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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 11:36 pm | Fair 51º


In Retirement, Judge Rogelio Flores Expects to Tout Collaborative Justice Approach

North County jurist spent 31 years on the bench in Santa Maria and Lompoc

Judge Rogelio Flores Click to view larger
Judge Rogelio Flores is retiring after spending 31 years on the bench in Santa Maria and Lompoc. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In his 31 years wielding the gavel, Judge Rogelio Flores has savored the success stories such as a military veteran facing a state prison sentence who instead was able to get his life back on track.

“When he came to our court, he was broken, his spirit was broken,” Flores said, citing this case among successes from the collaboration provided through the Lompoc Veterans Treatment Court he started, copying one in Santa Maria,

“By working together — our treatment team — we were able to help build this combat veteran back up from the ground up,” said the 64-year-old Flores.

“I could tell you a thousand stories like that. It really came home to roost yesterday,” he added.

Flores estimates he has seen more than 1,000 people graduate from programs such as drug court, mental health court and veterans court, which involves court, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers law enforcement officers and the treatment community helping to save defendants on what judge called the abyss.

The Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge, who most recently worked in Lompoc, will retire May 18, but will keep open the possibility of returning to work as a fill-in judge during vacations. 

His job will be filled through an appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown, an announcement that could take weeks or months. 

Candidates usually go through a judicial nomination evaluation process that includes input from lawyers and judges before the governor picks the finalist from a field of nominees submitted by the appointments secretary, Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker said.

In retirement, Flores hopes to refocus on his health and spend time playing music again. 

He also wants to finish a book he started a couple of years ago about collaborative justice — “working together for the common good in the court system wherever possible.”

“It’s not a criticism of the adversarial system of justice, it’s just a different approach,” Flores said. “I’m convinced in the right kind of cases people working together can be very successful agents of change in people’s lives.

“I’ve been criticized by some of my colleagues for thinking like that, too. Should a judge be an agent of change? I tell them, ‘In every case you can.’ 

“Every case that comes before us involves trying to change somebody’s conduct, trying to change somebody’s life,” he said.

His expertise in collaborative courts has led to international trips to lecture on the topic. He has been asked to help establish drug courts in Latin America, Mexico and Caribbean.

Flores grew up on the Nipomo Mesa in a family with five boys and a girl. He graduated from Arroyo Grande High School in 1971.

He attended UCLA for his undergraduate degree before earning his law degree there in 1979.

He worked as a defense attorney before being named the first court commissioner for the North Santa Barbara County Municipal Court in 1987.

Ten years later, he was appointed to the municipal court bench, and in 1998 was elevated to the Superior Court, spending most of his time in Santa Maria.

He describes his judicial approach as a gruff, in-your face style with a bit of humor.

"I like to see myself as a wise uncle to a lot of these people," he said 

While his retirement date had been planned, he still expects he will miss the job “a ton.”

“I’m not going to miss the three o’clock in the morning search warrants,” he said. “I’m not going to miss the meth addict who’s coming down and lying through their teeth because they want to get out of jail and continue using. I’m not going to miss the people who are physically violent to each other.

“But I am going to miss the human stories of triumph,” he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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