President, The National Judicial College
Hon. Benes Z. Aldana is President of the National Judicial College, the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely attended college for judges. He has established a national reputation as a pioneer and force multiplier in the field of judicial education.
The College’s many accomplishments during his tenure include achieving record-shattering enrollment in 2020. This was driven by special online programming created in response to the coronavirus pandemic and to concerns about racial injustice that intensified after the police killing of George Floyd.
The College launched a first-of-its kind Judicial Academy for lawyers who aspire to become judges along with new courses on artificial intelligence, animal law, and other emerging topics. A Judicial Renaissance course, designed to be presented abroad annually, brings together judges from around the globe for wide-ranging study of the origins of law and justice.
In 2018, the College organized a national symposium in Washington, D.C., examining efforts to undermine the public’s faith in the courts and the news media. A second national symposium in the nation’s capital in early 2020 explored ways to identify and combat implicit bias in jury decisions. Under a five-year strategic plan developed in his first year as president, fundraising has increased, as have collaborations with many other judicial organizations such as the National Center for State Courts and the American Association for Justice.
Prior to joining the College, President Aldana had a distinguished 22-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard that included serving as the first Asian Pacific (Filipino) American chief trial judge in U.S. military history.
Other postings included chief legal officer of the Eighth Coast Guard District in New Orleans. In that role, he oversaw the largest field legal office in the Coast Guard, providing legal support to more than 4,700 personnel at more than 80 operational units in 26 states. Before his posting in New Orleans, Benes served as chief counsel of the Legal Engagements Division of the Defense Department’s U.S. Africa Command, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany. He led the U.S. military’s efforts in advancing the rule of law by working with African partner nation militaries and organizations such as the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Benes was deployed as a legal adviser to the Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Task Force in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Task Force conducted criminal investigations of suspected terrorists detained by U.S. forces. He also served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Section.
Other notable military assignments included: special assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington; deputy chief, Office of Environmental Law, U.S. Coast Guard; and appellate and trial counsel. He served as the commanding officer, personnel services and support unit, Seattle, and executive officer for Coast Guard Base Seattle.
Judge Aldana has held many leadership positions within the American Bar Association. He currently serves as the Chair of the ABA’s Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and is the immediate past president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Judicial Council.
He is a 1991 cum laude graduate of Seattle University where he earned a bachelor’s in political science. While in college, he served as student body president and a congressional intern on Capitol Hill. He received his Juris Doctor in 1994 from the University of Washington School of Law.