Teresa Guerrero-Daley—who served for more than a decade as San Jose’s first-ever independent police auditor—died of cancer Sunday in her family home. She was 67.
While campaigning for the bench in 2004, Guerrero-Daley would tell voters that she dedicated her life’s work to the ethical administration of justice. A native Spanish speaker who was once terrified of public speaking and almost didn’t graduate high school, she went on to earn a juris doctor from Lincoln Law School and became the first female special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration assigned to San Jose.
In that role, she worked on many an undercover operation to crack down on possession, transport, import and manufacture of illegal drugs. Later, as an attorney who ran her own practice, she tried complex cases, including a death-penalty jury trial.
From 1993 to 2005, Guerrero-Daley helmed the office of San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor (IPA), where she ushered in a new era of accountability for local law enforcement. At the time, San Jose’s model was pioneering.
Unlike citizen review boards in other cities, which examined individual complaints against police officers and issued recommendations to the chief, the IPA scrutinized organizational shortcomings. Samuel Walker, author of Police Accountability: The Role of Citizen Oversight, recounted in a Mercury News column a meeting he had with Guerrero-Daley during the early part of her tenure as IPA that made him appreciate the value of that approach to oversight.
“As a criminal justice professor specializing in oversight of the police, I was eager to learn about this new agency,” he wrote in the July 27, 2018, op-ed. “I have never forgotten that lunch. Before we finished our entrees I realized that the IPA represented something very new and promising in the field of police accountability. I peppered her with questions. What does the IPA do? What are your immediate goals? How does this impact the quality of policing in San Jose? She patiently described the challenge of getting the IPA up and running and her response to the policing issues she encountered. Very quickly I realized that the police auditor approach was an important alternative to the then-standard form of citizen oversight of the police: the citizen complaint review board.”
Calling the job challenging would be an understatement. As the city’s inaugural IPA, Guerrero-Daley faced plenty of criticism, according to a 1996 article by San Jose Inside’s parent newspaper Metro Silicon Valley.
“‘Useless,’ ‘a political sop,’ ‘and order-taker,’ is how some residents described the auditor in recent survey,” the article stated. “San Jose’s rank-and-file police officers sometimes hiss at the 44-year-old criminal defense attorney when she walks into a briefing room, resentful that an outsider has been given authority to look over their shoulders. It’s not surprising the police would mistrust Guerrero-Daley. Her charge is to instill public confidence in the police by helping to rein in wayward officers.”
Despite the backlash—and what sounds like no small degree of sexism—she managed to weather the storm for well over a decade while proving to be what former Mayor Susan Hammer described in a campaign bio as a “fair, honest and impartial leader.”
Guerrero-Daley had exactly those values in mind while designing the IPA’s logo, which depicts the blindfolded Lady Justice holding scales with a SJPD badge on one side and an image symbolizing the people of San Jose in the other. A description of the logo on San Jose’s website describes the virtues represented by Lady Justice as “fairness, impartiality without corruption, prejudice or favor.”
Those, it states, are “the guiding principles by which the IPA seeks to operate.”
Colleagues say Guerrero-Daley brought that same ethos to the bench, serving as a trial court judge from 2005 until her retirement in 2017. In 2011, inspired by her own struggles as a teenager and moved by the difficulties she saw youth facing in juvenile dependency court, she founded the nation’s first middle school education court, a program designed to improve academic outcomes for foster kids.
“I was a high school dropout, and I know but for going back to school, getting my high school diploma and going on to college, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now,” she told The Recorder in a 2013 interview. “So, it was a real inspiration for me to see the need and then work with a team of partners all toward the same goal. It was a labor of love because it took some time and some convincing to get people to get on board, but I had a lot of help, a lot of dedication from other agencies.”
In that same interview, Guerrero-Daley said she loved the challenge of being a judge, and the breadth of opportunity, which led to her working a broad range of assignments. Her favorite, at least at the time of her conversation with The Recorder, was doing felony trials. “This is the assignment I was waiting for,” she said. “I really enjoy interacting with the public and this gives me the opportunity to interact with the public. The courtroom drama, I think it’s really exciting. Plus, the attorneys at this level are very experienced, very skilled, just a real pleasure to work with.”
Despite the demands of her career, Guerrero-Daley managed to make time for community service. She co-founded the Silicon Valley Hispanic Foundation and the San Mateo County La Raza Lawyers Association. She also served on a number of nonprofit boards, including that of the Arts Council of Silicon Valley. Though not an artist herself, she would often say that she loved being around creative people.
In a Facebook post earlier this week, retired judge Ron Del Pozzo described Guerrero-Daley as a dear friend. “Even though I knew she only had a short time to live, the pain of her loss is deep,” he wrote. “Teresa was like a sister to me and so many others who knew and loved her. May God bless her and keep her.”
Hispanic Foundation President Ron Gonzales mourned her loss in another Facebook post. “We celebrate our 30th anniversary standing on her shoulders,” he said. “The Latino community has lost another leader who spent her life dedicated to public service and improving the quality of life for the Silicon Valley Latino community.”
Los Lupeños de San Jose shared condolences as well.
“We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of a special member of our Lupeños family,” the nonprofit dance organization wrote in a Facebook post earlier this week. “Teresa Guerrero-Daley was our energetic board chair for most of the 1990s. Terry’s passion for folklórico dance took Los Lupeños and its Escuela to new levels. We send our heartfelt condolences to her entire family.”
Teresa Alvarado, the executive director of San Jose SPUR, said Guerrero-Daley had long been one of her role models. In death, Alvarado said in a Facebook post, her mentor “traded her robe for a pair of wings.” “Teresa was a deeply sincere, wise, committed and fearless leader who provided mentorship and support to me,” Alvarado wrote. “I was fortunate to have had her as an important figure in my life and our community was made better because of her relentless dedication to it.”
Guerrero-Daley is survived by her husband, Frank Daley, a retired policeman and their four sons, Peter, Ernie, Edward and Jason.
The family will host a memorial service at 11:30am on May 13 at Redemption Church, 105 Nortech Parkway, San Jose. To send condolences to the Daleys, address correspondence to P.O. Box 506, Morgan Hill, CA 95038.
A great role model and person. RIP.
Wow, I wish I would have met her. She really seemed to had inspired alot of people. May God be with her family through this difficult times.