On May 7, 2021, former California Supreme Court Associate Justice, law professor, and civil rights activist Cruz Reynoso passed away at age 90, surrounded by his family. Reynoso was born on May 2, 1931 in Brea, California to Francisca Ramirez Reynoso and Juan Reynoso. Cruz was one of eleven children. Cruz along with his father and brothers worked as migrant farm workers. After high school, Cruz decided to go to college and attended Fullerton Community College, and then Pomona College. After graduation, Cruz was drafted into the U.S. Army where he served on the Counterintelligence Corp. While serving in the Army, Cruz was stationed in Washington D.C. where he met his first wife, Jeannene Harness. They married in 1956 and raised four children together. Jeannene passed in 2007 and in 2008 Cruz married Elaine Rowan. Elaine passed in 2017.
Cruz earned his law degree from Boalt Hall at UC Berkley in 1958. After which he practiced law in El Centro, California. In 1968 Cruz became the director of California Rural Legal Assistance, the first state-wide legal services program. In 1972 Cruz became a law professor at University of New Mexico. In 1976, Governor Brown appointed him to be a Justice of the 3rd District Court of Appeals. In 1982, Brown appointed Cruz to be the first Mexican American to serve on the State Supreme Court. After leaving the Court in 1987, Cruz practiced law once again. In 1991 Cruz began teaching law at UCLA. In 2001 UC Davis offered Cruz the Boochever and Bird Chair designed to promote freedom and equality. Cruz accepted and taught at UC Davis until 2017.
Cruz worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Johnson administration, was appointed by President Carter to serve on the Congressional Select Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Policy. President Clinton appointed Cruz to be the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights and in 2000 gave Cruz the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in Social Justice. Cruz also served on Barak Obama’s transition team.
Cruz’s life passion was creating a more just society. He fought for equal rights for under-represented populations, legal access for the poor, worker’s rights, immigration reform, and voting rights. When not fighting legal battles, Cruz loved working on his ranch in Sacramento County. Cruz also loved reading about history and loved to draw. Abby Ginsberg produced an award-winning film about Cruz’s life titled “Sowing the Seeds of Justice.”
Cruz is survived by four brothers, four sisters, his four children and their spouses (Trina and Duane Heter, Ranene and Bob Royer, Len and Kym ReidReynoso, Rondall and Pamela Reynoso) along with two stepchildren and their spouses (Dean and Laudon Rowan, Hali Rowen and Andy Bale) seventeen grandchildren, three step grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Cruz is greatly loved and will be greatly missed. In lieu of flowers feel free to donate to the Cruz and Jeannene Reynoso Scholarship for Legal Access UC Davis School of Law – Alumni & Giving – Giving – scholarships – Scholarships: Cruz and Jeannene Reynoso Scholarship for Legal Access.
Cruz Reynoso was a friend and a mentor. I met Justice Reynoso when he was appointed to the California Supreme Court. I was a one-year clerk at the Court clerking for Justice Tobriner and on Central Staff. I also worked on his judicial campaign in 1982. Throughout my legal career, he was always there to give support and good advice. He inspired me to be a better lawyer and to always seek justice. I will miss him.
-Commissioner Dennis F. Hernandez, Los Angeles Superior Court
When you hear someone say “We have lost a legend,” it often feels like hyperbole. Not, however, in the case of Justice Reynoso. In fact, words cannot capture what this icon and hero meant and continues to mean to the legal community and to the Latino community at large. As a child of Mexican immigrants myself, and one who was born in Orange County and raised in some of its less-affluent communities, I have always felt a deep connection with Justice Reynoso. The more I learned about him, the more I wanted to emulate him. When I got to law school at UC Berkeley and learned that he had gone there as well, I knew I had made the right choice. I’ve always felt that if I could accomplish just a small fraction of what he did, then that would really be worthwhile. I can’t say I knew him well, but I was honored to have met him several times and I can say that his public persona was exceeded only by his warmth and genuineness as an individual. The first few times I met him, I was a young lawyer. He was facing a retention election for his seat on the California Supreme Court. He spoke about how much he disliked campaigning and fund-raising, two activities necessary to win that election. Ultimately, he “lost,” but many, many law students and others he was able to teach “won,” in that they were able to learn from him how to continue to make a difference, even after a setback. That, perhaps, is his greatest legacy – to have inspired generations of lawyers, judges and communities across the state and the nation – to continue striving to make the world a better place, to do so with intelligence, humility and grace and to treat everyone with respect – including your adversaries. Thank you, Justice Reynoso, for that important life lesson. May you Rest In Peace – you will never be forgotten.
Judge Maurice Sanchez, Orange County Superior Court
Justice Reynoso’s dedication to public service and his passion for helping underserved communities have inspired countless attorneys and judges. He has left a lasting impact on all of our lives and we owe him and his family a debt of gratitude.
Justice Patricia Guerrero, Associate Justice, California Court of Appeal
In the summer of 1974, while attending the CLEO Institute at Santa Clara University, I had the honor of hearing Justice Reynoso speak to a group of us at a luncheon. We were non-white students attending a summer institute to help prepare us for the challenges of going into law. I remember Justice Reynoso saying, “Go out there a be a trouble maker for good!” I will never forget his passion or his encouragement to make change in a constructive way – that is why I decided to be a deputy public defender. The world has lost a bright soul. My father and my mother worked with Justice Reynoso in the 1950’s as members of the CSO. I met Justice Reynoso again at a 50 year anniversary of the CSO (Community Service Organization). My father (Juan Hoyos Marcoida), passed a couple of months ago, as well. He was so proud to re-introduce me again to Justice Reynoso.
Judge Virginia Marcoida, Sonoma County Superior Court
I first met Justice Reynoso in the 80s when he visited Fresno as an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court. He was humble, unassuming and gracious as always. He was always willing to help our local La Raza Lawyers Association with our mission of growth and serving the community. He served as a role model for excellence in the legal and judicial fields. I have tried to model my own career based on the qualities and traits he exhibited.
I fondly recall appearing before the Fresno Unified District School Board to read a letter Justice Reynoso wrote about deceased Fresno Superior Court Judge Mario G. Olmos. Justice Reynoso had apparently worked with Judge Olmos at CRLA. His letter urged the Board to name an elementary school for Judge Olmos. The Board voted to do so.
I last spoke to Justice Reynoso in Sacramento, where he was a speaker at a Latinx community event. I believe this was around 2014 or 2015. We had a discussion about my role as an Associate Justice on the Fifth District Court of Appeal, and he encouraged me to stay involved in community activities (much as he had continued to do so).
I will always remember Justice Reynoso as a pioneer — our first Latino Supreme Court Justice. He has been an instrumental leader for opening opportunities to Latino lawyers and judges in California.
Justice Rosendo Peña, Jr., Associate Justice, California Court of Appeal