Evidence legal scholar and Stanford Law’s first Latino professor, Miguel A. Méndez, dies

Méndez was a pioneer of clinical legal education and Stanford Law School’s first Latino professor. He taught at the school for more than 30 years and was a “beacon” for students.

Miguel A. Méndez, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Emeritus, and Stanford Law School’s first Latino professor, died May 25 at his home in San Carlos. He was 74 years old.

Méndez, a leading authority on both the federal and California rules of evidence, taught at Stanford Law School for more than three decades. He retired in 2009 and joined the law faculty at the University of California, Davis, School of Law to be closer to one of his daughters, who was an undergraduate there. He retired from UC Davis in 2014 and was a professor emeritus of law at both schools.

Miguel Mendez in his office

Miguel Méndez was a devoted and innovative teacher who took part in an early form of clinical legal education pioneered at Stanford Law School in the 1970s. (Image credit: Stanford Visual Art Services)

“Miguel Méndez did everything in his career – he was a lawyer devoted to serving the public good, an engaged and active scholar, a devoted teacher and a great citizen of the school,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. “Miguel did all of these things well, but what made him stand out was the incredible connection he had with his students, who looked up to and were inspired by him during their time in law school and long after.”

“Miguel’s humanity, warmth and witty intelligence were wondrous,” said William B. Gould IV, the Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law, Emeritus. “He was genuine in what he stood for. We will not see the likes of him again.”

From public interest to tenured professor

Méndez joined the Stanford Law faculty in 1977 after a litigation career in the field of public interest, including time spent as a deputy public defender in the Monterey County Public Defender’s Office, the deputy director of California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. and staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was granted tenure in 1984.

In an interview with the Stanford Law School Journal in October 1984, Méndez said, “I felt the only way I would be a good professor was to know something about the profession, to know about the problems judges and trial lawyers face.” He continued, “I wouldn’t be able to teach Evidence if I had not been a public defender.”

An author of leading works on the law of evidence, Méndez wrote extensively about the federal and California evidence codes and on emerging issues in state substantive criminal law. He published three books, including California Evidence: Highlighting the Major Differences Between the California Evidence Code and the Federal Rules of Evidence, widely considered to be an indispensable guide for trial attorneys and judges. Two of his books, Evidence – A Concise Comparison of the Federal Rules with the California Code and Evidence: The California Code & the Federal Rules – A Problem Approach, appeared in multiple editions.

At the forefront of clinical legal education

George Fisher, the Judge John Crown Professor of Law and an evidence colleague of Méndez’s, said beyond producing “path-breaking” scholarly work, Méndez was a devoted and innovative teacher.

“He took part in the birth of an early form of clinical legal education pioneered here at Stanford Law in the 1970s,” Fisher said.

Attorney and Stanford University Trustee Fred Alvarez, AB ’72, JD ’75, a close friend of Méndez’s, said that his focus was about helping lawyers try cases.

“What made Miguel a distinctive teacher was that his scholarship was intensely focused on the practitioner – on what real lawyers do every day,” he said. “For him to do that as a Stanford Law professor was remarkable.”

A ‘beacon’ for students

Alvarez said Méndez was an advocate for all students and was of particular importance to Latino students at Stanford Law.

“Miguel was a beacon,” continued Alvarez. “He made it clear that Latinos were welcome and gave people confidence.”

“He looked out for us. It wasn’t the easiest time to be a person of color going to law school and he knew the importance of us having role models,” said Stanford Law’s Legal Research and Writing Director Jeanne Merino, JD ’86. “In reflecting back, I am so struck by how committed he was to making the path easier for those who came after him.”

Méndez is survived by his two daughters, Arabela and Gabriela. A celebration of his life will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Carlos. 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. Donations can also be made to the Community Outreach Fund at Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Carlos.

Media Contacts

Carla Spain, Stanford Law School: (650) 723-2232, cspain@law.stanford.edu

Milenko Martinovich, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-9281, mmartino@stanford.edu