Antonia “Toni” Arteaga knew as far back as elementary school that she eventually would become a lawyer. As a child, she even created her own family coat of arms. The drawing included glimpses into her future: Her shield featured pictures of a judge and a law building.
Her real family had an impact on that imagined coat of arms, she says.
“I’m the youngest of eight girls. I was supposed to be Antonio instead of Antonia,” Arteaga says. “They stopped trying after me,” she says of her parents.
“And I would always try to outdo everybody,” Arteaga says. “I was always the one that had the great grades. It was always expected that I was going to college.”
So she left the small West Texas town of Ballinger and headed off to the University of Texas, where she became the first in her family to get a college degree in 1994. After picking up her bachelor’s degree in government, Arteaga spent three more years in Austin, working for a publishing company to pay off her student loans.
When she was making plans to head off to St. Mary’s University School of Law, her father had a concern about his youngest pursuing a juris doctorate.
“When I told my dad I was going to law school, he said in Spanish: ‘Why honey, you don’t even know how to cook.’ And I promised that I would learn to cook after law school,” she says.
In fact, her father’s Christmas gift to her during her third year of law school was a new cookware set.
After getting her law degree in 2000, Arteaga headed back to Austin, where she worked as an associate in a medium-sized firm and spent all her time doing legal research and none of it arguing in a courtroom. “And I hated that,” she says.
So she went to San Antonio and started working as a solo, hoping that opening her own practice would get her into the courtroom.
“I came back and started taking family law cases and couldn’t get any trials. So I took some criminal law appointments and had my first trial and was hooked. So within the first year I had at least a dozen trials,” she says.
She eventually wanted to sit on a bench instead of arguing in front of one. In 2006, then-San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, a former chief justice of San Antonio’s 4th Court of Appeals, hired her as a municipal judge, she says.
Two years later, she stepped up on the judicial ladder when she ran for and won Bexar County’s 57th District Court bench in 2008.
After all of those accomplishments, Arteaga has kept her promise to her father. She knows how to use the cookware he gave her for Christmas a decade ago.
“I make the best enchiladas and carne guisada,” she says.
Texas Lawyer senior reporter John Council, who made carne guisada for the first time recently that he believes would pass an Arteaga family taste test, e-mailed Arteaga some questions to ponder. Here are her answers, edited for length and style.
Judge Antonia “Toni” Arteaga
57th District Court, Bexar County
First elected to the bench: 2008
Texas Lawyer: What should every lawyer know about you before setting foot in your courtroom?
Judge Toni Arteaga: I read EVERYTHING, and I’m a stickler for the rules of evidence.
TL: Are there any courtroom formalities that you are particularly strict about?
Arteaga: Proper attire for both attorneys and their clients. No courtroom disruptions of any kind (verbal or nonverbal).
TL: What’s your view about ordering mediation in cases — sometimes, always, never?
Arteaga: Always before a jury trial; otherwise, sometimes — depends on the parties and facts of the case.
TL: Let’s say I request a fourth motion for continuance for a case in your court. Can I have it?
Arteaga: Depends of course. Must have a very good reason, NOT a really good excuse, i.e. a death or deathly illness.
TL: What’s the best way a lawyer can get on your good side?
Arteaga: Be concise and prepared; avoid repetition. Bring timelines when applicable. Bring entire case law, not simply a portion/quote of an opinion. Bring exact copies for the court and all parties. Color code when possible.
TL: Are there any lawyer courtroom habits that drive you crazy?
Arteaga: Redundance. Failure to pre-mark trial exhibits.
TL: If a lawyer believes you’ve ruled incorrectly, what’s the best way to convince you to change your mind?
Arteaga: File a detailed Motion to Reconsider and attach a brief with relevant case law.
TL: Tell us what being the youngest of eight girls in your family has taught you about life.
Arteaga: My mother taught me to be independent and self-reliant despite having the ever-present assistance of my sisters. However, as a child, I also saw the indispensable value of family support in life and the need to always give back to both family and community.
John Council is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/john_council. “Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.
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