She Can Do
attorney is a passionate advocate for equality
By Julia McHugh
by Susanna Godsey
Acevedo Daniels remembers being on a playground as a young child
and having this realization: "Girls can do anything boys can."
Her actions as an adult have not only proven that fact, but made
serious inroads to ensure women also have the same opportunities
and legal rights as men. This passionate advocate for equality is
also intensely committed to her family, forms close ties with her
clients, and is delighted to call Santa Barbara home, having just
completed a dream home in the Goleta hills.
the public eye with last year's discrimination suit resulting in
a $3.2 million award for two Santa Barbara policewomen, Daniels
is unabashedly "fired up," as she says, in her fight to
right the wrongs of discrimination. "This is the same work
I have been doing throughout my career," she emphasizes. "This
case just truly established me, and now I can do more." (Click
Here for an update on this case, tried with co-counsel David
strong female role models for shaping her personality and spurring
her drive to help others facing challenges of equality. She lovingly
recalls her maternal grandmother, a single mother who found a secretarial
job with the Los Angeles Board of Education. "She really ran
the place," Daniels, said smiling. "In today's world,
Gram would have been a CEO."
Willowdean "Willie" Wigger, dreamed of being a radio scriptwriter,
an option not available to many women at that time. So Willie attended
Santa Barbara State Teacher's College at the old Riveria campus
of what later became UCSB. She was at the top of her class and women's
student body president when she met her future husband, also an
educator, fresh out of the service. Janean was born in what was
then a "rural" Malibu in the early 1960's, before the
influx of Hollywood-types. Her mother stopped teaching full-time
after Janean and two older sisters were born.
not have the opportunity to pursue her dream, and that has been
a source of inspiration and strength for me," Daniels says.
"It helps me keep my life and career in balance. Had she lived
today, she would have been a lawyer. Reading her letters is just
incredible. She was an eloquent advocate for peace, anti-development
and the women's movement. Now I know where I get my writing skills."
An older sister
attended UCSB during the height of the Vietnam War and the beginnings
of the women's movement. She would return home to Malibu to Janean,
twelve years younger, amid talk about equality and the strides women
were making. There were lively discussions around the dinner table
about civil rights, inequities and peace. One day, Daniels caught
attorney Gloria Allred on a television news conference and was captivated
by the pioneering women's advocate. The seed was planted. Janean
decided to go to law school to become an advocate for women's issues.
school, Daniels joined a large Los Angeles firm, but her path was
leading elsewhere, not to just women's issues, but overall discrimination.
Her passion was evident, and a one-year clerkship with 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals Justice Harry Pregerson in Pasadena helped cement
her future. It was during the first Gulf war as that the judge,
a former Marine, jokingly assigned military roles to his three clerks.
"[Co-worker] John was a general handling strategy and Mark
would be a computer expert. I, however, would be an Apache helicopter
pilot." Daniels was delighted. "I guess I showed signs
even then of being a tough fighter."
And fought she
has. In the past fifteen years, her specialty has grown to encompass
not only women's and gender issues, but discrimination, civil rights,
sexual harassment, whistle-blowers and employee complaints, and
more. As an employment lawyer, Janean not only fights to help the
underdog, but also uses her ample people skills. "It was such
a natural fit," she says. "Employment law requires people
skills not only for the client, but for the employer and even the
other counsel. These skills are the ones I enjoy. It all ties into
why I wanted to work for women's rights and why I went to law school."
obtained a widely publicized settlement in a sexual harassment suit
against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. She is now
engaged in a wrongful terminations suit involving a Muslim worker
of Middle Eastern decent, a "David and Goliath" three-year
gender discrimination battle against giant Raytheon, and she represents
a family involved in the Santa Barbara High School coaching controversy.
to be an 'up and coming star," says longtime friend, Superior
Court of California Commissioner Deborah Talmage. "And now
she has arrived. Early in the police department case, even before
a suit was filed, Janean sent a letter outlining some very reasonable,
specific steps the police department could take to improve, such
as having a diversity officer. The department pretty much refused
to do any of them. Two years later at trial, Janean was able to
enter this letter into evidence to show the jury how reasonable
her clients had been. It was brilliant lawyering of the best style."
Janean as "very much of that style. Her settlement proposal
to the police, as I mentioned, was a good example of this style.
Mediation is win-win, as opposed to win-lose. How female is that?"
brown-haired woman develops close relationships with clients. It
is the individual, one-on-one contact that Daniels thrives on. "I
could 'grow' my business, but then I would lose this personal connection.
I live their cases, I believe in them. You can't fake it,"
she says, leveling a direct gaze. "And the defense knows that."
and clients obviously agree. Santa Barbara Woman Lawyers named Janean
"2003 Woman of the Year". Juanita Smith, who with Micki
Hause, was represented by Daniels and her co-counsel, David Nye,
in the police department case, says: "During the case, I would
have my ups and downs - more downs than up actually - and it felt
like Janean could almost feel the pain I was going through. That's
what makes her special."
incredibly intelligent, and has an amazing work ethic, but her greatest
strength is the ability to relate to people, to help you feel that
you are worthwhile and your cause is just," adds Hause. "I
can say with conviction that she made the process the best it could
possibly be. When she puts her support behind you, it is 100% there."
her as someone not easily intimidated. He calls her "a ball
of fire," and says,
She will not back down."
to Santa Barbara after seeing an ad for an associate for Hollister
& Brace. After a few years with the firm, she struck out on
her own. She's always felt affection for this area, the site of
her parents' romance and her sister's activism. She loves the natural
beauty, and there is one more draw, she is married to a surfer.
also grew up in Malibu. They were high school sweethearts and got
engaged during Janean's freshman year at UC Berkeley. They married
the summer before she entered UCLA Law School. They now have two
children, Tynan, aged 10 and Jacey, who is 6. In a true example
of gender equality, Jim stays home with the kids and helps her with
bookkeeping and office management. He was the owner and builder
of their recently - completed hilltop dream home.
died when she was 21, and that loss has made her avidly committed
to "family time," even while engaged in such a demanding
profession. Just months ago she passed up a large case because she
doesn't work weekends or evenings, except during large trials. At
home are Jim and the kids, plus her father Ray, who lives in his
own guest house on the property. She is convinced that close contact
with the family was instrumental in his recent remission from cancer.
is so much a part of who I am, but I don't want to be 'the lawyer'
at home," she says, adding with a smile, "though my husband
says I always answer a question with a question, always looking
for more clarity, digging
" What would she like
her daughter to learn from her as a role model? "She already
has it: love and compassion are the essence of life. And she can
do anything in life that she wants."
2003 Coastal Woman Magazine