June 16, 2020
There have been a few memorable firsts for McGeorge School of Law alumna Mara W. Elliott ’94.
She was the first in her family to attend college.
And after graduating from McGeorge and successfully arguing landmark cases for her hometown of San Diego, she became the first woman and Latina to serve as the San Diego city attorney, the eighth-largest such office nationwide.
Elliott chose McGeorge because of its location in the heart of California state government. She knew she wanted to pursue a career in public service law and the law school is recognized for its leadership in that arena. She remembered Professor Leslie Gielow Jacobs’ feminist law classes as particularly interesting.
“I really enjoy how it feels to contribute to the community,” said Elliott, who easily won the Democratic nomination in March and will face attorney Cory Briggs in the November runoff election. “It is a pleasure personally and professionally making contributions that are meaningful, something I have an opportunity to do every day in my work.”
Elliott supervises 176 attorneys and a total of 380 employees, and oversees a $60 million annual budget. She has been credited with transforming the San Diego City Attorney’s Office with her passion for protecting San Diego families. She is 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.
“To do this job well, you must have a lot of patience and good people skills,” she said. “Most people don’t appreciate our role, and we are often attacked for the way a project proceeds. You need a lot of self-confidence. I always try to remember what it’s all about at the end of the day — contributing overall to the city and its residents.”
She is especially proud of her work on behalf of San Diego’s homeless population. She recently helped facilitate rehabilitation of a dilapidated downtown hotel into an 81-bed shelter and works to get drug-addicted individuals off the streets.
“If we address their addiction, get them into beds and clear their records, we keep them off the streets and give them a fresh start,” Elliott said. “It ends up saving the taxpayers a ton of money.”
In her work as city attorney, she launched San Diego’s pioneering Gun Violence Restraining Order program to stop shootings. In the years since, courts have removed more than 400 firearms, including 40 assault weapons, from people who posed a threat to themselves and others.
Elliott also spearheaded San Diego’s Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance, requiring responsible storage of weapons to prevent children’s access to guns and crack down on stolen guns. Her gun safety agenda has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.
She hired additional domestic violence prosecutors to hold abusers accountable, earning a 95 percent conviction rate, and relaunched the San Diego Family Justice Center to bolster support for victims of domestic violence and expand its services to victims of sex trafficking. Every year, the Family Justice Center offers hundreds of families free legal, medical, counseling and other services.
Elliott persuaded the City Council to sign amicus briefs to show support for gay rights and transgender students in cases before the Supreme Court.
Elliott was convinced to run for the city attorney’s post in 2016 when her former boss, Jan Goldsmith, could no longer run due to term limits. A Democrat, her second-place victory in the primary was considered an upset, due to her opponents outspending her.
She doesn’t meet a lot of McGeorge alumni in San Diego but said that District Attorney Summer Stephan — a fellow elected female leader in statewide legal circles — is a fellow McGeorge graduate. “We work together all the time.”
From 2002 to 2007, she worked as a senior deputy county counsel, where she advised San Diego County’s finance and general government, public safety and community services groups, and Health and Human Services Agency. She also worked for the local transit district and served as chief deputy city attorney before winning election four years ago. The nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego named Elliott Voice of the Year in 2017 for leading the city’s biggest civic discussions.
The daughter of a longshoreman father and immigrant mother, she is past president of the City Attorneys Association of San Diego County and serves as board president of the San Diego Law Library, an organization focused on ensuring access to justice. She and her husband, Greg, live in the Scripps Ranch community of San Diego with their two children.