Career's evolution takes judge
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 14, 2005 12:00 AM
Susan Mercer Hinrichs
Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell received an unexpected birthday present just
before the holidays.
On Dec. 7, the day she turned 49, Mundell received word from Arizona Chief
Justice Charles E. Jones that she was being named presiding judge of the
Maricopa County Superior Court system.
Mundell said her thoughts turned to words like fantastic, but added she had not
expected such an honor in her "wildest dreams."
Mundell will be both the first
woman and first Hispanic presiding judge in Maricopa County. She moved into a
temporary office in early January and is spending the first half of this year
working closely with her outgoing predecessor, Judge Colin Campbell. Her
five-year appointment becomes effective July 1, the start of county fiscal year
Mundell said many court programs function well. However, like the law, which is
continually analyzed and modified, the court system also needs to be refined and
"It's resources," Mundell said when asked about pressing court issues. "The fact
the (Maricopa County) population is outstripping resources."
The county has been one of the nation's fastest-growing counties for a decade.
The burgeoning population brings with it increased crime, which adds to the
As presiding judge, Mundell will be responsible for daily court operations. It's
a system with a budget of $192 million, scores of judges and more than 2,000
staff members, including probation officers.
She said that with staff assistance, she'll be able realize some of her goals,
such as overseeing the building of six satellite court offices that can
accommodate both judges and justices of the peace.
Another goal is to continue streamlining the case-filing process to ease
caseloads. Maricopa County is regarded as a standard bearer for its
technological advances, Mundell said. However, as computerized improvements
increase, the opportunities for improving the filing processes expand, too.
Mundell said she also hopes to reorganize case-management systems in family-law
filings to speed resolutions in Family Court.
In addition to her administrative duties, Mundell said she will continue to
preside over two court calendars in which she has great interest: the jury
scofflaw court and the Spanish-language DUI court.
Jury scofflaw court is where those who try to avoid jury duty have to come
before a judge. Shaking her head in disbelief, Mundell said that only 10 to 30
percent of the people called for jury duty actually show up.
Mundell said her Hispanic heritage is why she continues to preside over the
Spanish-language DUI court.
"I believe it's fulfilling to litigants when there's a judge who is one of them"
and can speak their language, Mundell said.
Growing up in south Phoenix, the daughter of field workers, Mundell speaks
fluent Spanish and said she learned firsthand about prejudice against
minorities. Her upbringing led to her legal studies; Mundell said she viewed the
law then as "the great equalizer," whose practitioners have the ability to right
"It (the law) doesn't look at race or gender; it's blind to that," Mundell said.
The person she credits most for her drive to achieve and improve the lives of
others is her father, Frank Rodriguez, 74.
She received her juris doctorate in 1981, and then worked as an associate
counsel for Swenson's Ice Cream Corp. for two years. But Mundell found corporate
law isolating. So she moved to private practice, providing representation in
workers' compensation cases.
In 1986 she became an
administrative law judge with the Arizona Industrial Commission. After working
there from 1986 to '89, Mundell joined the Maricopa County Superior Court
system, working as a commissioner from 1989 to 1991. She became a judge in 1991,
initially presiding over civil cases.
Over the years, her work has prevented her from playing as much tennis or
racquetball as she would like. Likewise, jogging and treadmill trekking fall by
Relaxation comes in the form of family time. Mundell is married to Arizona
Corporation Commissioner Bill Mundell. They have two daughters, one attending
University of Arizona and a youngster in elementary school.
The evolution of her career has been somewhat surprising, Mundell said. "I never
consciously set out to become a judge."