In the 134-year history of Colorado, no Latina had ever served on the Colorado Supreme Court or the Colorado Court of Appeals. But within an eight-day period in September, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter changed all that when he made state judicial history with the appointments of Monica Marquez and Maria Teresa “Terry” Fox to fill vacancies on each court. Marquez will replace retiring state Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey while Fox will succeed Judge Sean Connelly who is leaving to resume practicing law in Washington, D.C.
Marquez currently works as Deputy Colorado Attorney General and heads up the department responsible for state services. Fox works in the Civil Division of U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado. She once worked in the Tort Litigation and the Public Officials’ sections of the State Attorney General’s Office under Ken Salazar.
“I am both humbled and deeply honored to be appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court,” Marquez said in a prepared statement. “I promise to bring an exceptional work ethic, a collaborative spirit, an open mind, and a reverence for the rule of law.”
Marquez, 41, graduated valedictorian from Grand Junction High School and earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford. She went to Yale law school where she also served as editor of the Yale Law Journal. Her father, Jose, served on the Colorado Court of Appeals. When she takes up the gavel, she will also be the first openly gay justice to sit on Colorado’s high court.
Fox took a slightly different and slightly circuitous route to the bench. “I never thought I’d be a lawyer,” she said. Growing up the oldest of three daughters of a single, migrant farm worker mom, Fox and her sisters simply followed their mother as she followed the crops. “We would move every six months,” she recalled. Their nomad life took them on a constant loop from Texas to New Mexico to Colorado and back again. “I didn’t have a hometown.”
But in the mid-eighties, in Brighton where the family ‘summered,’ Fox announced that it would be her last harvest. “I told my mother ‘I won’t be moving anymore’.” The decision was based on a desire to plant roots and see where school, where she had always done well despite the itinerant lifestyle, could take her. “I really enjoyed the positive reinforcement from my teachers.” But the stability she finally found in Brighton didn’t impact how hard she worked. Now, settled for the first time, it was just a different kind of work. As her mother continued picking crops Fox was excelling in school while making sure her two younger sisters were taken care of. “I fed them and made sure they did their homework.”
Knowing life would no longer be dictated by things like bumper crops or fruit or vegetable parasites or drought, Fox parlayed her outstanding grades into a scholarship and undergraduate degree at the rigorous and demanding Colorado School of Mines. Her next visit to Texas would not be to work a crop from sunrise to sunset but to use her chemical engineering degree working for a major energy company. Her job was to ensure the company complied with state and federal environmental regulations.
As she was climbing the ladder at Vista Chemical, formerly a subsidiary of Conoco, and learning the regulatory structure of the energy world, she became fascinated with law and decided it would be her next challenge. As she juggled work and travel for Vista, she took courses at night eventually earning a degree from Houston’s South Texas School of Law. That degree took her to the Texas Supreme Court where she did legal research. “I would give judges information they needed,” she said. The quality of her work also earned her the right to draft a few legal opinions for the court. “It was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity,” she said.
After a year at Texas’ highest court, she returned to Colorado and a job at Denver’s Holland & Hart where she focused on natural resources litigation. “I wanted to combine my engineering degree with law,” Fox said. “Seventy-five to 90 percent of my work was environmental litigation matters,” she said, including cases involving land contamination, underground storage tanks, and federal superfund issues.
After five years of private practice, Fox shifted her focus and in 1999 decided, “I wanted more experience within the court room.” Within the state attorney general’s office she quickly got her wish. In her second month on the job, “I was arguing a case in front of the State Court of Appeals,” she said and carving out a whole new and successful niche. For the next five years she would hone her skills defending state workers and agencies, including the Colorado Judicial Department, while becoming one of the attorney general’s top lawyers.
Again, at the five-year mark she left that job to work for the U.S. Attorney. One of her biggest cases was defending the government in a law suit filed by insurance companies and homeowners over the Hayman fire, the state’s largest and most destructive fire, at the time. Fox defended the government because, Terry Barton, the woman convicted of starting the fire was employed by the U.S. Forest Service. But Fox and her colleague argued that Barton was not working for the government at the moment when she burned a letter igniting the blaze that would incinerate more than 138-thousand acres of forest along with 133 homes. “We weren’t willing to write a $17 million check,” she said. Fox and her colleague won the case.
Fox will assume her new duties in early January. The journey has been fascinating. “I tell the students that I mentor that I was supposed to be a statistic – the odds were not in my favor,” she says as she recalls a childhood of endless travel and chasing crops from state to state never knowing if a tiny beetle or grasshopper would arrive first and steal away their paycheck.
She now has her own family, an attorney husband and two young boys. But the family that once hit the highways in search of the next harvest remains a big part of her life. One of her sisters has carved out a successful career in business banking. The other works in nursing. Her mother, whose education ended at third-grade, is happy for her but, said Fox, has no idea that the little girl who once toiled at her side in unimaginable and unbearable conditions now stands out in her own field and will soon be wearing judicial robes. “I don’t think she understands,” said Fox in a thoughtful and tender way. “She thinks I’m like my cousin who worked as secretary to a lawyer.”
The historic appointments of two Latina women are to be admired, said Damian Arguello, president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association. “Only the strongest candidates come through (the vetting process),” he said. “The judicial commission doesn’t pay attention to diversity,” he said. “It only looks at qualifications.”