Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

pennyladellwillrichDean Willrich joined the Phoenix School of Law as a full time faculty member in 2005. She considers herself to have come full circle in the pursuit of the law as a profession.Prior to teaching at PSL, Professor Willrich served as the first African American woman trial court judge in the history of the State of Arizona from 1999 to 2005.

She served in the Juvenile, Criminal, and Family Division. However, she continues to serve the Court as a Judge Pro Tem. From 1995 to 1999, Professor Willrich served as a Commissioner of the Superior Court in Maricopa County. She served in the Juvenile and Criminal Division. As a Juvenile Court Commissioner, Professor Willrich was appointed by the Supreme Court of Arizona to prepare the initial draft of re-drafted Juvenile Court Rules.  Prior to going on the bench in 1995, Professor Willrich was in private practice representing clients with legal problems in family, criminal, probate, juvenile, small business, non-profit management, and entertainment law.


From 1992-1994, Professor Willrich served as an Assistant Director of the Department of Economic Security - Administration of Children, Youth and Families Division. In this position she managed a federal/state budget of $246 million and had over 1200 employees statewide under her supervision. Professor Willrich was instrumental in securing legislation that would fund a multi-year statewide technological improvement initiative. This technological improvement initiative placed computers at the desk of every social worker assigned to Child Protective Services and allowed the Department to better track the services being provided to children in foster care. Under Professor Willrich's watch, a statewide case review was conducted to determine whether children were safe in out of home placements in Arizona and whether ADES' staff was complying with laws, rules, and policies.


In June, 1987, Professor Willrich joined Community Legal Services (Phoenix, AZ) as its managing attorney and Director of Domestic Violence. For her first three years, she worked in CLS' Glendale Office and in her latter two years, Professor Willrich served as CLS' Litigation Director. Professor Willrich often testified before the Arizona Legislature on pending domestic violence and family law bills; she was instrumental in re-writing the Domestic Violence Victims Handbook; she developed the uniform interrogatory questions on domestic violence as it related to custody; she represented clients in Maricopa, Yuma, and Mohave counties. She was instrumental in getting legislation passed that protects the address of domestic violence shelters. During this time she also volunteered as a Judge Pro Tem for the Superior Court in Maricopa County (one of a few attorneys who was trained on Title IV-D Child Support Law), was a volunteer mediator for the Court to assist in resolving and narrowing issues brought to trial, and served on a number of Court Committees.


After graduating from law school, Professor Willrich's desire was to give back to the community that helped her pursue her dreams. Professor Willrich served as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow and Staff Attorney at West Texas Legal Services (WTLS) in Fort Worth from 1982 to 1985. Her ingenuity and willingness to roll up her sleeves in pursuit of providing access to justice for the poor led her to become the managing attorney for WTLS from 1985 to 1987. As the managing attorney, Professor Willrich helped to educate the attorneys on the value of paralegals in the provision of services to the poor; assisted in the writing of a publication for domestic violence victims for the State Bar of Texas, Young Lawyers Division. She was also one of the first attorneys to try a family law matter in conjunction with a tort claim; in order to get her client awarded the husband's share of the community property to compensate the wife for injuries suffered as a result of domestic violence during the marriage.
She is currently completing her Doctorate of Philosophy - Public Service Leadership - Criminology from Capella University, Minneapolis, MN. Her expected graduation date is 2012. Professor Willrich's dissertation will research how prosecutors exercise discretion in charging children as adult criminals. Professor Willrich's professional passion is fairness in the application of the law, access to justice and involvement in issues concerning families and children.   She is an accomplished and sought-after public speaker.


Professor Willrich holds active licenses to practice law in Texas and Arizona. She is a member of the District Courts for the Northern District of Texas and Phoenix District. She is also admitted to the 5th and 9th Circuit Courts of Appeals. Professor Willrich provides pro bono counsel and advice to the residents of the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelter in Phoenix and Save The Family in Mesa.  She also serves on the Supreme Court of Arizona Centennial Commission, Commission on Minorities in the Judiciary, the Arizona Black Lawyers Association Board of Director, the Arizona Black Women Lawyers Board of Directors and is a AZ State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Officer.   She is chair of the Maricopa County Bar Association Diversity Committee.


She serves on the Boards of Directors for Community Legal Services, Arizona African Drum and Dance, the Arizona Advocacy Network, the Mesa Community College Justice Department Advisory Board, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The Center for African American Health, and is the founder of the Arizona Youth Innocence Project, Inc. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy of Arizona State University.


 Professor Willrich has received many educational, community, and professional awards for her service to the Community.  In 2008 she received the NAACP Roy Wilkins Award.  In 2010 she was recognized by the Phoenix Law Faculty for her publication on African American Education in the State of Black Arizona Volume II.  She received an award from The Links, Inc. in 2010 for her work and presentations on SB1070 and its Impact on Arizona residents.   In 2011 Dean Willrich was named the Phoenix Mercury Business Woman of the Year.  She received the 2011 40th Anniversary Justice Award from the Arizona Informant and she received an Award of Recognition from the First Institutional Baptist Church for her work with Arizona youth.