Inspired by Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th through October 15th, we recently spoke with Judge Ana Maria Martinez of the DeKalb County State Court.
Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez: Would you please share your journey to the bench?
Judge Ana Maria Martinez: I would be remiss if I did not start by telling you that I became a lawyer because of my grandfather. He was a lawyer in the small city in Colombia—Manizales—where I grew up. Once or twice a month, he would go out to the countryside to draft wills, resolve disputes, and generally help to handle legal matters for people who didn’t have access to a lawyer. Frequently, he’d return home with a bushel of avocados or a chicken as a thank you gift for the pro bono work he had provided. He made those trips because he really believed in access to justice and in helping people who do not have access to lawyers.
It had always been in my life plan to become an attorney, and that remained so even after I immigrated to the United States. In 2006, I started at Georgia State University College of Law. I had thought I would pursue a career in mergers and acquisitions, but then I took Contracts and said, “never ever.” I went on to become a litigator.
I started my legal career at Owen, Gleaton, Egan, Jones & Sweeney, LLP. I loved it there. I had the most amazing mentors. But when I had my daughter in 2011, I realized that billing hours was not going to work for me. I needed the flexibility to be with my daughter because I wanted to be really active in her life. So, I decided to pursue an opportunity working with former Judge Dax Lopez as his staff attorney, and that was wonderful. I loved every minute of my time working with him. It was wonderful to be a public servant and I loved being behind the scenes supporting the work of the court. I learned so much.
When Judge Lopez decided to step down from the bench, he encouraged me to succeed him. I remember him saying, “Alright, it’s you. It’s your turn. We need Latinos represented on the bench.” In 2015, I founded the Georgia Latino Law Foundation with the goal of diversifying the judiciary and the legal professional in general. So, Judge Lopez said to me, “It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.” I reluctantly let him convince me to throw my name in the hat.
NL-A: How has the transition from staff attorney to judge been for you?
Judge Ana Maria Martinez: It’s been challenging in some ways but overall, the transition has been great. In large part, I think that is because I was able to put together an amazing team. I had two people stay with me from Judge Lopez’s chambers and I hired three new people. Everyone is phenomenal. I am so blessed.
From the start, I’ve been very intentional that we always work as a team with the goal of helping the citizens of DeKalb County. Everyone on our team has really stepped up to do that. We all have great working relationships. They support me and each other.
In terms of the substance of my work, the transition has been easy in some ways and more challenging in others. Having managed the civil docket for Judge Lopez for almost nine years, I was very familiar with the work in civil cases. On the criminal side, I had a steeper learning curve. I had some previous experience on the criminal side supporting Judge Lopez, interning with the Georgia Justice Project, and interning at the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, but it was not the bread and butter of my legal career. I’ve learned a great deal in my first few months, and we are picking up speed to make sure that we get our docket in line, especially considering the backlog created by both the pandemic and not having a judge for a few months during the transition from Judge Lopez to me. Now, we are full speed ahead.
NLA: What are your big picture goals?
Judge Ana Maria Martinez: Right now, my biggest goal is to eliminate the pandemic backlog. I’m very proud of my team for being one of the most efficient divisions in the DeKalb County State Court for civil cases, but we have the biggest backlog on the criminal side. We’re working very diligently to improve that metric.
I also strive to engage my fellow judges throughout the state to ensure that everyone knows that they have a friend to turn to when they have questions about the Hispanic community. I can be a voice for and a teacher about that 12% of our population.
My third goal, simply put, is to continue. In other words, to continue working on the diversity piece for the judiciary. I do that primarily through my work for the Georgia Latino Law Foundation–helping law students make sure that they are prepared, well connected, and well versed in what it will take for them to be judges one day. I’m dedicated to helping young lawyers accomplish their dreams so that eventually they, too, will impact their community. In 2020, I started the Georgia Latino Law Foundation’s Virtual Judicial Internship Program as a way to help law students who were having their summer internships canceled due to the pandemic. I thought it was going to be a one-year program, but it was very popular amongst both judges and law students, so we’ve made it permanent. It’s a very flexible program now, and can be in-person, virtual, or hybrid based on the needs of the individuals involved. If any judge is interested in hosting a summer intern through that program, they may email me or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NLA: Switching gears, what are some things you enjoy doing when you’re not on the bench?
Judge Ana Maria Martinez: This year, I’ve been a program chair for Leadership Georgia and that has been the most rewarding and amazing opportunity. I love working with leaders from all over Georgia and visiting different cities all around the state. My husband and I just recently put together a program in Dalton. It was inspiring to see 126 leaders from around the state learning about all the things that make Northwest Georgia great. My husband and I also love traveling with our girls. Now that the pandemic is waning, we’re looking forward to traveling a lot more and showing them the world. I also love spending time with my dog, Lucy.
NL-A: That’s a busy household.
Judge Ana Maria Martinez: Yes, we have two girls—one is six and the other is 10—and a dog.
NLA: Thank you for your time today, Judge Martinez, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Judge Ana Maria Martinez: I’m really grateful to be a judge. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is clear to me that Governor Kemp has been very intentional about diversity. I’m very appreciative of that, but I hope that I’m just the first of many.