The afternoon sun pours into Natasha Cortina’s office on the 17th floor of One America Plaza. Her desk is clean. There are no boxes in sight. Everything appears to be in its place. From where I sit, enjoying my conversation with a person whose demeanor matches the room’s warm glow, this is an office where work gets done.
Natasha is a supervising attorney at the California Attorney General’s Office, overseeing a team of eight attorneys in the criminal division. For approximately 23 years, Natasha has explored every nook and cranny of that division, including appeals, writs, and trials. And, as she explains, the work is not getting old. To the contrary, she thoroughly enjoys her current role of supervising talented attorneys and taking their work to the next level.
For Natasha, that level is high. She has argued twice in the California Supreme Court and once at the United States Supreme Court. With respect to her experience at the nation’s highest court in 2004, the memories are strong and bring a smile to her face. The breadth of those memories is remarkable. On the one hand, she remembers the quiet administrative step of informing the Court (through a footnote in a motion) that her name, “Natasha,” is not really her name at all. It would be Andrea Natalia Cortina standing at the podium. Natasha, as it turns out, is a Russian nickname for Natalia, even though not a single branch of Natasha’s family tree touches Russia. Her roots are in Mexico. This is a conversation with unexpected turns.
Natasha shared a second memory, which took place at the Court’s podium. Although she recalls taking “heat” from Justice Ginsburg, it was her exchange with Justice Breyer that she remembers most clearly. It was a feeling. It was the sensation of Justice Breyer beginning their exchange in one doctrinal area, yet following Natasha’s lead to another, more hospitable area. And it was there, on firmer ground, debating the deference owed to state-court judges, where Justice Breyer would ultimately agree with Natasha. In light of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s recusal, Justice Breyer’s vote was critical; his concurrence provided Natasha with the fifth vote to reverse the Ninth Circuit. Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133 (2005).
Natasha takes pride in other accomplishments, as well. In the years following September 11, 2001, she served as a member, and then vice-chair, of the San Diego Regional Hate Crimes Coalition. She coordinated with leaders of law enforcement agencies and community organizations, developing strategies to prevent hate crimes in local communities. Natasha also served in the Supreme Court Fellows Program for the National Association of Attorneys General, attending and analyzing every oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall of 2014.
If you ask Natasha for her greatest accomplishment, however, she replies without hesitation: her family. Natasha started dating her husband, Stephen Davis, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, while both were undergraduate students. They have been together 33 years, settled in beautiful Cardiff-By-The-Sea, and never left. With their two children, they have camped up and down the coast of California and Baja in search of beauty and waves. But the kids are growing up. Their daughter, Sarah, is 20 years old and has followed her parents’ sandy footprints to U.C. Santa Barbara. And their son, Collin, is 17 years old and aiming his arrow towards the east coast. Despite children leaving home, Natasha’s joy in palpable. And if the responsibilities of home are less demanding in the coming years, so be it. Natasha and Steve will have more time to see their favorite bands at the Belly Up.