For the first time, the more than 237,000 attorneys who work in California will be led by a Latino who not only was raised in Mexico, but knows first-hand what it’s like to grow up being part of the minority crowd.
Luis Rodriguez, who was sworn in Saturday, says that being bilingual and bicultural has definitely been an asset in his career. He learned a lot, he said, from the challenges he and his family had to endure in their going back and forth from Los Angeles, where he was born, to Ciudad Juárez, and back to L.A., when Luis was 13.
“What made me a better attorney was being faced with many challenges,” he told Fox News Latino. “My parents were not wealthy, my father fought alcohol abuse. These challenges taught me to be strong but sensitive to the fact that life is not black and white. They taught me about forgiveness and redemption because we all need sympathy at one point in our lives.”
Rodriguez, who is 46, attended Santa Clara University, where he graduated with honors, and then Santa Clara Law School.
While at law school, he worked part time as a law clerk at the Santa Clara County Public Defender's Office and became a full-time attorney there after graduating in 1994.
My parents were not wealthy, my father fought alcohol abuse. These challenges taught me to be strong but sensitive to the fact that life is not black and white.
- Luis Rodriguez
The first in his family to attend college, Rodriguez said his personal goal as president of the California Bar is “to serve as an example to Latinos and non-Latinos alike of the positive contribution that we bring to the betterment of our society.”
As for his policy goals, they aim directly at the heart of immigration: he said he has been working with Sacramento legislators and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) to create legislation that will give the State Bar more authority to go after unscrupulous actors in the area of immigration law, whether they are attorneys or not.
“I am committed to continue further vigilance in an area that is full of vulnerable and hardworking individuals,” he said, adding that immigration reform needs to be a priority in Washington in order “to address the existence of the many who live in the shadows and see how they can become visible and contributing members of our democracy.”
At home, Rodriguez –who is married with two daughters– promotes embracing all things Hispanic, starting with the golden rule of “Spanish only” in the house unless there is a guest who doesn’t speak the language.
Other than his well-known love for turkey albondiga (meatball) soup and chile jalapeño curtido, Rodriguez stands out for his humility and compassion. Former state lawmaker and attorney Martha Escutia, who was recently interviewed by California Report radio, said she is “a big, big fan of his for a long time.”
Escutia served with Rodriguez on the board of the L.A. County Mexican-American Bar Association in the 1990s and worked with him when she chaired the state Senate Judiciary Committee, and says she has no doubt Rodriguez will bring a fresh perspective to the position.
"I think he has a very down-to-earth quality. He's humble, very smart and when you combine smarts and humility, it's a lethal combination. A humble person that's extremely smart is always looking for a win-win solution...I think that's a very good thing," she said.