The Passing of Two Family Law Friends: Judith Rhodes and Paul Blatz

Sadly, the past week saw two of our accomplished family law friends pass. Ventura County Superior Court Commissioner Judith Dahlman Rhodes was an amazing woman of tremendous and meaningful professional accomplishment. I met her when she was an associate of AAML Fellow, Bobette Fleischman. Under Bobette’s tutelage, Judy gained her Legal Specialization in Family Law from the Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California shortly after I gained mine in 2004. Judy later broke off and created her own office in East Ventura County. We often found ourselves on the opposite sides of cases, but we always worked respectfully in relation to each other, and toward our respective clients’ best interests. I always appreciated her positive outlook and easy smile. I called her “my sister,” explaining that her bright, generous, and open manner reminded me of my awesome sister’s. She readily accepted that (and my hugs). Our professional relationship deepened shortly after I founded Herring Law Group. After my prior co-representation of Paul Anka in an initial round of family law litigation, she helped Paul hold his and his child’s gains going forward. When the case flared again in 2016, she and Paul called me back in. With HLG attorney, Ruston Imming, at my side, we fought and won an intense custody battle against certain “controversial but excellent” Los Angeles litigators. Ruston and I provided our extensive trial experience, but it was Judy’s unmatched patience and ability to direct Paul toward his amazing closing testimony that pushed our team to victory. In 2018, Judy achieved her long-held goal of becoming a Family Law Commissioner. Of course I attended her swearing-in ceremony, and of course I was there in court on her first day officially in robes. When she saw me in the courtroom that morning, she called me to the Bench for a private conversation. At my inquiry, she confessed her nervousness, but she then proceeded to take charge of the courtroom --of course she “did great!” Only shortly thereafter, Judy became afflicted with a particularly devastating form of ALS, Bulbar Palsy. HLG is proud to have joined many in our family law community who donated toward her experimental treatment. Hopefully others will still benefit from the related research. Consistent with Judy’s commitment to children in distress, her family has asked that donations be made in her honor to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children), which recruits, screens, trains, and supports volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities (casaofventuracounty.org).

Former Ojai Mayor, civic leader, and attorney, Paul Blatz, passed the day after Judy. Paul and I both came to Ojai with our respective families in the early 1990’s. While I joined one of the then-two “big firms in the county,” he established his own in town. He became Ojai’s “go to” lawyer for all sorts of work. He was a class act in court -- always with a smile and a kind word. A favorite memory is of him tooling around Ojai in one of his Corvettes – he loved those things! His surviving wife, Michaelle, is in my wife’s book club. His son, Ryan Blatz, succeeded him on the Ojai City Council. Ryan is an outstanding attorney in his own right, who helped vanquish Golden State Water Company in major class action litigation a few years ago.

Ventura County Superior Court will be noticeably dimmer absent the bright lights that were Judy Rhodes and Paul Blatz. They are in our thoughts, and we wish their respective families strength and resilience going forward.