By Mary O’KEEFE
Glendale resident Pauline (Polly) Wagner McCourtney has never been one to waste an opportunity, not even the celebration of her 100th birthday.
On Saturday, Sept. 11 McCourtney gathered friends, family and supporters at the Thursday Club in La Cañada to share her birthday with a fundraiser for “Friends of Judge McCourtney.”
“We want to bring art and music programs to the juvenile [court] in Lancaster,” McCourtney said.
McCourtney is well known for her history in the film industry as a contract player at Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studio through the depression to the beginning of World War II. But she has been an activist for many years, never backing down from sharing her opinion or voicing a concern about anything from the environment to the justice system. For years McCourtney has continued the work of her husband Albert to bring recognition and improved conditions to the juvenile court system of Antelope Valley.
“My dad was an attorney in the early 1950s in Antelope Valley. He was the justice of the peace and then the first municipal judge in Antelope Valley,” said Bruce McCourtney.
Alfred was later promoted to the Superior Court of Los Angeles County in the 1960s. His heart and legal talents were always targeted at improving the juvenile system, which at the time had been ignored by the mainstream court, according to McCourtney.
After his death in 1975 McCourtney did not let her husband’s work to improve the quality of the juvenile court end. Through her tenacity she was instrumental in getting the juvenile court in Lancaster updated and continues to work for programs that can give hope to those that find themselves in the court.
“The basic idea is to really help the juveniles at the courthouse and those that
visit,” said Cathy Smith, secretary and treasurer for the
Smith explained they want to not only help those who are going through the system but the families. Many times when a youth is in court their siblings are there as well. The organization would like to reach out to these children and offer them art classes in addition to those in the system. The group has been able to make the courthouse less institutional looking by having a mural completed.
“If we can just help and guide one child out of the system, that would be [worthwhile],” Smith said.
In May 2004 the L.A. County supervisors approved the request by the City Council of Lancaster to rename the Lancaster Juvenile Justice Center to the Alfred. J. McCourtney Juvenile Justice Center.
“Judge McCourtney was a strong advocate for the residents of the Antelope Valley and his years of hard work helped change the Antelope Valley from a justice of the peace court to a municipal court district,” stated the request.
The judge is credited with being the force behind the first courthouse built in Lancaster.
“Judge McCourtney was especially dedicated to juvenile issues. He promoted reorganization of the juvenile system and saw a need for a specialized children’s court,” the request continued.
Throughout the years the courthouse has been renovated and improved with the assistance of the Friends of Judge Alfred McCourtney. For her part, McCourtney now wants to bring music and art as another way to reach out to those in the court system.
“You can go back in history and [find] that everything that has been successful and worthwhile began with art,” McCourtney said.
Those who came to her birthday bash brought donations to the organization. McCourtney was pleased with the fundraiser and thanked her family, friends and neighbors for always being there for her.
Everyone sang Happy Birthday to McCourtney and cakes decorated by Emily Cruz depicted the different stages in her life, from actress to advocate.
Those who would like to donate to the organization can do so by sending a donation to Friends of Judge Alfred McCourtney, P.O. Box 1409, Lancaster, CA 93584.