Surrounded by all the images of the men who have sat on the bench before her, Elizabeth “Betsy” Ufkes Olivera today became the first woman Colusa County Superior Court judge.
Retiring Judge John H. Tiernan administered the oath of office as Olivera, 56, swore to uphold the laws of the state and the nation – her husband and two children standing by her side.
“It is a little overwhelming to see you all here,” said Olivera, gazing across the packed courtroom from the bench of the historic courthouse where nine previous judges – all men – had reigned before her.
“There are a lot of you here who have made a lot of effort this last year ... and I am humbled by the responsibilities I’m about to take.”
Judge Jeffrey Thompson, who presided over the proceedings and became the county’s presiding judge with Tiernan’s retirement, marked the passing of the gavel with both sadness and delight.
“While I am sad to see Judge Tiernan leave, to say that I am delighted with the governor’s selection is an understatement. I know that Elizabeth Ufkes Olivera is going to be a wonderful judge and colleague. Her intelligence, compassion, experience and temperament will serve the people of Colusa County very well,” Thompson said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of Olivera on Thursday.
“It’s about time,” declared Colusa County Supervisor Kim Dolbow Vann, referring to the appointment of the first woman judge, but also emphasizing just how qualified her friend is to sit on the bench.
“Not only is she going to be a valuable asset to Colusa County, but she will be a valuable asset to the judicial system statewide,” Vann said.
Vann noted that Olivera has an extensive agricultural background – the backbone industry of the county – but is also a mother, wife and working woman.
“She knows how to do it all,” Vann said.
Being able to handle a diversified load will be critical.
“In a small county you have to deal with every element of law, and that is a challenge for anyone,”
Thompson said in his chambers after the ceremony.
There are several levels of both criminal and civil cases Olivera will eventually preside over, something judges in larger counties may not have to worry about – especially from the start.
Thompson said Olivera will handle juvenile matters, with which she has plenty of background, misdemeanor cases, some felonies and civil cases of $25,000 or less.
While her first official day is Thursday, the first open calendar is Jan. 3.
Olivera said she applied for the judgeship shortly after Tiernan announced his retirement in March. She is a Democrat.
She learned of her appointment two days before the public announcement.
Olivera was admitted to the California bar in 1985. She is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. In her final semester in law school, she served as an extern for the late-California Supreme Court Justice Otto Kaus.
She holds a master’s degree in agronomy from Cornell University, and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego.
Olivera has been practicing law in Colusa County since 1991, most recently as a partner with Kelleher & Olivera since 1993.
She served 10 years as a contract attorney with Colusa County Department of Child Support Services, and has five years experience as an assistant public defender.
Her private practice has “focused primarily on agricultural law, estate planning, trust and estate administration,” a biography provided by Olivera states.
Olivera is a member of the Colusa County Farm Bureau board of directors, is a director with Farm Credit
Services of Colusa-Glenn, and is involved with or has been involved with ACA, Soroptimist International of Colusa County, and has volunteered at Birchfield Primary and Egling Middle schools.
She and her husband, John Olivera, live in Meridian. He is a teacher at Sutter High. They have a son, Michael, and a daughter, Allison, each a student at UCLA.