Elena Duarte, The Gavel or the Giver, she’ll be the Judge
When the rap of the gavel rings out in her courtroom, it may be the end of a court judgment, but not the end of the day for the on-the-go Justice Elena Duarte.
Duarte met her husband, R. Graham Barlowe, Special Agent with the United States Department of Justice, while she was climbing the judicial career ladder as an Asst. U.S. Attorney in the late ‘90s. Interestingly, Duarte didn’t set out to be a lawyer (let alone become one of 11 justices on the Court of Appeals, Third Appellate District).
“I went to Stanford Law School. I hadn’t really planned to go to law school, but had become disenchanted with some of my earlier career preferences (including singer, music history professor, and interpreter).” Duarte reminisces, “I was coming out of college an Italian major with many, many credits in the School of Music as a Voice Performance major, and with good grades. But I had a lawyer father and had been quite successful on the Mock Trial team in high school. So I decided my senior year to take the law school admissions test to see how I did. Fortunately, I did well enough to go to law school and my ultimate career developed from there.”
When Duarte isn’t reviewing trial court decisions for 23 different counties, she’s often engaged in community service for the Sacramento-based Operation Protect and Defend organization. She explains, “I work with (the organization) to help high school students really focus in on specific areas of the Constitution and relate to how the laws apply, specifically. The students go through lesson plans with their teachers but also interact with lawyers and judges (including me), who visit their classrooms to discuss what the students have read about and talked about with their teacher and class.”
Within her volunteer work with students, Duarte has reaped the heartwarming rewards of her generous gift of time. “I find our conversations often energize me in return!” She further comments, “Many of these students have never met a judge or even a lawyer, let alone one who looks like me. By connecting with them on their level about issues that I think should matter to us all, I hope to energize them to care about civics and participate as much as they can in the processes which we sometimes take for granted.”
Her noticeable connections do not stop there. Duarte recounts, “A memorable ‘making a difference’ moment in my outreach efforts actually came last year when I presided over a segment of the mock trial competition between Sacramento County high schools, and then spoke at the awards banquet downtown. While I was waiting to speak, a parent came up to me, introduced herself and told me that her daughter had played the part of a witness on one of the teams in my courtroom during the competition. She said her daughter was very excited after the trial because ‘the judge was a Latina!’ (as were she and her daughter). She thanked me for taking the time to be there.” She continues, “I am of the view that diversity is perhaps best promoted by good example, and I was honored that I was able to inspire this student merely by judging the trial she was in.”
A former Bay Area girl, Duarte shares that she and her husband have made the Sacramento-area their home since 2008. “There is plenty to do. I can go to a professional event, or a lunch or dinner, and back to work and home in one day without sitting in traffic for hours and hours just to get to one place.” She also enjoys the friendliness of the people in the Sacramento-area.
Between her work schedule and volunteer work, Duarte still finds time to walk her canine Corgi friends. She adds, “I also spend a lot of my spare time keeping in shape in the home gym and hiking the hills around the house, or at least trying to.”
Given this very busy lifestyle, Duarte says she’s learned some important life lessons. “Being married and helping to raise a child and three dogs and own/maintain a house has taught me to not sweat the small stuff—at least not to sweat the small stuff quite as much!”
That said, this judge proves daily that she may have a lot on her plate, but she can handle it all and more, no sweat.