Guest Writer: How I became a Prosecutor by Elena Ramirez
My name is Agueda Elena Ramirez, and I was born and raised in Richmond, CA. I’m thankful to Official Lawtina['s Guest Writer Program] for allowing me the opportunity to share my journey on how I became a prosecutor with the Solano County District Attorney’s Office.
It all started when my mother emigrated from Chiclayo, Peru to the Bay Area. She opened up a Mexican and Peruvian restaurant and worked alongside her siblings and my grandmother. Their work ethic was unmatchable! I always saw them put in long hours of work; and there was never a day that my mother didn’t remind me to pursue a higher education “porque cuando eres profesional, no vas a depender de nadie...” (Because when you’re a professional, you won’t depend on anyone…)
My interest in the law originated when I attended a family law hearing involving my parents after their separation. Although I had no doubt I would become a lawyer, I had no idea how to make that a reality. I faced challenges from a young age, as there was little to no encouragement or motivation from the public schools I attended. If anything, I recall one of my counselors encouraging me to attend community college as my prospective of being admitted to a four-year university was slim. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement; however, it ultimately pushed me to work harder.
I attended Diablo Valley College, and enrolled in the Puente program. I was connected to a successful Latino lawyer who has mentored me throughout my legal career. I worked hard and fortunately transferred to and obtained my B.A. at the University of California at Davis. Thereafter, I attended law school at Golden Gate University School of Law and graduated in May of 2010.
After graduating, there were almost no jobs for newly admitted attorneys after the financial mortgage crisis. I applied to various public defenders’ offices in the Bay Area as I had clerked at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office during law school; but I was unable to secure a position. I networked and networked and networked, and I applied to various contract positions.
Through one of those contract positions I obtained a full-time staff attorney position at the Family Violence Law Center (FVLC) in Alameda County. I worked directly with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and represented them in all stages of their family law and restraining order proceedings. The experience of working with victims was invaluable; and led me to pursue a job with a District Attorney’s Office.
I networked once again; and I received different feedback from several attorneys. Some of them told me I had the skills and experience to become a prosecutor and others told me I had been a family law attorney for almost 7 years and I should basically stay in my lane. During this period of time, I worked for a short period of time for a solo family law practitioner; and thereafter opened my own family law practice. Starting a law firm was both exciting and frightening, but it was very rewarding and gave me the confidence I needed to keep moving forward.
Meanwhile, and almost on a daily, I longed for the need to continue helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. One of my closest friends (who I vented to) encouraged me to apply for a district attorney position, and that’s what I did. I applied for a volunteer position and a Deputy DA position at the Solano County District Attorney’s Office. I was allowed the opportunity to observe criminal proceedings and conduct some law and motion hearings; which made it clear (more than ever) that I wanted to become a prosecutor. I was offered a position shortly thereafter; and I was ecstatic and thankful to the attorney’s that helped me land the job of my dreams.
Although the truth is it wasn’t easy to get here, it was worth it. It’s not a surprise to any of us that Latinos/Latinas do not have equal access to the resources and education to pursue higher education. But it’s important that we continue to help one another to obtain positions across all sectors; as our community will greatly benefit. For instance, I take great pride on a daily basis as I work with many victims who are Spanish speaking, and I always ensure to enforce their constitutional rights and voice their concerns in our criminal justice system, which can be so intimidating and unknown to them. This is the beginning for many victims towards the recovery of the trauma they’ve experienced; and I work hard and with compassion to see them through the process.
During these unprecedented times, I can only imagine the concerns law students and attorneys are experiencing. But please don’t give up. Please reach out to your peers; a mentor; local bar associations; attorneys; and other members of your community to help you in your journey. We as Latinos/Latinos need to work with another; and I encourage my colegas (colleagues) to mentor incoming law students who can help individuals who just need that one push to make it through. We can do this!