Gerardo Sandoval

The Fighter

On the heels of a successful campaign for a judicial seat, Gerardo Sandoval '95 is ready to shake up the bench.

By Maria Lin

Winter 2009

Gerardo Sandoval ’95 raised more than a few eyebrows when he ran for San Francisco Superior Court judge on the premise of being an “activist and troublemaker.”

When asked what he meant by that, he responds: “I’m not going to accept the status quo. Judges are overly cautious about certain matters that they needn’t be.”

Overly cautious Sandoval isn’t. He challenged incumbent judge Thomas J. Mellon, Jr. in a runoff election in November 2008 and won. During the controversial campaign, Sandoval portrayed himself as a Hispanic Democrat looking to unsettle a largely white Republican bench, and a former policymaker who would not sit idly by on issues of diversity and access.

“Judges are like a law school faculty,” says Sandoval. “Diversity makes the collective body stronger and gives it a perspective that it otherwise wouldn’t have. If I have a question in a case, the only person I can call is another judge. When you have 50 judges with very similar backgrounds, it makes for a much more limited point of view.”

Sandoval previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, representing the lowest income neighborhood in the city. He was known for his feistiness and his commitment to the underserved. “Gerardo has always been a fighter,” says Jeff Adachi, public defender of San Francisco, who worked with Sandoval in the public defender’s office. “He fights for everyday people, and this will be one of his strengths as a jurist.”

Sandoval’s parents emigrated from Mexico to the United States in the early 1950s—his father was a farm worker and his mother a seamstress. The youngest of five children, he grew up in a rough central Los Angeles neighborhood where most children did not go on to college.

Thanks to a mother who was a strict disciplinarian, Sandoval focused on school and eventually earned a B.A. and a master's in city planning from the University of California at Berkeley, before receiving his J.D. from Columbia Law School.

As a judge, Sandoval will continue to push for a bench that is more representative of the people it serves. He also wants to demystify the court system; Sandoval criticizes the state judiciary for using an appointment process “shrouded in secrecy.” He wants to shed more light on internal court proceedings. He also wants to speak to high school students about the process of becoming a judge, make the courts accessible to non-English speakers, and provide community outreach to those unfamiliar with the court system.

Sandoval wants a lot of things. And fighting the good fight takes energy. So he relaxes by backpacking in the California Sierras, reading, and watching bad movies.

“You get tired all the time,” he says. “But you stop, take a breath, and keep going.”

Maria Lin is a New York-based writer and journalist who has written for New York magazine, GQ, and The Daily Journal.