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Mueller: From councilwoman to federal judge

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U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller

The wide range of professions represented by U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller’s friends show the depth of her long involvement in Sacramento’s legal and political worlds.

A mix of well-wishers that included state Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, black-robed judges and a retired animal control manager all gathered earlier this month to honor Mueller in her new position as a federal judge.

U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Mueller for the position and the U.S. Senate approved her candidacy in December. Mueller’s official ceremony or “investiture” for the position was held March 11 at the federal courthouse on I Street in Sacramento.

Mueller, 53, sat down with The Sacramento Press last week to discuss her career in Sacramento.

A past life in city politics

Mueller, the first woman to become a federal judge in the Eastern District of California, has roots at Sacramento City Hall. She said she loved working with constituents and solving local problems when she served as a city councilwoman from 1987 to 1992.

“City Council really was a way of being a public servant in an elected capacity,” she said, adding that serving on the council was a “great privilege.”

Though she was born in Newton, Kansas, and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Mueller’s career has centered around Sacramento. She moved to Sacramento in 1981 after graduating cum laude from Pomona College.

“I grew up professionally here,” she said.

Ruben Mora, a retired animal control manager for the city government, has positive memories of working with her when she was on the City Council. In an interview, Mora said Mueller was considerate with her constituents and city staff.

“She’s a real caring person,” Mora said.

Mora, who worked for the city for 40 years, said he expected Mueller to achieve success because of her caring personality. “I felt like she was going to go a long way,” he said.

Mora attended Mueller’s ceremony earlier this month, where he watched state Senate President Steinberg give a speech in her honor.

Steinberg also has a City Hall connection with Mueller – he ran for Mueller’s City Council seat when Mueller left politics to attend law school at Stanford University in the early 1990s.

“He got his political start because I went to law school,” Mueller said.

A federal career in Sacramento

When Mueller left politics, she left it for good. As a judge, she doesn’t participate in local groups apart from the district court’s historical society and the Sacramento Trust for Historic Preservation.

She worked as a U.S. magistrate judge at the federal courthouse for eight years before she became a federal district judge. Mueller worked as an attorney earlier in her legal career.

Her husband, developer Bob Slobe, had suggested that she apply for the district judge position.

Mueller said Slobe told her: “I think this is the kind of thing that would appeal to you.”

It took her awhile to decide to apply, she said.

As a district judge, she now handles both civil and criminal cases that relate to federal law. Federal issues surrounding drugs, immigration and guns are the types of cases she manages, she said.

She earns a salary of $174,000 in her new position.

Tam Ma, a Sacramento resident and third-year law student at UC Berkeley, externed for Mueller a few months ago, when Mueller was still a magistrate judge.

“I think she really took a lot of time to sit down and talk to me,” Ma said.

Mueller said she doesn’t feel superior because of her success.

“The law keeps you grounded,” she said. “You will never know anything there is to know … This profession is, in my mind, automatically humbling.”

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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