Justice Dawson was born in Minnesota and moved to California in her childhood. She is married to Robert Haden, an attorney in practice in Merced, California. They have two adult daughters, one an art student and the other in law school.
Justice Dawson attended City College of San Francisco, the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico, and San Francisco State University. She obtained her J.D. from Hastings College of Law, where she was an articles editor for the Hastings Law Journal and a member of the Thurston Honor Society. She graduated with honors in 1978, and is a member of the Order of the Coif.
During the 1978-1979 school year, Justice Dawson was a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School. She then served as a research attorney for the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, until moving to Merced in 1980. There she practiced law with her husband and, for a time, with her father-in-law. Her practice was general, with an emphasis on appeals.
In 1992, Justice Dawson became a traffic referee for the Merced County Municipal Court and, in 1994, she was named a court commissioner. She was appointed to the Merced County Superior Court in April 2000, became Presiding Judge in 2002, and served until her confirmation for appointment to the Court of Appeal on September 26, 2003.
Justice Dawson has been active in professional organizations, serving as a member of the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee to the Judicial Council of California, a member of the California Court Commissioners’ Association Board of Directors, a member of the State Bar of California’s Committee on Appellate Courts, and President of the Merced County Bar Association. She is a member of the National Association of Women Judges, Fresno County Women Lawyers, and California Women Lawyers.
Before taking the bench in 1992, Justice Dawson was Chair of the Merced County Appeals and Grievances Committee, a member of the City of Merced Planning Commission, a member of the Board of Directors of the Merced County Coalition for Affordable Housing, and a member of the Board of Directors of A Woman’s Place (a domestic violence prevention organization).
Justice Dawson is an avid gardener and loves the out of doors. She and her husband travel as often as possible.