On May 25, 2017 our dear friend and colleague Miguel Angel Méndez passed away at his home in San Carlos, California, with his family at his side. We at Public Advocates deeply mourn the loss of Miguel, who joined our Board of Governors in 1976 and served for more than 25 years bringing his wisdom, intellect, and profound dedication to Public Advocates and our fight for social justice. Miguel was Chair of Public Advocates’ Board in 1995, providing critical leadership at an important time in our history.
“Miguel was a wonderful human being, a true warrior, a social justice champion and a beloved law school professor. To those of us at Public Advocates who worked with him and got to know him over his many years of service on the board and in the community, he was that and so much more. He cared profoundly about our mission and we honored him at our 2003 Voices of Conscience dinner for his many contributions to public interest law. Following in his footsteps, Miguel’s daughter, Gabriela, joined us as a summer intern in 2013 and stayed on to provide support to our Sacramento team before going to law school.”
—Guillermo Mayer, President & CEO, Public Advocates
Besides his day to day work as a board member, Miguel Méndez was also instrumental in the recruitment of Public Advocates’ last two chairs: Joan Harrington (immediate past chair) and Fred Alvarez (current chair) and former chair Leo Martinez. He is remembered by many of his Public Advocates’ colleagues for his many contributions to the organization.
“I am grateful for what Miguel patiently taught us about keeping faith with the community and our clients, and building a team and an institution. A gentle spirit and a tenacious fighter, Miguel’s legacy will endure in generations of advocates for justice, and the three exceptional board chairs he recruited to Public Advocates.”
–Jamienne Studley, President Emerita of Public Advocates
Méndez was the first Latino professor at Stanford Law School, where he taught for more than 30 years. He was loved and admired by his students and known for being a dedicated and innovative teacher. Méndez retired from Stanford in 2009, and joined the law faculty at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. In 2014 he retired from UC Davis and was a professor emeritus of law at both institutions.
He became a law professor after a long career as a public interest litigator and public defender. Before turning to teaching, he was the Deputy Director of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and a staff attorney for MALDEF.
“He meant so much to so many of us. He is certainly why I had the opportunity to join the Public Advocates family. He cared deeply for the people and the work of the organization, and it will always be a tribute to him that we do our work with even more love of community and a renewed dedication to addressing its most pressing needs.”
–Fred Alvarez, Chair of Public Advocates Board of Governors
According to published reports, Méndez was born on Christmas Day 1942 in Brownsville, Texas. His father was a prominent labor lawyer and judge who inspired Miguel to study law. He inspired young law students, including his own daughter and several nieces and nephews to pursue the profession. He was quoted as saying:
“I am often asked for a word of advice by my Latino students and other students of color. My reply over the years has been the same. ‘We are overrepresented only among the poor and the incarcerated. Whatever you choose to do with your law degree, just make sure that you leave the door you enter through a little wider for those who follow.'”
Méndez is survived by his two daughters, Arabela and Gabriela. The Méndez family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Stanford Law School’s Miguel Méndez Scholarship Fund, which helps low-income students and students of color finance their studies.