Judge Linda Lopez: Energizing the Bench with a Fresh Perspective
The Honorable Linda Lopez has spent thirty years in the legal profession. In that time, she has been privileged to see the profession from many different perspectives, having worked as a legal secretary, law clerk, private practitioner, Federal Defender, and United States Magistrate Judge. In all of these roles, Judge Lopez has been committed to being even-tempered, fair, organized, hardworking, and most of all, dedicated to her colleagues and the community at large.
Judge Lopez’s family immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the early 1960s. Her parents met in New York, but eventually settled in Miami, Florida, where Judge Lopez was born and spent the majority of her life. Judge Lopez grew up in a house where she spoke Spanish every day. She was raised in a tight-knit community in Hialeah, a city in Miami-Dade County. Throughout her legal career, Judge Lopez has proudly and effectively utilized her native Spanish‑speaking ability in representing her clients, many of whom were undocumented immigrants and monolingual Spanish speakers. As a child of immigrants, one of the highlights of Judge Lopez’s responsibilities on the federal bench has been presiding over naturalization ceremonies in San Diego and issuing the oath of United States citizenship. To date, Judge Lopez has presided over three naturalization ceremonies.
Judge Lopez’s desire to join the legal profession began at the age of twelve, when she lost a family member as a result of medical malpractice. Her family hired an attorney to represent them in the resulting litigation. Despite her young age, she served as a liaison between the attorney and the rest of her family. The case continued for many years, and the lawyer that represented her family became her first mentor in the law.
Judge Lopez grew to love the legal profession. She wanted to be the voice for people who needed it. Although she was confident that the legal profession was for her, no one in her family had pursued higher education. During her junior year in high school, she took public transportation to her mentor’s office and helped the support staff. She indexed discovery, reviewed motions, and asked question after question. The week after her high school graduation, she began working as a legal secretary for a solo civil practitioner in Miami, Florida. She later worked at another civil practice firm, at which point she dedicated herself to achieving her dream of becoming an attorney.
While attending college, Judge Lopez worked full-time. Shortly after enrolling in community college in Miami, she began working as a legal secretary for a small criminal defense firm. She attended school in the mornings and evenings and worked at the law firm during the day. She was eventually promoted to a paralegal position, and then a law clerk. Notwithstanding her busy schedule, Judge Lopez also excelled in school, and eventually transferred to Florida International University, where she graduated magna cum laude. Judge Lopez attended law school at the University of Miami School of Law, where she graduated magna cum laude. Judge Lopez also served as an editor for the University of Miami Law Review. When she passed the Florida Bar in 1999, she returned to the same small criminal defense firm as an associate.
Four years after working at the criminal defense firm, in 2003, Judge Lopez opened her own firm in Miami practicing primarily criminal defense work in both state and federal court. She represented both retained defendants and indigent defendants appointed to her as part of the Criminal Justice Act (“CJA”) Panel. The CJA Panel is a group of court-appointed attorneys who represent individuals in criminal cases who are unable to afford counsel. In 2007, Judge Lopez moved to San Diego with a new goal and purpose. She was determined to bring her hard work, dedication, legal skills, and ability to advocate for her clients to a district where the caseload was—and still is—so large and where the defendants needed strong advocates. She joined the Federal Defenders of San Diego as a Senior Trial Attorney. In this role, she represented indigent defendants charged with violations of federal law, including entering the United States illegally, importing and/or transporting controlled substances, alien smuggling, fraud, gun offenses, and violations of supervised release. Judge Lopez zealously represented her clients, while simultaneously maintaining a collaborative relationship with the prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office. She invested a great deal of time educating her clients and their families, many of whom were underprivileged and lacked a formal education about the legal process in federal court.
On October 26, 2018, Judge Lopez was honored to be appointed as a United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. Judge Lopez finds the work of a Magistrate Judge to be deeply rewarding. She enjoys the diversity of the issues raised in both her criminal and civil dockets. As a Magistrate Judge, she handles all preliminary matters on criminal cases, including the issuance or denial of search warrants, arrest warrants, pen registers, probable cause determinations, initial appearances, bond determinations, pretrial release conditions and revocations, felony guilty pleas, misdemeanor guilty pleas, trials and sentencings. On the civil side, she works with counsel and parties to help settle cases where possible, handles discovery disputes, issues orders on appeals of denial of benefits in social security cases, prepares Reports and Recommendations on civil rights claims brought by incarcerated plaintiffs, and handles habeas corpus petitions. Judge Lopez’s experience as a trial lawyer has benefited her immensely in her service as a Magistrate Judge, as has her extensive knowledge of the law, ability to make well-reasoned decisions, and her commitment to treat all persons with fairness and integrity.
Commitment to Public Service
Throughout her entire career, Judge Lopez has spent countless hours working with members of her community, to help educate them, guide them, and mentor them. She often reminds her mentees that regardless of where they are in their lives, or where they have come from, they should always reach for the stars. One example of her commitment to public service is her involvement for over a decade in the U.S. District Court’s Community Outreach Committee. One of the committee’s principal functions is to bring awareness about the justice system to the youth in our community through hosting events such as Bring Your Child to Work Day and Open Doors to the Court. In 2018, Judge Lopez was recognized with a Service Award during a community outreach appreciation event based on her dedicated leadership through this committee. In addition to her work with the Community Outreach Committee, Judge Lopez has volunteered extensively with the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association throughout her career, including as a Liaison for the Federal Defenders of San Diego, as a Board Member, and as the Vice President of the Fundraising Committee.
Judge Lopez has also been an Associate, and ultimately, a Master of the Welsh Inn of Court for many years, and is currently a Master of the Enright Inn of Court. Shortly after joining the Welsh Inn, Judge Lopez realized many junior lawyers were frustrated due to the lack of courtroom litigation practice opportunities for civil lawyers. Judge Lopez quickly learned that this issue was common in many federal district courts, and brought the issue to the attention of the then Chief Judge, Barry Ted Moskowitz. Through her leadership and advocacy, a series of “Bench and Bar” luncheons were organized in San Diego in an effort to bring awareness about this issue to the district judges. Judge Lopez also coordinated for the topic to be presented at the Chief Judge’s Conference in Tucson, Arizona in 2018. As a result of her efforts, some judges have since amended their Chambers Rules to allow for advocacy opportunities for junior lawyers.
Judge Lopez also volunteers with the Porter Readers Program, a civics awareness program in San Diego, which began in 2017. Federal district court volunteers are organized into teams and assigned to a designated classroom at Porter Elementary School each school year. Each week a different team member goes to the designated classroom to read aloud books describing the history of our country, featuring people such as Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, and Alexander Hamilton. In addition to working with the younger students of Porter Elementary, Judge Lopez dedicates her time and energy to mentoring college and law students, including offering opportunities for externships in her Chambers for law students. Judge Lopez has also served as the “Room Mom” for her children’s classes over the years. These are just a few examples of Judge Lopez’s commitment to public service as her dedication and enthusiasm for giving back to the community knows no bounds.
Outside the Law
In her free time Judge Lopez can be found spending time with her family, including her husband, Victor Pippins, and her two grown children, Riley and Angel. Judge Lopez and Victor met when they worked at Federal Defenders together. On December 8, 2020, Victor was appointed as a Superior Court Judge in San Diego County, and currently works in the Family Law Division. Judge Lopez’s daughter graduated from San Diego State University in 2020, and her son will begin college at the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall of 2021. In addition to her two beautiful children, Judge Lopez has “fur babies” at home including her awesome dog, Snoop, and her two cats, Boo and Inky. Southern California has become home for Judge Lopez and her family over the years, but she still has strong ties to Miami, where her sister and brother live with their families.
Judge Lopez maintains a robust workout and weight-lifting routine. She is rarely known to miss a day at the gym. For reference, not even the sore arm that many people experienced after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine stopped Judge Lopez from lifting weights after receiving her first or second dose of the vaccine!
Anyone who knows Judge Lopez will tell you that she has an infectious and welcoming energy, as evidenced by her love for cooking and hosting. Two of her signature dishes are Carne Con Papa and Fricase de Pollo, a Cuban style chicken stew recipe that has onions, garlic, red peppers, potatoes, and green olives, cooked in a tomato-based sauce. She also often makes Picadillo, another traditional Latin dish made with ground beef, potatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, bell peppers, white wine, tomato sauce, raisins, olives, and capers. On occasion, when her kids are not eating at home, and Judge Lopez and Victor are having a date night, she enjoys making seafood paella. Judge Lopez also has a passion for travel and exploring new places and cultures. Some of her more recent trips have included Spain, Italy, and France. She also loves a quick Southern California getaway to Santa Barbara.
Advice for Practicing Attorneys
Mutual respect and civility are essential to the successful practice of law. Judge Lopez expects it from all lawyers who now appear before her. She also reminds counsel to maintain the highest level of respect for all the individuals encountered in the legal process regardless of who they are or what they do. In other words, it is important for lawyers to create and maintain a reputation for treating others with the utmost respect.
*Ami Mody is a graduate of the Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. She spent the majority of her legal career working as a litigator at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, first in the Philadelphia office and then in the Irvine office. She has served as a term clerk to the Honorable Karen S. Crawford and the Honorable Barbara L. Major. In 2018, Judge Lopez invited Ami to join her chambers as a career law clerk, where she currently works.