It is surprising no one that Miguel Marquez, Santa Clara County's chief lawyer, is about to make history.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Marquez has been on the fast track since his youth, transforming himself from an elementary school student who battled with mastering English to accumulating degrees from Stanford, Harvard and UC Berkeley.
And now he is on the brink of becoming the first Latino justice on the influential San Jose-based 6th District Court of Appeal, which shapes law from Silicon Valley to Monterey, and just the sixth Latino appeals court justice in California.
On Thursday, a three-member commission headed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is expected to confirm Marquez, who has been nominated to the appeals court by Gov. Jerry Brown. No public opposition has surfaced, and the commission routinely approves a governor's judicial picks.
In documents released Tuesday, a state bar committee that evaluates judicial candidates rated Marquez "qualified" for the appeals court, and he received letters of support from public officials including Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, former Public Defender Mary Greenwood and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.
The move will cement the 45-year-old's status as a leading statewide figure in the Latino legal community. In fact, with the ink still not dry on his 6th District job, his name is being bandied about as a future contender for the California Supreme Court,
"It's a historic event," said Micael Estremera, president of California's La Raza Lawyers Association. "That's particularly important given the large Latino population in the (Santa Clara, Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito) counties where that court handles cases."
Marquez declined to comment, citing his pending confirmation hearing. But his background and reputation are well documented, and he has earned widespread praise for his intellect and work ethic. The only question mark is his lack of experience as a judge, making the jump into an appeals court without first swinging a gavel.
He will be the first justice appointed to the 6th District in its nearly 30-year history who didn't rise from the trial courts.
"I think he's ready," said Ann Ravel, former Santa Clara County counsel and now chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission. "Miguel is one of the most thoughtful, diligent legal analysts I've seen."
Raised in Sacramento, Marquez came from a household that rose from poverty yet produced success. Marquez told a legal newspaper several years ago that his father worked building highways, while his mother held jobs in a seafood processing plant and as a housekeeper.
Yet all four children went to college. Marquez originally went to Stanford to become an engineer, but switched to pursue politics and law. He followed his oldest sister, Raquel, to law school -- Brown recently made her the first Latina judge in Riverside County. Leticia Marquez-Magana, another sister, is a San Francisco State biochemistry professor.
"As children of Mexican immigrants, we were sometimes the target of unfair actions," Leticia said in an email exchange. "Consequently, Miguel despises unfairness, especially when it limits human potential. I believe that it is this feature of his personality that has driven him to succeed."
As a lawyer, Marquez has been a bit nomadic, never staying in one job too long. Before coming to Santa Clara County, he held posts in the San Francisco Unified School District, San Mateo County counsel's office and with two San Francisco law firms.
While Santa Clara County politics are not exactly Chicago-style rough and tumble, Marquez has navigated a few controversies, notably squaring off repeatedly with San Jose over redevelopment money. Santa Clara, at Marquez's direction, was the only county to join the state in its legal battle against cities to abolish redevelopment agencies, a position backed earlier this year by the California Supreme Court.
But despite tiffs with San Jose, Marquez did not earn enemies.
"Yeah, we've had our differences, and we still have differences," said San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle, who recalls spending one long weekend going back and forth with Marquez on the phone over the redevelopment issue. "But there are no surprises. He is a problem solver. I can't think of anyone better for that (6th District) position."
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236. Follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.
Occupation: Santa Clara County Counsel; pending nomination to 6th District Court of Appeal.
Experience: Santa Clara County counsel, 2009-12; assistant county counsel, 2008-09; general counsel, San Francisco Unified School District, 2004-08; deputy county counsel, San Mateo County, 1998-2000, 2002-04; two San Francisco law firms.
Education: Stanford University, bachelor's degree in public policy; Harvard University, master's degree in public policy; UC Berkeley, law degree.
Noteworthy: Expected to become first Latino to serve on 6th District Court of Appeal. Joined legal fight with state to abolish local redevelopment agencies.
Personal: Single, lives in San Jose; hobbies include reading, cycling and traveling.