Imperial Valley Press
Supporters gather for Lepe-Negrete’s enrobing
EL CENTRO — County Superior Court Judge Monica Lepe-Negrete on Friday celebrated the culmination of a hard-fought and successful campaign for a seat on the local bench with her enrobing ceremony Friday.
Many of her remarks to the crowded courtroom and overflow crowd were an expression of thanks and gratitude to the many family members, colleagues and supporters in attendance.
It also seemed that each time Lepe-Negrete attempted to conclude her remarks, she would find another face in the crowd to thank for their personal friendship, professional courtesy or help on the campaign trail.
She also o ered a heartfelt apology — and explanation — to those she may have neglected to mention by name.
“Please know that if I left anyone out, I didn’t mean to forget you. I didn’t mean to leave you out. It’s just that we’re trying to get to a party,” Lepe-Negrete jokingly said toward the end of her speech.
But before those festivities could begin, two of Lepe-Negrete’s closest admirers got the opportunity to praise her most recent accomplishment, past achievements and dedication to the community.
Lepe-Negrete’s path to the local judgeship was made possible by the decision of Judge Diane Altamirano not to seek re-election in 2018.
During her remarks on Friday, Altamirano said that her then-pending departure had also compelled her to endorse a candidate whose skills and experience would not only serve them well on the bench but also serve the best interests of the community.
In Lepe-Negrete, Altamirano said she found the right combination of courage, intelligence, ethics, legal skills, inclusiveness, as well as the will to win.
“There was really only one person, one woman in fact, who possessed all of these qualities, and that one person I’m proud to say is our newest judge, Monica Lepe-Negrete,” Altamirano said.
Lepe-Negrete’s election win makes her the 37th individual to serve locally, yet its only fifth woman judge, Altamirano said. The county’s first woman judge, Annie Gutierrez, was seated in 2002 some 95 years after the local court system was established.
Since then, 11 judges have ascended to the local bench, four of whom have been women, Altamirano said. With Lepe-Negrete’s installment, half of those who now serve on the local bench are of Hispanic descent.
“Becoming a judge is a notable achievement for anyone, but for a woman of color to become a judge in Imperial County is an even bigger achievement,” Altamirano said.
A native of Logan Heights, Lepe-Negrete recounted on Friday how her formative years were full of challenges and the unflagging support of her parents, Florencio and Aurora Lepe, who worked as farm workers to support their three children.
She also disclosed that her father came to the United States illegally from Mexico, taught himself how to read and write and instilled in his children his vision of the American Dream.
“My children will one day make that dream even better,” Lepe-Negrete said. “My nieces and nephews will make that dream even better.”
Lepe-Negrete was the first one in her immediate and extended family to graduate high school. Following that, she obtained her undergraduate degree in urban studies and planning from the University of California, San Diego, where she met her husband and Valley native, Alfredo Negrete.
Alfredo’s pursuit of a medical degree would lead the pair to Illinois, where Lepe-Negrete received a Master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago, followed by her juris doctorate from Chicago-Kent College of Law.
The couples’ decision to raise their growing young family in a tight-knit community would prompt them to relocate to the Valley, where she at different times would work as a county deputy district attorney, public defender, county counsel, research attorney for the local court and a volunteer and board member of multiple non-profits.
Prior to being seated as a judge, Lepe-Negrete had established a private practice with Mariel Barreto, who she also singled out for profuse thanks and praise during Friday’s enrobing ceremony.
Shortly after her arrival in the Valley, Lepe-Negrete soon befriended her “sister from another mister,” Ruth Bermudez Montenegro, who currently serves as the local U.S. District Court magistrate judge.
“One of the things that stood out to me is Monica’s commitment to making our community a better place for others,” Montenegro said during her remarks.
She also credited Lepe-Negrete for having the courage to decide to run for a seat on the local bench, a feat that not all are well suited for.
Additional praise from Montenegro came as a result of Lepe-Negrete’s practice of not treating litigants as “simply a case number,” but rather human beings who deserve to be treated fairly.
“She understands better than anybody else that each case before a judge is the most important case in the lives of the parties,” Montenegro said.