For a man whose life was tragically short, Lorenzo Patiño's contributions to the Sacramento community extended far beyond his death.
"He was a natural leader," long-time local jurist Roger Warren once said of Patiño, "the kind of person who inspired others to follow him down courageous paths." Patiño was born in Juarez, Mexico, one of eight children, and came to Elk Grove as a young boy.
He attended Sacramento City College and graduated from California State University, Sacramento.
He then earned a law degree from the University of California, Davis, the only Latino member of his class to graduate. After passing the bar, Patiño hung out his law shingle.
But Patiño did much more. He worked as an assistant to Assemblyman Richard Alatorre and became a force in local and state Democratic politics. He served as president of Concilio, an umbrella organization that dispensed various services to the Latino community. He advised President Carter on immigration matters -- and sued President Reagan for trying to remove him from a federal advisory panel on juvenile justice.
In 1980, at age 31, Patiño was appointed to the Municipal Court bench by Gov. Jerry Brown. "I intend to be a very, very active judge," Patiño said at the time of his swearing-in.
He lived up to his promise, specializing in issues related to drunken driving. Patiño required all those brought before him on DUI charges to watch a grisly film about the consequences of drunken driving. He lobbied for the impounding of drunken drivers' cars and asked bars to close early during December to help limit holiday drinking and driving. He also once sentenced a young reckless driver to view bodies of accident victims in the morgue.
In 1983, Patiño and a group of backers opened a law school that featured the lowest tuition of any law school in the country and was designed for people who were more interested in becoming lawyers than in ivy-covered walls and impressive law libraries. It was called the University of Northern California School of Law, and Patiño was its first dean.
But there was one obstacle Patiño couldn't conquer, despite putting up a pitched, three-year battle. It was leukemia, and it killed him in 1984, at age 35. The law school he helped found was renamed in his honor. In 1989, the county's new main jail was named the Lorenzo E. Patiño Hall of Justice.
And thousands of Sacramentans contributed money for a college scholarship for Patiño's son, Lorenzo Jr. "I have a file an inch thick filled with names of people who contributed," said John McIntyre, the fund's trustee. "It shows what Sacramento thought about Judge Patiño."
Sacramento Bee: Our Century