Only 3,000 people lived in the small town of Gillette, Wyoming, when Judge Rebecca Riley grew up here. She graduated in 1967 from the University of Wyoming with a ba chelor’s degree in English, and entered the working world teaching kindergarten for a year at a private elementary school.
“That was an interesting experience,” Judge Riley said with a laugh.
In 1974, Judge Riley moved to California. After eight years as a real estate broker she decided to go to law school. A law degree might help her real estate practice, she thought. She packed much into her days. Before anything else, Judge Riley would wake up early to ride her two horses. She’d work all day, go to law school after work, then study at night. Often, she ended up getting just three hours of sleep.
In 1984, she graduated from Ventura College of Law. After law school, Judge Riley worked two years at Waldo, Malley & Lacey, a civil law firm in Camarillo, before she was offered a six-month contract attorney position at the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
“I just loved it,” she said.
The District Attorney’s office liked her work, too, and offered her a permanent position. She worked there for the next decade.
Then Riley’s husband – retired Judge Ken Riley – encouraged her to apply for a – encouraged her to apply for a judicial position. He thought she would be a good judge.
For her own part, Judge Riley worried that leaving the D.A.’s office would leave her bored on the bench.
“[Those concerns were] totally unfounded, as it turns out,” Riley said.
But as much as her colleagues at the D.A.’s office had appreciated her work for them, they also encouraged her transition to the bench. “I am sure that I would not be a judge today without the support of then District Attorney Mike Bradbury and the current District Attorney Greg Totten, who was with the California District Attorney’s office at the time,” Judge Riley said.
Judge Riley also is chair of the Board of Trustees for the Santa Barbara and VenturaColleges of Law.
When Judge Riley is not in the courtroom you can find her outdoors. She is an avid hiker. In July 2010, with ten of her girlfriends, she hiked Mount Whitney carrying a 40-pound backpack. These women trained for one year before setting out to conquer the highest summit in the Continental United States (an elevation of 14,505 feet). Judge Riley also enjoys hiking in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. She was soaking wet by the end of a whitewater raft trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, but had a great time.
Though Judge Riley loves to hike, she is afraid of snakes. During a hike near Pt. Mugu, she and her friend heard the distinct sound of a rattlesnake. They took off down the trail as fast as they could. They then waited to warn another hiking group that had a small dog with them.
Judge Riley’s family has rescued eight dogs. She and Ken currently have five rescue dogs. They also have three cats.
Two of the dogs are standard poodles – rescues from Cold Noses, Warm Hearts in Santa Barbara – that she describes as “so smart.” Both started responding to hand signals to sit after only two attempts to combine the signal with verbal commands. “When you look into their eyes it seems that a person is looking back at you,” Judge Riley said. “The male is so tall that when he goes up on his hind legs he hooks his paws over my shoulders and we are eye to eye.”
After fifteen years on the bench, Judge Rebecca Riley still loves her job. Her active lifestyle shines through her friendly personality and positive outlook.
Katie Clunen is an associate of the Dion Law Office in Westlake Village, where she practices family law.