by Leticia Romero
When the Hon. Marina Garcia Marmolejo (M.A./J.D. ’96) described her first time in a federal courtroom, it was to tell the story of taking her Oath of Allegiance to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Born in Mexico, Garcia Marmolejo, now a Laredo-based federal district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, was in her second year of the St. Mary’s University School of Law J.D. program when her paperwork finally came through.
Although the path to citizenship can take years, reaching the end of her journey was one of the happiest moments of her life, she said. Now a Jurist in Residence at the School of Law, Garcia Marmolejo helps students of her alma mater find opportunities, especially through judicial clerkships.
Nominated by former President Barack Obama, Garcia Marmolejo was judicially appointed by the U.S. Senate and received her commission on Oct. 4, 2011.
In a stroke of serendipity, Garcia Marmolejo also presides over the swearing-in of new U.S. citizens.
“One of the things that I get to do now as a federal district judge is to preside over those same ceremonies,” Garcia Marmolejo said. “Things have come full circle.”
Helping aspiring lawyers
In 2022, Garcia Marmolejo approached St. Mary’s Law Dean Patricia Roberts, J.D., about growing the clerkship program from her court. A clerkship is a postgraduate employment term during which a lawyer, usually a recent law graduate, works for a judge for a defined period, typically one to two years.
She stressed the importance of the program and how it benefits law students, especially first-generation students, with employment and experience after graduation.
“I didn’t have any lawyers or judges or anybody in my own family who said, ‘Why don’t you apply for the federal vacancy?’” Garcia Marmolejo said. “Don’t wait for someone to invite you to submit an application or to run for office because that invitation may never come.”
Former clerk Eduardo Mendoza (J.D. ’18) became a federal prosecutor in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and said his writing and oral skills improved drastically after his clerkship with Garcia Marmolejo.
The Hon. Marina Garcia Marmolejo (M.A./J.D. ’96)
“I didn’t have any lawyers or judges or anybody in my own family who said, ‘Why don’t you apply for the federal vacancy?’”
“My year as a law clerk in the judge’s chambers really prepared me for that experience,” Mendoza said.
Assistant Dean of Career Services Robin Thorner, J.D., assists Garcia Marmalejo’s efforts, which also compliment work done by South Texas Distinguished Professor of Law Vincent R. Johnson, J.D., LL.M, LL.D., and other faculty, in finding clerkship opportunities for law students. Thorner said that with a federal judge backing the program, students will likely get a boost in clerkship opportunities.
“Judge Garcia Marmolejo is putting her reputation on the line because she is affirmatively reaching out and recommending our students, which is a tremendous asset,” Thorner said.
One law student already benefiting from Garcia Marmolejo’s experience is Brianna Chapa. A third-year J.D. student, Chapa organized the Lawtina Network Summit, a national event, at St. Mary’s Law over the summer for Latina law students, lawyers and prospective students, at which Garcia Marmolejo was a speaker. Chapa, who has secured a clerkship with the Hon. Cristina D. Silva, J.D., in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, said she is grateful for the confidence she had after receiving application support and interview guidance from Garcia Marmolejo.
“The clerkship program is changing lives and putting the St. Mary’s School of Law on the map,” Chapa said.