LOGO-WLALA cropped.jpg

WLALA Spotlights the Remarkable Commissioner Maria Byrum in Recognition of National Hispanic American Heritage Month

Mural by Jose Ramirez.jpg

Mural by José Ramirez, White Memorial Medical Center, East Los Angeles. For more information about his work and influences, see ramirez art

Each year September 15th - October 15th marks the celebration of National Hispanic American Heritage Month. National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2021 (hispanicheritagemonth.gov) For those that identify along a spectrum from Hispanic to Latinoamericanos to Latinx – terms which reflect culture, heritage and generational differences – we recognize that there is no single history that encompasses our experiences in the United States. We are both from here and influenced by happenings beyond our national fronteras.

In honoring this month, WLALA spotlights Commissioner Maria Byrum, who was appointed as a Commissioner in October 2019 and presides at the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, Downey Courthouse. WLALA continues to celebrate and be grateful for the service of existing Board members highlighted last year, Judge Michelle De Casas and Brigit Greeson Alvarez. October 2020 - President's Message - Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (wlala.org)

Commissioner Maria [Rivas] Byrum

Commissioner Maria _Rivas_ Byrum.jpg

WLALA Board of Governors - Maria Byrum -

Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles

My motivation to become a judicial officer developed over time with my life and work experiences and the lessons I learned as a young Cuban American immigrant. My mother (Elena) and stepfather (Gildo) came to the U.S. with nothing but a dream for freedom and a better life. They spoke no English. My parents taught my brother and I valuable lessons: the importance of family, hard work and determination, caring for others in need, getting an education, being proud of our Hispanic heritage, and always believing we could do much more than they could ever accomplish in this country. I am very proud of them and grateful for the opportunities and experiences they provided.


My mother worked long hours under difficult conditions in a shoe factory, seashell factory, and finally as a hairdresser. My father worked as a waiter with multiple shifts, a busboy, a cook, and finally as a maintenance person in the hot sun in the stadiums of Miami. We lived a very simple life. My mom sewed most of my clothes. I somehow knew we could not afford much but thanks to their dedication and love I never felt I was lacking. I always wanted to make them proud. For years – notwithstanding their limited means – they helped their family in Cuba by sending them food and medicine.   


As a result of these lessons, I was a hard-working student. I was on the Dean’s list, received scholarships and grants, and worked for the Intensive English Program as a work study student. I realized while in college that I had a passion for the law. Having escaped a communist dictatorship, I realized the importance of promoting equal justice, a fair and independent judiciary, and the need to help others.


When I became an attorney, I was appointed by a federal magistrate in my first year to represent several defendants and had a private practice with my ex-husband. As a criminal defense attorney, I was proud to protect the rights of individuals through my work. My clients were primarily Hispanic, and I was able to speak to them in Spanish, provide them with guidance and information for the best results I could obtain, and show them compassion. During this time, I also volunteered assisting survivors of domestic violence. I was a working mom.


After many years, I wanted a more local practice, since my daughters were still young, and I wanted to be more involved in their schools and the legal community. I looked for an area of the law where I could again help my clients in difficult circumstances. I also wanted to be in a field where I was less likely to experience bias for being a woman and Latinx, something that I experienced as a criminal lawyer. I chose family law and became a student of that field of law, worked hard and became a specialist.


After many years in the family law field, I ran in a judicial election and came in third out of seven. The election inspired me to take steps to learn more about being a judge and to use my skills to help the court. I did this by volunteering for many years in the family courts in the Temporary Judge program. In 2016, I applied for an opening for a Commissioner position in Los Angeles. I was called to serve in October of 2019. 


A very significant part of my personal life are my two wonderful, dynamic, and loving daughters. I did my best to raise them with love, understanding, compassion and courage, as my parents raised me. I encouraged them in a loving way so that they understood they could do anything they really wanted to do and to be proud of their heritage. I was supportive of them during the times they experienced professional challenges as women. They say that I inspired them, but the truth is they have become my inspiration. 


As Audre Lorde wrote, “Without community, there is no liberation.” WLALA recognizes that taking pride in and celebrating the diversity of our legal community reflects we are indeed stronger together.