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Not after she failed 13 times before.
Not after she had spent tens of thousands to attend law school. Not after she put her husband Jon Gomez through the ringer for so many years. Not after the debt she piled up forced her family to move into a 365-square-foot home.
Not after she spent the last eight years of her life studying to pass one stinking test.
Her 14th try came on a day in February. She did breathing exercises and self-hypnosis.
When the three long days of exams were finished, she walked out of the room and broke down and cried.
It was the only time she ever did.
• • •
Her journey began in 1994 at Western State University College of Law.
She had been a marine biologist, teaching at Science Adventures in Huntington Beach and at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point.
She and Gomez, who married in 1992 after an 11-year courtship, lived in a three-bedroom home with a garage and yard in a Fullerton cul-de-sac. The couple traveled and shared a passion for sports. They loved to entertain guests at their home.
Life was good ... until the day Bandy decided to go into law.
DETERMINATION: Paulina Bandy expresses her happiness that she passed the bar exam on her 14th attempt. Bandy stands in the 40-square-foot enclosed porch she used as a study for much of the last eight years.
LEONARD ORTIZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY
Bandy, who grew up in Anaheim, always felt underestimated and thought law school could help her reach a sense of achievement.
She told her husband, "Don't worry, it won't affect your life at all."
She supported his decision to go back to college and pursue a teaching degree after a lucrative career in lumber sales.
The learning curve was steep for Bandy, who powered through night classes. But she made it through the first year, when most students are weeded out of law schools.
"Law school was so in-your-face smart," she said. "It was very prestigious."
She graduated in 1998 with a B average and a desire to teach business law. She didn't want a high-pressure job, but an exciting internship with the Orange County District Attorney's Office that summer stoked her interest.
With about $80,000 in unpaid school loans and a degree, Bandy prepared herself for the state bar exam. She felt confident.
• • •
Bandy did what every bar exam taker would do. She took bar review courses, consulted with experts, bought study aids and studied for hours a day. She had more work to do than the Ivy League graduates who were more prepared and apt to pass the exam.
"There was a secret out there to passing, and I wasn't in on it," she said.
Gomez kicked off a tradition of bringing flowers to his wife after she finished her exam in February 1999. But Bandy found out later that she failed. She was disheartened but vowed to do better the next year.
Her father died that same year, but Bandy had to immediately hunker down and get ready for another exam.
In 2000, Gomez graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a child/adolescent studies degree. He began teaching shortly after for a starting salary of $29,000. In the meantime, his wife studied 14 to 15 hours a day to prepare for a second stab at the state bar exam.
"I wanted my happy ending," she said. "I wanted the Disney movie. I just thought, 'I can pass the exam.' "
Her second try was unsuccessful. She had become a "repeater," and that's when the frustration, shame and desperation seeped in. Bandy began to isolate herself. She and her husband were struggling to eke out a living.
"I knew I could do it, but I didn't know what the formula was," she said.
• • •
Maybe she should've given up the dream.
By 2003, five years after she took her first exam, Bandy hadn't passed. On July 1 of that year, at age 39, Bandy gave birth to daughter Roxanne.
By then, Bandy had taken the test seven times and was spiraling into more debt. Her law school debt ballooned into $128,000, and Bandy had to defer the loan. The couple spent at least $1,000 on registration fees and hotel rooms each time she took the test.
Gomez refused to let his wife give up. She had come too close on many occasions – passing some portions of the exam but failing one – to stop trying. He drove her to the test sites in Pomona, San Diego, Ontario, Long Beach, Pasadena and stayed with her during the three-day trips.
"To me, it wasn't a big fight," he said. "It was easier to say, 'Go in there. You can do it.' "
The fight continued for years. She tried twice in 2004, the year the family left Fullerton to move into a 365-square-foot home in the back yard of Bandy's mother's house in Orange. They sold the majority of their possessions – furniture, sporting equipment, wedding champagne glasses – at garage sales and squeezed what they could into their one-bedroom home.
One couch, a television set, a bed. No closet space, a tiny kitchen and a study area. No vacations, eating out or new clothes. Bandy took odd jobs to help pay for expenses such as Roxanne's childcare and a $500 monthly rent.
She took the exam twice in 2005 and twice in 2006. She failed both years.
"She's been so dedicated, and it's been hard on me seeing her hit against the wall," said her mother, Caroline Bandy.
• • •
The exam in February of this year was Bandy's 14th. A few months before, her father-in-law yelled at her for being a "pretend lawyer" and ruining his son's life. She also got into a bad accident in January and totaled her car.
On May 25, the day the results of the exam were to be posted online, Bandy came home to a message on the answering machine.
"I screamed," Bandy said. "I'll never forget it. I was doubled over like being punched in the stomach. In a good way."
She had passed the exam, said the voice in the message. She sobbed uncontrollably. Her mother and husband were in the front yard, shocked.
"I passed, I passed!" Bandy yelled while running to the driveway.
Eight years of sacrifice had paid off. The family celebrated at a nearby Rubio's.
After all that ordeal, Bandy might not even become a lawyer.
Because of her own experiences, she has an urge to help other repeaters pass the exam. Passing her 14th test in February and being sworn into the bar association in December is proof to other repeaters that if Bandy can do it, so can they.
She's decided to devote her time to helping them full time. She launched a Web site, www.cabarexamrepeatersresource.com, and got a business license to help others find a formula to find pass the bar exam.
She'll also be teaching night classes to adults at the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. She hopes to tell her story to others and help them through their own struggles.
"To me, it's been such a big goal," Bandy said. "This is the journey. It's the end."