Kelly Bennett and Sherrill Ellsworth serve as Southern California’s only dual team of private judges and mediators, handling cases through the elite justice experience, Smart Court. The unique combining of their legal knowledge and courtroom expertise is a boon to people who need immediate, quality justice, which the traditional court system cannot deliver. The Bennett/Ellsworth team provides custom, high-level decisions on each case they decide. For those who prefer to work things out (instead of having judges make decisions for them), Ms. Bennett and Judge Ellsworth mediate, using their effective team approach to get disputes and lawsuits quickly settled. When Smart Court® is not in session, the “dynamic duo” serves as government and organizational consultants (each having led large organizations – courts, cities and private companies) and are engaging keynote speakers on women’s issues, leadership and conflict-related topics.
Ms. Bennett has been practicing law and serving as a private judge, mediator and arbitrator since 1991. Ms. Bennett founded the Temecula law firm Bennett & Bennett, APC, after graduating with her husband and law partner Greg, from Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California. Ms. Bennett has over 25 years of trial and professional dispute resolution experience representing individuals in family law cases, and resolving divorce, real estate, business, construction defect and employment disputes as an arbitrator, private judge and mediator. Ms. Bennett is a two-time bar association president, and is an appointed Judge Pro Tem for the Riverside County Superior Court serving on temporary assignments for the Family Law bench. Ms. Bennett is the first woman ever elected to the Murrieta City Council, where she served from 2006 to 2014 as Mayor, Vice Mayor, and co-chaired the International Relations, Higher Education and Healthcare Subcommittees. Ms. Bennett’s government leadership grew to a regional level, where she served as Chairwoman of the Western Riverside Council of Governments, among other corporate and non-profit boards. A native Californian, in her free time Ms. Bennett can be found surfing the waters of California and Hawaii with her husband, advancing her skateboarding skills, and hanging out with her family. Ms. Bennett and her husband Greg have two grown daughters, one an up-and-coming attorney with Bennett & Bennett, the other serving as the Public Relations and Creative Director for Smart Court®.
Judge Ellsworth began her career in 1987 as a business and real estate trial lawyer. In 1996 she was appointed to the Riverside County Superior Court as a Commissioner, then later appointed as a Judge by the Governor. In 2014 Judge Ellsworth retired to form Smart Court with Kelly Bennett, and to gain more time with her first love, her family. On the bench, Judge Ellsworth had a reputation for being tough, but fair, and she rose swiftly as a statewide leader. Judge Ellsworth effectively handled statewide court budgets and administrative changes, modernization of court management systems, improved fairness and access to justice, juvenile matters, and family violence. Judge Ellsworth’s leadership improved the judiciary, and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Saukye appointed her to the prestigious California Judicial Council. While on the bench, Judge Ellsworth founded the Veteran’s Court, and handled complex civil litigation cases, family law, felony criminal trials, probate and general trials. Judge Ellsworth was Riverside County Superior Court’s Supervising Judge, Assistant Presiding Judge and Presiding Judge. She was the second woman in the court’s history to be elected to the position of Presiding Judge by her peers. When not “holding court,” Judge Ellsworth is traveling, enjoys kayaking, wave running, boating, gourmet cooking, grand parenting, and relaxing in Baja while lobster eating and surf watching with family and friends. Judge Ellsworth and her husband Craig (“the Dentist”) have six grown children, and ten grandchildren.