Two Careers, Four Kids and a New Life in the Black Hills
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By: Natalie White
The camera zooms in on a dark-haired woman delivering opening remarks to the biggest jury she's ever faced - nightly news viewers in South Dakota.
"Good Evening. I'm Alicia Garcia. Shad Olsen will be joining us live in just a moment. Today voters finally decide if it's Jerry Munson or Jim Shaw who will be the next Rapid City mayor," says Garcia, anchor and reporter for KOTA Territory News, a local ABC affiliate in South Dakota.
When the cameras aren't rolling, Garcia, 40, plays to a different audience - judges, jurors, plaintiffs and bailiffs.
In addition to her role as news anchor, Garcia is a trial attorney in Rapid City, where she has been juggling her unusual career combo for the last ten years. In the morning and early afternoon, she's a lawyer; then, come twilight, she becomes a high-profile local news anchor. As if that isn't enough to fill one life to the brim, in the hours before, after - and in between - her dual careers, Garcia is mother to four children ages 4 to 11.
While newscaster and lawyer may seem very different jobs, Garcia said they both draw on the same essential skill.
"In the end it's all about telling someone's story," she said. "The nice thing about TV is sometimes you get to tell someone's story who hasn't been injured. For a moment, someone is sharing with you a part of their life, whether it's their cannon collection or a teacher award. It's a nice feeling. The nice thing about telling someone's story from a legal perspective is that you can try to help them rather than just giving them TV coverage."
Occasionally, there's overlap and newscaster Garcia becomes news.
During another newscast, the camera again closes in on Garcia, but this time she's introduced as Alicia Garcia, attorney for the mother of a dead 5-year old whose father murdered her in a house fire to hide sexual abuse. He admitted the crime a few years later on an Internet support group. Others in the group reported his admission to investigators and the story became national news, focusing in on the confidentiality of chat rooms.
The camera pans to show Garcia addressing her arguments to several black-robed state Supreme Court justices, asking them to overturn a lower court's ruling that her client could not sue state welfare agencies for not investigating complaints of abuse and preventing the child's murder.
"We know now Amanda was being fully penetrated. She was having full intercourse with Larry Froistad, an adult male. There's absolutely every reason to believe a medical exam would have uncovered that," she tells the judges.
If state social service agencies had properly investigated the charges of abuse, the child would have been removed from her father's custody, and would still be alive, she argued.
Although complaints of sexual abuse were filed with both North Dakota and South Dakota child welfare agencies, both declined to investigate, saying the other had jurisdiction.
Six months later, Amanda was dead.
Three years later, her father confessed to the murder online and explicit videos were discovered on his computer. He was convicted and is now in prison. The civil case eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
Garcia said she tries to keep the overlap to a minimum to avoid conflict.
"I decided that even if I'm working on a newsworthy case, I will not act as a news source on that case. I'll be a source for something going on at my kids' school, but not on my cases,' she said. "The station understands that I just can't talk about the cases as a source. They have to find another source. I decided I'm not going to try and figure out what I can say and what I can't say. I don't want any gray."
A few months ago, Garcia made news again when she and her law partners at the Abourezk Law Firm won a $5 million verdict case they described as part of a national trend of construction companies hiding injury reports at the expense of the injured workers. The jury found that the company acted in bad faith when it lobbied the insurance company to deny insurance claims for welder Ron Hubbard. He had put in a claim for $5,000 to cover carpel tunnel surgery.
"The newspapers heard about the verdict and called the law firm and they got the story. But I couldn't call the station and let them know about it," she said. "I have to stick to that line."
That doesn't mean her legal experience doesn't come in handy. As KOTA's resident lawyer, she reviews the legal issues in news stories for accuracy.
"As a lawyer I can read over the scripts and know what's really going on. Reporters don't necessarily understand the legal system, what happens when someone is arraigned, what happens when something is appealed, what a suspended sentence means," she said. "I know that whenever a case I'm involved in hits the news and I watch a story on it, there's almost always some mistake."
Searching For Home
Garcia grew up in Southern California and never considered living anywhere else. She earned her degree in communications from California State University, Northridge, and a law degree from Stanford University, where she met her husband, Mark Koehn.
After graduation from law school, Garcia worked at CBS writing contracts for prime time television series.
"It was great fun working in L.A. entertainment industry. You got to go to the Emmys, and it was very exciting," Garcia said.
But after the birth of her first child, Garcia said the glitz of the entertainment world dulled for her. She realized she wanted a lower-key lifestyle and a smaller community. Older friends kept saying they wished they had built a life outside of L.A. and the entertainment business. Earthquakes, fires, and riots that hit L.A. in the early-to-mid 1990s also convinced her it was time to move on.
When her oldest son was about a year old in 1994, the family took a three month road trip to visit friends and relatives. Garcia said they were also on a mission to explore places to live - someplace with more open space than L.A. but not too isolated.
"[My husband] grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota - 192 people. LA was never quite home for him. But I didn't want that small. I tend to gravitate toward the city. So we were looking for something in between population 9 million and 192," Garcia said.
The Black Hills drew them in.
The region wasn't on their original list of possibilities, but after passing through Rapid City a few times during their wanderings; Garcia knew this would be home.
"It had everything I was looking for. It was small but not tiny, large enough to have real jobs but not too big to become a sprawl. I sensed it would be a real community, and I was right," she said. "On top of that, the Black Hills are beautiful, surprisingly beautiful. And very peaceful."
A New Life
Koehn opened his own practice and also runs a paralegal school in Rapid City.
Resume in hand, Garcia gravitated to the local television station, an entry level market and the top station in the region. She started part-time reporting, then producing, and now has a coveted 10 o' clock anchor spot and puts together a popular consumer report for the 5:30 show.
While she was launching her career at KOTA Territory News, Garcia was also studying for the South Dakota bar and stopped by the Abourezk Law Firm to borrow some bar exam materials. She began writing briefs, then taking on clients and is now a partner.
She has earned the respect of colleagues in both fields.
"[Alicia]" is someone who just looks around and decides what life should be about and then makes up her mind to do it. She isn't a passenger along for the ride like most of us. She's the driver," said Michael Abourezk.
He said he's used to seeing his law partner on the nightly news.
"Sometimes I wish she weren't so devoted to it; because she is such a talented trial lawyer - hugely talented," Abourezk said. "But I know she loves what she does with the news too, and I don't want her to give up something she enjoys so much. And she is a standout at it."
One of the reasons Garcia has been able to develop both careers so successfully is because, in the beginning, each was considered part-time. Her employers knew from the get-go that flexibility was a prerequisite.
Juggling Two Careers and a Life
Garcia's days are jam-packed, and friends kid her about keeping a secret twin.
A typical day starts at 6:30 a.m., rousting the kids for school and getting everyone fed and dressed and out the door. A nanny comes to the house to watch the youngest child.
Garcia works at the law firm from 8:30 a.m. to mid-afternoon, picks up her three oldest kids from school and deals with homework, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, soccer and other kid activities. Her father recently moved in with the family, and she's also been spending a lot of time shuttling him to doctor's appointments and dialysis treatments.
"The nanny, Mary, makes dinner, so all I have to do is put it on the table, which makes things much easier," Garcia said. "The evenings are a whirlwind of getting the kids to activities and trying to find out what is happening in their lives. We do a lot of tag-team parenting and most of our conversations are, 'Who has what kid, and when does the next one have to be picked up?'"
Her children - Jack, 12, Adam, 8, Ellena, 7, and Diana, 4 - are the "loves of her life," and finding time to spend with them is top on her list.
After dinner Garcia heads to the station to report a story, produce a Consumer Report segment and do the ten o' clock news.
"If I produce I go in earlier," she said. "If there is a trial I work like a mad dog. If there is a forest fire, everyone is called in. But my schedule is flexible and if my kids have an event, I rarely miss it."
She's usually home by midnight, asleep by 1 or 2 a.m.
The camera fades.
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