No law school? No problem for new judge

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - It was Christmas Eve when Bakersfield attorney Marcos Camacho got the call from Gov. Jerry Brown.

The purpose of the call?

To let Camacho know that he had been appointed to a judgeship on the Kern County Superior Court.

"It's a tremendous honor," said Camacho. "It really floored me when the governor called and said I'd been appointed."

The 55-year-old attorney earned his law degree in 1986 without ever setting foot in a law school and going into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

California is among a few group of states that allows students to "read law" and study under the apprenticeship of a veteran attorney, which is pretty much the way Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer.

It's called the Law Office Study Program, which is run by the State Bar of California. While a lot of time is spent on reading, aspiring lawyers also do "hands on" work as para legals on actual cases. But, it takes a self-motivating person to succeed.

"These were all things that worked for me. I was very self-motivated in terms of wanting to be a lawyer," said Camacho.

He passed the California bar exam on his first try and became general counsel for the United Farm Workers Union, headed then by the late Cesar Chavez. He held the post from 1990 to 2009, and then went into private practice.

A native of Dinuba in Tulare County, Camacho is the eldest of four children. His parents, Rodrigo and Eusebia, worked in the fields, as did all of the Camacho children.

But, his parents were sticklers for education, and once school began in September, the parents made sure the children returned to the classroom after spending the summer working in the fields.

"For the first month of school, there would be no farmworker kids in school, because everybody would be working," said Camacho. "Me and my brother would be the only ones, because my dad was adamant that we return to school."

Camacho contemplated applying for a judgeship in 2011 but suffered a setback when his wife of 20 years, Eva, was diagnosed with cancer. She died the following year.

His wife was his biggest supporter.

"She was all excited about it. She was like, 'Yes, you can do it, you can do it.'"

Years of working in the fields also exposed Camacho to injustices endured by farmworkers. He felt the way to change that was to become a lawyer.

"One of the things I was interested in was something that I could help people with, and the law naturally became the area where you can do that," he said.

Camacho said he plans on wrapping his private practice and expects to sworn in as judge by March or early April.