My Journey to the Bench

I decided at the early age of 8 years old, after some “encouragement” from my parents, that I wanted to be an attorney. I’m an advocate by nature and always believed I would be a good attorney because of that. But when I got to college in the 90’s at San Francisco State, I changed my mind. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew the sky was the limit. I came from a strict upbringing, so when I got to college, out on my own and away from my parents, life became an adventure. There was so much out in the world that I had not been aware of. I wanted to dabble in everything and really find my passion. While dabbling in college, I became a mother, twice. I had my first son the summer before my sophomore year of college and my second son the summer before my senior year of college. I changed my major a few times and was really serious about becoming a weather newscaster. I even worked for KPIX channel 5 in San Francisco as a weather producer, but ultimately decided the hours weren’t conducive to my life. I either had to be there very early in the morning or very late into the night, neither of which worked for this single mom of two little boys.

Being a single mom came with its own challenges and I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Contra Costa County Department of Child Support Services. While going through this time in my life, I was brought back full circle as to why I wanted to be an attorney in the first place. I wanted to help people; I needed to help myself. I realized in order to help myself and other parents going through a similar situation, I had to become an attorney. It took a couple of years from that point of realization for law school to happen, and by the time I started law school, I was married to an absolute wonderful man and was pregnant again. But I made it and was determined to become an attorney. I attended John F. Kennedy School of Law’s night school sessions in Walnut Creek. Thank goodness for night school because without it, I wouldn’t be able to take care of the needs of my kids during the day. I loved law school and did very well despite being pregnant every year of school and having three more sons. One of my favorite subjects was evidence which was taught by our very own Honorable Virginia George of the Contra Costa Superior Court. I wish I could say I passed the bar the very first time, but I didn’t. I passed the second time, but what a victory it was.

I was 31 years old when I passed the bar and it was 2008, the year of a recession. I remember hearing about hundreds of attorneys being laid off; I had no idea what I was going to do. Especially since, not only did I need a job, but I needed one with a flexible schedule. Luckily, I met this attorney in San Joaquin County who was striving to help people who couldn’t afford expensive legal fees but needed help just the same. He let me set up shop in his office, “threw” me some cases, and helped me as I learned to be a practicing attorney. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. I wish he were here to see me now; he’d be so proud. He had a paralegal in his office at the time, whom I am still great friends with to this day. She took me to the law library, showed me how to research; I always tell people that it was this paralegal who taught me how to become an attorney. If you didn’t know, paralegals make things happen in law offices. I don’t think they always get the credit they deserve, so this is my shout out to them.

Over the years my office grew. I classified my office as a general civil practice where my main areas of practice were Family Law, Personal Injury, Estate Planning and violations of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. I enjoyed being a lawyer but always knew I wanted to be a part of resolving matters versus advocating for clients. You could definitely say the black robe was always on my mind. Having my own practice resulted in a broad range of experience because of the different areas of law I was exposed to. I was sometimes frustrated and wished I could just focus on one area, but I was determined to help people with their issues and their issues were not always encompassed in just one area of law. I had no idea at the time that I was being prepared for my work as a pro tem, commissioner and eventually a judge.

Although I had countless hearings and bench trials over my career, I hadn’t had the jury trial experience like that of prosecutors and public defenders. I knew I would have to create my own path to the bench. As my 10th year of practice approached, I began preparing myself to become a pro tem. I became a pro tem in both Contra Costa County as well as Solano County and it was around that time in 2019 that I submitted my application to be appointed as judge.

As a pro tem, I presided over small claims, unlawful detainers actions and traffic cases. After working as a pro tem, I thought getting more experience in child support would help me obtain a position as commissioner, which would get me closer to becoming a judge. In February of 2021, I started working for the Alameda County Department of Child Support Services and worked there until November of 2021 when I was hired as commissioner in Contra Costa. As commissioner, I had 10 calendars a week and I loved it. I presided over traffic, small claims, unlawful detainers, domestic violence restraining orders and misdemeanor arraignments. I was also being trained to preside over misdemeanor trials. It was a great experience and I loved being a commissioner and the staff I worked with. We were truly a team and they helped me to become a better commissioner. I have essentially been training for the last few years to be a judge, and I’m so grateful for my time as a pro tem and commissioner.

On October 7, 2022 nearly three years after applying, I was appointed as judge to the Superior Court of the County of Contra Costa. It’s hard for me to articulate, and I don’t know if I can articulate what that means to me and my family, and my parents who encouraged me at a young age to be an attorney. My husband who held us down (still holds us down) while attending law school and having baby after baby. My in-laws who helped me pay for the Bar Passers program that prepared me to pass the bar the second time around. My siblings and kids who encouraged me and motivated me to keep pressing on even when times were rough. This appointment means the world to me, to my family and to all the people who have helped and encouraged me along the way.

My journey to the bench was taken by a road less traveled but thankfully I got here just the same. Many judges graduate from law school in their twenties, I was in my thirties. I would venture to say that most judges didn’t go to night school for law school, but I did. Most judges were prosecutors and public defenders, but I had a solo practice. I hope in reading about my journey, you were not only able to smile and get to know me a little better, but also realize that everyone’s path is different. If you work hard, have integrity, stay determined and focused, treat people with respect and kindness, you can and will accomplish your goals. My first assignment as a judge is in family law (talk about full circle). As I embark on this new journey as judge, my declaration upon my life and career is that I will continue to have this desire to serve the people and to sit on this Bench with humility.