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UH Law Center remembers former Fifth Circuit Judge Fortunato Benavides ‘72 and his trailblazing career

Judge Fortunato Pedro Benavides

Judge Fortunato Pedro Benavides

May 11, 2023 —Judge Fortunato Pedro Benavides, often referred to as “Pete” by family and friends, died on May 5 in Austin, Texas. He was 76 years old.

Benavides obtained his B.B.A. from the University of Houston in 1968 and his J.D. from the Law Center in 1972. He went on to have a lengthy career in the judiciary, presiding over local, statewide and federal benches.

Benavides was born on Feb. 3, 1947, in Mission, Texas and grew up in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley. After completing his legal education, he returned to McAllen and briefly worked as a litigator in private practice. 

In 1977, Benavides was appointed as a judge on the Hidalgo County Court at Law, a role he served in for two years. In 1981, he was elected to the 92nd District Court in Hidalgo County. Former Texas Gov. Mark White appointed Benavides to the 13th Court of Appeals of Texas in Corpus Christi in 1984, a position he would serve in for seven years.

In 1991, then-Gov. Ann Richards appointed Benavides to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 1994, former president Bill Clinton selected Benavides to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Benavides is the first and only Law Center graduate to serve on the Fifth Circuit. 

Benavides served multiple terms on the Fifth Circuit’s judicial council. In 2012, Benavides assumed senior status. He was also a committee member of the U.S. Judicial Conference, including the Committee on International Judicial Relations and the Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System.

According to his obituary, Chief Judge Priscilla Richman of the Fifth Circuit, said of her colleague, “Judge Benavides has recounted rich, sometimes poignant, often humorous, personal and professional experiences, as anyone who has spent even a short time conversing with him can attest, including judges, countless law clerks from his and other judges' chambers, and other court personnel. It is a privilege to know him. We have all benefited greatly from his experiences and perspectives and his positive, though incisive, outlook.”

Between his time on the Fifth Circuit and as a state judge, Benavides authored more than 2,500 opinions. In addition to his time on the bench, Benavides was a member of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, and he helped to establish the Ramiro H. Guerra Youth Village in Weslaco, a center for at-risk teens.

His memorial service will be at 11 a.m. on May 19 at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. In lieu of flowers, Benavides’ family asks mourners to donate to a charitable cause of their choice in his name.

Click here to read the full obituary.

Click here for a UH Law Center video interview with former Fifth Circuit Judge Benavides.

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