Denver Bar Association
October 1999
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Judge Rivera Has a New View

by Karen Bries

Denver District Court Judge Gloria Rivera’s desk displays several brightly colored glass silhouette-like heads.

"I just think they’re neat," she says.

And those heads could represent her any number of ways: Her many different careers, or her many ways of appreciating the aesthetics of being a lawyer or a judge.

Rivera, 46, was born in Fillmore, California. Her father emigrated from Mexico and worked in the fruit fields, while her mother was a musician at various clubs and played at weddings.

Right after graduation from high school in 1976, Rivera worked as a secretary on a naval base in California, where her boss, a Lieutenant "Bear," often looked through the want ads, just for fun. One day, he found an ad for a flight attendant, and encouraged Rivera to try it out.

"The next thing I knew," she says, "I had a job as a flight attendant for Braniff."

She flew to places around the world, watching as men jumped on and off planes with their briefcases.

In 1982, Braniff abruptly declared bankruptcy, and Gloria was forced to find a new job.

Rivera says, "I thought to myself, my next career has to be a good one and have longevity." She then remembered flying the men with briefcases and how there weren’t many women with briefcases on those flights.

"I came of age when a lot happened and women’s choices expanded," she explains.

Already based in Denver, she enrolled in the University of Colorado at Denver, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. She then went on to the University of Denver College of Law.

As a self-described "right-brained person living in a left-brained world," Rivera’s liberal arts background surfaced in her law studies.

Where the analytical side of being attorney appealed to most lawyers, she liked the language and personal interactions involved in law, including reading, researching, and making opening and closing statements.

"I like the law when it concerns dealing with people rather than entities."

After graduating from law school 1988, she worked in the Denver District Attorney’s Office. Since her transition from lawyer to judge, she’s seen how things have changed.

"I notice now that judges have so many details to think of that I didn’t notice as a trial lawyer."

She says even her perspective of the courtroom has changed. "Now I see people taking their feet out of their shoes, wiggling their toes and then putting them back on. I can see everything."

As a judge, she always reminds herself of how it was to be a trial attorney and makes sure to give attorneys bathroom breaks and think of others’ schedules.

Even with her past perspective, Judge Rivera calls herself Jello in a runny mold, because she’s says she’s still developing her judgeship. In an effort to better herself, she observes other judges in their courtrooms and tries out their good qualities and professionalism in her own courtroom.

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