''If the last refuge of scoundrels is patriotism, then the next to the last (refuge) is the Constitution,'' quips veteran Los Angeles jurist William P. Hogoboom.
The superior court judge, known as a tough-minded liberal, terms the highest law in the land ''a broad outline . . . a document written more in a philosophical sense than a code sense.'' And he says he doesn't want it tampered with - by fundamentalists or anyone else. But he says he would entertain motions to reinterpret it.
In an early morning precourt session in his chambers just behind Department 51 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge Hogoboom discussed the jury system, the ''exclusionary rule,'' search and seizure protections, and abortion. Among his comments:
* Juries usually come up with the right answer in criminal cases. But they could be dispensed with in many civil cases, particularly where expert testimony and complicated contractual problems are involved. Here a judge may be better qualified to render his own verdict. (Judge Hogoboom was a member of a California judicial panel in the 1970s that made such a recommendation. But it wasn't implemented.)
* The ''exclusionary rule'' (which makes certain evidence inadmissable if it is gathered illegally) is basically a good one. But sometimes it is ''construed in an absurd manner. Judge Hogoboom would consider placing limits on the the ''exclusionary rule.'' But unlike some hard-line conservatives, he ''wouldn't throw it out completely.''
* The Fourth Amendment protects against ''unreasonable'' searches and seizures. Sometimes, this too is badly interpreted. Judge Hogoboom recalls a case in which evidence was suppressed because it was gathered without a warrant.
''This [involved] a bank robber escaping from the scene of the crime. The guns and loot were in the car,'' he explains wryly.
However, the jurist warns against ''police excesses (in search and seizure) in the name of preventive enforcement.
* On abortion, Judge Hogoboom says he is ''pro-choice'' - up to a point. ''Women should [generally] have the right to make up their own minds,'' he says. But, he adds, there is a need for a ''more unified principle'' on the abortion question nationally.
The right to regulate abortion should not be left up to the states, he says.