Jack Mandel

Obituary of Jack Mandel

The Honorable Jack Kitay Mandel passed in his sleep on December 24, 2020 at the age of 84. He leaves behind a deep legacy in the law, and a lifetime of commitment to the betterment of society. Jack lived his life guided by the Jewish philosophy of Tikkun Olam, which posits that society is inherently broken in places, and when we see it, it becomes our responsibility to do our part to repair it. He embraced this responsibility through the building of a large family, a distinguished career in the law, and in the mentorship of thousands of young people in Santa Ana, California. Jack had an incredibly big heart, with room for many loves. He was a proud alum and long-service Trustee of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, near his birthplace of Erie, Pennsylvania. He often told the story that, while at Allegheny, he skipped swim practice by attending a seminar on the Law, and found a second love. He went on to law school at the University of Pennsylvania, and then served as a Captain in the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General, stationed in the Philippines and Arizona. He received a Masters from the University of Arizona while in service there, and later in life also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Morningside College. Jack eventually settled in Fullerton, California, and continued his distinguished career as an attorney across all areas, specializing in family law. His recognitions and contributions are too numerous to mention, but include Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1974, recognized by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association. He was a trusted peer, colleague and mentor to many in his field. Jack’s well-earned respect and contributions eventually led the Governor of California to appoint him to the Superior Court as a Judge in 1981. During his tenure he served with great personal honor, both in his role as judge and also as a mentor to the ensuing generations of attorneys who appeared before him, and fellow judges with whom he sat. His contributions and legacy are remembered through awards such as the California Judge’s Association Humanitarian Award, the OCBA Harmon Scoville Award, Bank of America’s Local Hero Award, the George Washington Award from the Freedom Foundation, the Volunteer of the Year award from the LA Times and many others. He also served as a Faculty Member at the California Judicial College, passing on his wisdom to new generations of judges. After his retirement from the bench in 2000, the Orange County Superior Court recognized him as Judge Emeritus in 2001. It was while a judge in the 1980’s that Jack began mentoring students in the Santa Ana school system with his wife Judy. The two had started a Stay In School mentoring program to address the high drop-out rates between 8th and 9th grades. Budget cuts in the Santa Ana school district eventually forced the closure of libraries after school hours, resulting in high school students studying on the concrete sidewalk in front of the school. Jack’s sense of “righting a wrong” kicked in, and after asking the school system for permission to keep the library open, he began a decades-long practice of mentoring students to prepare them for college. Word got out in the school amongst the students that Jack was there, and soon there were too many students for him to mentor. In classic “Jack Mandel” fashion, additional Superior Court judges and attorney friends were gently strong-armed into coming by to add additional support. These strong-arm tactics continued for many years, with a legacy of hundreds of students attending college where that had prior not seemed an option for them. The youth he helped came to be known as “The Judge’s Kids.” Throughout the 90’s and until his retirement from the bench, Jack helped uncountable young people believe in themselves. He saw how societal norms and systems could easily miss capable students without means or from different cultures, and refused to let these “diamonds in the rough” get passed over without a chance for them to realize their potential. Through Jack’s grassroots efforts, young people have flourished into college graduates and professionals like attorneys, teachers, accountants and social workers. Through the generous philanthropic efforts of Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, Jack’s vision has now become an ongoing reality in the Nicholas Academic Centers (NAC) across three Santa Ana locations. Jack continued to recruit his “Judge’s Kids” to help him build and run the centers by teaching them of Tikkun Olam, and their opportunity to help repair the world. To date, more than 1,400 students have been helped through the NAC to graduate high school and attend college. Education, the Law, and his additional love, Family. Jack believed deeply that we choose our family as much as they are born to us, and lived this value by casting a big tent. He is survived by natural children, and by many more who have been “adopted” into the family through his life and relationships. It’s almost impossible to list those who would consider themselves Jack’s family. He was joined first and foremost throughout by his wife, Judy, who was usually the energy making sure that his Tikkun Olam efforts became reality. He is also remembered by his sons, David, Josh and Jeremy; his daughters-in-law Lisa, Michelle, Victoria, Christa and Alicia; his grandchildren Jacob, Gideon, Nolan, Hayden, Mina, Monte, Max and Anabelle; his sister Nancy; and his extended family of Hugo and Rosa. If you would like to honor Jack’s life, and specifically his legacy of Tikkun Olam that now lives on through the work of the NAC, please consider a donation in his name, where your thoughtfulness will help those students who have successfully made it to college to fulfill needs like books, supplies and regionally-appropriate clothing. (LINK HERE) As a final note, Tikkun Olam teaches us a personal responsibility to make the world better. If you can find a way to do so in your own lives as we look forward to a new year, whether that action is big or small, we hope you’ll think of Jack. When the pandemic has finally passed, the family will be hosting a larger memorial event to celebrate the life of the Honorable Jack Kitay Mandel.
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