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2018 Law Day Award Recipient, The Honorable Robin Appel


Were I limited to a single word to describe Robin, it would be "remarkable." It represents the essence of what defines her and is based on the comments received from her colleagues, attorneys, children, mother, siblings, and friends. The most difficult aspect of writing this article was reducing it to a manageable size, considering the accolades bestowed on Robin upon her receipt of the 2018 Law Day Award.

As a single mother for most of her daughters' lives, Robin was a chauffer, nurse, teacher, counselor, protector, cheerleader, housekeeper, best friend, magician, and juggler. Her daughters, Sarah and Rachel, marvel at how Robin was able to balance the demands of a busy law practice and judicial career to take them to soccer, swimming, play practice, softball, Hebrew school and public school. At the end of the day she would feed them dinner, help with homework, clean, and put them to bed. And then she would put in hours more work. "She made the day longer to get it all done."

Sarah and Rachel loved Robin's being a judge. It made them proud to say, "My mom's a judge!" They loved coming to work with her when time permitted, and they saw how she was in charge. "She looked so authoritative!" When she arranged for a class to come for a tour, she expected a few to show up, but instead, almost the entire class came. Because she thought Family Law might not interest the students, she had them observe a criminal case, and then let them see the holding cells. "That was cool."

Robin taught her girls the value of honesty, integrity, and hard work, both as an attorney and as a judge. She remains a source of pride to Sarah and Rachel, and inspires them each day.

Robin's mother, brother and sister share an abiding love and respect for who Robin is and how she came to be where she is today. She is a role model to her siblings. They admire her tenacity; she never gives up.

As a lawyer, she was tenacious, tireless, dedicated to her clients, and respectful of her colleagues. They say she elevated the practice of law in general, and family law in particular. Practicing law—in addition to her other roles—was not enough. She served as president of the San Joaquin County Bar Association, President of Temple Israel, and board member for the American Cancer Society, Children's Home of Stockton, and Stockton Shelter for the homeless. After only two and a half years as the San Joaquin County Superior Court's first Commissioner, where she presided over family law matters (what else?), and was Judge McIlrath's back-up drug court judge, she was appointed to the Superior Court Bench in 2003.

Attorneys who appear before her describe Robin as decisive, compassionate, tireless, respectful, accessible, and patient. They often leave her courtroom feeling admiration and respect for the way she conducts herself. She impresses them with her ability to find the practical solution to seemingly intractable situations, or, what one attorney described as a "convoluted mess." At the same time she ensures that all parties are given a fair and reasonable opportunity to be heard, although they might not realize it in the heat of the moment.

It is rare for a judge to dedicate her career to Family Law and note that San Joaquin County has fewer judges assigned to Family Law than any of the surrounding counties, resulting in a larger caseload. Family law is critically important because the lives of children are often at stake. One attorney remarked, "If you cannot protect the children from an abusive parent or relationship, there may not be anyone else to do that."

Robin's colleagues admire and respect her, as evidenced by her election to serve as Presiding Judge for 2009-2011 (the first woman to serve in that position). She makes binders for each new judge to orient themselves to the San Joaquin County Bench. She creates their first week schedules to ensure they sit and observe a variety of assignments to get a feel for each department. She started the Pro Per Clinic in Family Law. In all, she has always wanted to make sure that each judge, each attorney, and each non-represented party, did not get lost along the way.

Were that not enough, she spent 10 years of her life dedicated to building and opening a new courthouse. She accomplished that less than a year ago, overcoming what seemed like daily challenges and obstacles, such that she wondered on occasion, whether the courthouse would ever open. Nevertheless, through her guidance and perseverance, she made it happen. As one colleague remarked, "Generations will benefit from her vision, planning, and hard work."

On a personal note, when Robin and I began our relationship in 2005, I came to her courtroom in the 540 Building to take her to lunch. I arrived early and watched her manage her cases and the participants. [I actually had appeared before her when she was a Commissioner—the last time I had set foot in family court. As we walked to lunch I remarked, "Boy are you tough!"

She was, and she is, tough, but in a way that commands respect, not fear (well, for the most part anyway). But she is so much more than that. As a wife, mother, and grandmother, she loves with the same passion she devotes to everything else in her life. I am extraordinarily proud of her.

The Law Day award is a fitting tribute to this tireless, dedicated, compassionate woman who has achieved all one can expect from a life as challenging and full as hers has been. But wait . . . there's so much more to come!



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Monday, 05 December 2022

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