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50 for 50 Spotlight: Judge Tara Reilly (JD '89)

"It really is important to be thoroughly grounded with an ethical perspective of the law, to understand the tension between being a zealous advocate and an officer of the Court and how to reconcile those two duties. Pepperdine didn't just "teach to the Bar;" my professors taught me the law..."

Before heading to law school, Tara Reilly (JD '89) spent seven years in the "real world" working in the hospitality industry. In 1985, when she attended her brother's law school graduation, Reilly attentively sat in the audience, listening to one speaker after another detail the challenges of law school, the fascinating intellectual studies, and the interesting potential work experiences and future careers. By the time the ceremony had ended, Reilly was on her way to pick up an LSAT study book. The day she stepped onto Pepperdine's Malibu campus, she knew she was exactly where she belonged.

Today Reilly is a Judge for the Superior Court of San Bernardino County. The Bench currently has 86 Bench officers and operates out of 14 locations in the geographically largest county in the continental United States. In 23 years, Reilly says she has sat in every possible assignment throughout the Court system. She currently serves as the Supervising Judge of the Probate Department, hearing matters concerning probate, trusts, conservatorships, guardianships, and other cases.

As the Supervising Judge, Reilly works with two other judges to develop programs that provide greater access to courtrooms and streamline case loads. She also works with the Probate Clerk's Office, Probate Examiners department, Court Investigator's office, and Managing Probate Attorney to manage the flow of case work through the department from filing to hearing. Reilly explains how the departments continuously work on new programs to bring technology into the Court so as to bring the Court closer to the many communities that are hours away from the courthouse. Reilly notes, "We have been expanding several of our departments to decrease the time it takes to get cases heard and to get our probate notes and legal research notes published as quickly as possible for the litigants."

Judge Reilly adds, "It's the work on the Bench that is my passion, where I feel most at home and most able to ensure that our litigants receive the information, access, and services that they need."

Citing a legal education rooted in ethics, Reilly says that her Pepperdine degree truly prepared her to deal with the wide spectrum of issues in each case that comes before her. "It really is important," she says, "to be thoroughly grounded with an ethical perspective of the law, to understand the tension between being a zealous advocate and an officer of the Court, and how to reconcile those two duties. Pepperdine didn't just teach to the Bar Exam–my professors taught me the Law and explained quite clearly why it was important to know about bankruptcies, creditor rights, remedies, and (heaven forbid) Federal Income Taxation. They were absolutely right, too!" Reilly credits Dean Emeritus Ronald Phillips for having the greatest impact on her career, recognizing his quiet devotion to an ethical and compassionate life through the law.

When asked what she hopes to see for the next fifty-year chapter at Pepperdine Caruso Law, Reilly remarks on the need for continued growth of the campus, more diversity of the student body, a high caliber faculty, and involvement of the alumni. She continues, "I would also urge the school to reintroduce the requirement that all students take a course in Federal Income Taxation. I never in a million years would have taken that course had it not been a requirement. Yet, of all the courses I took at Pepperdine, it informed my practice and time on the Bench more than any other. If a lawyer, or judge, is unaware of basic tax law and its implications in almost every case she will be involved with, then her clients and/or the litigants assigned to her courtroom will be greatly disadvantaged and likely due for a shock at the end of the applicable tax year."

This, we imagine, ought to please the TaxProf!