Judge Daniel Lopez ’74 Meets With Government Students

When asked what he would change if he were “king for a day,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Lopez ’74 said he would alter attitudes about juvenile law. Although regarded as the “Siberia of the legal community” for lawyers and especially judges, Lopez said, juvenile court plays an important role in the nation’s future, focusing on nothing less than “saving lives and preventing future crimes.”

Lopez returned to his alma mater on March 7th at the invitation of Dr. Frederick Lynch, associate professor of government, to address his class on juvenile delinquency and public policy.

Lopez recalled he’d known since his CMC days that he wanted to work with young people; in later years, another motivating factor to enter the field came from raising four children and coaching youth sports. He graduated from CMC with a degree in Latin American history, earned a master’s degree in education from Claremont Graduate University, and a law degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He has spent more than two decades in the legal realm: 10 years practicing law, and the last dozen years on the bench. In September 2001 Lopez began working in the juvenile justice court in Pomona for the Los Angeles Superior Court.

His recent class discussion covered a range of topics, from thoughts on mental health and children as it applies to juvenile justice, to his own personal experiences. Lopez oversees 15 to 35 individual cases a day, in two primary areas of juvenile law: delinquency (the criminal actions of juveniles), and dependency (the protection of abused children). Though his work can be emotionally consuming, Lopez says he believes that every child is inherently good, and – to a point – has the potential to be saved.

Recent cases involved a young man accused of beating his mother, and a girl who had teamed with her mother in a department store scam. He also presided over a case involving a young man, orphaned and diagnosed with a mental disorder, who had been arrested for petty theft. Lopez estimates that as many as 75 percent of all juvenile cases are associated with a range of mental disorders, an area that has received increasing attention within the legal community in recent years.

Lopez says his legal career is not driven by monetary goals, but rather by being “fulfilled and having a sense of accomplishment.” He urged students to find their niches as well, and to follow their passions, because, as he told the students, “passion never leaves you.”