The Lessons That Led Me Here
I am a first-generation Mexican-American who was raised in South Texas in a family of 10 children. During most of my childhood, I was a migrant farm worker alongside my parents and siblings. My father, Pedro De La Fuente, was one of the earliest supporters of the United Farm Workers (UFW).
For decades, my dad worked closely with César Chávez, fighting to improve the working conditions of all migrant farm workers. He was jailed numerous times for his UFW activities. Watching my father and others struggle for their rights showed me the importance of being a part of a larger community, something bigger than myself. I learned that no matter what personal challenges we might face, we have a responsibility to look out for each other and to defend basic human rights.
In turn, my parents instilled in me the importance of education and taught me about its transformative power. On an Army ROTC scholarship, I attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and graduated with honors in 1990. While at St. Mary’s, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army. I attended Drake University Law School and received my law degree in 1993.
After graduating law school, I served in the Army as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). While stationed at Fort Rucker, I served as a prosecutor and was appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. I was then stationed at Fort Hood, where I served as a defense attorney representing soldiers accused of various crimes. My combined experience as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney is essential in balancing the rights of victims and defendants fairly and objectively, while maintaining the safety of our community and ensuring the integrity of our courts.
My Public Service in Travis County
Upon completing my service with the Army in 1998, Ronnie Earle hired me to serve as an assistant district attorney in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. I was assigned to the Family Justice Division, where I prosecuted individuals accused of sexually or physically assaulting children, as well as those accused of domestic violence. I also served as a member of the Travis County Child Protection Team, comprised of mental health professionals, investigators, and prosecutors who assessed the needs of each child victim. I was then appointed as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, assisting in the prosecution of weapon offenses committed by convicted felons.
Since joining the DA’s Office, I have spent most of my time in the Trial Division prosecuting violent offenders accused of such felony offenses as murder, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, burglary, intoxication manslaughter, and sexual assault. Travis County has seven district criminal courts that prosecute felony offenses. For almost 14 years, I have prosecuted cases in most of these courts.
Ronnie Earle, recognizing both my leadership and trial skills, appointed me as Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the 390th Judicial District Court. Subsequently, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg appointed me as the Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the 167th Criminal District Court, the bench for which I am running. As Chief Prosecuting Attorney, I managed an average of 800 cases annually, tried cases, and supervised assistant district attorneys and support staff. Currently, I am serving in the Public Integrity Unit at the District Attorney’s office.
Protecting and Strengthening Our Community
Our quality of life does not begin in the courts: It begins with us, and how we help each other. I believe a community is only as strong as its members, and I have always tried to give back and get involved the same way that my parents did.
I have been active in Democratic politics since the age of eight, beginning with frequent marches in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere to stand up for migrant farm worker rights with my parents. Throughout high school I volunteered for many local Democratic candidates with my parents, making phone calls and knocking on doors. In college I campaigned vigorously for Representative Henry B. González, and in 1988 I served as a state delegate at the Democratic Party Convention. I have continued my involvement here in Travis County, and currently serve as Treasurer of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats, where I have also served as Vice Chair.
My volunteer work has included community organizations that are near and dear to my heart: the Texas Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels, and education outreach programs encouraging students to stay in school through the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin. Also, I have volunteered for Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Victim Impact Panel to present the legal consequences of driving while intoxicated. I have been the chairperson for the District Attorney’s Office for the Travis County Combined Charities Campaign. I am a member of the Austin Bar Association, Texas District and County Attorney’s Association, and the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin. I am also a proud member of AFSCME Local 1624. I am married to Lou Castaneda for 15 years, and we have been blessed with Elise, our seven-year-old daughter.
My personal and professional path forms the foundation of my belief that strong families, strong schools, and strong community bonds are our first line of defense in preventing crime and ensuring that non-violent offenders do not get caught up in the revolving door of our justice system – at great cost to all of us. These experiences taught me that our justice system is a work in progress. It is imperative that we provide these individuals with the necessary tools to rehabilitate themselves and become productive members of our community.
We need judges who not only know the law, but who can also bring to bear their life experiences and use their discretionary power to attack the root causes of crime. As your next judge of the 167th Criminal District Court, I pledge to protect and strengthen our community.