Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday made history when he appointed Sonia Cortés to a judgeship in the Yolo County Superior Court, making her the first Latino to serve on the Yolo County bench.
According to the Governor’s Office, Ms. Cortés, 43, of Woodland, has been a senior deputy county counsel at the Yolo County Counsel’s Office since 2007, where she has served as a deputy county counsel since 2002. She was managing attorney at the International Institute of the East Bay in 2002 and coordinating immigration attorney at La Raza Centro Legal from 2001 to 2002, where she was also an immigration attorney from 2000 to 2001.
Cortés was an attorney at Legal Aid of the North Bay from 1997 to 1999. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Davis. She fills the vacancy created by the conversion of a court commissioner position on January 15, 2015.
Ms. Cortés is a Democrat and the compensation for the position is $184,610.
According to a release from Yolo County Courts, the vacancy was created when Judge Janene Beronio was elected last June to fill the seat formerly held by retired Judge Stephen L. Mock. Judge Beronio’s commissioner position was converted to a judgeship by operation of law to serve Yolo County’s expanding population. The position has been vacant since January 2015.
“We are absolutely delighted by the appointment,” said Judge Kathleen M. White, Presiding Judge of the Yolo bench. “Ms. Cortés is a superb lawyer with an extensive legal background. Yolo’s judges carry a heavy caseload and must handle everything from felonies to family law. Ms. Cortés is more than up to the task, and we look forward to her joining us in the new courthouse.”
Ms. Cortés is a senior lawyer in the office of Yolo County Counsel, the press release continued. Judge Steven Basha, who served as County Counsel from 2000 to 2006, recalls hiring Ms. Cortes as deputy county counsel in November 2002. “She was an excellent attorney and I have no doubt that she will be an excellent member of the Yolo Superior Court bench. I am especially delighted because she has deep roots in Yolo County. She was raised in Winters and graduated from Winters High School in 1989 as salutatorian.”
The Yolo Superior Court has ten judges and two commissioners. Ms. Cortés will be the 11th judge on the Yolo Superior Court bench.
Former Assemblymember Mariko Yamada was instrumental in this appointment. As outgoing Assemblymember on November 14, 2014, she sent a letter of recommendation to Governor Brown.
Ms. Yamada, now a candidate for State Senate, wrote, “My most direct contact with Ms. Cortés came during turbulent times with an agency then known as the Yolo County Housing Authority. After 50 years of independent operation, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors took the dramatic step of abolishing the Housing Authority Board and serving as an interim Housing Commission.”
Ms. Cortés was appointed General Counsel of the new entity.
Ms. Yamada writes, “This action, not taken lightly, helped transform this troubled agency-as classified by federal regulators-into a high performing organization. Ms. Cortés’ work, integral to that change, also included advising us as the New Hope Community Development Corporation, involving a focus on affordable housing.”
Sonia Cortés also brings a compelling personal narrative as the child of immigrant farmworkers from Mexico. Writes Ms. Yamada, “The oldest of three daughters, she is the first in her family to attend and complete high school, undergraduate, and law school. She and her family once lived in the very public housing for which she served as General Counsel during my time on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.”
Ms. Yamada added, “Ms. Cortés has the education, experience, temperament, and values that are required of responsible and ethical jurists. I believe that appointing an individual with the technical background in the law along with grounding in the “real-world” is integral to improving access to justice that all people deserve.”
Efforts by the Vanguard to speak with Ms. Cortés were not successful on Thursday, but the Vanguard hopes to follow up shortly.
—David M. Greenwald reporting