Maurice Sanchez made history in January when he was unanimously confirmed as associate justice of California’s 4th District Court of Appeal, Division 3. He is the first Latino and first person of color to serve on the bench.
Sanchez, 65, who earned his bachelor’s degree in social ecology from UCI in 1978 and law degree from UC Berkeley in 1981, grew up in Santa Ana, where the appellate court is based.
“To be appointed one of the eight justices on our local court of appeal is a tremendous honor and responsibility,” Sanchez says. “Historically, it’s humbling to be the first person of color on this court, which is about 40 years old. I never would have dreamed when I was a kid riding my bicycle around the streets of Santa Ana that I would be in this position.”
Sanchez is the son of hard-working Mexican immigrants who settled in Santa Ana with the dream of giving their four children opportunities they never had. But his father died of emphysema when he was 8, and his mother worked long hours while her daughters looked after their younger brother. Despite their difficulties, the Sanchez children took their schoolwork seriously. Sanchez attended Mater Dei High School on a scholarship, and he and all his siblings earned college degrees.
After receiving his J.D., Sanchez began his legal career with Rutan & Tucker in Costa Mesa. He later worked as in-house counsel for Hyundai Motor America and Mazda Motor of America Inc. He returned to private practice with Alvarado, Smith & Sanchez and later became an equity partner with two Am Law 100 firms – Baker & Hostetler, where he was named national leader of the distribution and franchise team; and Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, where he helped launch its Los Angeles office.
Sanchez has represented more than a dozen motor vehicle manufacturers, trying numerous cases in several states before both administrative agencies and in court, including bench and jury trials and appeals. He was responsible for drafting and implementing national dealer agreements and policies for six major motor vehicle companies.
In 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Sanchez to the Orange County Superior Court bench, where he was assigned to the Family Law Panel. He served for three years – until embarking on his newest role.
Sanchez recently answered a few questions posed by Mimi Ko Cruz of UCI’s School of Social Ecology.
Who is your role model?
I have had many role models, but if I had to choose one, it would be Justice Cruz Reynoso, who was the first Hispanic person to sit on the California Supreme Court. A man of great intellect and great humility, Justice Reynoso was born in Orange County [Brea] and was a true champion of those less fortunate.
Why did you pursue a career in law?
I decided to pursue a career in law after taking some law classes at UCI: constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, and one or two others. I also took a paralegal class at a community college, just to get a feel for what law would be like as a career. I didn’t know any lawyers at the time. The instructor, a practicing attorney, encouraged me to go to law school, and so I applied.
What is your philosophy?
My philosophy is to live the best life you can, by your own definition. Don’t worry about what others say you should do with your life – only you can determine that.
Do you have any UCI memories that made an impact on your career or life?
There was an adjunct professor, Dian Ogilvie, who taught criminal law and procedure. I never practiced criminal law, but she made it sound so interesting that it really made me want to go to law school.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy watching sports, both live and on TV, especially the Lakers. I’ve been a fan since the early ’60s. I enjoy history and reading about historical figures, especially the [nation’s] founders. I very much enjoyed the musical “Hamilton” and the book it was based upon, by Ron Chernow. One of the more interesting parts of the book was the role of women, especially Eliza Hamilton, in the Revolution. John Adams’ biography by David McCullough also contains interesting passages about his wife, Abigail.
Lastly, I enjoy trivia. Here’s a question that combines my love of history and sports: Five universities have produced both a U.S. president and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Name them. Answer: 1. the University of Michigan: Gerald Ford and Tom Brady; 2. the University of Delaware: Joe Biden and Joe Flacco; 3. Stanford University: Herbert Hoover and John Elway, as well as Jim Plunkett; 4. the Naval Academy: Jimmy Carter and Roger Staubach; and the toughest one, 5. Miami University (Ohio): Benjamin Harrison and Ben Roethlisberger.
“Live the best life you can, by your own
definition. Don’t worry about what others
say you should do with your life – only you
can determine that.”
– Maurice Sanchez
What is your favorite book and why?
I revere Abraham Lincoln. A country lawyer, he rose to the presidency and saved the nation from coming apart in the Civil War. My favorite book on him is Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It describes how Lincoln built his Cabinet to contain all those people who disagreed with him and how he loved to hear differing viewpoints in coming to his own conclusions. At first, his Cabinet members thought they could overwhelm this country bumpkin who was elected president, but they all came to respect his intellect and his ability to build consensus. I strive to be more like him in this regard.
Any additional thoughts for readers?
Fortune favors the bold. Don’t stop yourself. If there is something you want to do, go for it, or at least find out how you can eventually get there. Take that first step. You never know where it can lead you – maybe to something you didn’t know existed but that you really love doing. If you can’t get paid for it at first, volunteer. Eventually, if you’re good enough, you can be paid for your work.