Who is Aurora Hughes? Besides being the current president of the Riverside County Bar Association and a leader for decades in our legal community, she is a tough litigator and a skilled attorney. She shattered gender stereotypes in our profession, proving that a female lawyer was just as qualified as her male counterpart. She has devoted herself to helping new attorneys in making the transition from law school to the practice of law. She is a beloved friend and a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. And Aurora is living with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which she has faced with the utmost courage and with the most positive attitude.
Aurora grew up in southern Arizona, where her mother was a civilian controller for the United States military and her father was in law enforcement and military employment. As a child, Aurora spent most of her time reading, riding horses and playing sports.
While attending Tombstone High School, Aurora was the first female student to try out for and to make the boy’s varsity baseball team. That would not be the last time that Aurora would be faced with gender discrimination and prevail.
Aurora’s love for the law developed at an early age. When her father was a deputy sheriff in Cochise County, Arizona, she got to meet attorneys who were friends of her father. Among them was James McNulty, who went on to become a United States senator. Young Aurora, or “Rory” as she was known then, was very impressed after she visited an attorney’s office for the first time. She loved the big desk, the burgundy chairs and the wall of books. Aurora promptly told her dad that she wanted to be an attorney when she grew up. This dream was encouraged by her father, who would take her court so that she could see the legal process in action.
After graduating early from the University of Arizona at Tucson in 1975, Aurora took another step in fulfilling her life-long dream of becoming an attorney: She moved to Southern California in 1976 to attend Southwestern University School of Law. There, she participated in a work-study program at the state attorney general’s office and was appointed lieutenant governor of the Ninth Circuit of the American Bar Association Law Student Division during her second year. In her third year, she was elected governor of that same circuit.
Aurora graduated from Southwestern School of Law in 1979 and passed the California bar exam that same year. She began practicing labor law with the Los Angeles firm of Loew & Marr, where she handled cases before the EEOC and DFEH and disciplinary hearings on behalf of police officers. After her second year in practice, she began representing management; she attended hearings before the NLRB, and even crossed picket lines to work for employers in order to obtain temporary restraining orders to protect others who crossed the picket lines.
Aurora next took over the practice of a friend from law school, where she continued to handle labor law cases. She also began developing a family law practice, where she represented many television actors, including an actor from the hit show MASH.
When Aurora realized that she wanted to become a salaried employee again, instead of being out on her own, she started looking for another firm to join. One of the interviews that she accepted was right here in Riverside. Unfortunately, she was faced with blatant gender discrimination when the hiring partner, who did not realize prior to the interview that she was a woman, refused to interview her. “I was bitterly disappointed that he would not even consider me simply because I was a female,” she remembers.
Aurora later accepted a position with the firm that is now LaFollette, Johnson, DeHaas, Fesler & Ames, where she began practicing insurance defense. She later assisted in helping to open that firm’s Riverside branch, which is still in existence today.
In the meantime, Aurora met the love of her life, Joe Gonzales, whom she married in 1988. Joe was an LAPD officer. After the couple moved to the Inland Empire, Aurora began looking for a position closer to where she lived. She later joined the firm of Ericksen, Arbuthnot, Kilduff, Day & Lindstrom, where she was the managing partner of the Claremont office. The firm later moved to Riverside, where she remained until 2003.
Aurora left to open an in-house counsel office for an out-of-state insurance carrier. Unfortunately, that carrier went into liquidation in 2004. She then joined the firm of Crandall, Wade & Lowe in 2005, where she remained until she was forced to retire on disability.
During her impressive career, Aurora still found time to devote to giving back to her community. She has been extremely active in the RCBA, participating in the Bar Publications Committee, the Continuing Legal Education Committee, and the Bridging the Gap Program. She has given seminars to new attorneys in Barristers, and has been a past participant in Law Day and the Elves Program.
Aurora has also been very active in the Federal Bar Association, becoming a member in 1999. She served as that organization’s president in 2003 and has attended FBA annual meetings and National Counsel Meetings as the Inland Empire representative.
One of Aurora’s passions has been her love of writing. She has written several short stories, as well as children’s stories and poems, some of which have been published. She served as vice-president of the State Board of California Writers Club from 2002-2003 and was treasurer of the Inland Empire Branch of that organization for three years.
Aurora’s biggest passion in her life has been her family. She remains married to her devoted husband, Joe. Her stepchildren and grandchildren have provided her with the greatest joy.
Sadly, Aurora is now facing the biggest challenge of her life. In 2007, while engaged in trial, she began to notice that she was suffering from shortness of breath and constant fatigue and had difficulty arising from a seated position. After almost a year of testing, Aurora was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and in the spinal cord. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons eventually leads to those neurons’ death. When motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. Victims of this disease slowly become paralyzed, losing the ability to walk, speak, swallow, chew, and eventually breathe. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, victims of which have an average life span from diagnosis of about three years.
Aurora has maintained a positive attitude and vowed to live as fully as she can, despite being afflicted with this disease. “Only God can make it stop, and if He didn’t, I’d live with it until He takes me,” she has said.
Thankfully, Aurora has a devoted support system, including her beloved husband, family, and friends, both within and outside the legal community. “It’s overwhelming. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen.”
Aurora is facing her disease, as she has every other challenge in her life, and refusing to let it interfere with the things that she wants to accomplish. As president of the RCBA, her goal is to serve the legal community to which she has devoted herself. “I hope to serve you well and to live up to the reputation my predecessors have built for the RCBA.”
There is no doubt that Aurora Hughes is an impressive woman. She has been an example to all other attorneys of professionalism and integrity, of devotion to one’s community and to one’s family, and of fulfilling one’s dreams and passions in life. She is truly a profile in courage, and we are privileged to have her leading the RCBA this year.