California Bar Journal
CBJ - October 2009 #05.
Cruz Reynoso honored as a 'legal giant'
California Bar JournalOctober 2009Cruz Reynoso honored as a 'legal giant'By Kristina Horton FlahertyStaff WriterAs a child, Cruz Reynoso thought it was unfair that the mail carrier's route ended just two blocks short of his poor Orange County barrio. His parents and neighbors had to trudge more than a mile into town just to pick up their mail.
So the middle school-aged boy, who would someday become the first Latino to serve on California's Supreme Court, did something about it. He penciled out a petition, collected signatures from all over the barrio and successfully appealed to the U.S. Postmaster General in Washington D.C. for rural mail delivery.
That early success, Reynoso says now, helped fuel his determination to keep "doing things that needed to be done."
Last month, Reynoso, now 78, was awarded the State Bar's Bernard E. Witkin Medal for his "significant contributions to the quality of justice and legal scholarship" in California. The medal, established in 1993, is presented each year to "those legal giants who have altered the landscape of California jurisprudence."
Known as a civil rights champion, Reynoso has worked as a lawyer, community organizer, law professor, legal services program director, appellate court justice and state Supreme Court justice. He has served three California governors and four U.S. presidents. In 2000, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in recognition of his "compassion and work on behalf of the downtrodden."
"Justice Reynoso has been a champion on the side of providing full access to justice to all throughout his career," said former State Bar President Holly Fujie. "This medal simply celebrates his unfaltering commitment to the justice system and his extraordinary efforts to obtain equal rights for all of us."
One of 11 children raised in a family of farmworkers, Reynoso was introduced to segregation, discrimination and other injustices at an early age. He once watched a police officer kick his father. He spent his childhood summers picking fruit in the San Joaquin Valley, once becoming too exhausted and dehydrated to move, and once facing a traumatic delay in the entire family's summer pay.
But from early on, Reynoso also...