Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Community mourns loss of longtime judge


Superior Court Judge Joseph Lodge died Monday morning after a long battle with lymphoma.
He was 76.
A fixture in the local justice system, Lodge was the longest-serving judge in California with nearly 50 years on the bench. His final statement best reflects his reputation as inquisitive and unpredictable, if not intensely dedicated to his job.

“As fits with my character, I have written my own obituary,” Lodge wrote. “I was born Feb. 21, 1932, in St. Paul, Minn., and now I have died in Santa Barbara, Calif. My peace in life was my wife, Sheila, and my dear children.
“My journey, from my 1950s days as a philosophy major at the University of Michigan, has been the exploration of all the great cosmic questions surrounding our lives. For some years I have felt at peace with the answers and insights I have found. I wish I could pass them on to those I love. It cannot be done.
“Each of us must find our own pathway through the density and darkness to at last find that you are ‘back in Kansas,’ standing where you were, so to speak, with everything so clear and obvious as to make you even question whether in fact you did ‘journey.’
“I now end this with a deliberate (and important) misquote from Dylan Thomas — I ‘DO go gentle into that good night.’”
Lodge’s journey into the judicial world began when he completed law school at the University of Michigan and traveled to California to begin practicing law. He was admitted to the state bar in 1956.
Less than two years later, however, he was sitting on the bench as a justice court judge in the Goleta-Hope Ranch Judicial District.
“He was a remarkable person because when he came to Santa Barbara after law school, he knew hardly anybody and hadn’t practiced law and here he is, 25 years old,” said Darryl Perlin, a senior deputy district attorney who knew Lodge for more than 30 years.
The justice court in Goleta, which met a few days a week for a couple of hours, sparked Lodge’s interest, Perlin said. At that time, people didn’t need to be an attorney to earn such a judgeship; a milkman held the position in Guadalupe.
“This 25-year-old whippersnapper comes along and says, hey, maybe I can get people to vote for me,” Perlin said.
After walking precincts — an uncommon practice then — Lodge narrowly won an election in which fewer than 500 votes were cast, Perlin said.
“From that point on, he was on the bench.”
In 1965, the justice court districts consolidated into a municipal court district and Lodge started handling a caseload of misdemeanor offenses.
Pat McKinley, now the chief assistant district attorney for Santa Barbara County, began his career in 1970 and appeared before Lodge during his third day on the job.
“My first time ever with Judge Lodge was a day I’ll never forget,” McKinley said. “The Isla Vista riots were in full bloom then.”
With Vietnam War protests resulting in hundreds of arrests for unlawful demonstration, McKinley had his hands full with misdemeanor cases.
“He dismissed 350 cases out from under me on that first day,” he said, explaining that Lodge considered being arrested punishment enough. “…Thousands and thousands of cases later, and I mean thousands, I’m still not batting .500, because you can’t lose 350 cases in one day and catch up.”
When the municipal courts merged in 1998 to become the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Lodge got an assignment as the preliminary hearing judge for felony offenses. Anyone arrested for a felony in southern Santa Barbara County in those days likely appeared before Judge Lodge.
Many of those cases settled in his courtroom, leaving it up to him to hand down thousands of sentences. For those who continued on, Lodge made bail decisions.
Any judgment coming from Lodge was sure to be an interesting one, Perlin said.
“You never knew with Judge Lodge,” he said. “I wouldn’t be so quick to call him quiet and unassuming. He was a handful.”
McKinley agreed wholeheartedly.
“He was so unpredictable about what he was going to do,” McKinley said. “…On his good days, there was no judge better than him. On his bad days, there was nobody worse.
“I mentioned that to him more than once to his face, because he developed into a close personal friend of mine over the years.”
Others who came before him in one capacity or another found him to be genial and caring. Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Smith described him as of a rare breed.
“He was genuinely thoughtful and considerate of the impact certain crimes had on victims and their families,” she said. “Sometimes in this field … more focus is brought to the crime rather than the impact that it has on victims and their families. Joe Lodge was always good at recognizing the impact that crimes can have on people.”
In addition to being intensely dedicated to his position on the bench, those who knew him said Lodge also cared deeply about the course he taught in the Law and Society Program at UC Santa Barbara.
Gary Blair, now the executive officer of Santa Barbara County Superior Court, is one of thousands who took Lodge’s course, an overview of the criminal justice system.
“Half of the people who work in the justice system in Santa Barbara took his course,” Blair said. “…It was such a positive class.”
Lodge often brought his students into court and had them speak to attorneys, clerks and other judicial officials.
“He was a real believer in education and exposing young people to how the system worked,” Perlin said.
Lodge was also known for slipping into informal discussions in the middle of a court session. He would often prompt McKinley to ask a trivia question after business wrapped up at the end of a hearing.
“He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” McKinley said.
On one occasion, McKinley asked those in the courtroom to describe the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, a physics concept, expecting blank stares in return. Lodge immediately launched into a convoluted description of electron and neutron interaction.
“Finally I said, shut up!” McKinley said. “You win. You’re smarter than all of us. … He was a mensch and a half.”
Another practice Lodge commonly engaged in was acting as an amateur physician. If attorneys or defendants came in with a cough, he would come back with a suggestion for medication or treatment.
“Let Dr. Joe do a diagnosis from the bench,” Perlin said.
One of Perlin’s favorite anecdotes about Lodge involves an occasion when the judge injured his back and couldn’t sit down.
“As was always the case with Joe Lodge, he never wanted to miss a day of work,” Perlin said. “That’s the kind of judge he was. He was totally devoted.”
So Lodge had a recliner brought into the courtroom and placed behind the bench, allowing him to remain prone during the proceedings, but wholly out of sight. A defense attorney not aware of the unusual situation entered the room and launched into a harangue about Lodge’s absence.
“‘Where’s Judge Lodge? He’s making me wait, he should be here, this is ridiculous,’” Perlin said. “Like in the Wizard of Oz, you hear this booming voice from Judge Lodge who says, ‘Counsel, I heard everything you said. I am here, is there anything you’d like to add?’
“The courtroom just broke up into laughter.”
When Lodge was diagnosed with lymphoma, everyone expected him to retire shortly thereafter. With well over the requisite 20 years for full retirement benefits, the only reason for him to stick around was his intense love of the job.
“He could have retired 30 years ago,” Blair said. “He just loved the job so much he just wanted to stay with it forever.”
In 2002, his friends and colleagues threw him a tribute party to show how much they loved him, Perlin said, expecting him to hang up his judicial robe soon.
“Not only did he keep on going, but he went on for another six years,” he said. “That’s really what Joe Lodge was all about. … He was a remarkable story that will never be repeated.”
Prior to his hospitalization a few weeks ago, Lodge remained on the bench, running his calendar every day just as he had for the past 50 years. Smith said his touch on the local community will be felt for many years to come.
“He’s going to be missed a great deal.”
In accordance with his wishes, no memorial service will be held. Donations can be made to the local chapter of Planned Parenthood.

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