Alumna steps to the bench

After 22 years of civil litigation, newly appointed Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dorothy B. Reyes now presides over a Proposition 36 drug court.

"I wanted to give back," Reyes, a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, who hails from a farm in central Louisiana.

"This is really a good place for me," she said. "This court really allows me to make a difference."

Reyes said, "When a mom comes in and says thank you for saving my child’s life, it just hits you in the heart."

She’s wonderful," said Deputy Alternate Public Defender Diane T. McCullough. "She’s perfect for drug court."

Steven C. Glickman, president -elect of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Board of Trail Advocates, agrees that Reyes possesses "what has to be the perfect judicial temperament." She’s attentive and courteous yet controls the courtroom, Glickman said.

During Reyes’ busy days as a new bench officer, she found time to mentor a law school graduate as apart of the board’s fellowship program, Glickman said. The fellow had a "fantastic experience," Glickman added.

Reyes, 53, grew up along way from the bustling Metropolitan Courthouse, where she hosted the law-school grad.

She and her 10 siblings were raised in the central Louisiana town of Lecompte.

In addition to taking care of the family farm, Reyes’ father worked in a sugar refinery and as a carpenter.

"I remember the first time we bought a chicken in a store," Reyes said. I was in the second or third grade." Reyes’ mother stayed home except for Saturdays, when she did domestic work for neighboring families for a dollar a day.

Reyes became determined to craft a different life for herself and her family.

"I wanted a college education, (but) my parents could not afford to sent me," she said. "I worked hard (and) got involved so I would be known, so people would help me. I never missed a day of school."

In high school, she was student council president, a member of the basketball team and class team and class valedictorian. Reyes earned a National Merit Scholarship and headed off to Grambling State University, 115 miles north of Lecompte. She was the only child in her family to receive a college education.

During her years at Grambling State University, before graduating early with a degree in business administration, Reyes worked as a statistician for legendary football coach Eddie G. Robinson. The judge’s interest in football continues to this day. Reyes and her family are USC fans, and Reyes’ chambers are decorated with painting depicting Grambling alumnus Doug Williams competing in Super Bowl XXII.

Reyes also enjoys watching her daughter, Jacqueline, play basketball. "I attend every game," Reyes said. The 14-year old forward is quiet but opinionated, bright and caring, Reyes said.

Reyes’ husband Richard R. Reyes, is a plaintiffs attorney in Pasadena. The couple met while attending course for the State Bar Exam.

After college, Reyes moved to Los Angeles and worked as a secretary. Then she took a job as a paralegal at the civil litigation firm of Haight Brown & Bonesteel. After two years, and with the support her mentor, longtime senior partner Fulton W. Haight who has since died, Reyes enrolled in the night program of Loyola Law School. But Reyes’ journey to the bar, and to the bench, was far from over and far from easy.

"During my first year of law school, second semester," Reyes said, I go to get out of bed and I just collapsed to the floor. I did not know what was wrong. Paralyzed from the waist down form what misdiagnosed at the time as a viral infection in her spinal cord, Reyes left law school to concentrate on healing. "I couldn’t take my finals," she said. After four months of rehabilitation, Reyes’ would suffer a second paralyzing spinal episode. Her recovery again required extensive rehabilitation, but the problem was finally correctly diagnosed as a vessel hemorrahage.

When she graduated from Loyola, Reyes joined the firm of LaFollette, Johnson Dehaas, Fessler & Ames. She handled civil litigation matters and, according to LaFollette partner Brain W. Birnie, developed an expertise in employment law. "She hired me out of law school in 1991, then she became my mentor, then my partner," said Claremont attorney Michelle M. Wolfe said. Wolfe and Reyes practiced together at LaFollette before starting their own firm in 2002. "Itexciting to know that someone with her virtue and genius is on the bench," Wolfe said.

"She’s just one of those people (who) if she makes a commitment, there’s never a doubt in your mind she’s going to live up to it," said former association President Edith R. Matthai.

But after so many years in the trenches, and with her health intact, Reyes was ready for a change. "(It’s) more about quality of life and making a contribution," Reyes said.

Reyes counts her blessings these days, she said. "I can’t believe I’m sitting here," she said. "I really feel like I’m making a difference."