Q: What is your full title?
A: Presiding United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Illinois.
Q: Which division of the federal courts do you serve?
A: Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.
Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: Review docket for the cases on my morning call. Draft and review draft opinions and orders. Work through lunch to prepare for the afternoon settlement conference. Conduct settlement conference. Review motions for the next day’s motion call. Yell at my law clerks to keep them on their toes– then work out if I have time at the end of the day. Unlike what is commonly thought, federal judges work very hard and have long hours.
Q: What made you want to serve as a member of the judiciary?
A: I had the pleasure of working with a federal judge in Los Angeles after law school and was impressed by the importance of the judiciary. Being able to work for the Court and to provide due process for litigating parties, defendants and the government is one of the highest forms of public service.
Q: Prior to your appointment, what area of law did you primarily practice in?
A: I started out my legal career as a federal public defender in Los Angeles. After moving to Chicago, I concentrated my practice in federal civil rights litigation while working in both private practice and for a non-profit organization.
Q: What advice do you have for YLS members appearing in court?
A: Never risk your integrity for any client. Admit fault when you (or someone associated with you) have committed fault and move on! Once a judge thinks you lack candor, it is very hard to overcome that stain. All you have at the end of the day is your integrity.
Q: For YLS members who may be interested in serving as members of the Northern District of Illinois, do you have any advice for them?
A: We expect attorneys to be prepared. When I know more about the case then the counsel of record, that is not a good sign. Know the rules of practice and procedure. And don’t ever use slang or an informal tone in court. We still enjoy a good level of formality in court. Dress in a way that impresses your mother but not like you are going out to a club.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would have given yourself when you were just getting started in practice?
A: Don’t be afraid to change your legal practice if it does not suit your life. There is such as a thing as work-life balance and you should strive for it. And always be courteous to opposing counsel . . . not only because it is the professional thing to do but you never know if you will be applying for a judgeship one day and your treatment of opposing counsel will be called into question!
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: The law is still an incredible career that has the power to affect great change in society and for individual redress. Remember that you are both attorney and counselor for your client’s interest. Counsel your clients in what is their best interest — which may not always be to litigate.
About the Judge:
Maria Valdez is the Presiding Magistrate Judge for the Northern District ofIllinois. Prior to becoming a federal magistrate judge she was the ChicagoRegional Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) concentrating her trial and appellate practice in the areas of constitutional law and the federal Voting Rights Act. She began her legal career in 1988 as a federal public defender in Los Angeles, California representing indigent criminal defendants. Judge Valdez also worked as a senior associate at the law firm of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym in Chicago where she specialized in federal civil rights litigation. Judge Valdez has participated on countless panels discussing federal civil procedure and practice.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Judge Valdez was appointed to the federal magistrate judge bench in May of 2005.