Evidence Legal Scholar, Professor Emeritus Miguel A. Méndez Dies

Méndez, a pioneer of clinical legal education and Stanford Law’s first Latino professor, passed away on May 25

Miguel A. Méndez, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Emeritus, passed away on May 25 at his home in San Carlos. He was 74 years old.

Méndez, a leading authority on both the federal and California rules of evidence, joined the Stanford Law School faculty in 1977. After teaching at the law school for more than three decades, he retired in 2009 and took up a full-time position on the law faculty at the University of California, Davis, School of Law to be closer to one of his daughters, who was an undergraduate there. He retired from UC Davis in 2014 and was an emeritus professor of law at both schools.

Miguel A. Mendez
Miguel A. Méndez, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Emeritus, passed away on May 25 at his home in San Carlos.

“Miguel Méndez did everything in his career—he was a lawyer devoted to serving the public good, an engaged and active scholar, a devoted teacher, and a great citizen of the school,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. “Miguel did all of these things well, but what made him stand out was the incredible connection he had with his students, who looked up to and were inspired by him during their time in law school and long after.”

Miguel A. Méndez, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Emeritus, passed away on May 25 at his home in San Carlos.

“Miguel’s humanity, warmth, and witty intelligence were wondrous,” said William B. Gould IV, the Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law, Emeritus. “He was genuine in what he stood for. We will not see the likes of him again.”

From Public Interest to Tenured Professor

Méndez joined the Stanford Law faculty after a litigation career in the field of public interest, including time spent as a deputy public defender in the Monterey County Public Defender’s Office, the deputy director of California Rural Legal Assistance, and as staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was granted tenure in 1984.

In an interview with the Stanford Law School Journal in October 1984, Méndez said “I felt the only way I would be a good professor was to know something about the profession, to know about the problems judges and trial lawyers face.” He continued, “I wouldn’t be able to teach Evidence if I had not been a public defender.”

An author of leading works on the law of evidence, Méndez wrote extensively about the federal and California evidence codes and on emerging issues in state substantive criminal law. He published three books, including California Evidence: Highlighting The Major Differences Between the California Evidence Code and The Federal Rules of Evidence, widely considered to be an indispensable guide for trial attorneys and judges. Two of his books, Evidence—A Concise Comparison of the Federal Rules with the California Code, and Evidence: The California Code & the Federal Rules—A Problem Approach, appeared in multiple editions.

At the Forefront of Clinical Education

According to George Fisher, the Judge John Crown Professor of Law and an evidence colleague of Méndez’s, beyond producing “path-breaking” scholarly work, Méndez was a devoted and innovative teacher. “He took part in the birth of an early form of clinical legal education, pioneered here at Stanford Law in the 1970s,” said Fisher.

Méndez was an advocate for all students and was of particular importance to Latino students at Stanford Law.

Attorney and Stanford University Trustee Fred Alvarez, AB ’72, JD ’75, a close friend of Méndez’s, said that his focus was about helping lawyers try cases. “What made Miguel a distinctive teacher was that his scholarship was intensely focused on the practitioner, on what real lawyers do every day,” said Alvarez. “For him to do that as a Stanford Law professor was remarkable.”

A ‘Beacon’ For Students

Méndez was an advocate for all students and was of particular importance to Latino students at Stanford Law. “Miguel was a beacon. He made it clear that Latinos were welcome and gave people confidence,” said Alvarez.

As the law school’s first Latino professor, he had a kinship with students of color. “He looked out for us. It wasn’t the easiest time to be a person of color going to law school and he knew the importance of us having role models,” said Legal Research and Writing Director Jeanne Merino, JD ’86. “In reflecting back, I am so struck by how committed he was to making the path easier for those who came after him.”

Méndez is survived by his two daughters, Arabela and Gabriela. A celebration of his life will be held on Sunday, June 11 at 1 pm, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Carlos. The Méndez family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Stanford Law School’s Miguel Méndez Scholarship Fund, which helps low-income students and students of color finance their studies. Donations can also be made to the Community Outreach Fund at Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Carlos.