County Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman visited Lake Como in Italy on a vacation in 2007 and fell in love with it. He didn’t want to leave.
“I thought I might even have to quit my job and that’s not because I don’t love my job,” he said. “It’s just that Italy appealed to me that much.”
But instead of leaving his seat on the bench, Tangeman, who’s 57, will take an 11-month unpaid leave and teach American law at the University of Trento. He’ll arrive in August and live in the northern city of Verona near the university with his wife, Carol, and 14-year-old daughter, Marisa. Together, they’ll learn a new culture and way of life — and he’ll also learn a new legal system.
Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford, who’s currently handling misdemeanor cases in the Grover Beach court, will assume Tangeman’s duties presiding over North County civil litigation cases, according to Court Executive Officer Susan Matherly. Retired judges will take over Crawford’s case calendar in Grover Beach, she said.
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Tangeman is taking advantage of a state law that allows judges to take “sabbatical leave in order to facilitate study, teaching, research or another activity that will benefit the administration of justice and enhance judges’ performance of their duties.”
He looked into teaching options in universities in Italy and was accepted to instruct civil litigation – his expertise – also unpaid at the University of Trento.
The judge, who says he truly enjoys “solving legal problems,” believes law students in Italy can learn from the American system and the Italian system can be equally educational to him.
One difference: The Italian system doesn’t rely on mediation to help resolve legal disputes as in the United States where cases may be handled outside of court before a judge hears the case, Tangeman said. So learning about mediation could be a benefit to the Italians, the local judge said.
In Italy, the courts don’t have juries — judges decide cases — which will be interesting to Tangeman to observe. Italian law students also decide their career path in college, including settling on whether to be a judge or a specific kind of lawyer.
By comparison, American judges typically spend several years practicing as lawyers before being appointed to the bench after an intensive state application process.
Tangeman said that since Christmas, his family has been studying Italian rigorously using the Rosetta Stone program, which will help ease the adjustment.
His daughter will attend school with Italians her age and take classes in the foreign language.
“It was sort of like a dream of mine to one day live in Italy,” Tangeman said. “I think you have to take advantage of new experiences. This will be a great adventure.”