Profile: Kathleen Cardone '76
When a door opens, walk through
Kathleen Cardone's career took a sharp turn in 2003 when the U.S.
Senate confirmed her nomination as a federal judge in the Western District
of Texas. In nearly 25 years as an attorney and judge, she had devoted
much of her time to family law and worked to improve the family court
system in El Paso. She had also volunteered with many family-focused community
organizations, such as the Children Cope with Divorce Program and the
Domestic Violence Task Force Commission.
But as the first female federal judge in El Paso, "I've stepped
away from all that totally," Cardone said. Instead, she presides
over cases that touch on other important social issues, such as employer-employee
relations, education and immigration -- an especially pressing matter
in a border town. "The kinds of cases we handle have such an effect
on everyday society that it's very fascinating, interesting work,"
You might say Cardone was destined for the law. Her father is an attorney,
and four of her five siblings also attended law school. At Binghamton,
she double-majored in Spanish language and literature and Latin American
studies. She chose a law school in San Antonio in part because she wanted
to be near the Mexican border, where she could use her linguistic and
cultural knowledge and perhaps practice international law.
In El Paso, Cardone ran a private legal practice and served as a municipal
court judge, an associate judge for the Family Court of El Paso County,
judge for the 383rd and 388th state Judicial District Courts and visiting
judge for the State of Texas. During her terms as district judge, she
"specialized" her newly created courts, making them focus
on family law.
In the past, Cardone explained, each state court in El Paso handled every
manner of case, from murder to business disputes to divorce. Criminal
cases took top priority. "If you were going for a divorce, you could
put your case on the docket and not be heard for two or three years,"
she said. In the specialized family courts, domestic cases move much faster.
When Texas laid plans to build a new courthouse in El Paso, Cardone successfully
lobbied to create an environment designed for family needs. Family Law
is situated on the 11th floor of the courthouse and features rooms where
spouses and their lawyers may try to resolve disputes privately before
they see a judge, or where parties may conduct mediation. It also provides
a child-care room.
Unfortunately, many people revisit family court again and again, waging
ongoing battles over custody or child support. "It's like
a soap opera," Cardone said, looking back on her terms in the 383rd
and 388th districts and her time as an attorney in between. "You
leave, you don't watch TV for a while, you turn the TV back on and
it's all the same players."
Hoping to reduce those return trips, Cardone founded the El Paso County
Domestic Relations Office, a county agency that assists the family courts.
The office collects child support payments, monitors compliance, files
motions for enforcement and employs probation officers to work with non-compliant
parents. It also helps people who want to mediate rather than litigate
and those who want to represent themselves in their divorces.
Although she misses her work with families, Cardone said her recent move
to the federal bench offers insurance against career burnout. "It's
fun to be doing something totally different, having to relearn a different
part of my profession," she said. "I think when a door opens,
you have to be willing to walk through it. You may find you're doing
something you never expected to do, but you might love it just as much,
if not more."