Candice Garcia-Rodrigo, a University of La Verne alumna, will make history next week when she becomes the first Latina judge for the San Bernardino Superior Court.
Appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month, she will be sworn in on Wednesday.
Garcia-Rodrigo earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Chapman before attending ULV’s College of Law, where she earned her JD. She also earned two master’s degrees at La Verne – the first in public administration and the second in leadership and management.
“I wouldn’t have been able to be the first (today) if there weren’t so many other women and minorities who came before me to help break through that barrier,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
Garcia-Rodrigo said as a law student, and still to this day, she looked up to many judges in the courtroom including Raquel Marquez, the first Latina judge in Riverside County.
“When I was in law school, I saw under-representation of Latinas in that there were few Latina students besides myself in my class,” Garcia-Rodrigo said. “Once I went into the legal field as an attorney, I was often the only female attorney in the court.”
As an undergraduate student at Chapman University, Garcia-Rodrigo majored in business administration and was involved in a sorority and several campus jobs, including a club coordinator.
“I thought a great way to give back to the community was to own a business and contribute to the local economy,” Garcia-Rodrigo said. “When I took a law course in college, I became fascinated by the law. I realized becoming an attorney would be a great way to give to my community.”
Garcia-Rodrigo said her business law and constitutional law courses, along with taking on the controversial topic of gun control for a research paper, sparked her interest, and she decided to minor in legal studies.
“Researching that issue and examining both sides of the argument actually got me more excited about the law. Being able to… pick apart or just study the law, that was when I really became interested,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in three years and graduating from Chapman in 2003, Garcia-Rodrigo went straight to law school at University of La Verne’s College of Law.
Garcia-Rodrigo said she picked La Verne’s law school mainly because it was the only law school in the Inland Empire at the time and she wanted to stay close to home.
She enrolled in a dual-degree program to earn a master of public administration at La Verne, completed in 2008, while working toward her juris doctorate. Then she earned her master’s of science in leadership and management in 2009.
Garcia-Rodrigo recalls a time where one professor who was a magistrate judge while teaching at the time, Stephen Larson, invited their class to watch a real federal hearing in court, showing them around the courtroom.
“That was my first glimpse of the federal court,” Garcia-Rodrigo said. “Getting to see it firsthand, that was very significant for me. That made me even more interested in becoming a judge. That’s something I knew I wanted to be and I think he helped me along that path.”
While taking a philosophy of law course, Garcia-Rodrigo wrote a research article titled, “An Analysis of and Alternative to the Radical Feminist Position on the Institution of Marriage.” It was later published in a law journal with the help of her professor, John Linarelli.
“She was a law student writing something that reads like she was already a law professor. I mean, it was just excellent,” said Linarelli, professor of law at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center.
While in law school, she started as a law clerk for her father’s office, Law Offices of Vincent B. Garcia & Associates in Rancho Cucamonga, working primarily in family law from 2004 to 2008.
Garcia-Rodrigo said her father helped her learn how to practice law, write and appear in court, describing him as a role model and teacher.
“I started there in 2004 and became a certified law student, which means the State Bar authorized me to appear in court with the supervision of an attorney. So I was able to get a real hands-on real-life experience of practicing the law while I was still in law school,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
After graduating with her juris doctorate degree in 2006, Garcia-Rodrigo passed the bar exam and began practicing law as an attorney.
Garcia-Rodrigo left her father’s law firm in 2008 and went on to work in different areas of the law including wills and trusts, corporate and civil litigation for other law firms.
In 2011, Garcia-Rodrigo joined Rodrigo Law Firm, started by her husband in 2010.
“It was a good opportunity. It was exciting, but it’s also really scary because we were responsible for ourselves and each other. We had to bring in the clients and manage the business and if we failed, it was only us,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
At Rodrigo Law Firm, Garcia-Rodrigo was able to expand in other areas of law that she was interested in.
“I focused more on wills, trusts and probate … and became a certified specialist in that area. And I don’t know if I would have been able to do that working for anyone else but I certainly was able to take the time when I became my own boss, essentially, to do that,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
Garcia-Rodrigo and her husband currently reside in Riverside with their four children, where balancing work and home life is a priority.
“We are very supportive of each other and work hand-in-hand helping each other as equal partners. Neither one of us must choose a career over life,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
In 2018, Garcia-Rodrigo became a court commissioner for Riverside County, where she heard cases in the courtroom.
“What I appreciate about being a bench officer is I get to learn so many different areas of the law each day, while serving the Inland Empire residents. I consider myself a lifelong learner,” Garcia-Rodrigo said.
While working as a court commissioner, Garcia-Rodrigo taught at La Verne as an adjunct law professor until 2020.
“Candice, now Judge Garcia-Rodrigo, was an exemplary law student,” said Kevin Marshall, dean of the La Verne College of Law. “She took advantage of every learning opportunity offered at the University of La Verne (and she) quietly but boldly led by example, achieving success, all the while remaining humble and ethically grounded. We are so proud of her accomplishments and her contributions.”
Marshall added that she was also an excellent adjunct professor at the law school.
Garcia-Rodrigo’s appointment as judge for the San Bernardino Superior Court is a tribute to her education and accomplishments.
“We look for people who have intellectual curiosity and intelligence, people who have a commitment to the law and to serving our community,” said Luis Céspedes, judicial appointments secretary for Gov. Newsom. “All of (her) experiences will make her an extraordinarily good judge because she understands, from her academic background, the value of education and learning.”
“I truly love the Inland Empire where I grew up. It’s a part of me,” Garcia-Rodrigo said. “I am really looking forward to continuing in my role to give back to the Inland Empire community and to see it grow.”
Anabel Martinez can be reached at email@example.com.