No one could fault Justice Cruz Reynoso if he had quietly dropped from public view after the bitter election of November, 1986, in which he and two other members of the state Supreme Court were turned out of office by the voters.
The rough campaign thrust Reynoso, Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justice Joseph R. Grodin into unaccustomed and uncomfortable roles as political candidates, trying to defend their judicial records in the 30-second television commercials that are the mainstays of today's electioneering.
With strong and well-organized opposition led by Gov. George Deukmejian, the three failed to win confirmation--an unprecedented occurrence in judicial elections in the state.
Since the election, however, the 57-year-old Reynoso has not avoided the public arena. He has launched a new and multifaceted career as a practicing lawyer, public servant, campus lecturer and social activist.
"I had thought that when I left the court I'd have all sorts of free time," he said in a recent interview in Sacramento. "But it hasn't quite worked out that way."
The former jurist, law professor and legal services administrator is on the boards of a number of organizations, including the Latino Issues Forum, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. He also is a member of a State Bar commission on providing legal help to the indigent and the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, which advises the Legislature and the governor on college educational issues.
One of his more visible roles is that of board chair of the Latino Issues Forum, a think tank engaged in a wide range of social and political activities.
Earlier this year, Reynoso served as primary spokesman for a delegation of Latino leaders who met with U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh to promote the formation of a "citizenship bureau" to assist immigrants in becoming naturalized citizens.
Forum members were heartened by what they saw as a promising beginning in preliminary discussions of the idea with Thornburgh.
"They spoke to each other across the table as equals," John C. Gamboa, executive director of the forum, said of Reynoso and Thornburgh. "We're very lucky to have Cruz as the chair of our organization. Without him we'd never have made the progress we have. . . . Right now, he is probably the most revered Hispanic leader in the Southwest."
In Reynoso's view, there is a frustrating conflict in the dual role of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in both assisting citizenship applications and enforcing laws against illegal immigration.
"We think this (citizenship bureau) is an idea whose time is come," he said. "Unfortunately, there are a many immigrants who never become citizens. A lot of them feel they don't have enough of a welcome in this country to become citizens."
Reynoso also has taken the lead in a campaign to encourage law firms to hire and promote more Latino lawyers. Last year the group sharply criticized the legal profession in the wake of a study by the National Law Journal showing that Latinos were only about 2% of the entry-level associates and 1% of the partners in the 30 largest firms in California.
"Representatives of some firms say to me, 'Hey, Cruz, what are you trying to do to us?' " Reynoso said. "I tell them, 'Just a little consciousness-raising.' "
On visits to college campuses, the former justice calls for new vigor in the campaign to attract minorities to the nation's law schools, expressing concern over what he senses is a waning enthusiasm for the task.
A recent study by the American Bar Assn. indicated that the number of minorities enrolled in law school has climbed steadily in the last decade but still number only 13,974 (or 11%) of the total enrollment of 120,694. Of the national total, 4,342 (or 3.6%) are Latino.
"I know these matters don't resolve themselves overnight," he said. "But before we have enough women and minority lawyers, we have to make sure we have enough women and minority law students . . . and, in turn, enough women and minorities as undergraduates in college. So there's work for all us to do."
Reynoso was born in Brea, one of 11 children of Mexican immigrants who later settled in La Habra. As a boy, he spent summers with his family working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. In elementary school, he came to love reading and even had to defend himself against classmates who teased him as el profe (the prof) because of his scholarly bent.
He graduated from Fullerton Union High School and went to Fullerton College and Pomona College before entering and graduating from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall Law School.
After service in the Army, he began a wide-ranging legal career that included private law practice, service as a government civil rights attorney and, finally, director of California Rural Legal Assistance, a pioneering government-funded legal services program for the rural poor.