CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - Hilda Tagle, a senior U.S. district judge for South Texas, was at a convenience store in Corpus Christi when she found out she’d been nominated as a federal judge.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports she’d stopped there after driving to Austin for an interview and made a call home. Back then, people didn’t carry cellphones like they do today.
It was a hot August day and trucks were zipping by.
Her nephew was on the other line and told her the White House had called, and she’d been nominated for the federal judge spot.
“Every time I see it, I remember that day,” Tagle said of the convenience store.
There are many steps before one becomes a federal judge. Aside from the years of education and work it takes to get to that point, first one’s considered and then recommended for the job.
After that comes the nomination and then confirmation.
For Tagle, who grew up in Robstown and spent much of her career in Corpus Christi, there were three years between her nomination by the Clinton administration and getting a confirmed in 1998.
“But who’s counting,” Tagle said with a laugh.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Tagle is the recipient of the Sarah T. Hughes Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. The award, given by the State Bar of Texas Women in the Law Section, honors those who have made advancements for women practicing law.
She was recently presented with the award in Dallas.
Tagle is the first Mexican-American woman U.S. district judge in Texas, and the first Mexican-American woman county court-a-law judge in Texas, having served as the judge for Nueces County Court-at-Law No. 3.
“I have not been as impressed with someone in a long time,” said Deborah Race, who chaired of the Women in the Law section when Tagle was selected for the award. “She’s an amazing woman. …. Many things made her standout.
“She really excelled in her profession and her commitment to get to that profession.”
Tagle drew some parallels between herself and Hughes, the first woman state district judge in Texas.
At one point in her career, a state senator told Hughes that she “ought to be home washing dishes.” Tagle said a county commissioner told her once she should forget about being a judge because the job was too stressful for women.
“You don’t respond,” Tagle said, when asked how you reply to those sorts of comments. “Something that I learned from that, and that was confirmed as I went on in politics, is that once someone has made up their mind, it’s a waste of time to try to change their minds in politics, because you never know where they’re coming from in those positions.”
Tagle said the message that she hopes to leave society is embodied in the epitaph “Born a woman; died a person.”
“The door should be open to all, regardless of gender, regardless of ethnicity,” Tagle said.
Tagle didn’t always know she wanted to be a judge. What she’d always wanted was a college education. After becoming a licensed beautician at the age of 16, something her mother encouraged, she decided to go to college and pursue a higher education.
“I never strived to be in politics,” Tagle said. “I never strived to be a judge. The only thing I wanted when I was growing up, even as young as 9 or 10 years old, was to get a college education.”
Tagle enrolled at Del Mar College. After more schooling at North Texas State University, (now the University of North Texas) Tagle became a librarian. She eventually decided that wasn’t the career for her.
Tagle then went to University of Texas Law School, and after graduating in 1977, later returned to Corpus Christi for a career in law.
“I thought I like to read, so I guess I should be a librarian, not realizing until much later after a masters of library science that you can love to read as an avocation as opposed to having it being a librarian as a vocation.”
Former judge Richard Borchard remembers this from his years growing up with Tagle. They lived in the same neighborhood in Robstown, and went to school together. Borchard described his friend as a bookworm growing up, but still active in school and outgoing.
Borchard said Tagle had a car in school and used to drive him places. She also helped him in English classes, he said.
The two both became prominent judges and figures in the community. When asked how two kids from the same neighborhood both end up as judges, Borchard said, with a laugh, “It was in the water.”
“No, No. No . We had humble beginnings,” Borchard said. “Hardworking, and we just were focused. Being from a small town, you have things against you.But it’s because of work ethics and wanting to do something. Wanting to move forward knowing where we come from makes you work harder and prove it can be done.”
Tagle worked for the city of Corpus Christi and then the Nueces County District Attorney’s Office, as well as practicing law and teaching at Del Mar. She was appointed to the Nueces County Court-at-Law in 1985, was judge in the 148th District Court from 1995 to 1998 and began her career as a U.S. district judge in Texas in 1998.
“All along the way, she’s the type of person who was focused,” Borchard said, describing Tagle as tough, smart and respected.
Attorney Jorge Rangel opened Tagle’s path to federal judge when he withdrew his name from consideration for the post. He said Tagle gave him a call and asked if it was true he wasn’t pursuing the position. He said yes, and she asked if it’d be all right if she ran, Rangel said.
“I said ‘Absolutely not. Go for it,’ ” Rangel said. ” ‘If that’s something you want, go for it and if there’s anything I can do to help you, please let me know.’ And she took the ball and ran with it.
“She persevered, and got the nomination and ultimately was confirmed, then the rest is history.”
Rangel said one thing that stands out about Tagle is that she “never forgot her roots.”
“She never forgot where she grew up,” Rangel said.
When asked what it means to hold the designation of the first, Tagle it’s not something one really has time to think about.
“When you are in a struggle, you just don’t have time to look around and say well I did this and I did that,” Tagle said. “It just takes too much energy. Especially being in politics, it’s like a train it’s going and you better hold on tight. So you don’t really have time to have any kind of perspective.”
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com
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