Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Edward Bullard, who has presided over his Santa Maria courtroom since 2006, died Sunday afternoon of apparent complications from heart surgery, sources confirmed for Noozhawk. He was 59.
According to Superior Court executive officer Gary Blair, Bullard had undergone heart surgery last week and was well enough to have been released from the hospital Friday. Blair said he understood that Bullard died in his sleep Sunday afternoon after going for a short walk earlier in the day.
“It’s a tragic loss for our court,” Blair said. “Ed was a stalwart of our Criminal Court Division, but, more than that, he was beloved by all who came in contact with him. He was just a likable person who could put anyone at ease.
“It’s a surprise and a shock, and our court family is reeling.”
A former California Highway Patrol officer, Bullard was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in July 2006 after serving 17 years as a senior deputy district attorney, from 1989 to 2006. He previously spent two years working as a Ventura County deputy public defender after receiving his law degree from Santa Barbara College of Law in 1988.
He had an 11-year career as a CHP officer in Santa Barbara County after leaving the Army, where he served as a military police dog handler.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley worked with Bullard for 23 years.
“He initially was a colleague in the District Attorney’s Office in the North County, and we knew we could always rely on him for whatever we needed,” she told Noozhawk.
“Anyone who has ever known him, knew him as a friend. He loved the law and he loved his job, and he was a pleasure to work with. Everyone had the utmost respect for him.”
Last year, Bullard presided over the case of Shane Villalpando, a former St. Joseph High School student who is accused of raping a fellow student, who was 14 at the time, at the Santa Maria school. Bullard ruled in November that Villalpando, now 18, would be held for three felony counts of unlawful sex with a minor, three felony counts of child abuse and one felony count of rape by use of drugs. Jury selection in the case is expected to begin May 10.
Blair told Noozhawk that Bullard was in the middle of a trial when he underwent surgery.
“He had about five days to go in the case, and he told us he had planned to return to court Monday to finish before taking a 30-day leave to recover,” he said. “That just shows you how dedicated he was to the job. It’s the kind of man he was.”
Bullard’s caseload will be distributed among his colleagues on the bench, and Blair said that his replacement will be appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Bullard is survived by his wife, Sandy, and a stepdaughter, Cindy.
Additional details were not immediately available. Check back with Noozhawk for an update.