Kazan Law is proud to announce that one of its former associate attorneys has just become one of the newest judges on the California bench. In December of 2017, Rafael Vazquez, 42, was among 33 new judges appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. Judge Rafael Vazquez will serve in the Monterey County Superior Court.
Humble Beginnings for Judge Rafael Vazquez
The fact that he was appointed to a judgeship at so young an age is no small accomplishment for Judge Rafael Vazquez. He grew up in King City in Monterey County, the son of immigrant parents. His teachers and coaches at King City High School encouraged him to dream big and seek out a college education.
After he graduated from high school in 1993, Rafael started his college career at Hartnell Community College in Salinas, then transferred to San Jose State. While he was at San Jose State, his teachers recognized his potential for success and suggested that he apply to law school.
Rafael finished his undergraduate work in 2000 with a degree in criminal justice. He went on to get his Master’s degree from San Jose State a year later. Rafael was a law clerk in the law-and-motion department at Kazan Law while he attended the University Of San Francisco School of Law. It was there he met Dianna Lyons, a Kazan Law partner (now retired) who became an important mentor to Rafael as he advanced his legal career.
After he completed his law degree in 2004, Rafael went to work for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office as a deputy district attorney. In in 2007, he took a job at a law firm and, in 2008, he returned to Kazan Law as an associate attorney. He left the firm to become an assistant D.A. for Santa Cruz County.
During his time as a D.A., Rafael prosecuted some high-profile cases, including the case of a teenager who committed a high-profile murder of a young girl in 2015. He felt the crime was premeditated and that the teen should not be back on the streets any time soon. He recently succeeded in moving that case to the adult courts, where the defendant is more likely to get a tougher sentence.
After practicing law for just 13 years, Rafael was elevated to the bench on February 2, 2018.
Finding a Mentor at Kazan Law
From left to right, Kazan Law partner (retired) Dianna Lyons, Judge Rafael Vazquez, Kazan Law associate Ian Rivamonte
One of the people most excited to attend the investiture of Judge Rafael Vazquez was Dianna Lyons, who has stayed in touch with her former law clerk through the years. The investiture of a judge is the ceremony where an appointed judge is formally given his post. Judge Rafael Vazquez used the opportunity to remember the mentorship he received from Dianna at Kazan Law. In this early legal experience, Dianna’s guidance helped Rafael get his start as a lawyer. She made an impression that has stayed with him to this day.
When Rafael came back to Kazan Law in 2008, he didn’t work directly with Dianna, but she continued to support his development as a lawyer. He particularly appreciated Dianna’s perspective on maintaining work-life balance as an attorney.
Dianna was just one in a long line of people who saw Rafael’s promise and gave him the leg up he needed to move to the next level. At Kazan Law, we are honored to have played a part in the training of someone as bright and motivated as Rafael. We are humbled to have Judge Rafael Vazquez among our alumni.
A Showing of Support for Judge Rafael Vazquez
Judge Vazquez addressing the audience during the investiture at the Monterey County Government Center
Dianna Lyons wasn’t the only distinguished guest present to celebrate the elevation of Judge Rafael Vazquez. Congressman Jimmy Panetta, who represents the 20th District (Monterey, San Benito, and part of Santa Cruz counties) in Washington, was in attendance as well. Rafael and Jimmy met when they both worked for the D.A.’s office in Alameda County and they have remained close friends ever since.
Jimmy’s father Leon Panetta was also on hand to celebrate Rafael’s judicial appointment. Leon Panetta represented the same part of California that his son now serves for 16 years, until he left to be Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton in 1994. More recently, Leon Panetta served as the Secretary of Defense and CIA Director under Barack Obama and he’s another inspirational figure for Rafael.
Perhaps the most important people at the ceremony were also named Vazquez: Judge Rafael Vazquez’s three children, Apollonia, Vianni, and Trajan, along with his wife, Yvette.
Judge Rafael Vazquez Represents California’s Legal Future
In Monterey County, where almost 60 percent of county residents are Latino, only 16 percent of the judges have been Latino in recent years. The elevation of Judge Rafael Vazquez to the bench will help make the county’s judges more representative of the population.
As a first-generation American with immigrant parents, Rafael is in a better position than most to understand the life histories of many of the people who will pass through his courtroom. His contributions to his community won’t be limited to the courtroom; he has a history of community service that will serve him well as a member of the judiciary. He mentors young people in Salinas, where he lives. He has also done work to safeguard female farm workers from sexual harassment and assault. He is passing on to others the leg up that helped launch him on his legal career.
People like Rafael represent the future of the judiciary: smart, talented legal minds from a broad range of backgrounds who will bring many perspectives to the cases they hear. Perhaps most important, Rafael sets an example for others. Kids in Monterey County who live in immigrant families like his can see his example and know that, if a kid from King City can grow up to be Judge Rafael Vazquez, they can too.