Robert E Willett

Go to Central Casting and tell them, “I need someone who looks like a judge, and he needs to look elderly.” Guess what? the guy you are looking for is in Dept. 43 down at the “Stanley.” Over the last few weeks I have heard different opinions on the “new” judge that took Judge Rafael Ongkeko’s place. Being perfectly honest here folks, Judge Ongkeko was not the most popular judge among the city’s divorce lawyers. Many — not all — would pass on having Ongkeko hear a case. Judge Ongkeko had a personality that was a little tough to understand, I have had that very same problem over the years. Should I say that maybe criminal courts in Van Nuys might be more fertile ground for his style and warm personality…just a suggestion (this was the judge that Mel Gibson’s legal team got booted from his case. Under California law, lawyers have 10 days from the filing date to apply for a different judge).

Back to Judge Robert E. Willett, a former litigator for over thirty years with the firm of O’Melveney. Pretty much right out of Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law (1974) he went to work with O’Melveney and remained there up until his appointment by former Governor Schwarzenegger in 2010 to the Superior Court bench. Now I am just guessing that this had to be a BIG pay cut for Judge Willett. For any lawyer to become a judge it is almost a crowning point, the icing on the cake and again, Judge Willett was not making minimum wage as a 30 year litigatior with a firm like O’Melveney (sounds like a good name for a cookie). So let’s not do any fund-raising for the good judge, now some judges who had other positions and not with big firms or founding partners, them maybe.

I spoke to several lawyers prior to visiting Dept. 43 and having a seat. Some that I spoke to had a wait-and-see attitude except for Patrick DeCarolis of Trope and Decarolis. Patrick told me that he got a sense of “quiet power“ and furthermore to make his point even more clearly, “I like him.” Well I sat in the front row as I often do and watched and listened as a group of four lawyers attempted to practice law. I immediately saw what Mr. DeCarolis had mentioned, “quiet power,” Judge Willett is not going to wring his hands and I don’t see him sitting on his hands and rocking either, he has been around and in far more difficult positions as a litigator than he will be in the position he holds now. My point is that I think we have a new judge who once he gets his footing is going to be one of our favorites at

Sure he has that smile and glint in his eye, more likely he has that even when he is pissed, you know what I mean? And it is going to be the job of any lawyer in front of Judge Willett to figure out — is he smiling because I am doing a good job or is he thinking, “moron”! To me that is the best part of Judge Robert E. Willett.

Welcome Judge Willett to the “Stanley” from all of us at>

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©John J. Nazarian
July 1, 2011
Used with the permission of John Nazarian P. I. – writer
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One Response to “Judge Robert E. Willett Welcome to the Stanley Mosk Court House in Los Angeles!”
  1. Rhonda says:

    I had wondered if I was the only one who felt Ongkeko was not suited for Family Law. Evidently, I wasn’t alone. He made too many assumptions which I felt was a professional embarrassment on his part. He’d say things like, “I can just see you hovering over him making him do his homework.” His silly imagination wasn’t ever necessary. One time he was going to make a change-in-custody decision after my ex (a two-bit lawyer) sat there and said, “She has to stop it. It’s not good for the child. It’s not in his best interest. This stuff has to stop. It’s bad coparenting…etc.” Ongkeko said, “Yes, I think I could make this change with a couple of modifications.” I spoke up and asked, “Do I get to respond to that?” He was forced to say yes, probably knowing if he didn’t, I could appeal his ruling. I said, “Petitioner just sat there saying “it, it, it” – it’s got to stop, it’s bad coparenting, it’s not in the child’s best interest. Tell me, Judge, what is “it”?? Petitioner hasn’t said while he sat there talking. It isn’t in Petitioner’s document. What is “it”?” I heard ruckus behind me in the nose-bleed section – even onlookers recognized the void of such information that this judge was going to rule on anyway. Then after that, I had to inform the judge that Petitioner never said we argued over schooling and day care and never gave any example of such, yet the change Ongkeko was a hair away from making was to allow Petitioner to have last say in schooling and day care issues if there ever was an argument in the future. Plumb weird. Of course, after I brought these to his attention, he had to deny Petitioner’s request. I suppose the ass-chewing he gave me after denying it was really out of his own embarrassment (and he should be embarrassed). I disagree with you on the “criminal court” part. I don’t think Ongkeko belongs in any court. His looks scream “immigrant farmer” to me.

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