Retired Judge Who Created Veterans Court Dies
The retired Ventura County Superior Court judge who started several specialty court programs for veterans, the mentally ill and others died this month.
Judge Colleen Toy White died Aug. 10 amid her second battle with cancer. She was 77, said Arthur Bliss, her husband of 20 years. Over the past year and a half, White had been dealing with the cancer diagnosis and a host of other medical issues but her health declined in the past two months, Bliss said.
“She was a remarkable person,” Bliss said, describing his wife as committed to justice and to bettering the community.
“I suppose that would be her legacy: justice and equal treatment for everyone in front of her,” Bliss said.
White and her husband lived on an avocado ranch in Somis. Bliss said she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma six years ago. She took a six-month leave to undergo treatment and beat the disease for a time, but it later returned, he said.
Ventura County Superior Court officials announced her death in a news release Tuesday. White was elected to the bench in June 1994. Before retiring in 2017, she initiated the creation of Veterans Court, Community Intervention Court, Dependency Drug Court, Elder Law Court and Mental Health Court.
In those programs, the court partners with county agencies and community organizations to help a range of people — including veterans, new mothers with substance abuse issues, the elderly and people struggling with mental health — connect to services and treatment as they go through the justice system.
In 2019, the veterans treatment court was named in her honor. It was created in 2010.
“Her dedication to the court and her compassionate treatment of those individuals appearing in her court set the highest standard for which a bench officer should aspire to,” Presiding Judge Bruce A. Young said in a statement.
White was born and raised in the small Oklahoma town of Wetumka where her mother was a nurse and her father was the constable. She would drive the family car while her father and a person under arrest sat in the backseat. Her father would give arrestees a dollar so they could get a meal upon release, Bliss said.
She married her first husband young and became a mother at 18, then moved to Ventura by age 22. She received her associate’s degree from Ventura College and her law degree from the Ventura campus of the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law. She was a straight A student “and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” Bliss said.
She passed the bar on her first attempt and was admitted to the California bar in 1977. Soon after, she went to work in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office where she was employed for 18 years prior to her judgeship. For 10 of those years she served as chief assistant district attorney, the number two position under then-District Attorney Michael Bradbury.
“The world is just not quite as bright as it was before we lost her,” Bradbury said of her death.
Bradbury remembered White as hard-working, devoted to protecting women and children and achieving justice for everybody. The pair first met while working in the district attorney’s office, and it was White who encouraged Bradbury to run for the elected position. She worked on his campaign, Bradbury said.
White worked various positions in the DA’s office and excelled at them all, Bradbury said. She completely “revolutionized” the victim services program, he said.
The program changed from assisting prosecutors with witness preparation for trial testimony to “truly assisting victims and changing their lives,” Bradbury said. The change became a national model for assisting victims of crime, he said.
White was well ahead of her time and brought prosecution into the 21st century, he added.
The former district attorney said he was personally impressed with White. Her first marriage was difficult and she later had to grieve the loss of a child, Bradbury said. Nevertheless, she had a smile on her face and was always ready to help people.
Before serving on the bench, she was president of Interface Children and Family Services and chair of President Ronald Reagan’s Council on the Peace Corps. As a judge, her peers on the bench elected her presiding judge in 2007-2008 and she was named “Judge of the Year” by the Ventura County Trial Lawyers Association in 2014.
In 2016, White was the recipient of the Aranda Access to Justice Award from the California Judicial Council, which honors judges who have shown a long-term commitment to improve court access, especially for low and moderate-income individuals.
When she retired in 2017, the Women Lawyers of Ventura County honored White with an award for being a pioneer for women lawyers, expanding court access for marginalized groups and serving victims of crime.
A memorial service has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 27 at Ventura Missionary Church, 500 High Point Drive.
Source: VC Star article from August 21, 2021