The Honorable Ana España, ’79 (BA), ’82 (JD), became a lawyer because she wanted to help people. “I took advantage of all the public interest law clinics and programs that USD had to offer,” Judge España said. Her experience at the law clinics helped her land her first job, at Defenders Inc., where she focused on representing children and parents in child welfare proceedings, as well as children in delinquency proceedings. That job helped to launch her 25-year career representing children in the child welfare system.
She was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a San Diego Superior Court judge in 2008; by that time, she had been recognized as one of the state’s leading child advocates. During her tenure at the public defender’s office, Judge España spearheaded the creation of the Office of Children’s Counsel, a section within the PD’s office focused on representing children in the child welfare system.
“I just loved it,” Judge España said. “My job was to help children through the process by ensuring they received appropriate support and services, and advocating for them when addressing issues such as reunification with family or the termination of parental rights. It was a very rewarding experience.”
Her child advocacy work also led to her decision to become a judge. “I wanted to do more. Being a judge would allow me to make decisions, and not just advocate,” she explained.
In 2011, the National Association of Counsel for Children recognized Judge España’s work with children by awarding her the Outstanding Legal Advocate honors.
But in her decade on the bench, Judge España has done more than just help children. In 2013, she became a supervising judge in the South County Division of the San Diego Superior Court, a position she held until recently. The role enabled her to help shape court policies and projects.
One of the projects Judge España oversaw was the court’s behavioral health calendar, which she initiated in 2015. The program was designed to address the special needs of offenders who are severely mentally ill. “I was concerned to see so many adult offenders fail on probation, in part due to their serious mental illness,” Judge España said. She recalls one woman she had to sentence to state prison after the woman repeatedly failed on probation. There was no other option for the woman, who was mentally ill, homeless and without a support system. To ensure that such offenders get the help they need, Judge España innovated the behavioral calendar process to bring in service providers and justice partners who provide critical assistance.
“With this support, we were able to secure housing, mental health services and appropriate supervision,” said Judge España. “We helped many offenders remain law-abiding.”
Judge España returned to the juvenile court in January 2018. “I tell people that I’ve come home,” she said.