Local courts welcome four Latino judges

Ana I. de Alba has been appointed to the Fresno County Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Ana I. de Alba has been appointed to the Fresno County Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Ana de Alba was poor growing up as one of four children born to farmworkers in Dos Palos.

In the 500-square-foot home she grew up with three older brothers, she slept on a sleeping bed on the floor and didn’t have her own bed to sleep on until she was 15.

That, however, was the least of her worries.

“Doing farm work as a kid, I’ve always wanted to become a lawyer because I always saw unfair treatment in the fields,” said de Alba.

So, the daughter of Ana Celia and Liborio de Alba graduated from Dos Palos High School (1998) and earned her undergraduate and law school degree at UC Berkeley.

Next month, she will take the oath as one of the newest judges on the Fresno County Superior Court.

“It means a lot to me. It’s very humbling,” said de Alba about being appointed to the bench by Gov. Jerry Brown. “I’ve always served the people of Fresno as a professional affecting people’s lives; now I will serve them from another angle.”

De Alba was recognized by the Fresno County La Raza Lawyers Association at a Nov. 18 reception along with three other recent Brown appointees: Fifth District Court of Appeal justice Thomas De Santos, and fellow Fresno County Superior Court appointees Mónica Díaz and Amy Guerra.

De Alba will be sworn in privately on Dec. 10, followed by a public ceremony on Dec. 13.

She credits her parents – he from Acatic and she from Tepatitlán, both in the Mexican state of Jalisco – for instilling values.

“They were very big believers in hard work,” she said. “They taught me to see the world as not fair or unfair, but as an opportunity. That if you work hard, you’ll be able to succeed.”

Her mother had only a third-grade education in México, but focused on her education once her children grew up and earned a community college degree.

“Ana experienced what it was like to be marginalized,” said Charles Taylor, who introduced her at the reception.

He also called her “relentless” and armed with a “keen intellect.”

De Alba, who will celebrate her 39th birthday next month, defined the law as more than a career.

“We don’t build widgets, we help people.”

De Alba has been a shareholder at Lang, Richert and Patch PC since 2013, where she was an associate from 2007 to 2013.

Guerra: ‘I always wanted to be a lawyer’

Guerra – who has been married to her “high school sweetheart, Daniel Guerra, and has three children – grew up in Coalinga and Kingsburg. She is a 1997 graduate of Kingsburg High School.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer; I always wanted to be a judge,” said Guerra, who will be sworn in privately on Nov. 19.

Her public swearing-in ceremony will be Nov. 30.

When she got the call from the governor’s office regarding her appointment, Guerra was told to keep it quiet (except for telling her husband) until the official announcement was made. She was in court when she got the call.

“It means an immense amount to be appointed; I’m humbled,” said Guerra, who graduated from San Joaquín College of Law and passed the bar exam in 2007.

Guerra, whose father has worked for PG&E for 45 years and whose mother is a special education paraprofessional in Kingsburg, graduated from Fresno State in 2001. Her younger sister is a photographer.

She began working at Richard Ciummo & Associates, primarily defending the rights of indigent people.

Attorney Mike Eide called Guerra a “bad-ass mujer.”

“She’s a phenomenal lawyer,” said Eide, who met Guerra when she went to work for the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office. “She’s a top-notch indigent defense attorney.”

La Raza Lawyers Association scholarships helped Guerra through her schooling. “I’m honored to join you,” she said.

Díaz: ‘I was not expecting it’

Mary Esparza, a social worker, recalls her daughter, the third of four children born to her and her husband, Guadalupe García, a printing company employee, say she would be a lawyer when she was just 5 years old.

“Since I was a baby, I guess,” said Díaz, a 1989 graduate of Mt. Whitney High School who went on to graduate with a political science degree from Fresno State (1994) and earn a law degree from the San Joaquín College of Law (1998).

It was when she was in law school that she aspired to become a judge. She was sworn in as a judicial officer on Dec. 29, 2017.

“I didn’t know for a fact until I talked with lawyers who said I would regret it if I didn’t go for it,” said Díaz, who worked for a local law firm before spending almost 18 years with the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office.

When she got the call from the governor’s office regarding her appointment, Díaz was hesitant to believe it was a real call.

“I was not expecting it,” said Díaz, who has been married for 23 years to Joe Díaz, a correctional officer in Corcoran. “I was literally in shock.”

The couple has two children, ages 22 and 15. Her son, the oldest, is studying for the law school entrance exam.

De Santos: Calls the Fifth ‘the best appellate court’ in state

The 62-year-old De Santos became the second Latino on the Fifth District Court of Appeal (Rosendo Peña was appointed in 2012) when the governor chose him in July to fill a vacancy created by the death of Judge Mark W. Snauffer.

“I’m very pleased that the governor feels confident in my ability,” said De Santos, who calls the Fifth court “the best appellate court in the state of California.”

De Santos, who was born and raised in Hanford, majored in political science at Stanford and attended USC Law School.

He has been active with lawyer organizations, including the Latino Judges Association and the Fresno County La Raza Lawyers Association. He began a La Raza group in Kings/Tulare County that lasted four years.

“It’s a humbling experience; I enjoy it,” said De Santos, who was sworn into his current position this summer.

De Santos previously served on the Kings County Superior Court, a position he began in 2003.