Monday, May 10, 2021

CRUZ Reynoso : A Leader in Civil Rights Law


Cruz Reynoso, the son of migrant farmworkers who became a giant of civil rights law and was the first Latino justice of the California Supreme Court, died on Friday with his members of his large family at his side. 

Reynoso was 90 and had been in hospice care in Oroville recently. A cause of death was not disclosed.

A fixture for years at the UC Davis School of Law, Reynoso was vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and, Cruz Reynoso, photographed at his Herald, Calif., home with his Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. The giant of civil rights law who was the first Latino justice of the California Supreme Court, died Friday, May 7, 2021, at the age of 90. see

Reynoso never did forget that he was born in the Orange County city of Brea and was one of 11 children. As a boy, Reynoso worked the harvest fields throughout California to help his humble family earn money. That formative experience motivated him to study hard and pursue an education that would liberate him from the fields and move him to represent poor people who needed legal help.

Reynoso’s first college experiences were emblematic for a young man of his station in life. He attended Fullerton Community College and Pomona College. Reynoso left California and served in the Army. He got married to his first wife, Jeannene. He returned to California and graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law. He moved to El Centro, Imperial County, and built a legal career representing clients from families of modest means, much like his family.

Reynoso rose to be the director of California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit founded in 1966. Its mission, as stated on the CRLA website, was “to help rural communities because those communities were not receiving legal help.” CRLA still provides free legal services to farmworkers.

During those heady years in California history in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Reynoso played a vital role in the movement to uplift the poorest workers in California, mostly farmworkers from Mexico like Reynoso’s parents. At the same time, Reynoso was running CRLA, Cesar Chavez was garnering national attention as a labor leader gaining rights for farmworkers and bringing attention to their plight.

Although they each had their role to play and had different missions, both Reynoso and Chavez found themselves at odds with then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who was aligned with business and agricultural interests. 

Reagan tried many times to defund CRLA but the organization endured. One of the biggest cases won by CRLA while Reynoso was its director was the 1970 case of case Diana vs. California State Board of Education.

It centered on Latino children who were incorrectly assessed by their school and labeled mentally challenged. The pupils were funneled into special education classes when, in reality, they were simply new English learners. CRLA lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students in the Monterey County town of Soledad.

“CRLA won a consent decree that allowed non-Anglo children to choose the language in which they would respond on IQ tests,” wrote the Salinas Californian in 2016. “It banned verbal sections of the test. It also required state psychologists to develop an IQ test appropriate for Mexican Americans and other non-English-speaking students.”

This time in Reynoso’s career was depicted in the 2011 documentary, “Sowing the Seeds of Justice.” After leaving CRLA in 1972, Reynoso taught law before he was appointed to the state’s 3rd District Appellate Court in Sacramento. In 1982, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Reynoso to the state Supreme Court, the first Latino to ever be named to the state’s high bench.

Reynoso was considered a thoughtful jurist but became embroiled in a political controversy that ultimately ended in his removal in 1987. In a sign of how much politics have changed in California, proponents of the death penalty painted Reynoso, Chief Justice Rose Bird, and Associate Justice Joseph Grodin as being soft on crime. The three were recalled by voters.

De Alba said Reynoso became a mentor to many of Sacramento’s and California’s leading legal figures. “Justice Reynoso was a dear friend, mentor, and model public servant because of his humility, empathy, compassion, and unwavering dedication to the rule of law,” said Luis Cespedes, a Sacramento lawyer who was recently named Judicial Appointments Secretary by Gov Gavin Newsom.

“Cruz was an exceptional human being, a civil rights attorney and first Latino to sit on the California Supreme Court,” said Melinda Guzman, a prominent Sacramento lawyer and former trustee of the California State University system. “Above all he was a family man, a man of integrity and ethics and he used his voice to empower all in need. He was so supportive of my legal career and family. I loved this man who earned his angel wings on Earth for all he did.”

After his recall, Reynoso became a professor emeritus at UC Davis School of Law, living in Herald, the community east of Galt, with Jeannene until she died in 2007. He married Elaine Rowan in 2008, who died in 2017. 

Memorial arrangements are pending. In his 2007 interview with The Bee, Reynoso described his philosophy of life: ““In fighting the battles, you may end up losing most of them,” Reynoso said. “But if you don’t fight, you lose them all.”

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Whereas Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso has a lifetime distinguished record of providing legal and community services to the people of California; and 


Whereas Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso’s service to the California Supreme Court and the judicial branch in general is a significant contribution to the people of California; and


Whereas Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso has championed the civil rights causes of Latinos, the poor, and other minority groups, with distinction; and 


Whereas Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso has significantly improved the quality of life of ALL citizens within our great State of California and the United States of America; and


Whereas Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso continues to lead the Latino community regarding the need to participate in civic engagement activities, including voter registration and get-out-to vote; and 


Whereas, on February 1, 2016, the general membership of the League of United Latin American Citizens Lorenzo Patiño Council #2862 (LULAC Council) unanimously voted to vest honorary membership to Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso; 


Be It Resolved that on March 7, 2016, Honorable Justice Cruz Reynoso was presented this resolution to officially bestow upon him the title of Honorary Member of the Lorenzo Patiño LULAC Council #2862, consistent with the provisions of Article IV, Section 3, Subdivision (e) of the LULAC Constitution, Bylaws, and Protocol. 


_______________________________   _________________

Luisa Menchaca, President     


_______________________________   _________________

Rachel Godoy, Secretary

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