Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Maritza Segarra, who is the first woman to serve in the district, is retiring Jan. 1.
Segarra is also the first Latina to be on a district court bench in the state.
“So, I have a couple of firsts going there,” she said.
These accomplishments, however, make her a little sad because she doesn’t currently know of any Hispanic women who have applied for the position.
“In that sense, for me personally, it’s kind of sad but I’m hopeful this has served as an example to maybe other young women, or other young attorneys in the area that are of Hispanic descent to think about applying for the bench,” Segarra said. “Maybe not here but somewhere in the state of Kansas because there’s not a lot of us.”
Segarra, along with a magistrate judge in Council Grove, are the only women who have ever served in the Eighth Judicial District, which is composed of Geary, Dickinson, Marion and Morris counties. Segarra was sworn in on Sept. 2, 2004. She served as a magistrate judge before becoming a district judge in 2007. She had transferred from a university in Puerto Rico to Kansas State University in a pre-veterinarian program, as she initially wanted to be a veterinarian.
“And that didn’t pan out,” she said.
The legal arena was the only other interest she had. Segarra switched to studying pre-law in her second year at Kansas State. From there, she studied at Washburn University, and made her way to Geary County.
“I wanted to come back to this area,” she said.
Segarra didn’t want to go back to Puerto Rico to practice law as things work differently there. Had she gone back, she would’ve needed to go back to school there in order to prepare for the bar exam.
Segarra has served on numerous committees and boards, such as the Kansas Judicial Council and the National Association of Women Judges.
Having previously worked in a public defender’s office, she had never worked a child-in-need-of-care case. When she became a magistrate judge, abuse and neglect dockets were among the duties she picked up. Segarra asked her chief if she could continue on in these cases when she became a district court judge, which he allowed.
“It is hard to do them — I do them every Wednesday. But they have also been really fulfilling to do,” she said.
The fulfillment comes when families get back on the right track, and when a child is removed from bad situations. These types of cases take up more than 50 percent of her court time. Temporary custody hearings or initial hearings have to be done statutorily, usually within 72 hours from the time a child is removed.
“It can be so hard to do them, and it’s frustrating because there’s not enough resources for these kids,” she said. “So you’re trying to figure out, ‘OK, what can we do?’”
Before the district ceased the truancy court last year due to a lack of funds, she said it was great to see children realize that they could succeed.
“They just needed help,” she said. “Some kids didn’t, but the vast majority that came through truancy court did.”
Some of those children met Segarra years later in passing, and told her their success stories.
“One young woman who went into nursing school told me, ‘I never thought I would graduate from high school, and look at where I am now,’” Segarra said. “How could you not be proud of them?”
She left the public defender’s office after 16 years and could have retired last year. However, Segarra decided to stay one more year.
“I can retire now and I can be one of those people who are blessed enough to enjoy that retirement,” she said.
In retirement, she has no major plans to take a long vacation somewhere. Segarra just wants to spend time at home with her family, and continue taking care of her animals. There is one thing, however, she does want to do after retiring. Segarra has not been to the movies in at least 10 years. The first thing she plans to do is go to a matinee during the middle of a weekday.
For those looking to pursue a career in law, she said the product they put out and the reputation they earn will serve as the reputation that will follow them forever.
“If you get a bad reputation and you don’t fix that, no matter how good you get later on, people are going to remember that,” Segarra said.
She encourages them to work hard, and avoid the line of thinking that just because they finish law school, there’s nothing left to learn. Segarra said they have everything left to learn. She also encourages them to continue caring about what they’re doing because those in a court room touch the lives of many people.
“As a judge, you have this immense control over the people who come in front of you — their children, their livelihoods, whether they’re going to prison, whether they’re not going to prison. All of those things, we control. So, you have to care,” Segarra said. “And you have to always, always, always strive to do good by your job. And remember, this is not TV. This is real life.”
All of Segarra’s court service has been performed in Geary County. Segarra hopes the work she has done, though it may not always have been completely perfect, has been good.
“It has been the honor of my career to be a judge in the Eighth Judicial District,” she said. “And to have been able to serve the community here, and that they continued to put faith in me, and retain me every time I came up for retention. That has been such a huge honor for me.”