Marisela Saldana has completed her first term as judge for the 148th District Court, and she hopes voters will allow her to continue her work with a second term.
Saldana was born in Kingsville, but grew up in Corpus Christi. Following her graduation from W.B. Ray High School, she attended the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor, where she earned a bachelor's degree in sociology.
After college, she returned to Corpus Christi to work in the office of her family's plumbing business, something she said gave her an appreciation for small businesses.
She eventually moved on to other jobs, including a stint in the Valley working for the State of Texas in an adoption program. While working in the government building, Saldana said she saw firsthand the difficult process many of the community's poorer residents endured to receive aid.
"There's something not very dignified about that," Saldana said. "I saw the face of human poverty."
Saldana said she had always had a love of medicine, but when the turmoil and political unrest of the 1960s broke out across the nation, she decided to pursue a degree in law.
"I had always been very active in the community, way before I went to law school," Saldana said. "I wanted to do more."
At the age of 36, she applied and was accepted to the University of Texas Law School in Austin. She received her law degree three years later, and passed the bar examine shortly before her 40th birthday.
"I have a deep love for the law profession," Saldana said. "You never master the law. It's very fluid. It changes. It has a wonderful built-in continuing challenge."
Saldana practiced law in Corpus Christi for 10 years, but decided to take on a new challenge in 1993. The County Court at Law No. 3 bench opened up when the sitting judge was elected to the 148th District Court, and Saldana threw her hat into the ring for the county court position. She was elected, and began serving as judge in 1994.
In 2006, she was elected to the open 148th District Judge position, defeating Guy Williams for the seat.
Saldana said learning the position of district judge has been a process over her first term.
"I literally sit there from that perch and I watch human drama unfold before me," Saldana said. "Some very tragic, sad, terrible human drama…it shakes you."
When she took office, the 148th Judicial District was ranked sixth in case backlog out of seven district courts that exclusively serve Nueces County. Over the past four years she has reduced that backlog, and her court is now ranked third on that list.
Saldana described the workload as "intense," and compared it to her days of washing dishes in the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor cafeteria.
"The pile goes down, and you think 'whew,'. And then the waitresses come in with cartloads of more dirty dishes," Saldana said. "And I think about that as, in a way, preparation for my work on the bench."
Saldana also pointed to her court's handling of the Charles Orr capital murder case in 2009 as an example of the experience she has gained over the past four years.
"There are some judges who come in and complete their tenure on the bench and have never had a capital murder case, because there's just not that many, thank goodness," Saldana said. "I'm very proud of not only the quantity, but the quality of the work I have done."
Saldana said the biggest challenge facing the court at this time is an internal audit that she performs each year, currently scheduled for this December.
"I literally pick up every file, and I literally thumb through every sheet of paper," Saldana said. "I'll be inventorying every single file, and that's about 1,000 files."
Saldana said the biggest difference between she and her opponent is her experience, although she said experience alone is not a good enough reason for voters to send her back to the bench.
"I do not think a person should remain on the bench or ask the voters to be returned to the bench because I've been here 16 years, I've got experience, I'll continue to work," Saldana said. "I think you need to earn your place every term through hard, diligent work, through competent handling of the work that has been placed in your terms. It is my belief that I have met those standards."
Editor's note: Messages were left repeatedly over a two-week period asking Saldana's challenger, Guy Williams, to participate in this profile series. He did not agree to be interviewed prior to press time Tuesday.