McGeorge alumna named Public Lawyer of the Year
University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law alumna Mara Elliott '94 has always enjoyed advocating for others and creating programs that have a real impact on her community. It is this mindset that ultimately attracted her to a career in public service.
"My mother immigrated to the United States as a teenager and came here with nothing," remembered Elliott. "I grew up hearing stories about her struggles and always wanted to have a career where I could be a voice for people who are marginalized as she was. I have never regretted my decision to be a lawyer or to fight for my community."
For the last four years, Elliott has served as city attorney for San Diego—the eighth-largest such office nationwide. During this time she has been credited with transforming the San Diego City Attorney’s Office with her passion for protecting the most vulnerable and has been recognized as a national leader in preventing gun violence, a fierce champion for consumers and the environment, and a staunch protector of victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.
In recognition of her work, Elliott was named the Public Lawyer of the Year by the California Lawyers Association earlier this summer. The Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award is given annually to a public attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to public service throughout their career.
“It's humbling to win this award," said Elliott. "The state of California is privileged to have so many impressive and exceptional municipal attorneys. There is nothing more gratifying than being acknowledged by peers that you respect so much."
Elliott's interest in a law career began during college when she volunteered for two years at the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office and worked for Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, who is a McGeorge alumnus. During this time, she assisted with site inspections, basic research and jury selection.
"I thought Hilary walked on water," said Elliott. "It was his encouragement and the opportunity to work at the state Capitol that ultimately brought me to McGeorge."
While at McGeorge, Elliott interned for then Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, a fierce fighter for women’s equality. In her role, Elliott worked on issues like ensuring a woman would not be charged more than a man for basic services, such as haircuts or dry cleaning and also handled constituent inquiries.
In addition, she worked at McGeorge's community legal services and ran the school’s volunteer income tax program helping low-income residents in the community prepare and file their tax returns.
"McGeorge prepared me for public service and also gave me insight into running for office," said Elliott "After all, I was elected treasurer my third year in law school—a precursor to my successful run as San Diego's first female city attorney."
As the mother of two school-aged children, Elliott is currently focused on protecting the most vulnerable populations in her city and making San Diego a great place to live.
"The work my office performs has a positive impact on the things that matter most to us: the water we drink, the air we breathe, the parks we enjoy, the libraries we use, the streets we drive on and all the services we expect to receive," said Elliott. "Creating a healthy and safe community in San Diego is of utmost importance to me."