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Listening is job one for new Bar Foundation chief

Bringing with her a deep understanding of disparities within the American justice system, Sonia Gonzales’ self-imposed goal as the new executive director of the California Bar Foundation is to listen.

Sonia Gonzales
Sonia Gonzales

Listening, explained the former acting head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, is key to expanding the universe of those who support the foundation’s mission to increase access to justice. Gonzales’ official first day with the foundation was January 17.

“The legal community as a whole has a responsibility to help improve access to appropriate legal services for all Californians, especially those from low-income or ethnic minority communities,” said Gonzales, a product of Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law. “We will be judged on how we treat the least among us.”

After joining the Lawyers’ Committee in January 2010 as managing director, Gonzales led an organization-wide rebuild, including the development and implementation of the first new strategic plan in a decade. She was named interim executive director in August 2011.

She currently serves on the board of Centro Legal de la Raza, and was a member of the Civil Rights Task Force for Attorney General Kamala Harris' transition team.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area dates back to 1968 and is affiliated with the national Lawyers’ Committee in advancing, protecting and promoting the rights of communities of color, immigrants and refugees. Recent projects include advocacy on behalf of the minority-owned businesses and formerly incarcerated, plus work to help implement the protections of the California Voting Rights Act.

Before joining the Lawyers’ Committee, Gonzales served as assistant director of the ACLU of Northern California, where she helped manage the largest ACLU affiliate in the United States, with a staff of 60, a board of directors of 50 and more than 53,000 members.

Previously, she worked at the Morrison & Foerster firm in San Francisco and, as a law student, at the National ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman firm.

Prior to law school, Gonzales served as a political director for a major presidential campaign in 2004 and for the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., and as a legislative assistant and press secretary in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The success of the Bar Foundation’s mission depends on the collective effort of our board and staff, donors and grantees, plus the State Bar and other community partners that recognize the importance of helping California’s most disadvantaged residents,” Gonzales added. “This has everything to do with equality under the law.”