The School of Law held a symposium Oct. 21 to honor Justice Cruz Reynoso's civil rights legacy. But Reynoso, who died last May at age 90, was remembered even more for the person he was.
His was a life well accomplished: first Latino member of the California Supreme Court, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, longtime director of California Rural Legal Assistance and law professor at UCLA and UC Davis. He advised multiple student groups. He was a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Law. He helped immigrants get citizenship. He had a bar association named for him. He spent a lifetime righting wrongs.
But all agreed, whether he was your colleague, your professor, your mentor or even your idol, he “was just a really nice person.”
“He cared about humanity,” said José Padilla, chief executive officer of California Rural Legal Assistance, commenting via Zoom while watching the in-person panel discussion at the law school. The CRLA is a nonprofit legal service and advocacy organization that champions the rights of California’s rural poor.
“He always treated you as if you were the most important person in the room,” added Padilla, explaining that farmworkers and judges were treated equally by Reynoso.
“He was a religious and moral man. He did not drink. He did not smoke. He did not dance. He did not swear.”
And in a life where there were many successes, but some disappointments — such as being historically removed from the Supreme Court with two other justices in 1986, by statewide vote — he took it in stride. He would shrug his shoulders and say, according to School of Law Dean Kevin Johnson: “That is just politics.”
The panel of community activists, law faculty and an audience of about 90 people in-person and more than 100 on Zoom shared stories of meeting Reynoso, of working for him and of being his student.
Born into a farmworker family in Southern California, Reynoso dedicated his life to fighting the injustices he experienced as a Latino by working in public service, and advocating for workers, immigrants and the indigent for five decades.
Amagda Pérez, a panel speaker, and a law school class of ’91 graduate, talked about getting to know Reynoso as a law student, and later working with him after law school. She is co-director of the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic and executive director of the CRLA Foundation. She said that throughout his life Reynoso exemplified the Spanish word “caballero,” or gentleman, and was a defender of justice.
Reynoso’s son, Len ReidReynoso, a law school alumnus and Northern California attorney, spoke from the audience that he wanted to share, as well, that education — from kindergarten through college — was always important to both his parents, who raised four children. “They felt it was important for everyone to be educated,” he said, adding that his parents used to fund an award for the eighth-grade student with the best score on the Constitution test in their community.
A transcript of the panel discussion will be published in the UC Davis Social Justice Law Review.
For more event information go here.
A short biography paying tribute to his life written by Johnson in a California history journal can be found here. Here is a short story paying tribute to his life by UC Davis and one by his law school alma mater, UC Berkeley, here.