Frances Muñoz, first Latina trial judge in California, dies at 92
A former San Francisco Superior Court judge who paved the way for Latina lawyers and women in the legal profession died last night at the age of 92.
Muñoz had been suffering from congestive heart failure and diabetes and had been in failing health for several years, but she was still a judge when she died of complications from heart disease, her daughters told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“She was a beloved person who showed more courage in the courtroom than most people have in the street,” said daughter Elizabeth Muñoz. “She was also a beloved mother and grandmother, and a grandmother to many children.”
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Frances Muñoz was a judge for three decades and led the first Latina judges panel in the U.S. The panel had been created by the Judicial Council of California to fill a void that had seen few Latina judges in the state, and even fewer who held law degrees.
Muñoz graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1951, then went on to UCLA Law School. While in law school she was a student assistant to Judge Roy M. Allen, who was at the time the only California superior court judge of Mexican descent.
The Judicial Council of California was formed in 1952 to fill the void and was the first to hire full-time Latinas on a permanent basis. Muñoz became a member in 1957 and was re-elected in 1961.
In April 1982, the Judicial Council asked the California Supreme Court for guidelines for appointing judges of color on the state level. The Supreme Court responded and created the Latina judges panel in January 1983.
The first Latina judges panel consisted of five women: Muñoz, Judge Marie E. Wilson, Judge Katherine F. Brasher and Judge Dolores W. Burch. The judges were chosen based on their experience and their ability to work with people, said Muñoz’s daughters.
Muñoz continued to serve as a judge until she retired in 1987. She then joined a private