Meet the Candidate: Yuma County Superior Court Judge, Division 6
The Yuma Sun is spotlighting the candidates ahead of the Nov. 6 general election. Maria Elena Cruz is the Democrat candidate running unopposed for Yuma County Superior Court Judge, Division 6.
Name: Maria Elena Cruz
Office running for: Yuma County Superior Court Judge, Division 6
Family: Husband Glen, son and daughter
Education: Graduated from the University of Arizona undergrad (B.A. in psychology) and Law School (juris doctor)
Employment: Currently serving as Yuma County Superior Court Division 6 judge
To what organizations do you belong? Immaculate Conception Church and Parish, Arizona Judges Association, Arizona Association of Drug Court Professionals, National Association of Drug Court Professionals
What in your past experiences helps qualify you for this seat? I began my legal career in Yuma as a prosecutor in the Yuma County Attorney's Office. After prosecuting felony matters and gaining valuable experience, I worked under the Yuma County Legal Defender and eventually opened a solo practice primarily focused on criminal law. During this time I also worked as judge pro-tem for the Cocopah Indian Nation until my election to the Superior Court bench in 2008.
If elected, what is the one issue on which you would focus to improve Yuma's quality of life? How? During my first term as a Superior Court judge I became very concerned with the use of juveniles as “body carriers” in the importation of drugs across the border from Mexico into the United States. Oftentimes the minors involved in these serious offenses were told no serious consequence would fall upon them due to their underage status. This is simply not true.
In order to raise awareness of the possible consequences of a felony conviction for these offenses, I coordinated a “mock sentencing” presentation wherein the youth in schools across our county would observe a live demonstration of the sentencing of a minor in a drug importation case. Local prosecutors, defense attorneys, juvenile probation officers, detention officers, court interpreters and federal law enforcement agencies partnered with me to help this presentation come to life. After the demonstration we all engaged students in a lively question and answer session. As a judge, the opportunities for proactive measures are limited to some extent. However, I will continue to look for appropriate ways to be a positive force and source of information in our community.
What do you think is the biggest challenge right now facing Yumans, and how would you change it? The biggest challenge facing our community today is the escalating rate of drug abuse and drug dependence. Drugs are destroying people and families in our community. As a Drug Court judge, I make an earnest effort to work effectively with my team guiding our participants on their path to sobriety. This is a program in which I am greatly invested.
What would you do to make government more accessible? In the judiciary, the issue of accessibility to government arises particularly in cases of self-represented litigants. In those cases, I make every effort to ensure the self-represented litigants understand the process, understand the reasoning for my decisions, and have all questions answered before they leave my courtroom.
Who is your personal hero, and why? My personal heroes are my parents. All of my strengths derive in one way or another from the example they set before me. They are strong, relentless, yet caring and compassionate individuals.