Having worked with Judge Mariana Vielma when she was the attorney for the Adams County Child Support Services, I was honored with the opportunity to interview her and to congratulate her on her nomination for the CWBA 2022 Judicial Excellence Award.
Photograph by Brooks Canaday. Courtesy of The University of St. Thomas School of Law.
Congratulations!! How does it feel to be nominated for the CWBA 2022 Judicial Excellence Award?
I was so surprised! Knowing the caliber of women judicial officers in this category, I was excited and humbled. It is such an honor to receive this nomination from an organization with high standards and a mission to lift women. Women are changing the face of the legal profession and the Judiciary. To receive this award the same night as Judge Anderson is extra special as she has lifted up and supported me and so many others along the way.
The nomination outlines your genuine demeanor, care and concern for others, and respect for all members of society. Why are all of those things important to you?
I am a people person. As members of a community, we are all here in it together. It is important to recognize independence as well as interdependence. We are all generally quick to help others but not always good to let others help us. I truly care about all people in our courtroom, and view it is a space that belongs to everyone. It is important for each person in it to be heard and treated fairly. I believe to effectively serve my community I must know the people in my community. Meeting them, understanding their stories and struggles, and welcoming them to their courtroom fulfills me. I genuinely care about the attorneys, staff, and other professionals in our courtroom, and I want to see and help them succeed. It is important to meet people where they are and let them know they matter and that their lives have value! As members of a community, we must be a part of letting the light of others shine!
What did you find most fulfilling about your work?
At work, I am most happy in the courtroom meeting and hearing from people; creating an environment where participants feel safe and welcome; treating everyone with dignity and respect. Spanish speakers are grateful and more comfortable when they recognize I hear them in Spanish and can also speak to them in Spanish. There is comfort knowing you’re heard in Spanish.
Photograph by Brooks Canaday. Courtesy of The University of St. Thomas School of Law.
I get the most joy when people in the community have a positive court experience. For example, I recently had a juror who, at the beginning of jury selection, said he didn’t believe in the court system or that it was fair. There was an extensive rehabilitation during voir dire and he was ultimately selected as a juror. After the trial, I meet with the jurors and this juror spoke afterwards and stated, “I’m so glad I was selected as a juror. I have now had a positive experience in the system. You are doing it the right way!” They had a positive experience with the Court and that is one of my goals.
It is important to me to “do it the way I think it should be done to do what justice requires.” In another case, I had a defendant that was hard of hearing. We had tried the hearing devices, I spoke louder, and none of it was working. I thought to myself, “This is ridiculous.” So, I left the bench and went down to the podium. I stood next to the person and spoke where he could hear me. This person had a positive experience with the Court. “Justice needed it to be done this way.”
What do you find most challenging about your work?
I find it challenging when things are harder than they have to be. I am very mission-driven and always ask, “What does justice require of me in this particular situation?” So it’s frustrating when things are harder than need be. For example, when we overthink processes and procedures or want to default to “the way things have always been done.” I am always up for trying new ways to be more efficient and effective in carrying out our judicial mission of administering fair and impartial justice for everyone involved. Also, I’d much rather focus on solutions than taking more time than necessary talking about the problem.
Judge Vielma is involved in a wide variety of community activities.
Judge Vielma has been an active member of the 17th Judicial District Access to Justice Committee since 2007. She is a member of the Adams/Broomfield Bar Association and has co-organized the 2020 virtual holiday party for judicial district staff. She served as a board member for the CWBA and CHBA and continues to serve on the CWBA DEI committee. She served on the CWBA’s nominating committee for two years and maintains an active membership with the CBA. She participates in the Joint Steering Committee on DEI and is a mentor in the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program. She frequently participates in webinars/panel discussions organized by the CBA, CHBA, the CWBA, and the Office of Judicial Diversity.
Can you tell me a bit about your committee work and what it has meant to you?
I didn’t know what type of lawyer I wanted to be but knew the type of lawyer I didn’t want to be: one who just complained about inequities in the legal system but never did anything to solve those inequities. I became involved with the CWBA to work with others to advance our mission to support women in the legal and greater community. I’ve never been a lawyer who just goes to work and goes home. It’s a blessing and a curse, but I just can’t. Knowing how much I’ve been blessed and that I stand on the sacrifices of so many others before me, I have to do my part to continue their legacy, lift others up, and be connected with the community. I, along with others, are woven into the fabric of the whole and are directly and indirectly connected. I want to contribute to make it better, whether it is the legal community, my local community, or family community.
Having lived in Mexico, I have since said there is no other country in which my story would be possible. So, I’ve tried to engage in working on issues that align with my values, such as developing lawyers as leaders through COBALT and doing the DEI work to advance equitable opportunities for inclusion. There is strength and value in diversity, the background each person brings to the table. I believe people should have basic needs met, not just their legal needs. As members of the legal profession, we can go beyond our legal calling and help people get access to resources that meet other needs as well. When people’s basic needs are met, they are better equipped to deal with their legal issues. Being involved in CWBA and other community activities creates an avenue to lift others up and meet the needs of people in our communities.
Who has been the greatest inspiration in your legal career?
My mom has been my greatest inspiration in all aspects of my life. My precious mamacita had demonstrated, through living her values in action, unconditional love. She finds value in every single person whose path crosses with her, she opens her heart to each, and puts great love in whatever she does. I simply want to be a better person each day by following her example. “I want to love more and love better. I want to be a better person who lives love!”
It is difficult to pick one person as the greatest inspiration in my legal career. I have been fortunate to have so many people who have a lifted me along the way and given me opportunities to shine. In Colorado, we have such a great legal community with leaders who inspire values and, acknowledging the value of my diverse path to becoming a lawyer, gave me opportunities to learn and grow far beyond what I imagined for myself. I want to continue to do that for others.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Family is important, and my greatest pride and joy is being an auntie to all my nieces and nephews. My family motivates me. I want to show them through my actions that they can make their wildest dreams a reality. They can do and be anything. They are not entitled; they have to earn it, make sacrifices, and lift others along the way. I want to be that model for them.
Judge Vielma is a true model of determination and perseverance. She was born in Denver. She was raised in Northern Denver and the Mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico. She attended high school through her sophomore year and moved to Mexico that summer. When she moved back to Colorado, she obtained her GED at Aims Community College. She earned her paralegal associate degree from Eastern Idaho Technical College while attending the University of Texas at El Paso for seven years, attending nights and weekends. She graduated from the University of St Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.
What do you like to do outside the law?
I enjoy visiting with family and friends, listening to music, reading, and cooking. In the summer my back yard is my sanctuary. I love to be outside tending to my flowers while listening to a book or music, or simply resting while listening to the birds and peaceful waterfall while counting my blessings!
How do you balance personal and professional life?
It is hard and a constant struggle as my family and friends claim I am a workaholic. I tell then I am not as I don’t need to be working so much, but that I have made a commitment to the community and won’t do it half-way, just like I can’t love half-way. I know I can’t do for others if I don’t take care of myself, so I have learned I need to sleep enough and sleep well to listen well and to make good decisions. I carve out specific days for relaxation and blocking one weekend a month just for me and my renewal. I love music and enjoy a good, random three-minute dance party! I am involved in two book clubs and try to read at least two books a month. I am still learning my job and know that it will get easier with time and will allow for more balance.
What might readers be surprised to learn about you that I haven’t asked about?
I once worked at the monster truck show to raise money for school. I had always wanted to learn to play the piano and, after completing one full book of lessons, I sold my piano to pay for my move from Idaho to Texas so I could go to college. It’s not a surprise to many that I love extra-hot, spicy food and always have at least three kinds of salsa or chile in my kitchen at home and the office.
Kennetha Julien is the Court Administrator for the Englewood Municipal Court. She is a Florida-licensed attorney and certified mediator who graduated from Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. Kennetha is also member of the Publications Committee.