LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — A former Morganton resident and Freedom High School alumnae has taken a big step in her career.

Rene Caldwell Gilbertson was elected as a superior court judge in her home district in Los Angeles, California, on June 5, according to a press release provided by her campaign. Gilbertson, 50, is the daughter of Robert and Ola Caldwell , of Morganton , and graduated from Freedom High School in 1985.

“I am proud of the fact that she did this,” Ola Caldwell said of Gilbertson’s campaign. “She went out on this from the bottom up. She worked every corner of that county.”

Gilbertson will leave her current position as senior deputy counsel for Los Angeles County. She has practiced law for 24 years, working primarily in the area of juvenile law, handling child abuse and neglect cases.

She attended Wake Forest University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1989 and Juris Doctor degree in 1992.

“The only thing I’ve ever heard her say she wanted to be, from a little girl, was an attorney,” Caldwell said.

While at Wake Forest, she served in student government and was the founding president of the Pi Omicron Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc . , a public service sorority for women of color and the first sorority on the Wake Forest campus.

“She went from the dean to the president to get approval to start this sorority, and wrote all of the bylaws,” Caldwell said.

The Delta Sigma Sorority dates back to 1913, when a group of female students at Howard University joined together with a mission to “promote academic excellence and provide assistance to those in need,” according to its website.

Gilbertson began her career working as a staff attorney at The Alliance for Children’s Rights and became its interim executive director in 1995. In 1996, she went on to work in juvenile court at the Children’s Law Center Los Angeles (formerly Dependency Court Legal Services).  

In her position as lead attorney with the Office of the County Counsel in Los Angeles, where she has worked since 1999, Gilbertson was tasked with supervising other attorneys in the courtroom. She also served as legal advisor to the local sheriff’s department and to other L.A. County agencies, including the Registrar’s Office and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

In addition to work, Gilbertson has immersed herself in volunteer service. She serves on the board of directors of the Cancer Support Community of Redondo Beach and is a member of the Palos Verdes chapter of the National Charities League, a service organization for mothers and daughters. She formerly served as a parent advisor for the Los Hermanos Public Service Club and was a Cub Scout Leader for Saint John Fisher Parish Troop 191 for five years.

Gilbertson and her husband, Jack, were married in St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Morganton 25 years ago. The couple has four children: Taylor, Stanton, Robert and Devin. The family lives in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California.

Gilbertson received 400,018 votes in her district during the primary election, 56.42 percent of all votes cast, defeating two other candidates in the race.

Caldwell said Gilbertson has experience working across the aisle, politically. She was endorsed by Superior Court Judge Kevin C. Brazile, a prominent Democrat, but she also worked on former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign.

Caldwell said she would like to thank everyone, many from Burke County, who believed in Gilbertson’s cause and made contributions to her campaign. She expressed appreciation for the Rev. Wanda Howell in particular, who is pastor of Willow Tree AME Church in Morganton, where Gilbertson attended while growing up.

Gilbertson plans to continue to focus on helping children in crisis.

“I  know there is more I can do to ensure justice for our children, our families and for all of our citizens,” she said in a campaign announcement.

Staff Writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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