USC Gould School of Law
Commencement Keynote Speaker
Luis J. Rodriguez
President, State Bar of California
On Oct. 12, 2013, Luis J. Rodriguez was sworn in as the 89th President of the State Bar of California. Luis is the first Latino, the first active Public Defender and the first Santa Clara Law School Alumni to serve as President of the State Bar.
Luis attended Santa Clara University. While at SCU, Luis' commitment to social justice blossomed when he joined a coalition of student groups to urge the school's administration to divest from South Africa's then apartheid government; he fought for an expansion of the Ethnic Studies curriculum and participated in student politics. Upon graduation, Luis was honored with the Nobili Award. The Nobili Award, named after SCU founder John Nobili, S.J., is given by the faculty and the provost to the male graduate judged outstanding in academic performance, personal character, school activities, and constructive contribution to the University.
Luis went on to Santa Clara Law School where he was active with the La Raza Law Students, and he continued his commitment to diversity and access to justice. In 1994, Luis joined the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office where he has worked for the last 19 years to fight for the rights of indigent adults and children charged with criminal offenses.
In his role as Special Counsel to then Public Defender, Michael P. Judge, Luis was also key to advancing Mr. Judge's commitment to the diversity of the attorneys in the Office. Luis was instrumental in assuring that not only attorneys were representative of the diverse population in L.A. County but that law clerks were similarly representative of L.A. County's rich and diverse community.
Luis has taken leadership roles throughout the years as President of the L.A. County Mexican American Bar Assoc., President of the California La Raza Lawyers Assoc., President of the Latino Public Defender Assoc., member of the California State Board of Education and Chair of the State Bar of California's Council on Access and Fairness (COAF). The mission of COAF is to advise the State Bar Board of Trustees on appropriate strategies consistent with State Bar policies and procedures that enhance opportunities and advancement in the legal profession for diverse populations, particularly those who have been historically underrepresented.
The commitment to social justice can be traced back to Luis' family and childhood struggles. Both of his parents were Mexican immigrants. Neither parent had an education past high school, so Luis was the first in his family to attend college and law school. Although Luis was born in Los Angeles, at the age of 2, his parents moved back to Mexico to Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua. He lived in Juarez until the Fifth Grade which is when the family moved back to Los Angeles.
In the period from living in Mexico through high school in the U.S. Luis experienced xenophobia first hand. He and his family were often told to "go back to Mexico" or asked to show "your papers". In addition to fighting to overcome obstacles faced by many poor and immigrants, his family faced personal struggles. His father battled substance abuse for many years. Yet, his father's struggle was ultimately successful. This battle taught Luis about redemption, forgiveness and compassion.
Because of the obstacles that he faced and the support that he received from many, Luis forever committed himself to being the voice for those who have no voice. Luis is happily married. He and his wife are raising two young, socially conscious and loving girls who will become strong, independent and compassionate women.
As President of the State Bar of California, one can be assured that what has driven Luis for most of his life will continue to be the motivation to serve the community in a broader scale.