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The following article was posted on February 17th, 2009, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 9, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 9, Issue 49

Justice, judgeship, and Jean

Santa Barbara County's third new judge talks about bringing justice to local residents

By AMY ASMAN


Welcome to the bench
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona recently took the bench, hearing criminal cases and court calendars in Santa Barbara. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Dandona in November 2008 to fill the seat vacated by Judge Joseph Lodge, who passed away last year.
PHOTO COURTESY SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
Newly appointed Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona always knew she wanted to help people for a living.

Unlike her father, Dandona didn’t want to serve in the Air Force, and she didn’t yet feel called to preside over a courtroom.

“I actually wanted to be an FBI agent,” Dandona told the Sun in a recent interview.

Looking back, the Santa Barbara resident said she could see a lot of parallels between her childhood dream and her current 
profession.

“Those kinds of positions—being an FBI agent or a judge—are all about helping humanity, which speaks to the higher parts of us all,” she said.

Her interest in serving humanity, Dandona said, stemmed partially from 
her military roots. As a child, Dandona lived all over the world—in the Philippines and much of the United States, including Utah, Alaska, and cities up and down the East Coast.

“It encourages an open mind to have traveled as a child,” she said. “Traveling and living in different cultures help you understand people and humanity. While cultures are different, people are basically the same.”

Dandona explained that the FBI agent and judge positions also share some less positive characteristics.

“They’re both lonely positions, I think. They’re both about doing what’s right and standing up for justice,” she said. “Being a judge can be lonely because you have to call it by yourself. You have to judge it by yourself.”

Potential loneliness aside, Dandona said she was thrilled and honored to be appointed to the bench.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her in November 2008 to fill the seat vacated by Judge Joseph Lodge, who passed away last year. Dandona is presiding over criminal trials and day-to-day court calendars in Santa Barbara.

When asked why she ultimately chose the gavel over the gun and badge, Dandona said, “I just felt called to do it. It’s a big responsibility, and it’s hard, but someone has to do it.”

Dandona also said she’s always been drawn to law and the justice system.

“Having open trials by your peers as opposed to secret trials—it’s one of the many wonderful freedoms our country enjoys,” she said.

“I think it’s the best system on earth,” she added. “We’re evolving, but people have so many rights. It’s not corrupt, and if a part of it becomes corrupt, there are plenty of consequences.”

While she’s always been fascinated by the law, Dandona actually entered the professional world as a teacher. In the 1970s, she earned her undergraduate degree and a secondary teaching credential from UC Santa Barbara. After several years of teaching, she decided to become a student again and began attending the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

After graduating from law school, Dandona returned to Santa Barbara and practiced civil law as an associate at three different firms.

In 1990, she decided to branch out and open her own practice, specializing in civil law. During that time, she also acted as counsel to an insurance defense firm. Then, after 10 years of running her own practice, she became a research attorney for the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Her years as a researcher, she said, were some of the best of her legal career.

“I love to learn,” she explained. “There were times I couldn’t believe they paid me to do it—it was such a privilege.”

Researching and closely observing the county’s judges also prepared her for her own journey to the bench. Still, Dandona said she has a lot to learn.

“Judging civil law entails the same things as judging criminal law—they’re just different subjects,” she said. “It helps that I like to learn and I’m used to putting in long hours.”

While a good portion of learning will be done on the job, Dandona said she’s also looking forward to receiving more education and training from the state.

“The state of California gives really good training to new judges,” she said, adding that she plans on attending a new judges orientation and continuing education classes later this year.

“It’s all about acquiring judicial wisdom and being open to other ways of doing things,” she said. “Judges aren’t perfect. We all need to be alert to our personal biases. We’re paid to be fair, and being aware of your biases is an integral part of being fair.”

Contact Staff Writer Amy Asman at 
aasman@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
Should the proposed aquifer exemption in Cat Canyon be approved?

Yes—the water from the proposed area can't serve as drinking water.
No—oil containments could still pollute usable groundwater.
Additional oil and gas projects can create more jobs.
We need to move away from oil and gas and look at renewable energy projects.

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