California Lawyers Association

Remembering the Honorable Cruz Reynoso

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California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso. Photo by Jose Alfonso Perez/UC Davis.
Photo credit: Jose Alfonso Perez/UC Davis

The California Lawyers Association was sad to hear of the passing of former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso on May 7, at the age of 90. The Honorable Justice Reynoso was a tireless advocate for Latinx people impacted by discrimination. He was appointed vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Bill Clinton and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 for his work on social justice issues.

Whether on the bench or as an attorney, Justice Reynoso dedicated his life to fighting for equal rights for under-represented people. After earning his law degree from Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkley in 1958, Reynoso practiced law for a decade before becoming director of California Rural Legal Assistance, the first California legal services program. He taught law in the 1970s at the University of New Mexico before ascending to the bench in 1976. 

First appointed by Governor Brown to be a Justice of the 3rd District Court of Appeals, Reynoso was again appointed by Brown, this time in 1982 to be the first Mexican American to serve on the State Supreme Court. After leaving the court in the 1980s, Reynoso returned to practicing law before joining the faculty at UCLA to teach law. The University of California, Davis, offered the Boochever and Bird Chair (created to promote freedom and equality) to Reynoso in 2001, which he accepted, and he taught at the university until 2017. A film about Reynoso’s remarkable life, “Sowing the Seeds of Justice,” was produced by Abby Ginsberg.

“Justice Reynoso was an inspiration to those who believe the law is a tool for achieving social justice and fairness,” said CLA Executive Director Ona Alston Dosunmu. “CLA both mourns his passing and celebrates his legacy.” 

Reynoso is survived by eight siblings, his four children and their respective families. He was preceded in death by his first wife Jeannene Harness who passed in 2007, and his second wife, Elaine Rowan, who passed in 2017. For those interested in contributing to one of the causes the Honorable Cruz Reynoso fought so hard for, please consider donating to The Cruz and Jeannene Reynoso Scholarship for Legal Access

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