In all my years of life, I had several different driving factors in my life, not the least of which was my desire to make a difference for people. I was born in Long Beach, California, it was one of the things that influenced my desire to become involved in law in the first place and lead me to attend California State University to pursue my bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1982, and in 1986, my law degree at the Pepperdine University School of Law. It was that same year that I received my state bar admission, even.
Early Life and Inspiration
While I was driven by passion, I was also inspired by my father, the retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M. Ross Bigelow, who had a reputation of being a fair and intelligent judge. It was a reputation that I hoped I could one day reach. Growing up, he and I bonded over law, where I was enthralled, listening to him recount the tales of his court cases. I originally expressed an interest in journalism, leading me to pursue my bachelor’s degree, though my desire to become a prosecutor led me to my career in law. My mother, Janet Bigelow, was no slouch when it came to helping others, either, working as a school teacher. Both of my parents have since passed away, and I hope that they think well of how I have grown.
I served as the Deputy Attorney General for my state for three years, where I worked specifically in the Criminal Appeals, Writs, and Trials section of the Los Angeles office. I was also a member of the Special Prosecutions Unit, cross designated as both an Assistant United States Attorney and a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney. I went on to serve as the Supervising Deputy Attorney General in 1989, a capacity in which I served in for six years, until 1995, when I was nominated by then-Governor Pete Wilson, and later appointed as a Judge in the Los Angeles Municipal Court. This judgeship lasted me only three years, but only because Wilson would go on to successfully nominate me to the Los Angeles Superior Court, a capacity in which I served from 1998 to 2008.
She was a member of the Special Prosecutions Unit and was cross designated as both an Assistant United States Attorney and a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney. She also supervised a team of deputy attorneys general in their appellate work and oversaw all trials in the Los Angeles office. She represented the state of California before the United States Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court, and the California Court of Appeal.
Ascent to Associate Justice
For the first two years of my appointment to the Los Angeles Superior Court, I also served as the Dean of the Bernard E. Witkin Judicial College. While there, my responsibilities included educating all the new judges for the state. My deanship ended in 2008, as did my position on the Los Angeles Superior Court, due to the succeeding Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, nominating me as Associate Justice to the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division 8, which I was eventually appointed to in June 2008. Despite this, I still serve as faculty for the Judicial College, hoping to help aspirational students get to where I was, and even more. After two years serving as an Associate Justice, Schwarzenegger nominated me as Presiding Justice in the same District and Division, for which I was summarily appointed. This is where I spent the remainder of my judicial career, lasting from February 8, 2010, to June 30, 2021, during which I proved popular with the electorate. When whether I should be retained in my position as Associate Justice, and later Presiding Justice, the electorate voted overwhelmingly in my favor; 70.1% of voters voted ‘Yes’ in 2010, and even more voted ‘Yes’ in 2018, with 73.1% of the vote.
Awards and Accomplishments
This position is where I was my most accomplished; I received my first award in 2014, the Ronald M. George Award for Judicial Excellence from the California Judicial Council, who described me as “a frequent lecturer, presenter, and prolific writer,” citing my books co-authored under the Rutter Group, as well as the work I’ve done helping educate judges and lawyers on various topics. Only one year later, I received the Bernard S. Jefferson Judicial Education Award from the California Judges Association. Finally, in 2018, I was named Alumna of the Year from Pepperdine University School of Law. I have since retired, focusing on living my life to its fullest, while still involving myself in the things that interest me, as I continue serving as a member of the Board of Advisors for the Pepperdine University School of Law to this day. I was no stranger to recognition before these awards, however; while in law school, my moot court team received the Best Respondent’s Brief Award in the California Roger Traynor Criminal Law Moot Court competition. I was also awarded the American Jurisprudence Award for my grade in Civil Pleading and Procedure and was on the Dean’s honor roll at the California State University at Fullerton, where I was also a co-recipient of the first-place award for In-Depth Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. I was also recognized as one of the most outstanding students in the Department of Communications. While I shifted my focus away from journalism into politics, I like to think that my efforts in getting my Bachelor’s in journalism did a lot to affect my career in law, as well as my perspective on it.
I will certainly miss my time on the bench, but I have plenty of things in my personal life to appreciate, including my life with my husband, Fred G. Bennett, who performed the loveliest — and dorky — proposal ever, where he literally showed up on a beach, dressed as a knight in shining armor, to ask for my hand. I made a lot of friends and acquaintances across my long history in law, and I am excited to see how new blood can carry the mantle.
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