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Cruz Reynoso '53 Awarded Prestigious Witkin Medal for His Ground-Breaking Legal Career

Cruz Reynoso ’53 was recently honored with the Bernard E. Witkin Medal by the California State Bar at its Annual Meeting in San Diego on September 4. The prestigious Witkin Medal, named after the renowned California legal scholar and Reynoso’s former colleague, is given annually to lawyers and scholars who have made a major impact on jurisprudence in the state.

“It is a great honor to receive an award and medal named after my friend, Bernie Witkin, a giant in California law,” Reynoso said. “The medal speaks to the importance of the Bar, the bench and law schools working together to enhance the rule of law.”

Reynoso’s illustrious legal career—one that earned him a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 2000—has spanned more than 50 years in positions across California and in Washington. He was the first Latino judge appointed to the California Courts of Appeal, and the first Latino to sit on the California Supreme Court after being appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1982. After failing to win re-confirmation to the court in 1986, Reynoso joined the faculty at the UCLA School of Law. In 2001, Reynoso became the first Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality at the University of California at Davis.

Reynoso has worked extensively on the issues of education and civil rights. In the 1960s, he was the assistant director of California's Fair Employment Practices Commission and associate general counsel to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington. He was also tapped as vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and chair of the California Post-Secondary Education Commission. Most recently, Reynoso assisted the Obama Administration’s transition to the White House as a member of a justice and civil rights agency review team.

“The dream I have followed is one seeking after social justice; not just formal legal justice, but real justice in an opportunity to obtain an education, to not want for food, clothing, housing and medical attention, and to be respected,” he said. “Each of us deserves no less.”

Reynoso graduated from Pomona College with a degree in history. After a brief stint in the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps, he earned his law degree from UC-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in 1958.

He currently serves as professor emeritus at UC Davis and sits on the leadership council of California Forward, a political organization aimed at reforming state government.