A lot of stars had to align for Efren Iglesia to earn a seat on the Monterey County Superior Court bench.
He came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1967 as an exchange student, returned a year later to attend Aquinas University in Legazpi, traveled back to the U.S. to continue his education and had just a year left to earn his bachelor's degree when, in 1971, martial law was declared in his homeland.
So in California he stayed.
In short order, he earned his associate and bachelor's degrees from Reedley College and Fresno Pacific University, then went on to law school at San Joaquin College of Law. State bar exam? He passed that on his first try, in 1976, and launched his legal career, which included stints as a criminal defense attorney and deputy county counsel in Imperial and Monterey counties, handling complex land use and environmental law cases.
Now, 13 years after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the bench, making him the first Filipino-American judge in Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties, Iglesia has announced his retirement, effective May 22.
In a letter to Presiding Judge Julie Culver regarding his retirement, Iglesia writes, "When I dropped out of college during those tumultuous years in the Philippines in 1971 and came to the United States on a student visa, little did I know that I would be able to complete college and law school, become a lawyer and a judge, and raise a family in the process. This country has made it all possible for me to do so, and, trite as it may sound, to live the American Dream."
He adds this his retirement plans include MTTV: music, tennis, travel and volunteer. Some of those plans, at least, have been put on hold by the pandemic, the court notes in a press release, but Iglesia will continue to engage in his favorite hobby: playing electric guitar and planning to resume gigs with a few rock bands he's played with in the last decade.
Next begins the search for his replacement, which will happen via appointment of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Court Administrative Officer Chris Ruhl said the governor's Judicial Appointments Secretary, Justice Martin Jenkins, spoke to the Monterey County bench several months ago and told them "in the best of times," an appointment could take six months because vacancies are statewide and they have to assess priorities.
"We're living in different times and we don't have a clear sense of when this vacancy might be filled," Ruhl says.