EDINBURG, Texas – Chief Justice of the 13th Court of Appeals Dori Contreras is only the second latina in the state to serve as a chief justice. Born and raised in Pharr, the PSJA alum is the youngest of four children becoming the first in her family to go to college.
“I didn’t really have any role models. Didn’t have too many in my extended family that had gone to college. At that point, my parents, my dad would say I don’t care what you do, what you study, just go – so you just go.”
Contreras would go on to the University of Texas where she would earn a degree in Accounting. During college she became a single mother. “She was 18 months old when I graduated from college. We had our struggles but again I felt that built some character.”
Working as an accountant in Houston and stuck in traffic she pondered her career. Wanting a more passionate and fulfilling career. “It wasn’t something that I felt great satisfaction out of. So I looked into going to law school.”
Now a mother of two, Contreras couldn’t afford to quit her job so she enrolled part time at the University of Houston Law Center. She attended night classes earning her degree in 1990. She moved back to the Valley two years later working the courts of Hidalgo County for several years. On the advice from a friend and now colleague she decided to run for a county court at law seat.
“Even though I did very well in the primary, I came out on top, I didn’t get 50 percent. I had to go into a run off and I ended up losing in the runoff.”
That loss would prove to be a learning experience. It earned her support and a little name recognition. It would propel her to a 2002 victory in a 20 countywide race giving her a seat on the court she now leads.
“I was able to win you know in 2002. When I first ran for the court, I ran in the primary and then in the general. The beautiful thing is that as a result i now grade the papers of the judge that beat me in 1996. So I redeemed myself.”
After serving 16 years in the 13th Court of Appeals she decided she wanted more. She decided to run for Chief Justice. Contreras says many in the county didn’t want to see a woman chief justice and overcame the good ol’ boy network.
“There was some of that unfortunately that is still very much alive and well, but I won.
Contreras would have the last laugh. After having no role models to follow she is now one herself. Her message to young latinas, step out of your comfort zone and seek public office. Adding women bring a unique perspective to deliberations of all types.
“I’m just like you. There is nothing special about me. I work hard but I think that if this is something you want to do you can do it.”
Contreras also say girls should always make themselves a priority and know their self-worth. She also adds don’t let insecurities get in your way and be sure to take advantage of all the resources now available.