YAKIMA – When Sonia Rodriguez True came to Yakima 22 years ago as a new lawyer, she admitted it was a tough move.
While she wanted to change the world, she said being a West Side transplant in the Yakima Valley back then was not easy.
“I came as a stranger to Yakima,” Rodriguez True said. “And now, Yakima is a community of family.”
She was formally sworn in as a Yakima County Superior Court judge on Thursday after starting the position in September. She is the first Latina to serve as a judge on the Superior Court bench in Yakima County.
Rodriguez True was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee in July to fill the vacancy created by Judge Gayle Harthcock’s retirement. Rodriguez True was previously a court commissioner and attorney.
After she was sworn in, with her family surrounding her, someone yelled “Qué Viva Sonia” – “Long Live Sonia.”
After her swearing in, Rodriguez True’s husband and former law partner Patrick True, helped her don her black judge’s robe.
State Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens, who swore Rodriguez True in during Thursday’s ceremony, said it was a great day not just for Rodriguez True but the community as well.
With Rodriguez True’s appointment, people will see “a judge who represents the diverse community, and is also connected to the community,” Stephens said, noting Rodriguez True’s lengthy resume of community service.
Rodriguez True serves on the board of directors for the Downtown Yakima Rotary, and is a founding member of In This Together, a gang intervention organization. She has served on the board of the Yakima Federal Savings and Loan Association, was secretary to the board of trustees for Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital and past board chair of the United Way of Central Washington.
Her legal career in Yakima began with Columbia Legal Services, where she worked alongside now-Superior Court Judge Elisabeth Tutsch and Rebecca Pennell, a judge on the state Division III Court of Appeals in Spokane.
“She is the first to come into work and the last to leave,” Tutsch said of Rodriguez True. “She’s intellectually curious and tries to find the right answers every day.”
Rodriguez True is “hard working and smart and truly cares about other people,” Pennell said. “Those are qualities you look for in a great judge.”
There were times when Rodriguez True’s hard work was not reciprocated by the community, but she dug in and worked harder, Pennell said.
Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr., who was recently appointed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, was one of Rodriguez True’s classmates at the University of Washington.
“I know that the person you see her today, the person that has a kind heart, the person who is smart, the person who is committed, the person who is responsible is the person I met 29 years ago,” Mendoza said. “We are lucky to have her in Yakima County.”
Judge Richard Bartheld, Superior Court’s presiding judge, Harthcock and Superior Court Judge David Elofson described her as a zealous, well-prepared advocate for her clients when she was practicing family law.
“I have done battle with her (as an attorney) and it was formidable,” Bartheld said.
He and Elofson said they appreciate her work ethic, an appreciation they say increased as she joined the bench and worked alongside them.
True said Rodriguez True, whom he met when they were appearing in court, believes in serving others and the community, and treating people fairly.
“Not only is she going to be a phenomenal judge, but she is going to use her position to impact kids and the community,” True said.
Rodriguez True commended her husband for being a partner and helping make her dream of sitting on the bench come true. She also singled out her mother who set an example for her by getting her own law degree while Rodriguez True was in college.
“It really just helped to make that transition easy in terms of seeing myself as a lawyer because she was one,” Rodriguez True said. “It was that precious and prized value of education that helped me overcome the challenges in my childhood and get to where I am now.”
She also reflected on how far her family had come. Her grandmother picked cotton while sleeping on the floor of a two-room house she shared with 13 other people in South Texas.
“She told me it is all about hard work. I owe it all to hard work.”
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