Most if not all VCBA members have heard about the Ventura County Mexican American Bar Association (MABA) or have attended its events. But how many of us know about MABA’s origins going back to 1978? MABA was started by a core group of attorneys who were living and practicing law in Oxnard– Robert Guerra, Herman Mora, Frank Urias, Eloy Molina, Joseph Gallegos, Jose Ontiveras, and Judge Manuel Covarrubias – as well as other areas of Ventura County, like Ray Garcia inThousand Oaks. Each of these founders rotated to serve as MABA president. In these early years, MABA and its members felt more like outsiders and so this organization served as a sort of refuge. The original purpose of MABA was to foster networking and socializing among the small group of ten or so in the area who would meet informally on a monthly basis in the evening at places like Sal’s Mexican Inn and the Ranch House. These meetings would allow members to share ideas and address common issues. While this remains constant, MABA’s mission is now focused on the advancement of the legal profession and the empowerment of the Latino community through advocacy and the promotion of equal justice. As more Hispanic/Latino attorneys came into Ventura County, MABA’s membership gradually increased, and MABA members eventually got more involved in the VCBA and other sections, committees and affiliates.

As with other organizations, MABA had a short period of dormancy from the mid to late 1980s. Then, Oscar Gonzalez spurred MABA’s resurgence by serving as president for six years starting in 1990. As Oscar noted, “MABA has come a long way since then, and will continue to play an important role in advocating for diversity on the bench; the just allocation of legal resources; shedding light on the injustices; and, of course, scholarship dinners.” Judge Covarrubias sees MABA’s importance and direction as promoting collaboration, diversity, addressing poverty issues, maintaining scholarships and “serving all segments of society.” The future of MABA looks bright, led by current President Rennee Dehesa and other officers: Vice President Louis Kreuzer; long time Treasurer Andres Garcia; Secretary (and Facebook extraordinaire) Claudia Calderon; and Immediate Past President Rebeca Mendoza. One thing that makes MABA unique from other bar organizations is that it has board members who are nonattorneys, like other financial professionals (e.g., Carlos Delgado, Gustavo Macias). MABA currently has an active roster of over 35 paid members. Rennee’s focus this year has been to attract and increase membership of newer and younger members through social mixers aimed at introducing MABA and elevating its visibility in the community. As such, MABA is working on developing a membership directory on Facebook. MABA Board meetings are open to all, and are held the first Friday of each month at Rennee’s office. Another goal by Rennee has been to focus more on causes such as diversity on the bench through collaboration with other groups and being an active member organization in the Ventura County Diversity Bar Alliance. One particular idea that Rennee hopes that MABA will be able to implement in the future is on the education front – that is, a law academy to develop a curriculum in the high schools to encourage students to think about law school early on and to provide opportunities such as internships and mentoring with MABA members.

Another development in the past few years has been the formation of the Education Foundation of Ventura County MABA, Inc., which was incorporated through the assistance of longtime MABA board member (and VCBA past president) Ron Harrington and Steve Feder and then certified as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization by Santa Paula attorney Ben Schuck. The Foundation was created to better facilitate fundraising by attracting more corporate sponsors and donations for scholarships. Having a separate foundation also gives MABA the freedom to make judicial endorsements and do more community activism without running afoul of the charitable status of its foundation. The foundation has its own separate board headed by Rebeca Mendoza. The foundation has no members per se, but relies on MABA committee members to support and consult on all aspects for the annual Scholarship Dinner.

One thing that has remained consistent over the years is the great response and reception by the bench, bar and community to the cornerstone of MABA’s mission – the Scholarship Dinner. Typically, the dinner would raise several thousand dollars through ticket sales. Now, through the foundation, MABA hopes to award even more scholarships to worthy students and future leaders. In addition to scholarships, MABA has honored individuals who have made a difference and inspire all of us. There would also be a keynote speaker at these dinners, often distinguished judges, public figures, and prominent activists in the Hispanic/Latino community. As stated by Al Vargas, “MABA events are always a group effort. When I was president in 2009 we honored Alice McGrath, Justice Moreno and Justice Stone.”

This year’s MABA Scholarship Dinner will take place on Oct. 19 at the Courtyard Marriott in Oxnard. Mike Farrell of “M*A*S*H” fame will be the keynote speaker and will receive the President’s Award for his efforts on human rights and immigration reform. For all their tireless community work over the years, MABA will also be honoring Carmen Ramírez (a past president of MABA and VCBA) with the Access to Justice Award, and Tina Rasnow (a past president of VCBA) with theAlice McGrath Warrior for Justice Award. It will be an evening you won’t want to miss!

About Charmaine H. Buehner

Charmaine H. Buehner is an Assistant County Counsel and is the 2015-2016 president of the Ventura County Bar Association.