Frances Muñoz, first Latina trial judge in California, dies at 92
The daughter of a Mexican-American farm worker, Frances Muñoz became the first Latina judge in the nation’s capital. She had been a prosecutor for the District of Columbia, which was home to her family, and later she entered private practice. She became a prominent civil rights attorney who was the first Latina to lead a major trial court and later was the first federal judge to preside over a criminal case involving a Latino defendant. In 1978, she became the first Latina to serve as chief judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Her impact on civil rights in D.C. was just as significant, and the fact that she became the first Latina to serve as chief judge was considered a milestone in the integration of the nation’s capital. In 1982, she moved to Los Angeles to become a trial judge, serving seven years there before returning to the D.C. Superior Court where she became chief judge in 1992. In 1995, she was appointed an independent trial court judge by President Bill Clinton. At first, she served as chief judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, then she was elevated to the federal bench in 2002, where she remains as the second Latina to serve as a federal judge in the District of Columbia.
Muñoz’s first trial in Los Angeles was in 1965, after a woman’s death in custody. She spent three years on trial, as did the chief judge of the Superior Court of California, who had prosecuted her in-court.
“Her father died at age 40 because he had been a farm worker,” Muñoz said, “and she was at home for the rest of her life.”
In 1982, Muñoz was appointed an independent trial judge by President Bill Clinton (Clinton was elected in 1992.)
“She was a hard worker and a good public servant,” said Clinton supporter Bob Stein, who worked with her as the chief of his office’s trial team. “One of her great contributions to this city was the appointment of first Latina judge.”
In 1994, Muñoz testified for five days in the case of the state of California v. Thomas Gaffey