Latina makes history on bench

2013-02-07T21:23:00Z 2013-02-09T17:58:52Z Latina makes history on benchKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
February 07, 2013 9:23 pm  • 

Present and former judges, lawyers and others on Thursday formally welcomed the newest member of the Napa County bench, the first Latina to become judge in Napa County.

Thursday’s event at the Old Courthouse was largely ceremonial. Appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown late December to replace retiring Judge Ray Guadagni, Elia Ortiz was sworn in before the New Year. For the past five weeks, Ortiz, a former Napa County deputy public defender, has been assigned to the Civil Division.

Shortly after repeating the oath of office and trading a blue coat for her new black judicial robe, Judge Ortiz, the daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, paid homage to her humble beginnings.

“I am the daughter of two immigrant parents, a first-generation American, a product of the immigrant experience... that if you live a decent life, help others along the way, and play by the rules, you will be rewarded in kind. And my reward has been the American dream,” she said.

Ortiz, 39, reflected on people’s reaction to her becoming the first Latina judge in Napa County, where more than 30 percent of the population is Hispanic.

“Early on, I realized that pride embedded in many people’s faces has very little to do with me and more so to do with the long-held desire for greater inclusion, meaningful interaction, and participation,” she said.

Ortiz, a Napa resident, also thanked the officials present at her investiture and her family, including her mother, Stella Ortiz, who sat on the front row. And, choking up, she paid tribute to her late father.

“I think about you every morning before I take the bench. Today is the culmination of your dreams,” she said.

Ortiz has worked as a public defender in Napa since 2001. Prior to coming to Napa, she worked as a public defender in Solano and Riverside counties.

Presiding Judge Diane Price and others on Thursday praised Ortiz’ skills and experience as a criminal deputy public defender, her soft-spoken demeanor and quiet presence. “However, don’t be fooled,” Price added. “She is very tough.”

Thursday was the second investiture in less than three months.

In November, Brown appointed Michael S. Williams, a former court commissioner to replace Judge Stephen Kroyer who retired in 2011 after he was diagnosed with cancer.

“We think Judge Williams and Judge Ortiz are both excellent additions to the Superior Court,” said Ron Abernethy, acting Napa County public defender, before the ceremony. “They are smart, hardworking, highly ethical, and both have the proper temperament to sit on the bench. Their prior experience as criminal trial lawyers means they are well prepared for the challenges they face,” he said.

Both Williams’ and Ortiz’ terms end in 2014.

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