Latina Leader urges voters to continue voting down the ballot for All Candidates in November.
Story By: Valerie Menard
It’s no surprise that Debra Ibarra Mayfield chose the legal profession as a career. Her father, Amado Ibarra, Jr., a sheet metal fabricator who he led the team that fabricated the metal star that hangs outside the Harris County Civil Courthouse, literally marked the spot where he hoped his daughter would work.
“He didn’t live long enough to see me appointed as a judge, but the star is my inspiration and a reminder that I am here in the courthouse to serve the public through the administration of justice,” she says.
Appointed by Governor Greg Abbott as judge of the j165th Civil District Court in 2015, Mayfield will be on the ballot this November to be elected to the position. But it’s not her first judgeship or campaign. She’s the former judge for the Harris County Civil Court at Law Number One, to which she was re-elected twice after being appointed to the bench. She also set a benchmark with that appointment, becoming the first Latina county court judge.
The Houston-native is the youngest of three. She and her older brothers were also the first generation in the family to attend college. Her father encouraged his children to pursue their dreams, including college and public service. Her mother, Herlinda, also set an example for her daughter.
“My mom reminds me that the most important role I play is that of wife and mother,” shares Mayfield. “She’s also a strong example of how to keep it all together, through leadership and encouragement.”
Perhaps her father’s focus on public service inspired her, but Mayfield says that she knew at a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in public service, particularly, as a lawyer. After graduating from South Texas College of Law, she worked for an appellate justice at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. While writing legal opinions, she says she fell more in love with the rule of law and became more committed to serving the public through the institutions of justice and fairness.
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina has seen Mayfield’s career progress since she was a law student. He’s been impressed by her preparedness and work ethic. “She was a very good trial and appellate attorney,” he says. “I’ve also had the honor of appearing before her in court. She’s always very prepared and mindful of the parties before her. She has an excellent knowledge of the law and how to apply it.”
In her current position, she hears all types of civil cases, from personal injury to business disputes to medical or legal malpractice with no monetary jurisdiction cap, and for all of Harris County, the largest county in the state. Land use and mineral rights cases, which she finds fascinating, have also increased with the boom in fracking and natural gas production in the state.
“One type of law that I enjoy and that I teach as adjunct law professor is condemnation and eminent domain,” she says. “A clause in the fifth amendment to United States constitution gives the government the right to take private land for public use for just and fair compensation. It bridges the notion of protecting private property rights and remaining true to the taking clause and the limitations of government, and I find that area of law fascinating.”
Her victory in November will depend, in part, on support from Latinos who make up 42 percent of the population in the county. She admits that judicial elections can be tricky since most voters aren’t familiar with judicial candidates and Harris County has one of the largest ballots in the state. There are also misperceptions by voters about what judges actually do that may make voters less enthusiastic.
“The biggest misperception about the legal system I've encountered is that judges deal with complex or esoteric legal issues that have no direct impact on everyday people,” Mayfield asserts. “To the contrary, judges make decisions daily that can affect everyday lives, such as decisions concerning your homestead, your family, your small business or in some cases, your financial matters.”
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