LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The following statement is from Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California:
It gives me great pleasure and pride to announce that Hector Villagra has been appointed as the new legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. Hector truly embodies what the ACLU/SC is all about: he combines agile and incisive legal thinking with deep compassion, tenaciousness and an unswerving dedication to the causes of civil liberties and civil rights.
Hector joined the ACLU/SC five years ago and quickly built an impressive record in civil rights litigation as the director of our Orange County office. In one case that drew attention nationwide, he was a lead attorney in a lawsuit that forced an Orange County high school that had cancelled a production of the musical “Rent” to provide mandatory training on sexual discrimination and harassment to teachers, administrators and students. The lawsuit settlement also provided for an apology by school district officials to a female student who was subjected to despicable threats of violence as a result of a sexist and homophobic atmosphere that was allowed to flourish at the school.
Hector won dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at getting rid of the LAPD’s Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from using immigration status to initiate investigations. Special Order 40 helps encourage immigrants to provide information to police and is a key crime-fighting tool. He also settled a lawsuit against San Bernardino County that won the right for Muslim women to wear head scarves in jail. And under his leadership, the Orange County office won a legal victory that enabled a Buddhist congregation to move forward with building a new temple after a dispute with the city of Garden Grove over unconstitutional enforcement of its zoning regulations.
Hector graduated from Columbia University School of Law in 1994, and like so many law students who later become accomplished attorneys, clerked for two distinguished judges: Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the Hon. Stephen J. Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Not long after that, Hector joined the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund as a staff attorney. He was later promoted to the position of regional counsel, supervising MALDEF’s legal office for California, Arizona and Nevada, and serving as its lead counsel. Bilingual in English and Spanish, he has helped strengthen the ACLU/SC’s ties to the rapidly growing Latino community of Southern California, and we look for him to continue that important work in the years ahead.
As legal director, Hector’s responsibilities include supervising the ACLU/SC’s talented legal staff and overseeing all casework. He also will continue to direct our Orange County office. Meanwhile, legal director Mark Rosenbaum has been promoted to the position of chief counsel for the ACLU/SC, where he takes on new responsibilities, including the key task of developing strategies for complex litigation that often stems from high-profile, fast-moving events in the government and public arenas. Peter Eliasberg will continue both his outstanding legal work and his administrative oversight of the legal department’s day-to-day operations as the ACLU/SC’s managing attorney and Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights.