Gutierrez said this morning she is grateful for the appointment.
"I'm hoping I live up to the trust that has been placed in me in making this appointment," she said.
Gutierrez's appointment is a new phase in a career she didn't expect to have growing up in Westmorland. Gutierrez didn't plan to attend college when she started high school in Brawley. Her father was a farmer who immigrated from Spain. Gutierrez said it was her plan to stay on the farm and help her father after she graduated.
A math teacher at Brawley Union High School influenced her to pursue a college education and that led her to attend Pomona College.
Gutierrez was active in 4-H and said through that experience she had the chance to travel to areas outside the Valley. That opened her eyes to new possibilities, including helping others who were less fortunate.
She earned a bachelor's degree from Pomona College and a master's degree from Claremont College.
She was among the first to join the Peace Corps in 1961 and helped develop and manage Peace Corps programs for five South American countries. She supervised field training of Peace Corps volunteers from 1961 to 1964.
When she returned to Imperial County in 1965 she was appointed by the county Board of Supervisors as a judge of the Westmorland Judicial District. At that time California law allowed those who passed a certain test to serve as justice court judges.
She presided over small claims cases and traffic matters, misdemeanor trials and preliminary examinations in felony cases.
While serving in that position she developed a love for the law. She earned a law degree from Stanford University School of Law and in 1972 opened a private practice in El Centro.
In 1975 Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her as the first executive secretary of the newly formed California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
In 1977 she joined President Jimmy Carter's domestic policy staff, during which she advised the president on justice and civil rights policies.
In 1978 she was appointed as the district director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Mexico, where she was responsible for the immigration offices and personnel in Mexico and Latin America.
In 1981 she returned to the Imperial Valley and resumed her career as an attorney in Imperial and San Diego counties.
She said of her career in law, "I have tried to do the right thing. I believe in justice. It's not winning that matters, it's justice."
She added, "I will try to be a fair judge. I'm hoping to be a compassionate person and be fair to both sides."
>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.