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Homeless Will Benefit from Judge Rogelio Flores’ Celebration of 30 Years On Bench

Jan. 12 event in Lompoc will raise funds for the city's Bridge House Homeless Shelter

Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores, who primarly hears cases in Lompoc, is celebrating his 30 years on the bench. Click to view larger
Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores, who primarly hears cases in Lompoc, is celebrating his 30 years on the bench. (Luis Escobar photo)

A celebration of Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores’ lengthy tenure on the bench will also raise money for the Bridge House Homeless Shelter in Lompoc.

The 30-year anniversary event is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Dick DeWees Community Center, 1120  W. Ocean Ave., in Lompoc

“I’m honored my celebration of 30 years on the bench might be used as an ability to help people in need,” said Flores, whose seniority is topped only by Santa Barbara Judge Thomas Adams.

The upcoming anniversary and recognition of the homeless shelter’s work in Lompoc led to combining the celebration into a benefit.

“It’s just amazing how much the need is there,” Flores said, noting that those helped by the Good Samaritan Shelter-operated facility aren’t voters, or people with paid lobbyists.

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.

His father was involved in the Cesar Chavez farmworker movement, which introduced a young Flores to attorneys who spoke Spanish, planting the seed that he too could pursue a career in law.

“I’ve always been vocal,” Flores said. “I’ve never been a social wallflower.”

He attended UCLA for his undergraduate degree before earning his law degree from 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.

Now presiding over court cases heard in Lompoc, Flores spent the bulk of his career in Santa Maria.

His mentors include retired judges Rodney Melville and Barbara Beck, who presided over Santa Maria cases, along with retired judge Frank Ochoa, who was based in Santa Barbara. 

Flores is a proponent of collaborative courts, so much so that he served on the Collaborative Justice Courts Advisory Committee for the Judicial Council of California, and has lectured nationally and internationally on the topic.

Recently, Flores has been serving as a consultant to the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in the creation of drug courts in Mexico. 

On a recent morning in Lompoc, his courtroom saw a number of defendants battling drug and alcohol problems that landed them in the justice system.

While wielding the gavel, Flores alternates between being a stern judge, a caring dad and a fun uncle, as needed.

"I lecture a lot. I enjoy talking to people," Flores said, adding that courtrooms should not have an antiseptic environment.

"I think judges ought to have a bedside manner," he said. "We should have the ability to talk to people, have them convinced that you care enough about them that they're willing to care about themselves. It's not phony. I care about people."

He also is a big proponent of the Veterans Treatment Court in Santa Maria to help former military members whose struggles returning to civilian life lead to trouble with the law.

“By the time we started veterans court, we had lost several veterans to long-term prison sentences which maybe could have been avoided in a lot of those cases if we had built the infrastructure to give them support in the community,” Flores said. 

Five months ago, he started another Veterans Treatment Court in Lompoc.

“I tell people this is the best work I’ve done,” Flores said. 

Just 33 years old when he was appointed to the bench, Flores said he always planned on working until he turns 65 years old, or about 18 more months.

He wants to finish writing a book about collaborative courts — working together to solve common problems.

“It kind of turns the adversarial system of justice on its head,” he said, adding that some collaboration routinely occurs but at a lower level.

“Ultimately, we want addicts to stop using. We want alcoholics to stop drinking. We want the mentally ill to be treated,” Flores said. “If 75 percent of the persons in custody suffer from, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, then let’s put our heads together and figure out how to help this person get better.”

Locking up nonviolent offenders doesn’t make sense, the judge said, noting that the community has the right to be protected and not have homeless people sleeping on sidewalks.

“Let’s figure that out. There’s ways to do that, which is why the Bridge House is so important …. That is one small but important answer to this problem,” he added.

Tickets for the Jan. 12 dinner will cost $30 each or two for $50.

To make reservations, call Pat Brady at her office, 805.430.8647, or her cell, 805.698.1174. 

“We’re just hoping people come out and honor him for his service,” Brady said.

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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