Hon. Maria D. Hernandez on her Judicial Career, UCI Days and Social Justice

UCI Law Dean Austen Parrish interviews Hon. Maria D. Hernandez, Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of Orange County, about her public interest and judicial career, her experience as a first-generation undergraduate Social Ecology student-athlete at UCI, and her pro tips for new lawyers. 

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UCI Law Talks · Hon. Maria D. Hernandez on her Judicial Career, UCI Days and Social Justice


  • Austen Parrish

    UCI Law Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law
    Expertise: Transnational Law and Litigation, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Federal Courts

    Austen Parrish assumed the role of Dean and Chancellor's Professor of Law of the University of California, Irvine School of Law in August 2022, becoming its third dean. He previously served as the Dean and James H. Rudy Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. In 2018 and again in 2021, he was named a Wells Scholars Professor for his work with Indiana University’s prestigious Wells Scholars program. In 2019, he was bestowed with IU’s Bicentennial Medal and, in 2022, he was awarded the Provost’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Office of the Provost, recognizing outstanding and transformative contributions to Indiana University Bloomington. He serves on the board of directors of AccessLex Institute and is an elected member of the American Law Institute. Prior to academia, Parrish practiced law at O'Melveny & Myers LLP in Los Angeles. He earned his law degree from Columbia University.

  • Judge Maria Hernandez

    Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of Orange County

    Judge Maria D. Hernandez was appointed to the bench as a commissioner in 2006 and appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a judge in 2009. She was elected as assistant presiding judge of the Superior Court of Orange County in 2021 and then elected as presiding judge in January 2023. Prior to serving on the bench, she worked as a senior deputy public defender in Orange County. Judge Hernandez received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Irvine, and her juris doctor degree from Western State College of Law.

    Judge Hernandez spent nine years with the juvenile court, serving as the presiding judge of the juvenile court from 2014 to 2018, where she created and presided over the dedicated court addressing commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) and cochaired the Orange County Committee relating to boys in the child welfare system. She recently launched a Young Adult Court, which addresses the special needs of emerging adults charged with felonies in the criminal justice system.

    Judge Hernandez has served on numerous state, county, and local advisory task force committees including the former Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s “Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court Initiative” and the Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Providing Access and Fairness. She is a longstanding faculty member for the Center for Judicial Education and Research. Judge Hernandez received a Distinguished Service Award in 2016.

Podcast Transcript

Austen Parrish 00:04
Welcome to UCI Law Talks from the University of California, Irvine School of Law. For all our latest news, follow UCI Law on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. Good morning. Thank you for joining us. My name is Austen Parrish. I'm the Dean and Chancellor's professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. This is UCI Law Talks, the podcast where you learn more about the amazing anteater community that is UCI Law. But you also hear from leaders, leaders and lawyers of Orange County and attain a glimpse into why we have such an inspiring legal profession here in Southern California. Today we are privileged to have Judge Maria Hernandez the presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court is joining us. Just tremendous, fabulous to have you on the show. Welcome to UCI Law Talks.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 00:54
Good morning. And thank you so very much for having me. It's truly a privilege to be here with you this morning.

Austen Parrish 00:59
Well, the privilege is ours. Judge, maybe I can start off you're the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court for Orange County. Some of our listeners are pre-law students or entering law students and and others are not in the legal profession. Can we start with the basics then? What is the presiding judge? And what is your role with the court?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez
Sure. So there are 58 presiding judges in California, obviously, that matches up to the 58 counties. So each county court Superior Court has an elected presiding judge for their county, I happen to have the privilege to serve here in Orange County. How it works here in Orange County is you're elected as the assistant presiding judge for a two-year term, then you run as the PJ very, very commonly, that is an unopposed position, kind of a succession plan that moves up. So again, I was privileged to take the role as the assistant Presiding Judge back in 2020. And here, I am now as the presiding judge, and kind of what that means. I'll give you just an idea of what Orange County looks like. As far as a court. You know, we're the third largest court in California and the sixth largest court in the entire country. So we have about 1600 employees and I have 144 authorized judicial officers, which means 127 judges and 17. Commissioners. Across Orange County, there are five different justice centers, and actually a sixth one now that we have a temporary Costa Mesa complex. And essentially, I'm responsible for the daily operations of all of those justice centers and employees and judicial officers and about a $254 million budget, to make sure we keep those doors open and provide access to justice in a snippet. That's what we do.

Austen Parrish 02:51
That seems like a big job. I you know, I You mentioned all the different counties, but the sizes are not the same Orange County. It's, it's stunning how big it is.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 03:01
We're really large. When you talk about I think we're almost at 3.2 million. I haven't checked the consensus consensus recently, but generally, right about 3.2 million people. So we're very condensed when you talk about geographic versus population, comparative to some of our sister counties like Riverside and San Bernardino, who are smaller courts, but geographically, while their size spans, you know, hundreds and hundreds of miles across, you know, for us the the pleasure of serving at any of our justice centers, which makes an access issue much less problematic than in those other counties. Fullerton is my farthest north county Justice Center. And then I've got harbor court, which is in the Newport Costa Mesa area, right? You can be within any of those courthouses within 45 minutes to an hour. Versus if you're out in San Bernardino or Riverside, you could travel three to four hours, from needles to banning to Riverside, you know, Metro. So we're very fortunate in that regard. But we do have a dense population we serve.

Austen Parrish 04:06
Well, that makes sense. We've been presiding judge for a while, as you said, it's sort of you've moved up the ranks, but you've also had a very long and distinguished career you worked in private practice, as a public defender, as a commissioner, and then after the joining the bench, you had to leave a number of leadership roles as you described. You know, if you look back over your career, what stands out to you most what, what was most fun What were you most proud of?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 04:30
You know, I love it all. I will tell you my service and I know you know I'm just being very not not even generous here because it starts really back to my UCI, I go Zot Zot Zot! My life really changed as a young one coming up from a farm community, very rural down in San Diego, North County, you know, raising sheep and steers and picking avocados to come to UCI I really thought UCI was the Metropolitan. You know I'm getting on for ways to get here. There were cows in the field. However, just so you know, I know you came from a different state, but when I arrived in 1982/83, there were still cows across the street on Campus Drive. So I had a little bit of home made me feel comfortable, you know, the back the back area where bison is, there were still steers and cows and probably bison back there. But I came to UCI, and it really opened my my heart, my soul, my everything, my vision to, you know, what's the real world? And what can we do as far as serving our communities? Something that you know, I done a little bit of being a four --- and raising animals and community service, but really launched into it. When I landed in the social ecology program at UCI.

Austen Parrish 05:46
That makes sense. I you know, it's it's stunning how much Orange County has changed in the way that you've said over a pretty, pretty short period of time. And my wife is from the area. And so I remember coming here in the early 90s. And it's stunning how much the profession has grown, how much the legal profession has grown. Yeah, we don't see many cows these days across from the campus.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 06:05
No coming up Colver lined on both sides with orange trees, complete orange trees, you know, all of the great malls, strip malls, whatever they're called now, were non-existent. You would travel miles and not see anything literally, except for orange groves. But still for me coming here was this was coming into the city for me.

Austen Parrish 06:24
Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. You know, you ended and talked about, you mentioned sort of this commitment to community service. You know, in an earlier podcast, I was interviewing Monica Glicken, and from the Public Law Center, their new executive director. And she was sort of emphasizing just how amazing the bench here is in in Orange County, that so many judges are not just great jurists, but also are deeply committed to the community and engaging in a kind of a broader role of public service. I assume you agree, but I should ask Do you agree with that? And the role of judges Yeah,

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 06:55
I do. That's like hitting me the pitching me the softball right now. Awesome, because that that's where I'm, you know, very passionate about my work at juvenile work, community outreach, developing resources, programming for vulnerable populations that we serve. Certainly, I am so incredibly proud of the bench that I serve alongside, and the community engagement that you're talking about. It's something at least in the last year, while I was APJ, that I really looked into I knew, I had a lot of colleagues doing outreach in different directions, and everything was pretty fragmented. But I knew there were things that were being done and we weren't capturing. So one of the first things I did as the PJ rolling in was I restructured all of our outreach, our community engagement, basically created an umbrella call it to make sure that we have multiple subcommittees with chairs so that we're much more organized. We actually have an analyst, I have a wonderful analyst who works with me, so that we're tracking what are we doing? How can we do it more efficiently? And how can we have deeper penetrating outreach to the communities that we serve, and be able not just to sustain it, but then to be able to expand it, and work alongside all of our our partners, I call them our stakeholder partners, which to your point, you know, Public Law Center, Southern Cal Legal Aid, all of those places, and different organizations that are such great collaborative partners with us.

Austen Parrish 08:22
We're fortunate as a law school, we're built on the idea that public service provides a better legal education that students who engage in public service and community engagement and so it means we have the same sort of deep connections to the community. And it makes such a difference. It makes a tremendous difference in our students education. But I also think you can make a major difference in sort of solving the problems in the community by having those public, private and profit sort of connections and partnerships.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 08:47
It's so true when you talk about what is social justice? And what do we need to do when we talk about the social determinants in the communities that we live within and how we best serve them. Nobody's going to walk away and say, Gosh, we've got it going on here. It's perfect. We have a homeless issue. We have a mental health crisis issue going on. We have substance abuse issues that are still, you know, just pervasive, especially when we talk about the Fentanyl crisis right now. So there's so many different things that we need to do and of course, providing access to those who need to access the court in the most efficient way possible, meaning have those voices heard that need to be hear those victims that need to be heard, those plaintiffs or defendants respondents that need to have their day in court that can't resolve things outside of the court, we need to be available to them, and fairly, you know, resolve their issues for them.

Austen Parrish 09:41
Yeah, and I think it's so great to have the court focused on that and realize what an important issue it is. You mentioned the tremendous work you did in juvenile justice, I say tremendous because it was for such a such a made a big difference. Can you talk a little bit about that for our listeners, what, what did you do and how did you get involved?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 09:58
Yes. So when I went to juvenile, it was I think 2009. When I first arrived as a judge there, and you know, for juvenile it has what I call both sides of the house, we have the child welfare side, which is dependency, which are, you know, children who are in the system because of neglect or abuse and potential removal from their parents. Then you have the other side of the house, which is now rephrased juvenile justice for the longest time, it was delinquency. And we know what labels do. So there was a big movement when I was teaching in primary orientation and trying to get the message across juvenile justice is the reframing that needs to have because we want justice for those youth. So now, I'm always mindful when people say, Oh, are you talking about the delinquency kids? I'm like, No, I'm talking about the juvenile justice involved youth. So I'm very specific about doing that, just so that if you wonder why I go to that direction. So those are both sides of the house when you talk about juvenile court. And of course, there's always good work to be done there and make things better and improve. And again, you know, to your point on community involvement engagement, it comes down to how are we working with our collaborative partners, because a court can't do it by itself. Simply a judge sitting on the bench and making orders or directing orders is not going to solve the problems. And if you think about it, and it's true back in 1899, the juvenile courts, your very first collaborative court ever to be designed, because we're talking about how do you bring people in to solve issues involving children and families, the only way you do that is bringing in all of those partners were that that's the child welfare, social service agency, the probation department, all those nonprofits that can provide wraparound services, programming and resources to underprivileged, marginalized folks that need that help. So again, I was really fortunate to work alongside some remarkable people during my term at juvenile and I took over as PJ 2014 to 18. And we just did some wide sweeping changes, especially to the juvenile justice side, using alternate to detention and working with probation. And again, our stakeholders on that.

Austen Parrish 12:07
Well, thank you for all you've done for the community, I have a bit of an outsider coming in. It's it really is a fantastic chord. And it's great to hear the impact. And I think you're right, that those are some of the biggest challenges. I had been sort of struck over, you know, over the last little while, maybe longer, but how much people have started understand that in many of the most pressing problems, you need these wraparound services, that you have to think about the issues broadly, that you've got to get lots of stakeholders involved. And that seems true with juvenile justice, it seems true and many of the family violence and other issues. But it seems true with lots of other the issues, you've talked about access and, and making people understand or not be afraid of what the court system is and how to interact with lawyers.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 12:46
Right. And we just want to make it a much more accessible court, so that the people who need to be heard can be heard. And even reaching beyond though that though I think is really important is that we are providing those services, and helping link services, even if they don't come to us and say, Here's your issue, Judge resolve it for me, you know, we have these resources for you, we have self help, to your point, the domestic violence, self help, and here's some programming and protections for you and additional Family Resources. Because one of the things I've always talked about, you know, back to my public defender days, when I was doing Capitol work, it wasn't a very hard thing to figure out that if you don't front load resources in programming, you know exactly where it's going to end up. I can't tell you how many of those cases while we would be doing the investigation on the penalty phase, were youth involved system wide, whether it was in the child dependency or in the juvenile justice side, or weren't serviced by the system at all. And there was a system failure completely. And I'm not saying that that excuse is the ultimate act that caught them in a situation where they're charged with a capital offense. But it was really easy to backtrack and and say, perhaps if we'd done something on the front end with this family, so I'm all about front loading services and programming to families first, to address the root issues, whether that's homelessness, mental health issues. When we talk about truancy, which is a big issue for me, seven and eight year old children don't not want to go to school, there's usually an issue. Parents can't get them there. There's transportation issues. There's, again, mental health issues, substance abuse issues. So if we focus on the front end, I think we really help clear up things on the back end, or avoid them.

Austen Parrish 14:35
That makes perfect sense to me and sounds so right. You started the interview with a great Zots Zot Zot Zot which I which I loved and you talked about how you were here at UCI is as an undergrad. We're proud that your University of California, Irvine alum and an anteater in law. Can you talk a little more about your experience here at UCI? You mentioned that it was kind of a move to the big city in some ways but what what brought you to UCI and To What did you study?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 15:01
I played volleyball. So that was one of the things that really, you know, helped me get there with a little bit of financial help as well. So that was one of the things. And then again, I went into the social ecology program. And I was exposed to things that I hadn't been before Austin, which was, you know, this whole concept, this cross section concept of psychology and law and being able to draw on these different fields, and apply to policy, again, looking at social determinants and figuring out how do we do things better for the community, which really, you know, spoke to me and it's, it's something that's probably at my core of who I am. But what I'll tell you, there was some really pivotal professors that I can that still just reckon with me, I think about Henry Pantel, I think about Paul, just slow. I think about Bill Thompson, these are these are professors that I had numerous courses and, you know, upper division courses, but that expose me to things, you know, the Society of Criminology that I would never seen before, that really opened my eye to Oh, law school, maybe this is where I want to go. And maybe this is how I can apply what I'm learning and I take these disciplines and, and put them into practice. So it was an exposure that I wasn't expecting, I'll be quite honest with you, as a young person, you know, an 18 year old coming up, I couldn't tell you what I was going to do.

Austen Parrish 16:24
So it's interesting, you say that will one the school of social ecology is fabulous, and we still get many students that come to us from law school from that path. But you know, the story you have is still fairly common, you know, we currently have almost 30% of our entering J.D. classes are first generation college students. And many of those students sort of still describe the sort of experience you have, that it that they had one or two mentors could be a faculty member, it could be somebody else who opened up their minds, and all of a sudden, they're on a different path. And one of the challenges we have in legal education, is how do we and this sort of goes back to your earlier point of the interventions earlier on? How do you have an intervention early enough in somebody's career in high school, or at the very start of college, to let them know that they're the type of person who could actually really succeed in law if they wanted to? And show them the ways they could get there. And that's one of the big challenges as we try to expand people going into law is to how do we get there early enough with the right mentorship, so people know that it's a potential path for them? And that there might be scholarship or other money that make it practical. But you're so your story resonates with me very much. I think I know the answer this based on what you just said, growing up, did you want to become a lawyer? Or was it really at the School of Social Ecology that it sort of cemented that that was a career goal.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 17:37
So there was something in my upbringing, like I said, I was the first one to go to college and certainly go through law school or you that from from my family, you know, my pop probably heard me talk about my hero, and Armenian who came over with, I'm gonna make a better, you know, a better place for my family and just that work ethic. But what I will say is, they would always tell me, my God, you need to be a lawyer, because I had one of those mouths that just would not stop. And then there was enough of them that would tell me yeah, you're going to just be a lawyer that I said, No, no, I'm not because of your a rebellious teenager. You know, I think I'm just gonna go be a physical therapist or something like that, because I was also into athletics. I'm gonna be a sports medicine. I took a couple classes at UCI in the bio section, I took organic chemistry, it did not go well. I had a fabulous TA, who basically gave me a gift of I think it was like a C minus or a D, because I just tried so hard, went to every class, every lab and just realized this is just not your area, that I flipped right back into the classes I was supposed to be in through the social ecology. And it was just like the aha moment of oh, okay, I need to stop being a rebellious teenager and go where the waters take up, just go with the flow.

Austen Parrish 18:54
It's funny, you mentioned that I was talking to a student, maybe it's two weeks ago. And somebody mentioned, it was some simple math thing. They were joking that two plus two or something. And they were like, way, way, way, way. There's a reason I went to law school, I was running away from calculus. I think that's not uncommon. It's certainly, ---

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 19:11
But it's funny now. And it's true with the research side of it, you know, you take your statistic courses and things like that, which I don't really call that math per se, because the calculus blew me away, too. But I will say now, the data, I am probably one of the judges who is the most vocal about utilizing data science analytics, to help us govern to help us make policy and decisions. So which is odd coming from the person who goes, Yeah, I'm not doing the math. That's why I went to law school. But now you've got me all in when we talk about data and what we can do with it.

Austen Parrish 19:47
It's interesting, you mentioned that I think interdisciplinarity so important these days. I think it's why, you know, we we really encourage students come from all different backgrounds, because so many of the more complicated stuff does require Are you to draw from other fields, it could be from social psychology, social science could also be from some of the hard sciences or as you say, math, and I don't know, anybody who's not running something, whether it's on the government side, the corporate side, even in private practice, that isn't concerned about data analytics, AI technology, and using that as a tool for hopefully getting better outcomes and whatever they're doing. So that makes a lot of sense to me.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 20:22
No, it does. And I will tell you how often we do utilize it to make those determinations on filing trends on work need assessments, you know, with, with the limited resources that we have, and I know it's this is across the board for the county in the state, we have so many vacancies at the staff level so many vacancies at the judicial level right now, that we really need to have to figure out and dial in to, okay, where do we place those very limited resources to make sure that we are effectively using them? While we know we wish we had more? This is the reality of it. So what are our trends? And, you know, what is the work needs assessment, tell me where I placed that judge or that staff member. So it's been instrumental in making calls for me as a PJ.

Austen Parrish 21:09
That makes sense. You know, you mentioned volleyball and and UCI has had such a strong program for such a long time, you're maybe not focused on that, but are there other parts of your UCI experience that you remember fondly and, and was volleyball part of that?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 21:22
Well, it was, like I said, and again, now I'll out myself it was the first time I'd ever got on an airplane was making a trip to I think we were going to a tournament in Utah preseason tournament. And, and I still have that vivid memory of two of my girlfriends, you know, teammates, basically holding my hand because I'm thinking I'm getting on that big airplane never been on an airplane before. So again, I had some exposures, just by my experiences, the people I met, again, you know, in the School of Social Ecology, and what I was exposed to was some of those conferences that they allowed us to attend or helped us to, you know, become members of, so it was exposure in and out of the classroom, that I think what was key and to your point, you know, there was some faculty members that were and still have left just resonating thoughts of what I want to accomplish. And you know, why are we here? And who are we serving?

Austen Parrish 22:13
I've seen you at a number of UCI events. In fact, I think I first met you not at a bar event, but I think at a University of California, Irvine, that maybe the School of Social Ecology, how have you chosen to stay connected with UCI over the years?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 22:24
Well, you know what, I tried to attend as many of the events as I can I just I just feel as an alum, that's, that's important that the school gave so much to me to be able to give back. You know, I'll say for those who go, wow, well, you've been in government, your entire life as a public defender, and then onto the bench. So, you know, the bank account didn't make millions, that's for sure. But there's a lot of ways outside of monetarily that I think we can give back and participating and being a part of programs. And, you know, as I always tell my kids, even in dependency, or juvenile justice, or even in my, in my felony matters, showing up as half of it kind of with being engaged in your community projects and programming to sometimes just showing up and being there and lending a hand can make a big difference.

Austen Parrish 23:08
Absolutely. I believe the lifeblood of any university is really the alums. And sure, it's nice if people want to buy buildings, but it's, it's more important, actually, the mentorship and being able to have those sort of interventions, we were talking earlier, where you run into a student, you have a conversation, and it can open their mind is something different. And then these days, you know, jobs are so much networking, even finding out about where the jobs are open and, and then getting the language and the how to talk the talk in particular fields. So we're incredibly grateful I, I think you're right, that the just showing up events is more than half of it. I think it's almost all of it, because it allows us to create that sort of broader community. And that idea that you're an anteater for life, right, that you're still learning in some ways, and you're connecting with the next generation of students that are that are hopefully launching their careers in the same way that that we were able to do many, many years ago.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 23:57
Well and selfishly, I'll tell you, I really enjoy especially talking to the students. You know, I was an adjunct. For many years before I came into this role, there's just no time for that right now. But I love doing that I love talking to those to those new minds and eyes that want to hear want to see want to know about things that they don't know. And so that's the one thing I always leave them with is look don't pigeonhole yourself into I'm going to be this or I'm going to do that. Open yourself up to a wide, broad net, you know, experience different things. Again, selfishly, for me, I love being back with UCI and being able to whether it's guest lecturing or just presenting and, and talking with students about believe in yourself, because a lot of times I know myself included you go I'm not gonna be able to go to law school and be a lawyer be a judge all of those things where they call that the imposter syndrome or something like that, that you're like, When are they going to figure out that I really shouldn't be doing this. I think something I wanted to follow up on and I didn't I didn't want to interrupt you but reaching out to our high schools. for undergrad, certainly but even in the high schools just to let young students know, this is a pathway you can follow, this is something you can do to empower them. And especially when we talk about some of our minority groups that have not had the opportunity, or people who supported them, even my dad, though, you know, we were working class, he always pushed me to school. He was like, No, I want you to go to college and everything that they sacrificed to make sure that I was going to be able to do that, you know, a lot of our kids don't have that kind of support. So I think we need to step in and be that support for them.

Austen Parrish 25:38
Absolutely. Although I have to say, I feel I feel the imposter syndrome goes both ways. When I meet young students both in, in University College, and then later as they starting law school. Normally, what goes through my mind is, I would never be admitted today, they've done so much in the first couple of years. And you know, they're, they're 22, and their resume is longer than mine. And so, and then I've always found I, I still teach because I selfishly sort of enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that you get from particularly in law school. But you sort of hear this Well, Jesus, that's right for me. And then I used to take a group of students to the state court and into the federal court, we'd watch a few hearings, but we'd also this was up in LA, we would, we would go to sort of track how to file a brief. So we were kind of understand the, the workings behind the scene. And what I would found is that a lot of students, it was a great confidence booster, because they would see these well known attorneys who are from a well known firms. And the students would be like, You know what I can not only can I do that, I can do better than that. And I can be more prepared, and I can answer the judges questions more forthrightly and more directly. And so in some ways, there's some fabulous attorneys out there. But I, you know, I feel pretty confident about the next generation that's coming up as to the quality that they're gonna bring to the profession to

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 26:49
Absolutely, no, I'm right with you. Because I think there's no way UCI would let me in comparative to what they are now and the caliber of students, there's just there's no way.

Austen Parrish 26:59
Well, you and me both. So let's, let's hope nobody figures that out. Well, it's a talking about law students, you know, if I was to go broadly, what advice do you have for students that are considering law school? And perhaps, if not that, what advice do you have for students that are just starting law school?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 27:14
I think what I was kind of ending up with is be open minded. First of all, you know, there are so many different opportunities within the law schools, and even the undergrad for internships, externships. Some maybe that are not the sanction programs, but you can always seek out whether it's law firms, court systems to say, I'd like to volunteer my time. And that's something that I did do, I didn't have the ability during law school, because I was a part time law student, right. So I was working during the day and go into law school at night. So I didn't have the ability to participate in some of those structured externships. But what I did was I had professors who happen to be working at the courts or working in law firms, and said, on my off hours, and I don't know how I had off hours back then. But that's when I was really young. Let me volunteer for you. So I would volunteer and I would come in and I would sit in a courtroom. And I would do briefs for them, and pleadings and things like that just to get your hands in on different areas and exposure. So I think that would be my my idea of imparting information to those new students is just be open minded and expose yourself take yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Austen Parrish 28:24
Now that I think that's good advice, that almost sounds a little bit like a little hustle goes a long way. Actually, it sounds like I've always admired people who did part time programs at work and went to school, because that's incredibly challenging. It's a lot of work. But it sounds like little hustle and a little grit was a great way to launch a career.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 28:42
It is. And like you said, I don't know if I could do it now, that's for sure. I think about I must have slept like four hours a night between the work shifts, and, you know, and studying in school, but when you're in your younger years, you can do those things.

Austen Parrish 28:57
Well, so, you know, somebody's thinking about career in the judiciary ultimately. And, you know, I think for many students in their early 20s, becoming a judge seems far off something they might do later in their career. But is that true? How much experience do you need before joining the bench? And, and if you were advising a student thinking about in their long term career goals, how would they get started?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 29:16
So I am impressed Austen, there are some students that know from the beginning. Oh, I'm, I'm aiming on that judicial credit that was not in my wheelhouse. Quite honestly, you know, when I was in the public defender's office, I thought I would just finish my career there as a litigator. And then opportunities came up as as the Commissioner spot open, and they asked me to apply for that. But the minimum qualifications is your lawyer for 10 years. And at that point, then you can apply either for an appointment through the governor's office or there are certain positions that come up for election as well. So those are a couple different avenues if that is something that they want to do. You know, and I would also say that exposure of court experience if that is something that you want to pursue, you know, make sure you're visiting and seeing is it What it's cracked up to be, because I can remember a lot of the students that I was teaching at the law schools would go, Yeah, I don't I don't want to be in a courtroom. That's not my thing. I'd rather work with, you know, transactional law, or there are people that are very gifted, you know, in the writing, and so I don't want to get up and litigate. So there's some different areas, I think it's just very important, whether you have judicial plans or otherwise to expose yourself so you know what it's truly about?

Austen Parrish 30:05
Yeah, that sounds right. To me, you know, our first graduate from 2012. That first class is just last year, they celebrated their 10-year anniversary. So I think we actually have two, two graduates that are already judges, one elected in Ohio, and one who's an administrative law judge, but we're, we're starting to hear some of our students might now be thinking of the judicial path now that the 10 years out which I think's fabulous. My sense is, there's a big need that there's talented, as you say, particularly representation from underrepresented groups is desperately needed on the courts and continuing to create that pipeline to ensure our best and brightest are thinking about a potential judicial career, I think it's important.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 31:04
I can still remember the conversations and I can't remember whose home it was at, when the thought of UCI law school was just a discussion. And I just thought I remember how exciting that was to hear about it and, you know, kind of hear about it at the ground level, and then it kind of, you know, it took off, obviously, and, and thank goodness, you are where you are now. I mean, the thought of me being able to have been a UCI law student as well would have been just icing on the cake. But you know, it was not in existence back then.

Austen Parrish 31:34
Yeah, well, you know, it's, it's really remarkable, you know, if I, I've been looking at the history, just because part of my job is to make sure I understand what came before, but it really is remarkable how supportive the community is, and was and, you know, if I look at it, it really was the local community, the local leaders in the legal community that sort of had a vision for why Orange County could use another law school and, and why having having it UC Irvine would be really important. I maybe I'll just ask you, that's total self serving question. But from your vantage, what advantage are, are they're having a law school at UC Irvine for the community?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 32:09
Oh, well, first of all, just being part of the UC system, I think course I am completely biased. So I put that out there with that caveat, that opportunity to bring in the students from that area. And also just the dedication to public service, which is something that I know, I'm not saying that the other law schools don't have that. But you know, what your focus is, and I think that brings something really special to this community. And having that kind of accessible students that are serving our community, just as is incredible.

Austen Parrish 32:41
Yeah, no, I think that's right. You mentioned earlier, you know, students have many different career goals. And what I think is remarkable is the person going into high finance or mergers and acquisitions, private equity, really, on the corporate side? You know, they say, Well, geez, you know, what's the advantage of public interest. And the reality is, is that's the way they get connected to clients. That's the way they get connected to other leaders. And it's the way they learn skills early on in the career, the person who's doing public interest law, they're, you know, they're doing it for an obvious path, right. But for all the other positions, it's also a great way to sort of learn what lawyers do and how to make those networks early on. And so I'm selling, I just, we just got these updated statistics, since we were founded in 2009, excluding our clinics and our externships, and our service learning projects. So just pro bono work where students are getting neither pay nor credit or any other thing. Our students have donated 150,000 hours of time, in projects that have impacted nearly 50 states in over 50 countries for the pro bono projects, and over 90% of our students have participated. It's so right now we're sort of in the low 90s. In the in the first semester of law school students deciding to choose to do a public interest project, as you say, that's not that's not unique in the sense that many schools will have pro bono projects. But we have almost 100 a semester that students can get involved in. And that's, that's extraordinary. And that's separate from this massive clinical program that allows students to work with live clients working with nonprofits and others in the legal community during law school, and we make it a requirement, which is pretty unusual these days. So it's a point of pride. I also think, though, it's a way to, frankly, create fabulous lawyers, regardless of what area of practice they want to go and because they get to see real live, work early on and start building that broader community network.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 34:32
Yeah, it's so impactful on so many levels that you've just spoken about, from my perspective, as a judicial officer and as in a leadership role, either here locally or at the state. That's where you want to tap into. I mean, think about the lives that have been impacted by that public work that public sector work that as you said, the other law schools have it as well but the focus as to what you are providing there, the clinics alone, the diversity of Types of clinics as well. And it really goes back to that level of partnerships. you're partnering, your collaboration with other organizations to provide that service is extraordinary.

Austen Parrish 35:12
One of the reasons why I joined you know, the other thing that I was struck with is early on, I think there was this feeling in Orange County that it'd be great to create more lawyers here, because it's such a big legal community. And I think there was a little bit of, you know, caught between Los Angeles and San Diego to other very large legal markets. And, and so how could we recruit and retain some of the very best people from Southern California and have them stay. And by that account, we have been incredibly successful. And you know, and then you know, this thing of how do we make opportunities I think I mentioned last year, we're, we're usually between 25. And 30% of the class is first generation, usually between 55 and 60% of students of color. And those are remarkable numbers compared to many schools throughout the country. And so this idea of recruiting really smart, intelligent, talented people to Orange County, and then having them stay. Well, one number that I that I'm always struck with last year, when I first came on and tried to take a look at alumni in Southern California that were in Bar Association's and we have currently 71 students or graduates that are either presidents or on the boards of local bar association. So you're looking at the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association, past president, the president president like it's just it's stunning. But you can do that with Korean American Bar Association with the Orange County Bar Association, all these major. And then you look at the boards and the nonprofits, which is sort of this proof in the pudding of the idea that if you inculcate the value of being deeply engaged, that students will stay deeply engaged in lawyers, and that the hope is over time it leads to benefits to Orange County as a whole.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 36:42
No, it absolutely does. And, you know, you talked about what else can young lawyers, young people do that engagement with the Bar Association's just the umbrella bar, with young lawyers, their young lawyers division to help them kind of off ramp into and understand all of these different affiliate bars that we have that do phenomenal work? You've mentioned a few of them. There are dozens of those affiliates that are out there doing incredible work. And the best way to have that work done is all of these people working together, right for the greater good and and serving the community. So your population, those numbers is, or is something that's just very much to be proud of.

Austen Parrish 37:22
Maybe not a very silly point, when a new lawyer or a brand new minted lawyer comes to your court for the first time, what are pet peeves are things they should be thinking about? Are things you should like what inspires you most when you see a new person? Or what are the things that you're like, don't do that. That would be good advice.

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 37:37
I'm always excited to see new lawyers just because of that, you know it when you see it, there's so much excitement, there's a lot of anxiety that goes on for good reason to just because it's something new. But you know, I think going into the pet peeves is don't come to court when you're not prepared. Being ill prepared and disorganized will drive a judicial officer, quickly, very aggravated, right. So I would also say, you know, making sure the professionalism and the etiquette the quorum is something that we've seen decline recently, and a lot of it's due to COVID. And folks forget that. The civility is so important in a courtroom, and you're an advocate, absolutely. And you can be adversarial while being professional. There's some era of entitlement that often comes in, and then decorum reduces from there. And I can tell you that it's just something that's very sad for me to have watched. Again, some of it was a result of COVID, because we had to go so much into the remote and hybrid, which was great. We were able to service and make sure that we were keeping our doors open that way. But it shouldn't be lost on this is still you are an officer of court. This is still formal court proceedings and behave that way. It's an honor to be a lawyer, a judicial officer for certain, but if we're speaking to lawyers, it's an honor to step into a courtroom. So act accordingly I think is one of those things that I would leave with.

Austen Parrish 39:08
Well, Judge Hernandez, it's been it's been fabulous. Thank you for thank you for sharing your own inspiring story. As I said, we're proud you're an anteater and thanks for the good advice for our new students. Any final words for our listeners before we wrap up, today's UCI Law Talks?

Judge Maria D. Hernandez 39:21
No, just again, thank you for the honor of letting me share with you because, you're right, I'm a lifetime anteater so very, very proud of everything about what you are doing and will continue to do from the law school.

Austen Parrish 39:33
Well, thanks so much for joining us. Great to have you on the show. Okay, thank you. Thank you for listening to UCI Law Talks. For all our latest news, follow UCI Law on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn