Returning Home: An Interview with Honorable Leonard E. Marquez
The Honorable Leonard E. Marquez was officially sworn-in as a judge of the Contra Costa County Superior Court on April 5, 2018 and began his assignment in Department 34 at the Richard E. Arnason Justice Center in Pittsburg. He has returned to his home town in his first assignment and notes with pride that he can even see his alma mater, Pittsburg High School, from his chambers.
The following is a recent interview with Judge Marquez.
Q. I understand you grew up in Contra Costa County. Can you tell me a little about your childhood here?
I was born and raised in Pittsburg and most of my family lived in Pittsburg. It was nice because my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived within a few blocks of each other. It was a close-knit community of family and neighbors.
I attended Pittsburg High School where I played on the football team and also where I met my wife. We both still have a lot of family that live in the area.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to be a judge?
No. My father was a draftsman and, through his work, I became really interested in architecture and engineering. My dad always said, “my son is going to be an engineer” and I agreed with him. That is why I applied to the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Program at Princeton University.
In my senior year of high school, I participated in a Mock Trial Program. We had a great coach that year – my History Teacher David Littleton – and we won the overall competition at the county level. We were the underdogs compared to teams from other schools so it felt like “Bad News Bears” who just won the championship game. We later went to the state competition and I won the trophy for best pre-trial argument. That is one of the things that sparked my interest in the law.
Q. Where did you begin your legal career?
After I graduated with my B.A. in Politics from Princeton, I attended law school at UCLA School of Law. I knew I wanted to return to the Bay Area after I had finished law school and I was fortunate enough to be offered an associate position at the Oakland-based law firm of Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP. I was later made a partner at Wendel Rosen, where I spent my entire 18-year career before being appointed as a judge.
Q. Did you have any mentors that helped you on your path to becoming a judge?
Many of the senior partners at Wendel Rosen were very supportive throughout my career, both in helping me grow and learn as an attorney and also in encouraging me to pursue my goal of applying for a judicial appointment. Some of the key names that come to mind are, Gillian Ross, David Goldman, Zack Wasserman, Chris Noma and Peter Laufenberg.
Q. What is the best advice you received from one of your mentors?
It was not so much advice as it was a general work ethic that was seared in my soul when I worked with David Goldman early in my career. He was the man of a thousand edits. If, on the tenth go-round in editing some brief or paper, he caught something not quite right, it would be tweaked again and re-read yet again. He had a never relenting commitment to making sure we were putting out our best work product. He taught me to never settle on “good enough;” if something can be made better, then do it.
Q. You have been very active in the legal community and giving back to your community. What are some of the projects you worked on?
I volunteered for many years with the Donald P. McCullum Youth Court, which was a non-profit youth diversion program. The program involved youth from the community who would serve as the prosecution, defense and jury to decide the appropriate punishment for other young people who had admitted committing certain low-level offenses. Punishment was decided by a jury of peers and could be anything from community service hours to letters of apology. As a component of their sentences, the defendants also later served as jurors. I started with the program as a volunteer judge and later served on the Board of Directors, including as Board President.
I was also very active with the local- and state-level Hispanic Chamber of Commerce organizations and worked on a variety of community and educational programs and events for Hispanic-owned small businesses. I was the General Counsel for the statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce until my appointment.
Most recently I served as a Board Member of the Litigation Section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association (CCCBA) and was an instructor for CCCBA’s Civil Litigation Pro Per Clinic.
Q. What was your inspiration for getting involved in these types of projects?
It was not common in my time for a kid from Pittsburg to go to an Ivy League school. I saw struggles in my community but there were always people in the community reaching out to me and my peers and helping us to believe in ourselves and do something positive for our futures. I was fortunate enough to have this great support and that has motivated me to be involved in a variety of community projects.
Q. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I spend a lot of my free time designing and building with LEGO bricks. I participate in an annual convention called “Bricks by the Bay” where LEGO enthusiasts can display their own design creations. At this year’s convention, I received the “Runner Up” trophy for a sci-fi moonscape scene that I built. It featured a sprawling six-foot wide moon-like landscape with a moon mining outpost being attacked by a large “bad guy” mothership, sort of reminiscent of the large alien spaceships from the 90s movie Independence Day. Another one of my favorite LEGO builds was a scale model of the Mayan temple at Chichen Itza, Mexico. Done in 2012, that one featured a huge incoming LEGO-built asteroid looming over the rest of the building, evoking the Mayan “end of the world” folklore (pictured above).
(Author’s Note: Judge Marquez has an amazing LEGO replica of the United States Capitol Building on the desk in his chambers. It even has a removable dome that allows you to peek in to the rotunda and see the miniature LEGO statues.)
Q. Do your sons help you with your LEGO projects?
I have three sons aged 3, 9 and 12. My two oldest boys also enjoy building with LEGO bricks and spend a lot of time on projects with me. My youngest son is still not quite ready for LEGO bricks but he is definitely interested.
Q. What is one thing most people do not know about you?
I was a cheerleader at Princeton all four years while I was at school there. I played football in high school and loved to watch sports. So when my cousin told me they were looking for men to try out for the cheerleading squad, I decided to give it a try. It was a lot of fun and also great opportunity to travel around and watch all of the sports games.