Thursday, January 8, 2009
PERSONALITY PROFILE: Lee Edmon
Court’s First Female Assistant Presiding Judge Balances Work, Family, Civic Activities
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Lee Edmon is a woman constantly on the go. On any given day, she says she will do some work at home, exercise, make breakfast for her children and send them off to school before heading to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. After arriving at work, she will spend much of her day in meetings and presiding over cases. Then she may head to the County Law Library, then to Pasadena to watch one of her daughters’ water polo game, then back downtown for a judicial retirement party and a bar association reception, then home for dinner with her family.
U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow of the Central District of California says her friend moves “from soccer game to bar association meeting to school play to the court…without ever appearing to be tired, or flustered or stressed,” adding:
“I guess we call that Super Woman.”
Edmon’s husband, Dick Burdge of Howrey LLP, says it’s “very common for her to go from one thing to another,” recalling one recent evening where the couple raced to three separate events around Los Angeles.
“She’s one of those people where people ask her to do things and she does them,” Burdge says. “She has always done a lot….that’s sort of her DNA.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eric C. Taylor says, “I don’t want to say she’s the Energizer Bunny because that’s too cliché, but she is.”
But even with all of Edmon’s obligations, Morrow maintains that Edmon is “able to balance them all, give them the appropriate amount of attention, and do them all very, very well.”
Court of Appeal Justice Tricia Bigelow of this district’s Div. Eight insists that Edmon “never lets even one of hundreds of large and small tasks she willingly takes on to fall between the cracks.” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kenneth Freedman says when Edmon commits herself to do something, “it’s always complete; there are no loose ends, no matter what it is.”
Burdge says his wife regularly starts her day at 3 a.m. to get a few hours of work done before the rest of the family rises. Throughout the day he says “she’s constantly carrying around lots of work….It’s like she never wants to have a minute wasted.”
Perhaps the habit of starting her day at dawn is a carry-over from her childhood on a farm in Illinois.
Reared on Farm
Edmon was born in Champaign, Ill. while her parents were finishing school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was raised on a farm outside Pekin, her parents’ hometown, a suburb of Peoria in central Illinois which has a current population of about 33,000. The town was the birthplace of the late Republican U.S. Senate leader Everett Dirsksen.
“That’s kind of our claim to fame,” Edmon says.
Her maternal grandparents owned the adjoining farm, and they raised livestock, wheat, corn and soybeans.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful way to grow up,” she says.
“There were always horses around,” Edmon recalls, recounting one time when she was about two-and-a-half and followed her mother into the yard, passed behind a horse, and was kicked in the head.
“I’ll have a healthy respect for horses for the rest of my life,” as a result of the incident, which required stitches but left no visible scars, she says. Although she still rides, she maintains that she “never got all that close” to the back end of a horse ever again.
Edmon says she and her three younger siblings, Lori, Lisa and Eric, would “help gather eggs and things” for fun, but were not assigned regular farm chores.
“It was the best of both worlds, growing up on a farm, but not having to do the chores,” she says.
Her grandfather, Lewis Garman, was the “real farmer,” Edmon recalls. Her father was an architect and laypreacher, and her mother was a schoolteacher.
Among the judge’s fondest childhood memories are “playing around in the barn,” bonfires and cookouts each fall, and trips to the “big city”—nearby Peoria—and to Chicago or St. Louis for baseball games.
“We were fickle fans,” she admits, because her family would go to the city that had the team having a better season.
“I think for me, the most fun thing in the world is family trips,” she says, a trace of a Midwestern accent, which she denies having, drawing out the word “trips.”
As a child, “I certainly never dreamed of being a lawyer,” she says. But she did have some wanderlust, becoming interested in learning foreign languages, other cultures and “the travel that goes with it.”
In high school, she began studying Spanish, French and German, and spent a summer abroad studying at the University of Madrid.
When she arrived at college—a small, private university in South Carolina—she initially declared Spanish as her major, but later switched to public speaking.
Her roommate was on the school debate team, Edmon recalls. One day, her roommate’s debate partner was unable to attend a debate, she says, so her roommate “grabbed me and said, ‘You’re doing this.’”
Edmon and her roommate won the debate, and she was hooked. Debate team also provided her with an opportunity to “foray off campus” for competitions.
Although her debate team coach had encouraged her to pursue law school, after graduation, Edmon returned to Pekin as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher.
“I had the time of my life,” she says, but the idea of law school was still in the back of her mind. After a year, she applied and was accepted to “the closest school to home,” the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
During her second year of law school, she says, her professor, Paul Marcus—formerly of Loeb and Loeb’s Los Angeles office, and currently teaching at The William & Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law—encouraged her to pursue a summer associate position in Los Angeles.
“I came out in early December for interviews,” Edmon recalls, leaving two feet of snow in Chicago for Southern California in the middle of a heat wave. “That did it for me,” she says, “I thought I was in heaven.”
Marcus recalls Edmon had impressed him as a first year law student in his class.
“She was prepared, thorough, engaging...from the earliest of the get go,” he says. “I wish all of my students were that good.”
Although Edmon “obviously now functions very well in a giant metropolitan area,” Marcus suggests that “back then, not too many of her friends or colleagues would have predicted that.”
He says that Edmon’s summer on the West Coast had “changed her,” because when she returned for the fall semester of her final year, she was “clearly more sophisticated,” wearing her hair differently and more stylish clothes.
“She didn’t look like a hayseed by any means,” he says with a laugh.
But the changes were all superficial, he claims. “Her core values have never changed.”
Edmon was a “kind and caring person, …really somewhat above reproach…as a 22-year-old, and she is that now, at a few years beyond 22,” Marcus says.
After graduating from law school in 1981, Edmon came back to California and joined Adams Duque & Hazeltine as an associate.
In 1987, she moved to the international corporate law firm of Dewey Ballantine LLP, now Dewey & LaBoeuf.
John Van de Kamp, former State Bar president and California attorney general, now of counsel to Dewey & LeBoeuf, recalls that Edmon rose to partnership “very quickly,” at the firm—she became a partner in 1990—and praised her abilities as an attorney.
“I found her to be very hardworking and able,” he says, “but the thing that I remember most was that she had such a strong commitment to bar work, the L.A. County Bar in particular, and really gave a lot of her time to that kind of thing.”
Edmon served as president of the organization in 1998, following terms as its senior vice president and vice president/treasurer.
She has also served as a fellow of the American Bar Association since 1991, chair of more than five Los Angeles County Bar Association committees, president of the Board of Directors of the American Bar Endowment, president of the Chancery Club, and a lawyer representative to Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference.
Additionally, Edmon has been a member of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, and has served on the governing boards of the University of Illinois College of Law Board of Visitors, the Los Angeles County Law Library, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Alliance for Children’s Rights, Inner City Law Center, Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the Constitutional Rights Foundation.
While at Dewey, Edmon caught the eye of future husband Burdge, a colleague at the firm.
“My first impression of her was that I liked her smile,” Burdge says. Edmon and Burdge married in 1991.
He had two children from a previous marriage, to which the couple added two more. The girls—Kristin, Lindsay, Maggie and Kelly—range in age from 26 to 14.
Edmon is “a wonderful mother,” Burdge says, and the girls “love her, deeply.” He says that Edmon will “help the kids with their homework” and spend time with them watching DVDs of their favorite shows while he prepares dinner.
“I’m the cook for the family,” he claims, although his wife “bakes, from scratch, the world’s greatest birthday cake,” a flat chocolate cake with chocolate icing, which she makes for every member of her court staff’s birthday.
Burdge says Edmon is “definitely a meat and potatoes person,” who “prefers beef to almost anything.” Although he has “managed to introduce her to things like artichokes and asparagus and some other things,” he says Edmon is “resistant to other foods.”
As a family, Burdge says “we’re kind of boring,” primarily going to bar-related events when they go out as a couple, and to the movies as a family.
“There was a time when all we saw was kid movies, Shrek and stuff like that,” he says. Now, he continues, “we’ve branched out and see more interesting stuff” but sometimes, he admits, “we see chick flicks.”
The family also shares season tickets to the Dodgers with friends and occasionally attends UCLA football games. Burdge, a UCLA law school alumnus, boasts that he “converted” Edmon into a Bruins fan.
A fellow Bruins fan, Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul Turner of this district’s Div. Five, says:
“You ought to see the grin on her face when UCLA wins,” describing her smile as “an ear-to-ear grin.”
Turner jokes that Edmon’s “true blue” loyalty to the Bruins “shows how moral she is,” because “it is a basic principle of morality that UCLA should best USC,” as well as “natural law.”
Additionally, should USC prevail, Turner praises Edmon for maintaining “a very judicious demeanor.”
Edmon says that after she finished her term as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, she says she “started re-examining what I wanted to do next.”
She says she was anxious to continue her public service activities, had worked extensively with the courts during her tenure as county bar president, and was receiving encouragement from friends to pursue a judicial appointment.
“It just seemed like time to do it,” she recalls.
One of the people who she says really encouraged her was Morrow’s late husband, Court of Appeal Justice Paul Boland of this district’s Div. Eight, whom Edmon remembers as “just a wonderful, wonderful man.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith C. Chirlin was “another person who was constantly after me to put my name in,” Edmon says with a laugh.
Chirlin says that she had been the “principal lobbyist for women who wanted to be appointed to the bench” at that time.
“I was always on the lookout for a promising candidate,” she says, “and Lee definitely fell into that category.” Chirlin says she remembers thinking:
“What a terrific asset she is to the legal profession.”
Edmon “works incredibly hard,” is “dynamic,” “personable,” “smart,” and “engenders loyalty among everybody that she deals with,” Chirlin says. “She’s got that magic touch.”
Such characteristics, Chirlin opines, “make a perfect candidate for presiding judge, male or female.”
Burdge recalls that when he and his wife started talking about her pursuing a spot on the bench, “the question was if we could afford for her to become a judge.”
He says his response was “no, but if that’s what she wanted to do, then we would make it work.”
Turner explains that Edmon “made more money as a lawyer by a wide margin,” so she took “an enormous financial sacrifice” by becoming a judge, but “that’s what public service is about.”
Edmon was appointed in August 2000 by then-Gov. Gray Davis, and immediately launched herself into judicial extra-curricula in addition to her prior legal and civic activities.
She has either chaired or served on more than 11 court committees, eight Judicial Council committees, and two California Judges Association committees in the past eight years.
In September, Edmon was elected assistant presiding judge of the court, becoming the first woman to ever take that position, she presumably will become the first female presiding judge on Jan. 1, 2011.
Elected at 52, she may be the youngest assistant presiding judge-elect ever, being a year younger than former Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger when he was elected four years ago. She turned 53 in November.
The former presiding judge jokes that he had to tell Edmon to take some vacation last month “because she wouldn’t be getting any for the next few years.”
He recalls that a few weeks ago, he and Edmon were at the California Judges Association meeting in Monterey, and “after a couple of drinks she turned to me and said ‘What have you gotten me into?’ and wanted to know whether she could rely on me in the coming years.”
Czuleger says, “I responded ‘Nope, I’ll be out of here at the end of the year,’” but later reassured Edmon of his continued support.
Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy says that “this holiday season I’m counting my blessings and I consider Lee Edmon to be one of them,” commenting that “there is no person I would rather have serve as the assistant presiding judge of this court while I’m the presiding judge.”
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of this district’s Div. Three, the first woman ever to serve as presiding justice of a California appellate court, praises Edmon for being “the only woman in the many, many years of women judges on the Los Angeles Superior Court who was able to calculate what was required to put herself on the path to becoming an assistant presiding judge, and a presiding judge, and to carry out that plan to where in a couple of years she will be the first woman presiding judge on the largest trial court in the world. She adds:
“I am very, very proud of her for doing that.”
While Edmon’s husband says “it’s very exciting” for Edmon to be the first female assistant presiding judge, he opines that because his wife “became president or chair of every organization she ever belonged to....it was just natural.”
Edmon also downplays the significance of her election, maintaining that gender was not a factor.
Attorney Amy Solomon of Girardi & Keese says that her friend “just accepted” being the first female assistant presiding judge with “such an aw shucks kind of manner, like it’s not big deal, yet all of those of us who have had the pleasure of knowing her and working with her know how big a deal it is.”
Such modesty is characteristic of the jurist, Solomon opines, remarking that Edmon never talks about herself.
Although Edmon was reluctant to toot her own horn while being interviewed, her friends and colleagues were effusive in their praise.
Freedman calls her an “extraordinary judge.” When Edmon first was assigned to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Freedman recalls that she was his “buddy court,” which meant she handled all of the ex parte hearings for his courtroom.
“Any ex partes I sent to her were always resolved in such an intelligent and thoughtful way,” he says. “And whenever I had any of her ex partes, I was always impressed with the geniality of the lawyers….They all had something nice to say about Judge Edmon.”
Terry W. Bird, principal in the Los Angeles firm of Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks & Lincenberg, says:
“You can tell in our profession when people are genuinely respected and honored and Lee Edmon definitely is one of those people.”
Bigelow also praises Edmon’s commitment to “building bridges between the bench and attorneys,” and her “tireless work to improve and teach the law we apply every day.”
Turner says that for several years, Edmon and Bigelow have worked with him and other justices in doing presentations at the annual CJA meetings explaining changes in the law.
“It’s a tough audience,” Turner says, but Edmon is “excellent at communicative skills,” and does “exceptional work” with her presentation, especially with “that Power Point thing.”
In addition to being named a MetNews Person of the Year, Edmon has been honored as the University of Illinois College of Law Alumnus of the Year and the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles’ Alfred J. McCourtney Trial Judge of the Year. In 2008, the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles presented her with the Ernestine Stahlhut Award.
As the presumptive future presiding judge of the court, Edmon will eventually be charged with the administration of the largest court system in the world. Her peers opine that her lengthy track record in various leadership roles have prepared her for the task.
Klein says that Edmon “has proved herself to have the skills to do this very large job that is coming up for her.”
Additionally, Edmon “can get along with everybody and her style of management allows her to take the best or utilize the best from each person with whom she deals,” the justice says. “That’s a rather unique personal characteristic, and it’s the sign of good leadership.”
Freedman says that Edmon “has a unique ability to make you feel that your problem is her problem and to find a creative solution that works,” extolling her handling of the many “political issues” attendant to the interaction between the Los Angeles courts and those outside Los Angeles, the bar and the bench, and the state administrative offices.
“She’s been a wonderful interface” between the state and the court in addressing tension over budgetary matters, Freedman says, emphasizing that the court needs to be able to work with state organizations effectively or else “we handicap both.”
Solomon says that when Edmon addresses hot-button topics such as the budget and court security, “the issues are dire and the consequences even worse, potentially, but at the end of the day, when the meeting is done, you feel that the issue has been dealt with, with velvet gloves, and you don’t feel quite as beaten up as you might and if it were handled differently.”
She says that Edmon has “a specific mannerism, this wonderful ability to laugh…and to approach the most delicate issues with humor and humility that’s sort of her signature.”
While Edmon acknowledges “there are lots of wonderful projects that I’ve had the opportunity to take on,” she says “I do my best not to overextend myself on those.”
She says her enthusiasm for the work drives her to take on all her additional responsibilities, and maintains she has “very much” enjoyed the work she has done.
“Part of the trick is constantly juggling and keeping all the balls in the air,” she says, and the other is “having a lot of really wonderful people around me” who are willing to share their time.
“Not doing it all yourself is really an important part” as well, Edmon says. “One of the ways you can best do your job is to bring along successors and people you can train to take over projects.”
Edmon praises McCoy for taking such an approach, adding that she hopes she has done as good a job as McCoy has.
“There’s a lot of incredible talent on our court,” she says.
The busy jurist predicts that this year is “going to get more interesting” because she hopes “to spend a fair amount of time going around to the districts,” but “fortunately,” she says, “I enjoy that.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company