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Justice Cruz Reynoso

Justice Cruz Reynoso

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Published by: Larry Pedrosa on Nov 15, 2012
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Judges’ Journal
Vol. 51 No. 3
 justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynosowere recalled in 1986.Reynoso has subsequently served as alaw professor at University of California,Los Angeles and retired from University of California Davis School of Law in 2006,remaining an emeritus professor there andcontinuing to teach and handle pro bonocases privately. He served on the U.S. CivilRights Commission until replaced in 2004 byPresident George W. Bush, and on PresidentBarack Obama’s transition team group for justice and civil rights. He was also a boardmember of the Mexican American LegalDefense Fund and the Natural ResourcesDefense Council.
What influences shaped your personalityand your commitment to social justice?
Early on, I saw many injustices, legal andnot legal. We lived in a poor barrio, butmy dad was proud and hard-working. If you went by hard work, intelligence, andpride, my dad should have had all thenice things people had downtown. But wedidn’t. We weren’t treated fairly. I workedas a farm worker in Orange County, backwhen it grew oranges. When I saw injus-tices, what I called “my justice bone” hurt,and I acted to keep it from hurting somuch. Dad called me
, busybody.So, for instance, we lived in a barrio nearLa Habra that didn’t get mail deliveries.
 Justice Cruz Reynoso
By Keith Roberts
t is a fact that Cruz Reynoso, whom Governor Jerry Brown appoint-ed to the California Court of Appeals in 1976 and to the CaliforniaSupreme Court five years later, became California’s first Hispanicappellate court judge and Supreme Court justice. The reverence thatlawyers and advocates for civil rights hold for Justice Reynoso, signifiedby his receiving the Medal of Freedom in 2000 from President BillClinton, as well as the highest legal award in California, the Witkinmedal in 2009, also derives from his career as the executive director of therenowned California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) law firm. Justice Reynoso was born on May 2, 1931, in Brea, California, one of 11 brothers andsisters. His parents had emigrated from Mexico and worked as farm workers in SouthernCalifornia and the Central Valley. Before high school, Reynoso attended a segregated school for five years. Perhaps inspired by a college-educated Latino teacher during World War II,he got hooked on books and began to excel in school. While working in the orange groves,he graduated from high school and attended Fullerton Community College. A scholarshipto Pomona College followed, and after two years in the Army he attended Boalt Hall,University of California Berkeley’s law school.Reynoso began a private practice in El Centro, the county seat of Southern California’sImperial Valley, but was soon working for politicians in both Sacramento and El Centro,where he became a community organizer and worked with Cesar Chavez. He helped JimLorenz to create the CRLA, one of the poverty law firms that President Lyndon Johnson’snewly formed Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) funded all over the country. Reynosobecame its first chairman of the Board, and its director in late 1968.CRLA became well known for its innovative representation of its poor clients, most of whomwere farm workers, including class actions and many actions against the government. One suchaction terminated the bracero program, in which growers imported Mexican laborers to replace American farm workers. Others forced California to allow the poor to apply for medical assis-tance and for welfare. Such cases helped Cesar Chavez and the nascent Farm Workers Union, greatly upset many California growers, and triggered conservative opposition.Ronald Reagan, elected governor in 1967, attacked the CRLA by vetoing its federal fund-ing. His office leveled such serious charges against CRLA that, as Reynoso says, if they weretrue he should have gone to jail. But after Reynoso and CRLA allies rallied intense lobby-ing, President Nixon’s director of the OEO, Frank Carlucci, appointed a prestigious judicial panel to look into them. The charges were found to be false, and Governor Reagan agreed tocontinue CRLA funding.In 1972, with CRLA working well, Reynoso accepted an offer to become a law profes-sor at the University of New Mexico. When Jerry Brown became California’s governor, henominated Reynoso to be an associate justice on the Court of Appeals for California’s ThirdCircuit, and in 1981 he appointed him to the California Supreme Court. Reynoso surviveda recall election to get rid of “liberal” justices in 1982, but under Chief Justice Rose Bird hewas part of a liberal majority that overturned many death sentences for procedural inadequa-cies. Although the court affirmed other death sentences, Chief Justice Bird and associate
Cruz Reynoso in El Centro, California, as a young lawyer
Published in The Judges' Journal, Volume 51, Number 3, Summer 2012. © 2012 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
Summer 2012
Judges’ Journal
Keith Roberts
, an aoney and pincipalof robes Popieaies, Inc., in New YokCiy, is co-chai of 
The Judges’ Journal 
Edioial Boad. He is a membe of heExecuie Commiee of he LawyesConfeence. He can be eached akeihofpi@eahlink.ne.
People had to walk over a mile to thepost office. When I was still in grammarschool, between 10 and 12 or so, the sonof a grower built a house nearby, and theydelivered mail to him. So I asked the post-master if deliveries could be extended justa couple of blocks to us, too. She said thatit wasn’t her business and gave me theaddress of the U.S. Postmaster Generalin Washington, D.C. I got all the adultsin the barrio to sign a petition. I couldtell they thought nothing would happen,but a month later I received a typed let-ter addressed to “Mr. Cruz Reynoso,” anddeliveries began after that. When I triedto thank the postmaster, who I thoughthad arranged this, she gave me a very icyreception. I figured later that she prob-ably thought I had complained about her,which I hadn’t.I had five brothers and five sisters,but they reacted very differently; nonewere troublemakers like I was. I decidedto go on to college at a very young age.Don’t know exactly why. In the segre-gated school I attended, I had alwaystried to be in the middle—not gettingsuch bad grades that the kids wouldharass me but also not getting such goodones that the other kids would dislikeme either. But then, around the fifthgrade, I somehow got to reading booksand started doing very well. Maybe thecollege-educated Latino teacher we hadone year influenced me; he would havebeen a role model. I learned to work hard,like my dad, who always told me that itdidn’t matter what I did as long as it washonorable. So those teachings got me tothink about the future. I remember, afterI became a lawyer, I thought, “they’re pay-ing me to do what I used to do for free!”
What made it possible for you to navi-gate so successfully CRLA through thepolitical shark waters of its early life?
The dominant reason was that webelieved the War on Poverty and legal ser-vices were very, very important. Secondly,the charges against us were so ill-foundedthat we thought we could successfullyfight them. We heard that many of thepeople around Nixon agreed with us andknew there was no basis for the chargesReagan was making. A few months beforethe Reagan veto, a high-level commissionstudied us and concluded that we weredoing a good job. Then came Reagan withall these preposterous charges. For exam-ple, they accused us of helping prisonersriot. We couldn’t understand this. Theonly connection we could find was a casewe won allowing prisoners to receive mailfrom their lawyers without inspection bythe prison authorities. Thirdly, unsurethat we could fight a popular governor, wemade plans to continue CRLA privately,with some lawyers doing fee-based work tosupport the enterprise. I had been success-ful as a private attorney and could alwaysgo back to that. It wasn’t in my nature tobe intimidated.
How would you change your approachtoday?
CRLA’s director José Padilla is doing afine job; I would do what he does. CRLAis still under the government gun. Evenwhen they win cases, the losers get mem-bers of Congress or the Legal ServicesCorporation involved. We fought hardfor the Legal Services Corp., thinking itwould insulate CRLA from politics, but ithasn’t worked out that way. I think Obamawas mistaken to let the Republicansappoint several members of the LegalServices Corp. board. I don’t know why hedid it; perhaps he was hoping to work withthem. But the Republican appointees arecompletely opposed to the entire conceptof legal services, so now CRLA is alwaysfighting the administration, so to speak.Actually, if CRLA were
under thegun, I would worry.
You said that although CRLA succeededin getting many important changes andbenefits for farm workers, much remainsto be done. What?
Farm workers need all the possible govern-ment protections against pesticides andother dangerous or unhealthy workingconditions. They need to organize again,like the way construction workers usedto be organized. My brother used to be aconstruction laborer, and now he has apension. If unskilled construction laborerscan have a union, why not farm workers? Ithink unions created the middle class afterWWII. You have to have power to changethings. During the bracero program, therewas a requirement that farm workers work90 percent of the time. So the growersorganized moving them around to meetthat requirement. Later, Chavez and I wereat first opposed to the use of undocument-ed workers, but we eventually concludedthat instead of keeping them out, weshould organize them.
What immigration policy would yourecommend?
There are short-, intermediate-, and long-term answers. In the long run, whichnobody is talking about in Washington,we should work with Mexico and theCentral American countries to improveeconomic conditions there. We did it inEurope with the Marshall Plan, and theEU did it for Spain. If we used the moneywe’re spending on the drug wars, perhapswe could succeed. Also, some of our poli-cies are counterproductive. For instance,by subsidizing corn that we sell in Mexico,we drove about a million small corn farm-ers and their families off the land. Manycame here. The undocumented are inmany ways quite noble people who havesuffered to help their families.In the medium term, we should adjustimmigration quotas and policies basedon what we actually need so we get theright number coming in. Ninety percentof the farm workers in California areundocumented. Clearly, we need to bring
Published in The Judges' Journal, Volume 51, Number 3, Summer 2012. © 2012 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
Judges’ Journal
Vol. 51 No. 3
more workers in here. But we have quotasthat don’t recognize our own needs. Forexample, many of the European countriesdon’t fill their quotas, while the waitinglist from other countries can be 10 yearsor more. If fixed properly, the currentimmigration system would take care of many of the problems we have here.In the short term, we need a law likein the ’80s that includes amnesty. But inreality, for about 20 years even that lawwasn’t enforced, just as President Bushdid after Hurricane Katrina, when he saidthat he asked the immigration service tosuspend enforcement because we neededthe workers. We had a de jure law thatbarred the undocumented immigrants,but at the behest of the growers and theChamber of Commerce, the law remainedunenforced; they needed workers andactively recruited undocumented workersto come here. Thus, we had a de facto lawthat encouraged the undocumented tocome. The courts have ruled that the defacto law, not the de jure law, is the lawof the land.People talk about “illegal immigrants,”but in reality they are not violating anycriminal laws at all, unless they havebeen previously deported. I am not infavor of the system of “undocumented”workers; we should document everyone,as we do with everyone who comes fromCuba. Undocumented workers are toooften taken advantage of. While they paytaxes, they are often reluctant to call thepolice when a crime has been committedor to act as witnesses. They are also reluc-tant to take advantage of their rights tounionize or seek unemployment and otherprograms to which they are entitled.
When you first joined the bench, on theCalifornia Court of Appeals, what dif-ficulties did you face, and how did youdeal with them?
I always respected the appellate courts. Ihad little difficulty switching from beinga lawyer to being a judge; both do thesame kind of legal work—framing issues,researching precedent.I was sometimes told that I took toolong on cases. One reason for the com-plaint was that I wrote a lot of concurringand dissenting opinions for my Reagan-appointed colleagues. When Jerry Brownappointed me to the Third District Courtof Appeals, there were seven judges withonly one law clerk per judge. I asked forand got three or four externs as well.We actually agreed on 95 percent of the cases, but on some of the importantones I dissented. When a County Boardof Supervisors voted to close a publichospital, the majority upheld the deci-sion. However, from my own experienceI knew that other political considerationswere involved. I studied the court recordin detail and concluded that the statelaw required an equal alternative medi-cal plan for the poor that the board hadnot provided. The majority deferred tothe judgment of the county; I dissented.Other times, I would write concurrenceswhen the Supreme Court had ruled onthe issue and I disagreed with its doctrines.The biggest surprise to me was that manyof my fellow judges treated their work asjust another job, though an importantone. I guess I had an idealized view of appellate judges. I expected them to havea great interest in history and how thecases would evolve in the common law.But of the 50 or so appellate court judges, Icould count on the fingers of one hand thenumber who showed that level of concernfor history and the evolution of the law.They were good judges, but that approachwasn’t my ideal.
Did you have any role models as a judge?
A Reagan appointee, Bertrand Janes, wasmy mentor. He was a veteran, came froma small county, and had been DA there,and his chambers adjoined mine. So wewould talk about cases and issues, and hewould alert me to issues I wasn’t initiallyaware of. While he was conservative, weagreed on many things, and he was a veryfair-minded person. For example, whenhe was sent to Indio, in the CoachellaValley, he was asked to sign an order pay-ing money to the trustees and lawyers forthe local Native American tribes. But henoted that all the money due to the tribeswas going to the lawyers and trustees. Herefused to sign the order! They got some-one else to sign, I suppose, but now, yearslater, all that has come out and therehave been multibillion-dollar settlementswith the tribes because of the misman-agement and dishonesty of the trusteesand administrators of the Indian funds.When Janes was a district court judge,he tried a civil rights case. An African-American woman was barred from amud bath in a resort that offered mineralhot springs. Under a California statutethen, a successful civil rights plaintiff was entitled to a minimum of $100 indamages. That $100 had become thestandard award and not just a minimum,according to Janes. She won her case,and Janes became the first judge to awardsubstantially more than the minimum,saying she deserved more for being keptfrom the mud.
What did you find the most difficultcases?
Death penalties, when I served on theSupreme Court. I did a lot of researchon that. We had many precedents thatdid not technically change the standardof review for death penalty versus othercriminal cases. But the wording of thecases called on us to “be very sure!” SoI interpreted that to mean that if therewere a substantial question, we shouldsend the death penalty portion back forretrial. A person convicted was sentencedto life without the possibility of parole,so we weren’t letting these people ontothe streets. I remember, sadly, one casein which I wrote a decision upholdingthe death penalty against a man whodisarmed two officers and killed them.
The biggestsurprise to mewas that many of my fellow judgestreated their workas just another job.
Published in The Judges' Journal, Volume 51, Number 3, Summer 2012. © 2012 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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