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Gutierrez sworn in as Superior Court judge

June 16, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

A historic moment took place Friday in Department 9 of the County Courthouse in El Centro.

Annie M. Gutierrez, an Imperial Valley native and former assistant U.S. attorney, was seated as the local Superior Court's first female judge.

During a ceremony in which family, friends, lawyers and judges past and present filled the courthouse, Gutierrez was sworn in as a Superior Court judge.

She will replace Roger Benitez, who resigned in January 2001 to become a federal magistrate in the Imperial Valley.

Gutierrez, born in Brawley and raised in Westmorland, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in May.

"It's a tremendous event because we've never had a woman on the bench before. She is a Hispanic woman who's been a leader here, in the state and internationally," said Superior Court Judge Juan Ulloa.

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Gutierrez didn't plan to attend college when she started high school in Brawley. Her father was a farmer who immigrated from Spain. Gutierrez has said she planned to stay on the farm and help her father after she graduated from high school.

It was a math teacher at Brawley Union High School who influenced her to pursue a college education that led her to Pomona College. She earned a bachelor's degree from Pomona College and a master's degree from Claremont College.

Gutierrez was among the first to join the Peace Corps in 1961. She 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 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 test to be justice court judges. She served until a constitutional amendment that required all judges to be lawyers.

She then went to Stanford University and began her quest to become a lawyer. She earned her law degree in 1972.

She began following a pursuit of coming back to the Imperial Valley as a judge. That led her through many careers.

In 1975 Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her as the first executive secretary for the newly formed California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

In 1977 she served as a civil rights policy adviser to former President Jimmy Carter. In 1978 she was appointed as district director for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Mexico City.

She then was a district attorney for Imperial County, and from 1995 until her appointment by Davis, she was an assistant U.S. attorney.

"She is a person who has dedicated her entire life to justice and I'm sure the community will be proud to have her," said Ulloa.

Superior Court Judge Donald Donnelly said, "She left Westmorland as a daughter of this community and conquered the world. She became a woman of the world."

During her acceptance speech, Gutierrez stated this appointment is like a welcome home for her.

"It's like coming home. This is a milestone in my life," she told a reporter.

"I started in the Imperial Valley and I have been heading here all the time. I have finally made it here and I'm here to stay," she said.

"I'm very humbled by all the wonderful things that have been said and all the wonderful people that came here today to be with me," she said.

During the installation ceremony, her mother, Clara Gutierrez, placed the judicial robes on her daughter, while the Gutierrez family watched and applauded.

Gutierrez will preside over Department 8 in the courthouse.

"I'm hoping that I don't disappoint anyone. I'll try very hard to do a good job," she said.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon contributed to this story.

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