Property Rights Attorney Trager Dies

MARCH 24, 2011


I was stunned to learn this week that my good friend, Susan M. Trager, a Laguna Beach resident, passed away from cancer at age 63. Susan was one of the top water and environmental lawyers in California. She even wrote a few articles for CalWatchdog. A genuine friend of liberty, she used her formidable legal skills to stand up for property owners and the Little Guy. There is no one I would have preferred to represent me had I needed help fighting City Hall.

Susan had a razor-sharp mind and could cut through all the crap in an instant, which no doubt explains why she became one of the nation’s foremost legal experts in the arcane area of water policy. Whenever I had a problem, I would go to Susan for her no-nonsense analysis of the situation. Her sage advice and wisdom kept me out of a number of scrapes. She never seemed to mind giving me free advice and putting up with my neurotic worries du jour. I guess that’s what friends are all about.

As tough as she was, Susan also was incredibly warm and generous. An expert in eminent domain, she gladly reviewed my first book and made her forthright suggestions — advice that greatly improved the final product. One of the best times we had was during a Metropolitan Water District tour of the California Water Project. We stayed out in the desert near the Colorado River with a number of friends on the water tour, drank a bit too much and spent the evening laughing out under the grand desert sky. I even chased a few wild burros on golf carts (don’t ask), although I recall that Susan and her husband, Eric Norby, were wise enough to avoid that form of revelry.  I mainly remember Susan’s great stories about sticking up for property owners and her history lessons about the water project as we went from one water site to another.

Recently, I had dinner with her and mutual friends in Newport Beach and we argued vociferously about politics. We always disagreed on foreign policy and we argued loudly, but it was always good-natured and fun.

My CalWatchdog colleague, John Seiler, worked with her as a paralegal over the past year and was astounded by the depth of her knowledge of the law, and of the politics behind it. “One area of great concern for her was the increase in government bureaucratic control over water policy,” Seiler recalls. “Over more than a century and a half of adjudication, California’s water law implementation, although often intricate, actually worked quite well. The courts adjudicated, for the most part ably, the disputes among the various government entities and private property owners. But in recent years, especially with such laws as AB32, environmental law increasingly has become the plaything of state bureaucrats with an antipathy to property rights. Susan fought that like a tigress.

“The clients whom she helped in her legal career numbered many hundreds, all of whom valued her. As a person, she was kind and considerate, and the friend of scores of people in Orange County and throughout California. A valued friend of liberty has been lost. I will miss her,” Seiler added.

I’m still stunned. She had kept her condition private so people would remember her as she was. I had called her a number of days ago, not knowing that she was in the hospital in perilous condition. I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from her, and I’m still here at the desk, hoping that the next call might be from her.

I’m not good at these sorts of writings, but a spate of deaths and illnesses recently from friends reminds me of our own mortality. We can only prolong the day of reckoning. So we might as well do as Susan did – work tirelessly on behalf of our most valued principles.

Rest in peace, Susan.

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