Barbara Rodríguez Mundell
Presiding Judge, Maricopa County Superior Court System
Barbara Rodríguez Mundell is today the presiding judge of the Superior Court in Maricopa County, yet she never set out to be a judge. Arizona Chief Justice Charles E. Jones notified Barbara on December 7, 2004, her 49th birthday, she had been selected to become the presiding judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court system, a five-year appointment, which became effective on July 1, 2005. She is the first female and the first Hispanic to ever hold this position. As the presiding judge, she oversees the work of approximately 95 judges, 58 commissioners, more than 4,000 staff members including probation officers, 25 justice courts, and 23 municipal courts in Maricopa County.
Born in 1955 to a Mexican American fieldworker’s family in South Phoenix, Barbara grew up in a loving home with two siblings and her parents, Frank and Malena Rodríguez. Her parents were humble, hard-working people; neither had completed elementary school. Both the oldest children in their respective families, her mother and father had to drop out of school in order to help support the household. Barbara grew up aware of the tremendous sacrifices her parents made for their families and for their own children. In fact, the person she credits most for her drive to achieve and improve the lives of others is her father.
In an effort to demonstrate the importance of an education, Barbara’s father hauled the family to an onion field early one Saturday morning. The entire family picked onions for eight hours and still did not make enough money to cover the cost of lunch. This left a huge impression with Barbara.
Barbara attended Sierra Vista Elementary School in South Phoenix. At Sierra Vista, she found encouragement and support from her teachers. One teacher in particular, Ms. Katherine Kutis, Barbara’s English teacher, was the one who encouraged her to campaign for the student council. Although Barbara was unsure about this, she followed her teacher’s recommendation and won, becoming the student council secretary. This experience helped Barbara gain
self-confidence. She also learned to trust those who believed in her. Ms. Kutis recognized Barbara’s potential and believed in her abilities. In 2005, Barbara accepted an invitation from the school to be the guest speaker at their eighth grade graduation ceremony. She spoke to the students at the same elementary school where she was student council secretary. Her message to the young students was to pursue education, to always give their best, and that no dream is too big.
While her family life was supportive, Barbara lived in an environment where families like hers faced economic struggles and hardships—and racism. What she saw and experienced as a young girl convinced her that the creation and enforcement of laws to protect the poor and disadvantaged were the avenues to social change and the end of economic exploitation and discrimination. Her beloved parents had instilled in her the value and importance of hard work and education and to hold on to her dreams of success. She was not allowed to date in high school, which led her to believe she would never marry. She began planning a law career while a student at South Mountain High School.
She attended Arizona State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1978. Her goal was to study law, which she viewed as “the great equalizer,” whose practitioners have the abilities and skills to correct injustice. “The law is a tool to be used to ensure fairness for all regardless of race, gender, or creed,” she has often said. Barbara was accepted into the College of Law at Arizona State University, now called the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, the leading law school in the Phoenix metropolitan area and a partner with one of the premier public research universities in the nation, Arizona State University. Coursework was rigorous, challenging, time consuming, and demanding. Long days and nights at the law library became a familiar and tiring routine for Barbara. Coupled with her drive to achieve success was her parents’ examples of quiet strength and courage in times of adversity and change. Barbara persevered and received her juris doctorate degree in 1981. She then studied for and passed the Arizona Bar exam.
Barbara became an associate counsel for Swenson’s Ice Cream Corporation. She entered private practice in 1983, and for the next four years, she provided representation in workers’ compensation and Social Security cases, earning the respect and admiration of her colleagues and judicial administrators. She ended the decade of the 1980s as an administrative law judge with the Arizona Industrial Commission, hearing and resolving cases and issuing formal written decisions in matters involving workers’ compensation.
“I never consciously set out to become a judge,” she has often stated. But in 1991, she became a judge in the Superior Court of Maricopa County, presiding over civil cases. The work offered Barbara many opportunities over the years to learn the intricacies of the law and test her own skills and knowledge of Arizona’s court system programs and their functions. The next decade would bring Barbara new challenges and well-deserved recognition of her work well beyond her own expectations. She has served in all of the major departments in the court system: civil, criminal, family, juvenile, probate, and mental health.
Barbara is very active in her community and is a member of the National Association of Women Judges, a board member of the National Center for State Courts, and is a past president of Los Abogados Hispanic Bar Association. Additionally, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government selected Judge Rodríguez Mundell to serve as a member of its Executive Session for State Court Leaders in 2008 for a three-year period, addressing the topic of court leaders in the 21st century. She has received numerous awards for her commitment and dedication. In 2006, she received the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety award from Governor Janet Napolitano for the Spanish-speaking DUI probationary program. This innovative program conducts counseling, AA meetings, and court proceedings in Spanish to help convicted DUI offenders learn coping skills to maintain their sobriety. Also in 2006, she received the Special Recognition Award by Valle del Sol at the 16th Annual Profiles of Success Awards Celebration. In 2008, she received the Racial Justice Leadership Award from the YWCA. This award honored her as the first Hispanic woman to serve as presiding judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court and, more importantly, for her work bridging the gap between Latinos and the court system. In 2009, she received the Mark Santana Law-Related Education Award for her exceptional contributions in furthering education and understanding of the role of the law in our democratic society.
The Honorable Barbara Rodríguez Mundell is living the American Dream, the dream that began in South Phoenix under humble beginnings, which shaped her personality and drive to succeed. It is a dream forged by her parents and inspired by their sacrifices and realized through her hard work. She has said that the little girl from South Phoenix is still inside, always with her, always a part of her. Presiding Judge Barbara Rodríguez Mundell has overcome her own challenges and has become a successful attorney and judge, based on her talent and will and strength of character.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.