who launched pioneering court programs receive Aranda award
County Superior Court Judge Colleen Toy White’s desk sits a photo of 15 young mothers.
were graduates of the drug dependency court program White launched in 2000. By
helping the moms gain parenting skills and get treatment for substance abuse,
participants were more likely to avoid another clash with the law. White also
launched similar programs to help the military veterans struggling with mental
health problems, the homeless facing vagrancy charges and elders dealing with domestic
It’s a sweet
memento of the babies they cradle, but it is also a reminder of how White’s work
in the courthouse has kept them out of legal trouble.
lot more to life than crime and punishment and putting people in jail,” said
White, 71, who spent more than two decades in the district attorney’s office. “We
deal in people’s lives literally being turned around.”
White’s work in creating such programs is a major reason reason
she’s received the 2016 Benjamin J. Aranda III Award. This year, White and San
Diego County Superior Court Judge Julia C. Kelety were honored as co-recipients.
awarded in 1999, the accolades are named for Judge Benjamin J. Aranda III, the
founding chair of the Judicial
Council's Access and Fairness Advisory Committee. The award honors a judge
or an appellate justice who is noteworthy for their efforts to improve access
to justice, particularly among the poor.
the Ventura County superior courts, such as fellow Judge Brian J. Back, say
White is the main force in getting law enforcement, court officers and various
health care officials united behind the innovative programs. White “was the
engine in all of those [efforts],” he said. “It’s in her DNA.”
sure the most vulnerable in her courtroom are treated with compassion. That
attitude comes from her upbringing in Oklahoma by her police officer father, a
“softie” who often gave money to people after they had served time in jail. Defendants
who have access to counseling and drug programs are less likely to commit other
crimes, White believes, and others support her.
Ralston, chief executive officer of the Camarillo Health Care District in
Ventura County, called White’s work establishing the Elder Justice Court
“legendary,” especially her insight into tough domestic violence cases.
In a letter
supporting White for the Aranda award, Ralston recalled the case of an elderly
man who was overwhelmed caring for his disabled wife. One day, he was arrested
for pushing her. During his court appearance, White required him to attend a
caregiving class, which he resisted, but later attended resentfully. At the end
of the course, he had a change of heart, Ralston said.
the greater lesson is to absolutely drill down to the cause and fix that,”
Ralson said. It’s reality in that courtroom, and [White] handles it with wisdom
and justice. … She is an outstanding soul.”
considers it part of her job to find another path that goes beyond sentences
doing well, you encourage them. … He didn’t need to be in jail,” White said. “It
seems that people involved respond to that. They see me as part of the team
that’s trying to help them improve their lives.”
remember when the law library in downtown San Diego was so dark walk-in
visitors mistook it for the lobby of the county jail next door. Plumbing and
air conditioning leaked, and workers sometimes found beer bottles and needles in
the warren of library stacks.
“It was sort
of a depressing place,” San Diego County Superior Court Judge Julia C. Kelety said.
Kelety’s stint as president of the library’s governing board, the building underwent
a $5.2 million renovation so sweeping it was transformed from a neglected
collection to one that garners national attention. Crews punched windows
through the 2-foot thick concrete of the building built during President
ducts were removed. In the end, the renovation helped staff expand programs to
the community, especially to poor people representing themselves in Kelety’s probate
“The rule of
law doesn’t mean much if the written law is only available to people who can
afford lawyers or attorneys in high-rise offices,” said Kelety, 56. “You can
have the best library on the planet, but if people don’t understand that, what
good does that do if they don’t know it exists?”
director of the San Diego Law Library, said there’s been a jump in people using
the library since it became a brighter, more usable space, both by the public
and by attorneys.
thinks everything’s on the internet. But the law is different because you need
to know if it’s the current law. That’s the beauty of the law library.”
work in pushing for the renovation is only one of the reasons she’s receiving
the 2016 Aranda Award. Kelety has also played a critical role in designing
training for court-appointed attorneys.
Kelety said she
pushed to get more Spanish-speaking attorneys appointed to the panel of
court-appointed lawyers. It was especially important for a county bordering
Mexico, where much of the population speaks Spanish.
The judge also
serves as an instructor for lawyer training sponsored by the San Diego County Bar
Association and was the key player in creating the mediation clinic at the
Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Kelety still
refers litigants to the mediation clinics, which serve as a chance to
meet with a professional mediator to resolve problems out of probate court.
important to her that self-represented people get their day in court,” said
Olga Alvarez, a board member of the Lawyers Club
of San Diego and probate attorney who appears regularly before Kelety. However,
a few are happier not having to go to court.
what people are fighting about has nothing to do with money. It makes for a
very emotional process on all sides,” Alvarez said. Kelety “has to be able to
calm them down and reason with them. I think she restores faith in the judicial