In his almost 50 years on the bench in Santa Barbara County, Judge Joseph Lodge had a reputation that preceded him. Seasoned trial lawyers and fresh faces out of law school knew that with a gavel in hand, the UCSB criminal justice professor was intelligent, probing and unpredictable all at once. His courtroom was his domain.
After presiding over thousands of cases, the judge’s friends and co-workers – both in and out of the legal profession – are certain of one thing: The honorable Joe Lodge was absolutely committed to the ideals of his profession.
“He tried very hard to bring justice to a coarse, harsh system,” said Benjamin Bycel, a prominent criminal attorney tapped to teach the remainder of Lodge’s criminal justice class at UCSB. “Joe tried to bring humanity and ethics into it. He wasn’t successful all the time and he was criticized for it, but his desire to consider the uniqueness of every case was well-respected.”
When Lodge pulled into Santa Barbara in the late fifties things were different, Chief Assistant District Attorney Pat McKinley said. In Goleta and the surrounding area, the law was handed down through a Justice Court that met maybe two times a week – and judges did not even have to be lawyers.
In 1958, the Goleta-Hope Ranch Justice Court judge was no lawyer. Senior Deputy District Attorney and friend Darryl Perlin said Lodge, fresh out of law school, decided to take a chance and give the incumbent a run for his money.
“Joe Lodge, who knew very few people, did something which today is considered standard operating procedure in political campaigns, but back in 1958 it was unheard of,” Perlin said. “He decided that he would walk the precincts and introduce himself.”
Lodge won the seat narrowly and never got up from the bench. Over the next half century, Lodge presided over his court in spite of severe back pain and a ten-year battle with lymphoma.
“Judge Lodge could have retired 30 years ago at full salary but he didn’t,” Perlin said. “The reason was because of his love of the law and the job he did every day. He never missed work.”
“You never knew exactly what to expect from him on the bench and I believe that’s exactly the way he wanted it,” William Makler, a defense attorney and former public defender, said
Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley said she first met the judge when she was just 19 years old. Lodge had ruled on a ticket she received for having an unleashed dog and she recalled how he told her to “sit” when she stood up out of place. The judge, she said, was sensitive and inquisitive but stood firm by his opinions.
“He was a force,” Dudley said. “The man embraced life, embraced philosophy, embraced the law, embraced justice, and he was never interested in winning any popularity contests in terms of his rulings.”
McKinley said that it is a known fact that plenty of lawyers disagreed with Lodge and that it was not easy to foresee his rulings.
“He was unpredictable – unpredictable for both sides,” McKinley said.
However, according to McKinley and Perlin, Lodge’s unpredictability was proof that he shot from the hip – and the fact that attorneys in court rarely moved to disqualify him is just the “proof in the pudding.”
In 2002, a gala party was thrown for Lodge at the Montecito Country Club. The affair was, as his wife Sheila put it, “in lieu of” a retirement party. She said the judge was not about to step down from the bench.
Perlin said it was also thrown because “it was not thought that he had much longer to live.”
At the time, Lodge had been living with lymphoma for four years, McKinley said.
“He handled [lymphoma] with a dignity and an openness that is rare in today’s day and age,” McKinley said. “He never really expressed fear of it. He beat back the cancer three or four times.”
Perlin said that throughout Lodge’s battle with cancer, he continued to serve as a judge and professor.
“Many a time, he would go for a cancer treatment in the morning and as soon as he had received it, he would be back on the bench as though nothing had happened,” Perlin said.
According to Perlin, Lodge was a judge who would not quit, as he even out-lived his “memorial” party by six years.
“It’s not often someone gets to come to their going-away party,” Perlin said. “But Joe Lodge didn’t go away.”