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COSTA MESA -- An expert in family law has been chosen as the new dean of Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, officials said Wednesday.
University of Denver law professor Penelope Bryan will start work July 1, after a national search that started in September to replace departing dean Neil Cogan, who has held the post since 2001.
"We are thrilled, she is the perfect fit for our law school," Judith F. Daar, Whittier's associate dean for academic affairs said Wednesday.
Daar said that Bryan was "universally embraced" by the law school community and is well qualified to deal with the school's unique challenges.
Whittier is one of four American Bar Association-accredited law schools in Orange County, including the new school at UC Irvine scheduled to open this fall.
Under pressure from accreditors to improve the percentage of its students who pass the bar, Whittier had been threatened with the loss of its ABA accreditation, but was able to create innovative coaching programs that brought its pass rate up to 84 percent.
Bryan, an expert in family law, child custody and dispute resolution, has spent the last two decades as a law professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Keith Rodenhuis, president of the law school's O.C. alumni association and deputy treasurer for Orange County, sat on the search committee that, he said, reviewed about 100 applications before selecting Bryan.
Rodenhuis said he was impressed by Bryan's strong ties to the Latino community and felt her experience in family and children's rights would mesh well with the college's legal clinic dedicated to children's rights.
He also thought the fact that Bryan has a son serving in the military in the San Diego area would also resonate with many people here.
"She was very impressive," Rodenhuis said. "I think she'll do well with the Orange County community. She sets herself apart being the only female dean among ABA law schools here."
The president of Whittier College issued a statement about the appointment, which was announced Feb. 9.
"The search committee and all who met Penelope were attracted to her obvious commitment to and vision for the advancement of Whittier Law School, her strong work ethic, her experience, and her 'can do' approach to seizing opportunity," Whittier President Sharon Herzberger said in the statement.