Phyllis Martinez Gonzalez: Your community is your family
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Phyllis Martinez Gonzalez presided over the Title IV-D Court located in El Paso, Texas for the past seven years. She recently ran for the 383rd Judicial District, a family district court position. Her desire to serve others led her down an unintentional path into politics. While Phyllis never intended to run for office, she is passionate about serving others, saying “[y]our community ends up being your family in some way.”
Phyllis was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She belonged to a close-knit, traditional Hispanic family. As the eldest daughter of five children, Phyllis was expected by society to take on a maternal role for her younger siblings. But Phyllis took a different path in life. She sought a full-time education and a career, though she never realized that her path would lead towards politics. The only thing Phyllis knew was that she wanted a community-oriented role. Her family had always impressed the importance of giving back to your community. This led Phyllis to pursue a career in law, giving her an opportunity to advocate for others.
Phyllis partially credits her pursuit of law to her Grandma Mary. Phyllis’s grandma immigrated to Texas from Monterrey, Mexico. Grandma Mary only had a high school diploma but achieved great feats, such as being the first Hispanic woman on the Univision Houston Board of Directors. Grandma Mary was a strong woman that pushed her children and grandchildren to receive a formal education. Even though she herself had only graduate from high school, Grandma Mary was not defined by her education. Everyone respected and revered Grandma Mary as a source of advice and inspiration. Phyllis would take her grandmother’s advice to heart and pursue a law degree from Texas Tech Law School, becoming the first lawyer in her family.
As a lawyer, Phyllis’s career started to progress with more experience and capacity for responsibility. Then, in 2013, a Title IV-D court position opened in El Paso. This position was filled by an application for appointment rather than an election. She contemplated whether she was qualified for the role. “All of your insecurities start to come up about your qualifications,” Phyllis said. Ultimately, Phyllis decided to apply because she thought about her Grandma Mary who would have told her to “do it.” Phyllis applied and, after a lengthy interview process, was selected for the role. She was sworn on to the bench in front of her family that travelled all the way from Houston to see her.
Phyllis spent the greater portion of the last decade presiding over a Title IV-D court in El Paso. Title IV-D courts are designated courts set up by the Texas Attorney General that handle Part D of the Federal Social Security Act. In laymen’s terms, Title IV-D courts assist in the management of child support enforcement. Litigants that Phyllis presided over tended to be “pro se” individuals—meaning they represent themselves in court without a lawyer either by choice or because they cannot afford counsel. She handled a countywide docket that primarily served families.
In this role, Phyllis was able to create the Enhanced Service Docket, a comprehensive program that allowed litigants in her court to receive external assistance or education directly from community organizations or agencies as part of their case. Generally, courts are quick to provide a list of resources available to litigants. However, placing these services in front of the litigants has proven to be more powerful. Her goal was to help folks in her court like children or domestic violence victims to receive additional support. Navigating a system alone can be difficult but Phyllis wanted to provide these resources in an effort to make an impact beyond a court proceeding. She helps connect perpetrators of violence with counseling, facilitate communication between parents, and help non-custodial parents acquire employment, just to name a few services. Her desire to expand her impact led her to run for the 383rd District Court, seated in El Paso.
The 383rd District Court is a family district court (i.e. only family cases are heard before the judge) that serves El Paso County. Phyllis ran for this role so she could continue expand her impact. Phyllis did not win her race but, little did she know that this campaign would completely and forever change her life. Now, as a first-time candidate, Phyllis was exposed to new obstacles she had not faced during her appointment process. As a Title IV-D judge, Phyllis never had to worry about running for a partisan judgeship—her appointment was non-partisan. Phyllis was now required to announce a party affiliation. She filed as a Republican because of her personal political views but Phyllis made it a point that, as a judge, she would remain impartial regardless of her affiliation. When she puts on a robe, Phyllis is not a Democrat or Republican—she is a jurist.
Phyllis does not shy away from the reality that a campaign can be challenging at times. Not only did Phyllis run a full docket as a judge but she also prioritized her role as a candidate, wife, and mother. Because of the COVID pandemic, Phyllis is presiding over hearings in the same space that her husband is working from and her daughters are home schooling in. And, even though her family is at home with her during the day, Phyllis has still faced challenges dedicating time to her daughters and husband. She has to remind herself that she may be neglecting other personal priorities like family time. “It’s not easy,” she says.
Phyllis says that open communication with her family, her volunteers, and her wonderful campaign manager Christina has been key to juggling her priorities. She recommends keeping an open line of communication with folks when running for office. Additionally, Phyllis encourages anyone and everyone to run for office. She has opened herself to potential candidates, offering herself as a resource to potential candidates if they have any questions.
To learn more about Phyllis, please visit www.martinezgonzalez383.com.