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Making the Decision to Run for Judge

“When will you run for judge?”

“Never. I love what I do, and plan to retire as an assistant prosecutor.”

By Juanita Bocanegra, Judge, Ottawa County 58th District Court

Making the Decision to Run for Judge - Juanita Bocanegra

This conversation took place many times with different people, before I decided to consider the possibility of a different career.  I have grown so much as a person while being a public servant and working with a great team of colleagues that I didn’t want to think of doing anything else.

However, I have also come to understand that serving from the bench is a different way of serving my community.  I decided to run for judge because I want to give back and pay it forward by playing a role in ensuring that this community continues to be a great place to live, work, and play.

Deciding to run for office is an important and difficult decision.  For several years I struggled with the choice.  I prayed about it and had many conversations with my family.  -- Juanita Bocanegra

The Decision to Run for Judge

My husband was the first person who encouraged me to consider running for Judge after hearing many people ask me about it.  He knew how much I enjoyed my career and serving our community.  But, he also trusted the encouragement of so many attorneys, friends, and community leaders.  My daughters were very supportive from day one.  And, my parents have blessed me with their prayers and unconditional support all my life!

I can’t pretend to know exactly what leadership skills are most important in a role I’m just starting.  However, I can say that I aspire to remain humble, to be prepared for the cases that come before me, to listen to the issues with an open mind, to be respectful in the way I treat everyone, and to be fair in my sentences.

West Coast Leadesrhip Class od 2019 with Juanita Bocanegra - Deciding to Run for Judge

Juanita Bocangera graduated with the West Coast Leadership Class of 2018-19, pictured here on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing.

I come from very humble beginnings. I was the only child of migrant farm workers and moved between homes and schools twice a year through my senior year in high school.


But, I am nothing special. My story is common all across this beautiful country.  It’s proof that hard work and perseverance can open many doors. My parents have always believed in me, but my fifth grade teacher taught me to believe in myself. A great middle school teacher pushed me to work hard and demand more of myself. And, a high school teacher taught me the value of investing in others without expecting anything in return.  Thus, teachers hold a special place in my heart.


I have also learned the importance of listening to others to understand, not to respond. This can be difficult. Perfection does not exist, but it’s important to be honest and admit our wrongs in order to learn from our mistakes.


It’s also important to get involved in our community. We can’t complain of issues and expect others to fix them.  We need to be willing to invest our own personal time and resources if want to see change.

This article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of The West Coast Way Magazine.

Juanita Bocanegra was formally sworn in as a 58th District Court Judge on Friday, December 18, 2020. She became Ottawa County's first Latina judge. Juanita graduated from the Michigna West Coast Chamber of Commerce West Coast Leadership program in 2019.


For more information on the West Coast Leadership Program, click here.
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