The Women Lawyers of Ventura County (WLVC) will honor Judge Ellen Gay Conroy and Laura Bartels Nov. 29 at Herzog Wine Cellars inOxnard. Conroy will receive the WLCV’s Sixth Annual Legacy Award. Bartels is the recipient of the Holly Spevak Memorial Award.

The Legacy Award honors a pioneer woman attorney, one of our “founding mothers” who was a leader among women lawyers, a strong supporter of women’s rights, an advocate for diversity in the legal profession, and a proponent of advancing the interests of women and girls.

Judge Conroy was born into a low income family living on theMontereyPeninsulain 1943. Her father was a commercial fisherman, providing for the family by catching sardines for the local canneries. Her mother set a good example for Judge Conroy, who describes her as “overachieving;” her mother was a schoolteacher, author, and artist. When her mother decided that she needed to be home to take care of Judge Conroy and her three siblings, she transformed the family’s barn into a nursery school to provide for other children in the community as well as her own.

Judge Conroy excelled in high school and was offered a scholarship toUniversityofCalifornia,Santa Barbara, where she met her husband, John Conroy, to whom she has been married for 47 years. Judge has been married for 47 years. Judge Conroy describes her husband as good, patient and supportive. In fact, it was not until Judge Conroy was thirty-five years old that she decided to go to law school. John was indeed supportive, and helped with the house and with raising their two children. He became an expert at cooking, at least with hotdogs in the microwave.

While attending the Ventura College of Law, Judge Conroy knew that she had chosen the right path for herself and felt like she could finally settle down into a career. While continuing to work full-time in the Welfare Department, Judge Conroy breezed through law school, graduated in December 1981 and passed the February 1982 bar exam.

Judge Conroy worked mainly in family law and had a significant impact on how family law cases are handled inVentura County.

She was appointed by Judge Colleen Toy White to a panel tasked with determining how to offer better services to self-represented family law litigants. Through the work on this panel, the Court’s Family LawSelf-Help Centerwas born. Judge Conroy was the driving force behind theSelf-HelpCenterand its weekly clinics for self-represented litigants. This experience was such a highlight for Judge Conroy that she left private practice and took the position of Family Law Facilitator when it was created, so that she could help self represented litigants full time.

Judge Conroy was appointed as a Ventura County Court Commissioner in 2006, and then was appointed as a Superior Court Judge by Governor Schwarzenegger on July 21, 2008. She has been in Courtroom 32 ever since, overseeing a family law calendar. 

Judge Conroy has two daughters, no grandchildren, and a “cute but ill-behaved dog.” She loves traveling, and has been to Africa, South America, the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, the Caribbean, French Polynesia andMexico. Other personal accomplishments include appearing on three TV game shows, jumping out of a plane on her 50th birthday, singing at Erik Estrada’s wedding, and rafting level four rapids inCosta Rica. While Judge Conroy loves all of these memories, she says that she would change nothing about her career, and believes that being a judge is her true calling in life. She has mentored women considering law as a career, including yours truly, and gives realistic but optimistic advice. She is constantly thinking of others and wishes that she had more time in her day to help litigants get through the legal system. Her commitment to her position, the people appearing in her courtroom, and to the general public, is unparalleled.

The Holly Spevak Memorial Award honors the memory of a woman whose short time as an attorney  brought lasting contributions to the community and access to justice through pro bono work. This award is presented to a new or “newish” attorney who exemplifies the commitment to serve others. 

Laura Bartels began working for Taylor & Scoles in Fillmore as a paralegal in 1988, and decided that she wanted something else – to be an attorney there. She decided to attend law school, and graduated from Ventura College of Law in 1997. Thereafter, she became an attorney and partner at Taylor, Scoles & Bartels in 1997.  Bartels later attended the Santa Barbara Conflict Management Institute, where she   received her mediation certificate in 2005. She has now been practicing law in theSanta ClaraValleyfor 15 years.

Laura has devoted her practice to assisting people through very difficult situations – whether through bankruptcy, public interest matters, probate, or estate planning. She is known throughout the county as an incredibly hard working attorney with a stellar reputation. Her colleagues call her “empathetic, thorough,   compassionate and intelligent,” and report that she “has a deep appreciation for her clients’ needs and desires.” 

Because of her passion for helping others, Laura joined fellow attorney Debora Vierra in growing Santa Clara Valley Legal Aid in 1996. Laura, Debora, and other volunteer attorneys have worked with thousands of families and individuals seeking aid in legal matters. Unlike most legal aid programs, Santa Clara Valley Legal Aid has no regular funding. Donations fund only one paid translator, and most of the contributions come from grateful clients. Laura and the other volunteer attorneys work with clients, not only to help them with their legal issues, but to teach them about the justice system and their own case, so that they feel like they have an “ownership” of outcome.

Laura exemplifies the principles that Holly Spevak worked for, to make a better way for others and to dedicate her law practice to the greater social good.

 Please join us on Nov. 29, 2012 to honor these remarkable and inspirational women. Please see the enclosed flyer for details.

Katie Hause is a partner at Ben Schuck & Katherine Hause LLP, and practices in the areas of probate, estate planning, conservatorships, and animal law. Katie is also the Treasurer of WLVC.

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