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Americans of Hispanic descent have made contributions to the success and enrichment of our nation, state, and the University of Houston Law Center. We are currently celebrating their accomplishments, history and culture during National Hispanic Heritage Month — actually a 30-day period from September 15 to October 15. The observance honors those whose ancestors came from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain, and Central and South America. President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed a week-long observance in 1968 which was expanded to the current period by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The date of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18, respectively. Also, October 12 is celebrated in many Spanish-speaking countries as Día de la Raza. All these significant dates fall within this 30-day period.

Since Tony Bonilla became the first Hispanic graduate of the UH Law Center in 1960, the percentage of Hispanic students has ranged from 16 percent to 23 percent of recent entering classes. Hispanics have played a major role in the classrooms and administration of the Law Center, and alumni have gone on to great success in courtrooms and boardrooms in Houston and across the nation.

Given the recent negative discourse and actual acts of violence against those of Hispanic ancestry, it is more important than ever to reflect on the tremendous contributions that Hispanics have made and continue to make to our society, including the Law Center community.

I would like to single out a few notable examples here and then please take a moment to click through the slide show to see more about other Hispanic alumni who have made their mark at the Law Center, in the judiciary, academia, the business world, the legal profession, and society in general.

  • Tony Bonilla ’60: President, Bonilla & Chapa, P.C.; first Hispanic graduate
  • Armando Rodriguez ’67: Retired, Justice of the Peace; first full-time Hispanic judge in Houston and Harris County (1973)
  • Rosemary Saucillo Moreno ’65: Associate Judge for the Municipal Court Bench; first Hispanic woman judge in the City of Houston (1974)
  • Raul A. Gonzalez, Jr. ’66: First Hispanic Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court (1984); first Hispanic law alumni to serve on the University of Houston Board of Regents
  • Fortunato Pedro "Pete" Benavides '72: Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; First Hispanic law alumni judge on the Fifth Circuit (1994)
  • Dori Contreras ’90: Chief Justice, Texas Thirteenth Court of Appeals; first woman to be elected Chief Justice of the Texas Thirteenth Court of Appeals; second Latina statewide to hold the office of Chief Justice
  • Vilma Luna ’85: Attorney, HillCo Partners; first UHLC Hispanic woman alumni to serve in the Texas House of Representatives (1993-2006)
  • Graciela Saenz ’86: First Hispanic woman elected at-large to Houston City Council
  • Armando Walle ’14: Member, Texas House of Representatives, 2009-present
  • Jorge Rangel: President, The Rangel Law Firm, P.C.; first Hispanic UHLC law professor (1975)
  • Stephen Zamora: First Hispanic UHLC tenured law professor and dean (1995-2000); established the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law
  • Michael A. Olivas: William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law; Director, Institute for Higher Education Law & Governance; Interim President, University of Houston-Downtown (2016-2017); President, AALS (2011)
  • Sandra Guerra Thompson: Newell H. Blakely Chair; Director, Criminal Justice Institute; first tenured Hispanic woman law professor at the Law Center and in the state
  • J. Michael Solar ’80: Founder and Managing Partner, The Law Offices of J. Michael Solar PLLC; Founder/President, Hispanic Bar Association; former director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Houston
  • Doris Rodriguez ’80: Partner, Hunton Andrews Kurth; first Hispanic woman partner at a major Houston law firm
  • Jacob "Jake" Monty ’93: Managing Partner, Monty & Ramirez,LLP; Ranked fifth largest immigration law firm in the Houston area in 2019 by Houston Business Journal; Former UH System Board of Regents

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to focus on the great accomplishments made and the successes yet to come for Hispanics at the Law Center, in the City of Houston, in the State of Texas, and in the nation.

This is but a start of the school’s project to collect stories and highlight the accomplishments of all our graduates no matter their background. If you know others who should be part of the slideshow, please let me know.


Leonard M. Baynes
Dean & Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center

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