Kathleen E. O’Leary was appointed Presiding Justice of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, in December 2011. The California State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation rated Justice O’Leary “exceptionally well qualified” and her appointment was unanimously confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments on February 10, 2012. Prior to assuming the position of Presiding Justice, she served as an Associate Justice of the court since 2000.
Justice O’Leary has been elected by the voters of the Fourth District (Imperial, Inyo, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties) in 2006, 2010, and as Presiding Justice in 2014.
Justice O’Leary has received many prestigious awards during her judicial career. This year, she received the Joan Dempsey Klein Award from the California Women Lawyers and the Orange County Lavender Bar Association’s Community Leadership Award. Other awards include the 2010 Saint Thomas More Judge of the Year Award, and the 2007 Aranda Access to Justice Award. In 2006, Justice O’Leary received the Franklin G. West Award, the Orange County Bar Association’s highest honor. This award is presented each year to an outstanding attorney or judge whose lifetime achievements have advanced justice and the law.
Throughout her judicial career, Justice O’Leary has been active in judicial and law-related education. She has consistently worked to improve the administration of justice through comprehensive and quality education and training. Justice O’Leary has taught California judicial officers, judicial branch personnel, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and other members of the justice community. She has also served as an instructor at legal programs for the judiciary of sister states, the National Center for State Courts, and the National Judicial College. In 2003, she was presented with the Bernard S. Jefferson Award for Distinguished Service in Judicial Education by the California Judges Association. Justice O’Leary is an adjunct faculty member at Chapman University School of Law.
Appointed by the Chief Justice, Justice O’Leary served for three years as a member of the Judicial Council of California, the body responsible for improving the administration of justice in California, and on a number of the council’s advisory committees and task forces. Her contributions to judicial administration were recognized when she received the Judicial Council’s Jurist of the Year Award in 1999. Justice O’Leary currently serves as Co-Chair of the Judicial Council’s Committee on Providing Access and Fairness and serves as the Chair of the Judicial Council’s Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Commission on the Future of the Courts and chairs its internal sub-committee on Fiscal and Administrative issues. The commission is responsible for studying and making recommendations to improve the state’s court operations and accessibility.
Prior to her appointment to the appellate court, Justice O'Leary served on the Orange County trial bench. Governor George Deukmejian appointed her to the Orange County Superior Court in July 1986. She was in her third term as the Presiding Judge of that court when appointed to the Court of Appeal. She began her judicial career at the West Orange County Municipal Court in 1981, where she also served both as the Presiding Judge and the Assistant Presiding Judge.
Justice O'Leary graduated from Loyola Marymount University and received her juris doctorate degree from Southwestern University School of Law. Justice O’Leary and her husband reside in Orange County.