” role that I got to know Ray best.

For the past few years Ray, and often his good friend Jerry Cline, also a Pro Bono Attorney, rode with me from Thousand Oaks to the monthly Emeritus Attorney meetings at the VCBA office in Ventura. While Ray will be missed by many people in countless ways, for me what I will miss most is the thought-provoking, rich dialogue we shared carpooling each month. Ray would start the road discussion around an article he had read that morning in the The New York Times, or a book he was reading about politics or economics or some profound issue of the day. Ray was one of the most thoughtful people I have ever known. He liked to discuss issues with those who held differing viewpoints because such discussions, when respectful, which he always was, helped all participants to broaden their understanding of issues, and question their own assumptions. Ray was one of the most stimulating people to engage in discourse: his healthy curiosity, brilliant perception, and respectful manner made it a pleasure to share ideas.

Ray had impeccable ethics, often telling me that he was most proud of the cases he declined to prosecute when he was a deputy  district attorney. He was acutely aware that the power of government, if not exercised carefully, could easily overwhelm the rights of individuals and undermine democracy. He was eminently fair, and believed it his duty to help level the playing field. According to his son, Ray, Jr., his father was always mindful of the needs of the community, and worried that he was not doing enough to help. He recalls his father helping a neighborhood in Northern California to save its elementary school after flooding made it unsafe. Ray also worked to secure from the Janss family the land where the former Thousand Oaks City Hall was situated, near the Oaks Mall, which currently houses the National Park Service, a fitting tribute to Ray’s legacy given his love of nature and the outdoors.

One of Jerry Cline’s favorite memories of his conversations with Ray regarded a gift Ray had apparently received from a developer while he served as City Attorney for Thousand Oaks. It was a small Christmas tree with Rolex watches hanging from the branches. Not wanting to offend the giver, and clearly not comfortable with accepting the gift, Ray donated the watches to charitable organizations and sent a letter thanking the developer for the charitable donations so made.

When talking with colleagues about Ray, the terms most often used are “kind,” “generous,” “thoughtful,” “intelligent,” and “honorable.” He never ceased his hunger for learning, never compromised his high ethical standards, and always tried to help those in need. Having been predeceased by his dear wife, Patricia Richardson Molsick, in 1990, Ray, Sr., is survived by his daughter, son, stepdaughters, their respective families, and a host of lifelong friends, many of whom would concur he lived a richly understated life.

Tina Rasnow is an Emeritus Attorney and former VCBA president.

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