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NAOMI DEWEY

For Naomi Dewey, Unconventional Path to the Law Is a Natural Progression and Transition

Santa Barbara County Bar Association president celebrates family, careers while leading charge to improve Superior Court funding

Naomi Dewey, a principal at Buynak Fauver Archbald Spray and president of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association, may have come late to the law but she’s quickly made up for lost time. “Working and going to school and raising a family is a balancing act,” she says. “But I really thrive on living a full life. That’s what keeps me happy.”
Naomi Dewey, a principal at Buynak Fauver Archbald Spray and president of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association, may have come late to the law but she’s quickly made up for lost time. “Working and going to school and raising a family is a balancing act,” she says. “But I really thrive on living a full life. That’s what keeps me happy.” (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

As a 16-year-old girl growing up in western Wales, Naomi Dewey was concerned about one thing: Work.

The daughter of a single, unemployed mother, Dewey landed her first job while still in high school — as a newspaper reporter. She had dreams of changing the world through her words, even if her first assignment was more fun than influential.

The editor, whom Dewey recalls kept a bottle of whiskey hidden in his desk, assigned her to write reviews of restaurants and wine bars. The job was not glamorous. She was not even old enough to drink, after all. Still, the work was enough to stoke the fire inside her to help make make the world a better place.

It’s a journey that began in journalism in the United Kingdom, continued with marriage and motherhood, and then turned into a career as an attorney in Santa Barbara.

“Journalism is not miles away from practicing law,” said Dewey, 42, the new president of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association. “But it became clear to me that, as a journalist, you are waiting on people to act, but as an attorney you can immediately force change.”

A principal at Buynak Fauver Archbald Spray, Dewey specializes in general counsel and litigation services for real estate and construction clients and entrepreneurs, with a focus on employment law. A graduate of the Santa Barbara College of Law, she passed the California Bar in 2007.

A mother at 19, who grew up poor, Dewey’s transition to high-powered Santa Barbara lawyer was as unconventional as the black nail polish she wears on a typical day at work.

She graduated from the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England, and continued to work as a journalist for the Sheffield City Press and the Sheffield Star, where she wrote small, local stories, reluctantly admitting many of them were about animals.

A freelanced article published in The Sun paid her enough to buy her wedding dress. She later was hired as a copy editor at the Western Telegraph in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

In 1998, Dewey moved to Santa Barbara with her husband, John, and their three children, who were 7, 4 and 6 months old at the time. John Dewey took a job at Bishop Diego High School, and the plan was for her to be a stay-at-home mom. That lasted about six months.

“I love to work,” she explained. 

Dewey got a job in the marketing department at ABC-CLIO, a Goleta-based publisher of reference books. She was fortunate because her husband’s family lived in the area.

“I always had good child care,” she said. “I always chose jobs where I could be with the kids when they need me.”

She moved on to Santa Barbara City College, where she took a teaching assistant job. It was there that she had an epiphany about her career and where it was headed. She knew a male student who was the driver in a Santa Barbara hit-and-run collision that killed an elderly woman on Milpas Street.

“I knew he was a very thoughtful and sensitive person,” Dewey told Noozhawk. “This was not a person who set out that day to do anything wrong.”

She enrolled in the Santa Barbara College of Law and attended school at night while dreaming of one day becoming a public defender. She eventually left SBCC and worked jobs as a part-time assistant and clerk for then-Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge George Eskin, before she graduated with her law degree.

Dewey said she enjoyed a sense of accomplishment.

 

As an attorney, Dewey has dedicated much of her time to volunteer service. She participates as a judge for Santa Barbara County Teen Court. She offers pro bono services to graduates of Women’s Economic Ventures to help them get their businesses off the ground. She also sits on several boards, including the California Women Lawyers and Santa Barbara Women Lawyers.

Dewey enjoys advocating on behalf of women and the underrepresented, but even she has faced obstacles in the courtroom. Many times early in her career, she said, people would assume that when she walked into the room that she was a clerk, not the lead attorney on the case.

“I think there are challenges as a female lawyer,” Dewey said. “Fortunately, ability, competence and expertise speak louder than gender.”

Dewey spends much of her time these days representing real estate and construction clients, and was the attorney for $70 million in real estate transactions this year. She also specializes in employment law, whether it’s a small small start-up or Montecito millionaires who employ staff.

In her role as president of the county bar, she said she will continue to focus on ways to improve funding for courts.

The Santa Barbara County Superior Court system has a $27.2 million budget this year, down from $42 million in 2009 — a 35 percent reduction.

The budget cuts affect low-income clients the most, she said. The county has slashed the number of clerks, secretaries and administrative staff; reduced the hours the courts are open to the public; and pared down translation services. The county has a 26 percent employee vacancy rate.

Dewey is hopeful that Santa Barbara County can weather this storm and restore public services.

“We’re moving to a system of justice of those who can afford it and those who cannot,” she warned.

At home, Dewey is still trying to balance raising children with a career, although two of her daughters are now out of the house, a 23-year-old who just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and a 19-year-old at UC Berkeley. Her youngest daughter is 16 and attends Garden Street Academy, where her husband is now the dean. 

“I really enjoy my job,” Dewey said. “It’s a balancing act to have a career and three kids, but a testament to my career is happy clients and happy children.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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