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Born: June 26, 1945Appointed: March 1997 to the municipal court by Gov. Pete Wilson; elevated to superior court following consolidationPrevious work of note: Hearing officer/arbitrator for local public agencies including Alameda County, San Francisco, Sonoma and Richmond school districts, 1983-97Law degree: University of Arizona College of LawIn her three years on the Alameda County bench, Judge Cecilia Castellanos has earned a reputation for being responsive to the lawyers who appear before her and conscientious with the cases that pass through her courtroom.Attorneys say Castellanos, who handles criminal trials and preliminary hearings, is a rare judge whose ego isn’t so big that she works on the assumption that she knows everything. She’s not afraid to take some extra time to think through a case. And her sincerity and compassion come through.“With some judges you walk into their courtroom and feel the tension. They’re nasty or have airs. But she exudes warmth,” one defense attorney said.“Some people might complain that she’s slow,” this attorney added, “but the bottom line is that she’s fair. And that’s the most important thing.”Castellanos brought more than 20 years of experience in civil law to the bench. Prior to her appointment by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1997, she practiced civil litigation in Oakland specializing in education and employment law.Her legal career also included work as a trial attorney and hearings manager for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; as a litigator representing clients in employment discrimination lawsuits; and as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.Castellanos’ appointment also brought greater ethnic diversity to the court, as she was the first Latina on the Alameda County bench and remains the only Hispanic woman on the court.Victor Ochoa, a partner with Berkeley’s Duran, Gonzales, Ochoa & Tafoya and a board member of the Alameda County Bar Association, said Castellanos’ appointment remains a cause for celebration.“She brings a lot of compassion. She is a very caring person,” said Ochoa. “And not only is she well qualified, but she brings her unique experiences and viewpoint to the bench.”Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, Castellanos came to the United States as a child when her father grew ill and sought treatment. She attended schools in California and Arizona, and after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona, she entered the work force as a service representative for a local telephone company.Jury duty in 1964 would bring her into a courtroom for the first time. She recalls the case involved eminent domain — not the most titillating subject.“But the attorneys did such a good job presenting each side of the case that it was so interesting to me,” she said. She applied for law school that same year.Castellanos says she’s starting to settle into her position on the bench. Based in Department 110 in the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland, she hears everything from misdemeanors to felony cases.Castellanos says she expects attorneys to know their cases inside and out; to come prepared to answer questions; and to show respect for opposing counsel — as well as to the jury.“It can be very frustrating to have a jury sitting around while the attorneys are figuring out whether they want to file one motion or another,” she says.Castellanos says that as a judge she often reflects on a Spanish saying her father taught her as a child: “El deber ante todo, el deber siempre” — which in English translates to “ Duty before all else, duty always.”“For the most part, you don’t have to make instant decisions. You can take the time to look something up. But there are times when you can’t take that time,” she says. “Then you’ve got to do the best you can.”

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