Judge Diaz is still in her first term as an elected district court judge, but she is already making her mark on creating new systems to address domestic violence. If you enjoyed the episode with Gary Slutkin, you will enjoy hearing about this innovative approach to domestic violence.
Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo Hour, you'll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique, and the best-kept secret in Texas. We're glad that you're here.
All right. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, today's guest is Judge Monique Diaz, the 150th Judicial District elected judge here in Bexar County, thanks judge for being here.
Monique Diaz: Hi Justin. Thank you for having me, that was quite the introduction.
Justin: Well, we put a lot of work into it. Judge Diaz and I go way back long before either of us were really more than just trying to find our way in the legal, and showing up at political fundraisers for one reason or another, and the lowest of the low people on the totem pole at that point. We met a long time ago and we've stayed in touch and now you're a judge, and I kind of know how to find the courthouse now so we've grown up a little bit.
Monique: We sure have. It's been quite a while and there's no need to really find the courthouse anymore because everything is on Zoom so-
Justin: This is true.
Monique: -you can find it at the comfort of your home, Justin.
Justin: Unfortunately, some of the smaller counties though don't really like the Zoom and there are some places that are requiring people to show up.
Monique: I have heard that that's the case and it's my understanding that under the Supreme Court has issued a series of orders that have helped guide our decisions, in whether we can have in-person hearings or not. It's my understanding that some counties can do that, if they have a plan that's been pre-approved and if their local county officials decide to proceed with that. Here in Bexar County, we're not quite ready for that yet.
Justin: Well, there was a federal court case in Sherman, Texas that got going and last I heard, they had traced it out to 40 people that had gotten sick from just that trial. They canceled it midway and then just, it went gangbusters.
Monique: I saw that Justin, and that's one of the reasons why we're being really careful here in Bexar County. We do have a plan that was approved by the Supreme Court already however, our local administrative judge and our local officials are not ready to proceed yet. They're really relying primarily on the Metro Health recommendations on when it's safe for us to all proceed.
Now, we have plexiglass up in our courtrooms and we're ready to go otherwise, but I think they're looking at things like-- They have some a matrix where they look at the positivity rate, the death rate, and the amount of hospital beds, so that's part of what we're looking to. I don't see us being ready by the tentative April-1st deadline that you may have heard about.
Justin: It's good that we have elected officials paying attention to science in their decision-making. We're going to get to the courthouse here in a second, I want to ask you some questions about that, but just some of the-- We go through general getting to know you, this is San Antonio podcast, San Antonio stuff.
Judge, what are you doing to decompress during all this, because honestly it, at first I think we were all like, “Oh, let's make a sourdough bread,” and now we're watching an insurrection? It's taken on a life of its own, I wish I had a better way to decompress, but instead I've just put on a few pounds but I'll lose them. What have you been doing to stay sane?
Monique: Well, I also put on the COVID-19 as I like to fondly call it.
Monique: I was one of those people that got in line to buy a bicycle and I've been trying to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, I ride my bike wherever I can. I actually sold my car because I [chuckles] [crosstalk] so little. Besides that, I've been working really hard but I've been enjoying podcasts like yours, trying to catch up on reading and puzzles. I'm a little obsessed with puzzles, they've been a good way to decompress.
Justin: Do you live close enough to the courthouse to ride?
Monique: Well, I don't like to comment on where I live Mr. Hill, but [chuckles] I do like to ride around the city wherever I can. My partner and I have a car, so when I need one or I need to get [crosstalk].
Justin: You have access to a car, okay.
Justine: I tell people I ride to the office and I do ride to the office, I just don't tell them how close it is because it's way less impressive when I tell them that.
Justin: I've gone bike-crazy. I bought an electric bike, it kind of got forced upon me, which is really awesome but I also did the Peloton thing and now I'm in that never-ending trap of, “It'll be delivered in two weeks” and then it keeps getting pushed so I don't have it yet.
Monique: Oh, man. Well.
Justin: We're in quarantine, we don't get to go out. You and I have both always been social people, we'd see each other out and about at whatever's going on in town. Have you gotten into any of the Netflix stuff or any of the shows, any of the streaming stuff?
Monique: I have binge-watched about everything you can binge-watch, I've maxed out on that and circled back around the shows that I watched in the past even, but I’ve really been trying to get away from the streaming and really trying to spend more time outdoors. I went fishing this past weekend,-
Monique: -popped my rainbow trout first time I went fly fishing. I'm really trying to stay away from that, and to try to keep a positive outlook-- A lot of those Netflix shows and the news nowadays can really add to the heaviness that we're experiencing [chuckles].
Justin: Yes, I agree.
Monique: There's not a lot of things to watch out there. I did watch The Mandalorian lately, I've binge-watched that, and that was a fun life-hugging show to watch on Disney+ that I highly recommend.
Justin: I've just never got into any of the Star Wars stuff, but somebody told me I'd still like The Mandalorianeven if I did not get into it.
Monique: I am in the same boat.
Justin: Part of my COVID-19 was that early on, “Support local, go to your favorite restaurants and do takeout, let's help them stay afloat.” I could float now because of it, but have you had any favorite places for takeout or, that you've trended into during COVID?
Monique: Unfortunately, so many folks in the industry have really been affected, a lot of my favorite places I've watched shut down, or have to scale back and that's been really hard to watch. I am still trying to support all of the local businesses, at least through delivery, contactless delivery, I'm really supporting that. In terms of specific restaurant, I have specific genres of food that I like. I really like Thai food, so anywhere that I can get some good Thai food delivered to me, I'm really enjoying that. I'm trying to eat a little bit healthier to take care of this COVID-19 issue though, as in my pounds. [laughs]
Justin: I live very close to Thai-D, so I eat there more than I probably should. You're born and raised in San Antonio, right?
Monique: Yes, born and raised here but part Puerto Rican and Dominican,
Justin: Well, you should be good at this question. I always ask people what their favorite hidden gems are in the city, sort of the off-the-beaten-path places. Nurenberg gave me Denman Estate Park or something I'd never heard of. I thought I knew San Antonio okay but I've been put back in my seat from some of them. What are some of your favorite places in town, maybe off the beaten path that you have somebody in town say,"Well, you really got to check this out"?
Monique: Oh man. I know it sounds really cliché, but the extension of the River Walk. People have not enjoyed going on the south end of the River Walk and going all the way to the missions. It is so different from what it looked like growing up which was unusable. That's really been something that I encourage people and I try to take folks to go enjoy. There's some really great gems on the Southside and the Westside, some good restaurants that I try to take people to. I still do take people to the St Mary's Strip and the Pearl and you have to have that experience to see how San Antonio has been developing.
I grew up more so on the Northside so I've been enjoying learning what else there is available. I'm experiencing the city almost as a newcomer as well because it's changed so drastically over the past decade or so, the decade of downtown has been really beautiful to watch. Enjoying watching that development has been wonderful, just taking people on things that used to be touristy, things to do that are now things I think locals can really appreciate just as much as tourists can.
Justin: Japanese Tea Garden was always one for me that I thought, “This is--,” And if I take people there, they're always still just blown away by it. It's just a unique, weird place tucked over by the zoo.
Monique: That's a very good one. I'm glad you mentioned that, some of my favorites.
Justin: What's your favorite Fiesta event?
Monique: Coronation. [chuckles]
Justin: I assumed you were going to say that.
Monique: I used to be able to participate. I was on stage and made a fool of myself quite a few times for a good cause before I took the bench but-
Justin: You can't do anymore?
Monique: As a judge, it's frowned upon. We're not allowed to solicit funds on behalf of other organizations. There's a perception that that could be considered that, that's why I don't participate anymore while I'm on the bench, but support it however I can otherwise.
Justin: I did see Kevin Wolff get on there and make a joke about getting a DUI, but I guess he wants listening funs, so that would be a little bit different.
Monique: Well, he's not a judge. I don't think he has that prohibition. That's specific to judges.
Justin: Okay. It's not elected officials, it's judged-specific.
Monique: It's judge-specific, yes. We can't lend our name to causes like that.
Justin: We're going to talk about a cause you're involved with, but that'll be an interesting question about whether you can be involved in that. You became an elected official, an elected judge in Bexar County in, I guess 2018 elections, sworn in, in 2019?
Monique: That's correct.
Justin: You're halfway into your four-year term?
Monique: I am, yes. I have to start running again this summer.
Justin: Okay. What made you decide you wanted to run for judge, district judge at that?
Monique: Well, when I decided to run was right around the time that former President Trump was elected. I, along with a lot of other folks I think just-- I felt a true sense of helplessness in terms of what was happening at the national level, the political discourse that we were all experiencing and the trickle-down effect that had on families, children here in our community. I personally looked around me and thought I wanted to do something about this more than what I was able to accomplish through my law practice and my community service.
For me, running for judge was an opportunity to show people in my community that you can be treated with dignity and respect no matter your race, or how much money is in your pocket, or who you love. I think that's really critical for-- Especially at the courthouse amongst our judiciary, for us to understand that that is what our elected officials should really exhibit and especially our judges. I saw it as an opportunity to show people that respect, and I love the law and I love community service.
You know that I've always been very giving with my time on the side and done a lot of things for free, much like you're doing with this show as a service to our community. I saw it as a chance to make a bigger impact for the folks here in San Antonio. It's where I was born and raised, so wanted to give back to the city that's given so much to me.
Justin: You were always involved in politics as long as I have known you, then you were a practicing lawyer and trended more into the practicing lawyer. There's lots of different places you can go in elected office as a lawyer. Is there a reason you chose a district court bench over maybe a county court, or a criminal bench, or any of the other options?
Monique: Yes. That's a good question. For me, that was where I had the most experience. I had a general law practice, so I did criminal law but I did more civil law than anything. Before I took the bench, I had a law firm that represented small cities, governmental entities, did a lot of practice in Civil District Courts. I did a lot of family law. That was my home, what I was most familiar with, but having had that experience on the criminal side has really been helpful on the civil bench, and also having had a general law practice. There's not much that comes across my bench that I haven't experienced or dealt with in some form or fashion as an attorney. It's been really helpful for me.
Justin: You decided to run for office, the one thing I always hear people complain about is you got to raise a bunch of money and that's an overwhelming piece of the campaign, but outside of raising money and shaking hands and giving your stump speech, anything surprising about the campaign or actually becoming the candidate that you didn't expect?
Monique: Sure. You're right. I worked on the side of my law practice doing some consulting and fundraising for other people. It really made it a lot easier for me to raise money for myself, to know what the basics were required to run a successful campaign. I wasn't quite ready to talk about myself in the way that you really have to be so self-promoting. I was used to promoting other people not necessarily myself. One of the things that when people ask me that are interested in running for judge, "What should I do to start off with?" One of the things that surprised me was I had to sit down and figure out, “What is my story? What am I about? What is my vision?”
Those really overarching questions were things that I had not thought through for myself or for other candidates before. That was a really interesting learning experience about myself. Reaching out to my family members and asking them what their opinion is of me and what they thought I was going to be when I grew up, and what experiences they feel molded me into who I am today. I learned a lot about myself.
Justin: I've been through quite a few election cycles here and you ran a very different judicial campaign. You pulled from your friends in the industry, you threw--I think it'd be fair to say some of your events were almost backyard parties catching up with old friends. It was a different way of running a campaign, especially for something that's always serious and austere like a judicial race. Was that just a product of who you are in your social circles, or did you make a conscious effort that you were going to run a different campaign to try to draw in more people?
Monique: I'd say it was both, Justin. I think for everyone that runs for any office, it's really important to tap into your circles, your friends, your family and make the most of what you have available. I did make a conscious effort to try to bring more people into the fold that may not otherwise think that who you elect for your judge matters. I wanted to bring in folks that don't usually get involved in judicial races to help them understand the importance of knowing who your judges are, voting for your judges. I'm confident that we had an impact on a different base of people that never voted for a judge in their life before, never knew why it mattered. Now, hopefully do and will continue to vote in judicial races going forward.
Justin: It was definitely a different crowd of people that were at your events. It just really was. It was the crowd I would see at Fiesta events or at social events, but you got people excited about a judicial race. It was fun to see, it was a different set of events and it was a different thing to enjoy when some of these events are-- You've been there. They're like-
Monique: You've got to take people who want to go.
Justin: No, I think that's right. There was one event on the near Eastside, right outside of the Pearl, it was in a backyard.
Monique: I did have an actual backyard paella panchanga, Paella took off where we had a King Pelican playing for the pachanga part of it. If we were not about 110 °, it would have been a little bit more enjoyable [laughs].
Justin: I was going to say I went with Tim Maloney and I just remember watching his suit gets wetter and wetter as the day went on. We didn't stay super long, but it was a great event. Somewhere along that time you've been on the court, Judge Sakai put in head of, or spearheaded the effort to create, and it's a mouthful. The commission on collaborative strategies to prevent and combat and respond to domestic violence. I butchered that, but he became the spearheading main guy on it. He asked you to be a co-chair as best I could tell with Judge [unintelligible 00:18:07]
Monique: Almost correct. We like to refer to it as just the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence shorthand, because that is a mouthful. My co-chair on behalf of the City of San Antonio because this was created as a joint city-county collaboration for the first time ever. We had leaders in our community in the area of domestic violence spearheaded by the city and the county. I was the representative and the coach here on behalf of the county.
On behalf of the city, my co-chair was Dr. Colleen Bridger, who you may recall has been our Metro Health Director.