Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Former Justice Cruz Reynoso to Receive Witkin Medal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, the first Latino to serve on the court, will receive the 2009 Bernard E. Witkin Medal, the State Bar of California said yesterday.
Reynoso, 78, is being honored for his “significant contributions to the quality of justice and legal scholarship” in California, the State Bar said, and will receive the award along with other honorees on Friday at the State Bar’s annual meeting in San Diego.
The Witkin Medal was created in 1993 at the instigation of Court of Appeal Justice Norman Epstein—now presiding justice of this district’s Div. Four—and named for the famed legal scholar who was its first recipient. It is awarded each year to “those legal giants who have altered the landscape of California jurisprudence,” the State Bar said.
Reynoso graduated from Boalt Hall School of Law after attending Pomona College in Claremont and spending two years in the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, and was admitted to the State Bar in 1959.
He entered private practice in El Centro, but in the 1960s served as assistant director of the state’s Fair Employment Practices Commission and then as staff secretary to then-Gov. Pat Brown, eventually going to Washington D.C. as associate general counsel to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In 1968, he returned to California to become deputy director of California Rural Legal Assistance, a legal services program for the poor, and was elevated to director before being tapped by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 1976 to become the first Latino on the California Court of Appeal. Brown similarly appointed Reynoso to the California Supreme Court in 1982.
In 1986, Reynoso, Chief Justice Rose Bird and Justice Joseph Grodin all failed to win confirmation at the polls following an intense, high-profile campaign against them. Reynoso briefly returned to private practice, then joined the faculty at the UCLA School of Law.
Reynoso has since served as vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and chair of the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, and in 2001 joined UC Davis School of Law as the first holder of the Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality.
In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton awarded Reynoso the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of his “compassion and work on behalf of the downtrodden.”
Reynoso is currently a professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Law, and last fall was tapped to assist with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition to the White House by serving on a justice and civil rights agency review team. He is also currently active on the leadership council of California Forward, a bipartisan organization seeking to transform state government.
Reynoso said the Witkin Medal is “a particularly meaningful award” for him because he knew Witkin and admired his work.
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