When former California Supreme Court Judge Cruz Reynoso got a call from University of California President Mark Yudof asking if he would like to spearhead a task force to review the investigation into the UC Davis pepper-spraying incident, Reynoso said just three words: "Are you sure?"
The Herald resident said he had theories as to why Yudof selected him, but he said he was honestly surprised to get the call.
"I am sure they knew somewhat of my background with litigation involving police departments, but all through my career my stance has been pretty clear," the 80-year-old Reynoso said. "I have not just assumed that everything a police department does is constitutional."
The professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Law was almost spot-on as to why he was chosen.
According to Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for the University of California, Yudof was absolutely positive that he wanted Reynoso for the leader of the task force.
Klein said Yudof believes Reynoso, who is not being paid for his work on the task force, will provide a fair and uncompromising look at what exactly happened on Nov. 18, 2011 when UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed a group of students who sat quietly in protest at UC Davis.
She added that Yudof personally selected Reynoso for the position based on his history in dealing with matters involving police department and civil rights investigations.
In his role, Reynoso will lead a team of UC faculty, staff and student representatives as well as a representative from the UC Office of the President to review a report submitted by private security contractor Kroll, headed by former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton.
Bratton will lead a team of investigators to conduct the probe of the notorious pepper spray attack on UC Davis students.
It is then up to Reynoso and the rest of the task force to look over the report and ultimately recommend proper courses of action UC Davis police and administrators can take in the future to ensure that civil rights are not violated.
Reynoso's involvement with addressing civil rights began at an early age — shortly after he and his 10 siblings moved with their mother and father from La Brea to a barrio in La Habra.
In his new neighborhood, Reynoso realized the United States Postal Service would not provide mail delivery service within the barrio, even though non-minority families living nearby received the service.
Reynoso circulated a petition demanding that the service be provided.
The Postal Service responded to his petition, and began providing mail delivery to Reynoso's neighborhood.
"He has always been dedicated to help society and help people better their position in life," his son Len Reynoso said. "Those values were great learning experiences for us kids when we were growing up."
In addition to his 50-plus years working as an attorney and a judge, Reynoso has also been a professor at UCLA School of Law, where he taught from 1991 to 2001.
In July 2001, Reynoso joined the faculty at the UC Davis School of Law as the first Boochever & Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality.
He retired in December 2006, but still teaches one class a quarter as part of his duties as a professor emeritus of the school.
"He is at that age where he could just sit back and rest on his laurels, but he is never going to do that," said Lisa Ikemoto, a professor at UC Davis School of Law. "He doesn't impose his views on you, but when you listen to him talk, you learn that he is right."
Len Reynoso, a Galt attorney who shares property with his father at his father's ranch in Herald, said his father was the ideal candidate for the job because of his wide experience both state and federal litigation.
Growing up, Len Reynoso said his father had a long history of working with government officials, from working with the United Nations to President Jimmy Carter.
He added that some of his father's work even got him teased by other judges, who nicknamed him "the professor" because he would try to teach others about the law, rather than sitting behind a gavel to just enforce it.
"All while I was growing up, my father was doing tremendous amounts of work to help others all over the country," he said. "This job is no different. ... And when the UC President calls, you can't exactly say no."
Reynoso's newest challenge will add to his already busy schedule — he will teach a course at the UC Davis law school for the spring quarter, and he also works as special counsel at his son's law firm in Galt.
But busy is the way Reynoso likes to be, even if his other activities are equally time-consuming.
The fact that he was chosen to head the task force is an honor, he said, and this position is clearly a priority to him.
"This is not long-term, with the report (from Kroll) coming in late January or early February," Reynoso said. "The president wants to address this matter swiftly, and each and every one of us on the board has made it clear that this is of the utmost importance. ... We want this resolved, and we want it resolved fairly."
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.