Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and Our Extraordinary Alumni
We are proud to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting extraordinary lawyers and leaders of Hispanic heritage who got their start at Texas Law. Though we aren’t able to feature all of the thousands of lawyers of Hispanic heritage who make the Texas Law community stronger, scroll down to meet some of our outstanding Hispanic alumni.
Carlos Cadena ’40
The late Carlos Cadena was the only Mexican-American in his class when he received his LL.B. summa cum laude from The University of Texas School of Law in 1940. As a student, he served as an editor of the Texas Law Review. After graduation, he worked as an assistant city attorney in San Antonio until, in 1943, he was drafted into the Army Air Force.
Cadena helped end the exclusion of persons of Mexican descent from juries and the segregation of Mexican-American children in Texas’ public schools. He also became the first Hispanic to serve as a chief justice in Texas, after his appointment to that position of the Texas 4th Court of Appeals in 1977.
Cadena was one of the founders of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), serving as the president of the board of directors from the organization’s inception in 1968. He received the Gavel Award from St. Mary’s University School of Law, the MALDEF Founder’s Award, the Award for Meritorious Service from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the Justice Award from the Texas Rural Legal Foundation. The Texas Bar Foundation honored Cadena as an Outstanding Fifty-Year Lawyer in 1999.
The Honorable Edward C. Prado ’72
Judge Edward C. Prado started his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney for Bexar County and then as an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Texas. Judge Prado was appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as a State Judge of the 187th District Court in Bexar County, and then appointed by the President of the United States to serve as the U.. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. A few years later he was appointed by the President to serve as U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas.
After serving for 19 years as a district judge, he received a presidential appointment to serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. After a career of almost 35 years as a federal judge he was appointed to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina. Judge Prado has received four Presidential appointments and each time was confirmed without any objection by the U.S. Senate. He has served on numerous ABA and Texas Bar committees and has also served on several Judicial Conferences of the U.S. Committees. He is past president of the Fifth Circuit District Judges Association and a former member of the Executive Board of the Federal Judges Association.
In 2006, Judge Prado was recognized as the Outstanding Latino Judge by the Hispanic National Bar Association and was named one of 100 most influential Latinos in the U.S. by Hispanic Business Magazine. In 2007, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Houston Hispanic Bar Association, and received a Special Recognition Award from the U.S.–Mexico Bar Association. He also served as a community fellow for the Sheffield Society, one of the eight societies in the Law School Society Program.
Henry Cuellar ’81
Serving his ninth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Henry Cuellar represents Texas’ 28th congressional district, which includes the cities of Laredo, Mission, Rio Grande City, and San Antonio. He serves as the only Texas Democrat on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. He is the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, while also serving on the Defense Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. Congressman Cuellar was named Chief Deputy Whip for the 117th Congress, where he works in a bipartisan manner to serve the American people.
As one of eight children born to migrant farmworkers in Laredo, Texas, Congressman Cuellar was raised with a passion for education and an unwavering work ethic, as he sought to attain his educational goals. As the most degreed member of Congress, he credits his education with informing his public service to Texas. After earning his associate degree from Laredo Community College Summa Cum Laude, he enrolled in Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. When he returned to Texas, Congressman Cuellar completed a master’s degree in International Trade at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) and earned both a Juris Doctor and Ph.D. in Government from The University of Texas at Austin.
The Honorable Carlos Humberto Barrera ‘83
Judge Carlos H. Barrera has served as the presiding judge of the County Court at Law #8 since January 2009. Judge Barrera also manages the Special Reduction Docket which provides consideration of defendants’ mental health issues as they relate to criminal conduct, with a goal of reducing recidivism and improving lives through appropriate treatment and services.
Vianei Lopez Braun ’91
Vianei Lopez Braun heads the labor and employment law group for Decker Jones, P.C. and serves as the firm’s Chief Development Officer. She is a frequent author and speaker on employment law issues. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of First Financial Bankshares, Inc. (FFIN – NASDAQ). She has served on numerous nonprofit boards and is the Immediate Past Chair of the Board of the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation.
At the time of her graduation at age 19, she was the youngest ever female graduate of Princeton University. In addition to appearing on various law-related lists, Braun has been honored as a “Great Woman of Texas” by the Fort Worth Business Press.
Antonio “T.J.” Martinez ’96
The late Antonio “T.J.” Martinez was born in San Antonio, Texas, but grew up in Brownsville. Martinez went on to attend and graduate from Boston College with a B.A. in Political Science and Communications. After college, he attended Texas Law, graduating in 1996.
In 1996, 10 days after sitting for the bar exam, he entered the Society of Jesus. After taking his vows, he earned a Master of Arts in Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago and began teaching theology at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. Martinez completed his own studies in theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, MA, receiving an M.Div. and Th.M., and was ordained on June 9, 2007. After ordination, he earned a Master of Education in School Leadership at Harvard University and received the Intellectual Contribution Award given by Harvard’s School Leadership Program.
After graduating from Harvard, Fr. Martinez moved to Houston and served as founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston. The school opened in 2009 and exclusively serves children living at or below the poverty line.
In 2013, every member of the school’s first graduating class received acceptance to a college or university. In 2014, Fr. Martinez passed away after battling stomach cancer. To learn more about Fr. Martinez, read “The Benevolence of Father T.J.”
Gavin Villareal ‘98
Gavin Villareal is Partner in Charge of the Austin office of Baker Botts L.L.P. and the Austin Litigation Department Chair. He represents clients in a wide variety of complex business-related disputes in state and federal trial and appellate courts, as well as before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).
In 2019, Villareal won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory as lead counsel in a case that overturned almost half a century of precedent interpreting Exemption 4 to the Freedom of Information Act. Commentators described the case as “one of the most important business-related cases on the Supreme Court’s docket” in the 2018-19 term. Villareal is an Elected Member of the American Law Institute, a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, and has held leadership roles in numerous professional and community organizations. He currently serves on the board of Austin PBS and is a member of the President’s Council of Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
Daniel N. Ramirez ‘02
Daniel N. Ramirez is a Labor and Employment Litigator and name Partner with Monty & Ramirez LLP. Board-Certified in Labor and Employment Law, he represents public and private employers in labor, employment, and immigration matters. Ramirez is also a regular speaker at employment law and industry conferences and has published a number of articles relating to employment law issues. As a second-generation U.S. Navy service member, his professional life and community activities reflect his commitment to service and hard work. He previously chaired the Harris County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission and City of Houston’s Civil Service Commission.
Ramirez has also served as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston, where he has served as a Board Member since 2008. Additionally, he has been repeatedly selected as a Texas Super Lawyer and is AV Rated, the highest peer rating standard. Prior to practicing law, Ramirez was awarded a Certificate of Special U.S. Congressional Recognition for his work on behalf of military families.
Ben De Leon ’04
Ben De Leon, BA ’01, BS ’01, JD ’04, is the Founder of De Leon Law, PLLC, where he focuses on transactional real estate, construction, insurance and business matters. He was named the 2009 National Big Brother of the Year by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, out of more than 250,000 mentors nationwide. His mentorship with Big Brothers, Big Sisters has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Austin American-Statesman, The Alcalde, and more.
De Leon was named a “Texas Rising Star” by Super Lawyers magazine from 2011-2018. Additionally, in his first year of eligibility, he was named a “Super Lawyer” by Super Lawyers magazine in 2019. De Leon received the Texas Exes Outstanding Young Texas Ex Award in 2012 and was an Austin Under 40 Award Winner in the Youth & Education Category in 2011.
Frances Valdez ’05
Frances Valdez has spent the better part of two decades advocating for legal rights and the improvement of legal systems for low-income immigrants, first as a student and then as a Clinical Fellow with Texas Law’s Immigration Clinic. She has worked with multiple prestigious non-profits, including Baker Ripley and United We Dream and served on numerous boards, including the ACLU of Texas, Avenue CDC, and on the Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee for the State Bar of Texas.
Valdez is currently the executive director of Houston in Action, an organization “working to increase access to civic participation for historically marginalized communities in the greater Houston area.” Since its inception in 2018 under her leadership, the organization has grown significantly to include over 100 members, partners, and affiliated stakeholders that make up the Houston in Action network.
The Honorable Victor Villarreal ‘06
Judge Victor Villarreal was president of the Chicano/Hispanic Law Students’ Association, the largest of its kind in the United States; and he created the Susana I. Aleman Scholarship during his time at Texas Law. Prior to becoming a judge, Villarreal was elected director, secretary, and then vice-president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. Doing more with less, he has reformed the court, eliminated a backlog of cases, streamlined activities, and reduced the budget and staff. He accomplished his goal to transform Webb County Court-at-Law II from the worst audited court in the state to the only court in the state that has been audited at 100% compliance for guardianship cases.
Judge Villarreal’s passion for excelling as judge of County Court-at-Law II is the product of a career practicing law in Laredo and a lifetime of life lessons. He was Partner and founder of Villarreal & Romero, P.L.L.C., in Laredo until 2017.
Rick Flores ‘07
Rick Flores is a Partner at Minton, Bassett, Flores & Carsey, P.C, one of the oldest law firms in Austin. His practice is primarily focused on defending clients against criminal charges at all levels. He and has been lead counsel in over 100 trials, winning Not Guilty verdicts on 10 of his last 11 jury trials. Prior to joining the firm, Flores worked as a prosecutor for four years with the Travis County Attorney’s Office where he negotiated thousands of cases.
He is the 2019-2021 Chair of the Austin Bar Association Criminal Law Section and a Director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. He was recently named a back-to-back Top Attorney in Austin by Austin Monthly Magazine (2019, 2020), and a Rising Star by Texas Super Lawyers for 2017-2021, an Up-and-Coming 100 Lawyers for the State of Texas, and an Austin Under 40 Finalist.
Marissa Márquez ’07
Marissa Márquez is currently serving as the Human Resources Program Manager for ADA and Employee Relations at Houston Methodist Hospital. A passionate advocate for abused children, she serves on the Texas Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) statewide board and serves on the Executive Committee. Márquez is a member and former co-chair of the Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee and also serves on the Houston Rodeo’s Wine Competition Committee.
Márquez was one of three recipients nationwide to receive a scholarship from the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) Foundation to attend the SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference in San Francisco in 2017. SHRM received over 200 applicants nationwide. Márquez was elected to membership in the Fellows of the Texas Bar Foundation in recognition of her contributions to the legal profession.
Mauro Ramirez ‘07
Mauro Ramirez is an employment attorney at Ramirez Law, PLLC. He represents individuals who have been denied their rights in the workplace, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and more. He also provides compliance counseling, policy assistance, and training services for small businesses. He earned his B.A. in Government and then his J.D. at The University of Texas at Austin, where he also served as CHLSA President. Prior to founding his own firm, Mauro was a Partner at Fisher & Phillips, a national law firm dedicated to employment matters.
Santos Hinojosa ‘09
Santos (Gonzalez) Hinojosa is from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. After attending The University of Texas at Austin for undergrad and law school, she worked at Vinson & Elkins in Houston. She is now the General Counsel at Texas Medical Center where she represents the interests of the company in all legal matters.
Hinojosa is actively involved with the Mexican-American Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, and the Women’s Mentorship Network. She also serves on the board for Annunciation Orthodox School, DePelchin Children’s Center and the Houston Food Bank.
Cristian Sanchez ‘17
Cristian Sanchez is a staff attorney with the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in San Antonio. He is originally from Mission, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. He started at RAICES as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation with a project focused on providing legal services and advocacy to asylum seekers. As a staff attorney he defends immigrants against deportation, many of whom are detained.
He has also represented and assisted other groups of immigrants as a response to changes in immigration policy and procedure in recent years. He initiated a program to provide representation and assistance to a group of over 50+ transgender asylum seekers detained together. Recently, he coordinated legal screenings and rights presentations to unaccompanied minors housed at an emergency government shelter.
As a law student, Sanchez led the Law School’s Trans Name and Gender Marker Project as a Mithoff Pro Bono Scholar and was vice-president of OUTLaw. He also interned with the Bernardo Kohler Center and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project in Los Angeles.