SANTA ANA — Donna L. Crandall was well into her career as a Superior Court clerk when she realized she could do as well as most of the attorneys she saw on a daily basis.
So Crandall enrolled in law school at age 36, determined to build a better life for herself and the two young girls she was raising alone. It was tough juggling single parenthood, a full-time job and night classes, but the 49-year-old Santa Ana resident said Wednesday that her work has paid off.
Nearly eight years after she became an Orange County deputy district attorney specializing in prosecuting sex crimes, Crandall has won her first campaign to become a judge in Central Municipal Court in Santa Ana.
"My daughters are calling me 'Judge Mom,' " said Crandall, who must wait until Monday to find out the official results.
According to unofficial results, Crandall received 65.4% of the vote, dwarfing the total for her opponent, Santa Ana attorney Salvador Sarmiento, 41, who received 34.6% of the votes cast. Her new post will pay an annual salary of just over $90,000.
The race for a seat in Harbor Municipal Court in Newport Beach was still too close to call Wednesday. In that race, Fullerton Municipal Judge Margaret R. Anderson was slightly ahead. She had 50.5% of the vote to 49.5% for 44-year-old Debra Allen, a Corona del Mar attorney. The difference between the two candidates amounted to just over 1,000 votes.
But Stephen Burdette, campaign manager for Allen, said he believes she still has a chance of winning after absentee votes are counted.
Anderson was seeking a new seat to be closer to her Huntington Beach home. She said Wednesday she had little comment on the race because she could not predict the outcome.
"It's like a jury. You never really know what's going to happen," Anderson said. "I can't say I'm disappointed. I'm a judge no matter what happens."
Allen did not return a reporter's telephone call Wednesday seeking comment. Sarmiento also did not return a phone call.
Crandall was a single mother struggling to raise two daughters from her first marriage and working as a Superior Court clerk when she began to worry whether she would be able to afford to send her children to college.
"That's when I realized that I was watching attorneys each day, and I realized, 'Hey, I can do that too,' " Crandall recalled. So at an age when many people have settled into their careers, Crandall enrolled at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton.
From 1979 to 1983, Crandall worked full time, went to school part time and tried to be there when her daughters needed her. She also remarried while in law school, and now has two step-daughters.
She is scheduled to take the bench Jan. 4, but is planning to request an immediate appointment from Gov. Pete Wilson so she can begin helping with the heavy caseload in the Santa Ana court, which has a shortage of judges.