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SALINAS >> Growing up in King City, Rafael Vasquez had a lot of support from teachers and coaches, people who helped him see the value and benefits of a post-high school education.
Then, at San Jose State University, his professors encouraged him to become a lawyer.
“For some reason, I demonstrated a skill set of abilities that would translate” well to the legal world, Vasquez said Friday. “They were the ones who pushed me to apply to law school, become a lawyer and dedicate myself to legal career.”
After only 13 years practicing law mostly as a prosecutor, Vasquez was appointed on Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve as judge in the Monterey County Superior Court. He’ll fill the vacancy left by Judge Albert Maldonado, who retired in June.
“I’m extremely humbled, extremely grateful,” said Vasquez, 42. “It means a great deal to be able to serve Monterey County, the community I’ve always called home.”
Raised in an immigrant family, Vasquez graduated from King City High School in 1993 and started his higher education at Hartnell College. He graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2000 and a masters in 2001. He completed his juris doctor degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 2004.
Vasquez has spent most of his professional career as a prosecutor, first in Alameda County then in Santa Cruz County, where he’s worked since 2010.
In Santa Cruz, Vasquez is assigned to the felony division and has prosecuted some high-profile cases, including a teen accused of killing 8-year-old Maddy Middleton in 2015.
“Governor Brown could not have made a better choice than appoint Rafael to the bench,” said Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo. “He is not only an outstanding attorney, but has served as a mentor to so many young people in Salinas through Little League and has focused on protecting farmworker women from sexual assault in the fields... His appointment will also serve as an inspiration to so many young people through the Salinas Valley who have lived a similar experience as him.”
Brown appointed 33 judges on Friday: 16 women, 17 men, 23 registered Democrats, 10 without party affiliation, and six with Latino names. The youngest, Emma Smith, is 37 and was appointed to the Riverside County Superior Court. The oldest, Daniel Balsky, is 65 and was appointed to the San Diego Superior court. They’ll all get paid $200,042 a year.
Sergio Sanchez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Central Coast, earlier this week held a workshop for students interested in attending law school. One of the topics discussed was the limited number of Latinos in the judicial branch. In Monterey County, where the Hispanic population is nearly 60 percent, there have only been three Latino judges on a bench of 18 in the last few years.
“With Monterey County’s population being majority Latino, it is important that our court system reflects the diversity of our community,” Sanchez said. “The appointment of Rafael Vasquez to the Monterey County Superior Court is an important and exciting moment for the Latino community of the Central Coast. Just as it’s important that juries are diverse, the judges hearing those cases should also reflect the makeup of our communities.”
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 831-726-4370.