Liliana Ortega

Superior Court judge candidate Liliana Ortega holds her sign outside of the VFW Hall on Tuesday morning.

In a race between former colleagues at the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office, Liliana Ortega was the clear winner over Joe Rueda in the contest for judge in Division 2 of Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

“You never know what to expect, but I was very happy with the result,” Ortega told the NI on Wednesday, adding that she was humbled by the community’s response. “I’m so grateful to all the voters and all the support that I received during the campaign, and for every person that took the time to speak with me.”

Unofficial results published by the County Elections Office at 5 p.m. Thursday gave Ortega 10,405 votes to 7,123 for Rueda. 

Ortega, a 50-year-old Tubac resident, served as a prosecutor and chief criminal deputy with the Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office from 2006 until earlier this year, when she stepped down to run for judge. Before that, she worked as a deputy county attorney for Greenlee and Pima counties.

Her opponent Rueda, a 40-year-old Rio Rican, worked in the criminal and civil divisions at the County Attorney’s Office from 2011 to 2019, when he left to pursue the magistrate position at the City of Nogales. When those plans didn’t work out, he opened a private practice in Nogales, where he offers service in criminal and civil matters.

Having a somewhat similar background as her opponent, and both running as Independents in the race, Ortega said she believed that her community outreach played a big role in defining her as the clear choice.

“I think the real focus of my campaign was just meeting people and spreading the word about my campaign. Every day, I would wake up and head out into the community, just to see where the day would take me,” she said.

She added that her experience was also something that stood out to the constituents that she connected with on the campaign trail.

During an interview with the NI in September, Ortega noted she had a deep knowledge of the law, which would allow her to tackle any type of case without bias.

With her showing on Tuesday, Ortega is now poised to replace Judge Anna Montoya, who is retiring after 20 years on the bench.

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