Kenney Scruggs, the Bishop attorney and civic activist who became a voice in court for children trapped in their parents’ custody battles, has died after a struggle with cancer. She was 62.
Scruggs worked tirelessly on criminal and domestic cases, and often took on unpopular clients and cases without concern for the personal consequences. Her friends and relatives will remember her best for her personal devotion to loved ones who needed her.
“The Eastern Sierra has lost a beautiful soul who gave a bright energy to her friends, family, community and clients,” said Benett Kessler, owner of Sierra Wave Media, who had been a close friend of Scruggs for 37 years. “Her strength and goodness are irreplaceable.”
Known for her even-tempered, no nonsense style, Scruggs was part of Inyo County history and her passing is the end of an era because she was an influential figure who, often behind the scenes, tackled controversial issues such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s control over Owens Valley’s resources.
During one particularly contentious public meeting dealing with the LADWP, Kenney confronted a group of cattle ranchers who had sided with the agency. “I am disappointed,” Scruggs said, looking them straight in the eyes. “I thought cowboys were the heroes of the West.”
Inyo County Superior Court Judge Dean Stout recalled Scruggs as a woman “who was true to her conviction and stood firmly committed to the protection of everyone’s constitutional rights.”
“To Kenney, the practice of law was a profession – not a business,” Stout said. “With keen analytical skills, she was a zealous advocate for her clients, but still treated everyone with dignity and respect.”
Colleague Attorney Doug Buchanan said, “I worked with Kenney from the start to the end of her legal career, from law student to one of the mostly highly regarded attorneys in Inyo and Mono counties.
“Kenney combined finely-honed competence with a pure and untarnished adherence to the rules and tradition of the legal profession and she, moreover, treated it as a profession. She maintained unswerving loyalty to her clients, devotion to the truth, and never gave less than the best she could give. “It is never enough to say “we will miss her” because lawyers like Kenney are not replaced.”
Scruggs was born in Gainesville, Florida, the daughter of a father who worked as a teacher and university administrator. Her mother, as an administrative secretary and a founder of the Florida Trails Association.
Scruggs spent her childhood in Florida. Her sister said Kenney was an avid reader starting at a very young age. Sister Cynthy added, “The words that come to my mind about Kenney are independent, indefatigable, curious, deeply affectionate and honest.”
Scruggs graduated from Lake Weir High School in Florida in 1967. She then graduated from Florida State University in 1971. She went on to get her law degree from Southwestern University of Law in Los Angeles in 1980.
Scruggs was a scrappy idealist in tie-dye blouses and blue jeans when she met her beloved partner, Owens Valley journalist John Robb Heston. In 1972, the couple lived in Independence, where she completed law studies by commuting 200 miles five days a week to Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles.
Scruggs started her law practice in Bishop in 1980. She handled criminal and family law cases and went on to specialize in protecting the rights of children caught in high-conflict custody cases.
Mono County Superior Court Judge Mark Magit said, “Kenney was a passionate and very effective advocate for her clients. Her tenacity and indomitable spirit were balanced by her ability to maintain perspective, sense of humor and her bright and engaging smile.”
Kenney and attorney Rick Wood squared off on hundreds of cases. Wood said, “Kenney believed that she could make a difference in other peoples’ lives. Her professional life exemplified that belief. We will miss her terribly and remember her well.”
Attorney Tom Hardy also remembered Kenney. He said, “When I was first starting to practice law, Kenney Scruggs probably taught me as much about the courtroom as anyone – by being my opponent in many cases and my ally in others. More importantly, though, she was of the breed of lawyer who could argue like hell with you when court was in session and then have an amiable lunch where you could talk about anything, share ideas and even poke fun at the arguments that we were making just minutes before.”
Throughout her legal career, Scruggs made time to pursue philosophical and religious studies and to tend to the gardens, fruit orchards and reflecting pools at her home on the northern edge of Independence. She was also an artist who decorated the shady retreat with hand-painted tile art.
In the past few months, Scruggs, who died at her home on Wednesday, had been in failing health. “She died as gracefully and as bravely as she lived,” Kessler said.
Scruggs is survived by her father, William Scruggs Jr.; her mother, Margaret Scruggs; two sisters, Ann Scruggs and Cynthy Scruggs; devoted friend Benett Kessler, children of John Heston – Ellie Heston, John Heston and family, and fiance Robert Miller.
At her request, there will be no funeral services. However, Judge Stout will pay tribute to Kenney when he calls a special session of the court in Department 1 at noon on Friday, June 8. Colleagues will remember her, and the public is invited to attend.
In lieu of flowers, you may remember Kenney with a donation to the Eastern Sierra Breast Cancer Alliance, a non-profit 501c3 organization. Make checks to ESBCA and send to P.O. Box 1523, Bishop, CA 93515.