Maria D. Villa

Honorary Degrees

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Maria D. Villa is the daughter of Mexican immigrants from Tijuana. She arrived in the United States at two years old. As she came of age in Redondo Beach, California, she witnessed first-hand the impact that discrimination and unequal justice under the law can have. The challenges her parents faced as minority small business owners compelled her to pursue a career in law, and she has since become a powerful advocate for the Latina/o community in and outside the courtroom.

Ms. Villa completed her bachelor's degree in Business Administration at California State University, Dominguez Hills in 1982 before earning her J.D. from Loyola Law School four years later. As a law student, she joined La Raza de Loyola, a group that advocates for Latina/o educational and social issues on campus. She also volunteered at the Labor Defense Network of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. In her third year, she put her fluency in Spanish to use as an advocate for monolingual employees during administrative hearings before the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

Ms. Villa has since devoted her professional life to helping individuals that have been underserved by the judicial system. She co-founded the Rolling Hills Estates law firm Lathrop & Villa in 1992 with her husband where she focuses on appellate law and represents indigents in both criminal and capital cases.

Her struggle against racism and sexism as a Latina lawyer also ignited a desire to help others overcome these obstacles. In 1997, she co-founded the Latina Lawyers Bar Association, which serves as a community of support for practicing Latina lawyers and a source of mentorship and educational funding for Latina law school students.

As the first Hispanic attorney elected to the State Bar of California's Board of Governors, Ms. Villa has been a potent example of what fierce determination and a passion for justice can achieve. Her many awards include the Attorney of the Year Award from the Mexican American Bar Association, for which she served as president, and the Difference Maker Award from the American Bar Association.

Ms. Villa has never forgotten her roots as an immigrant and the struggle she faced in her pursuit of a legal career. In 1998, she and her husband established the first Loyola Law School scholarship exclusively for Latina students. In 2015, she co-founded the nationally recognized Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic, where she helps to advance the rights of the immigrant population in East Los Angeles through direct legal services, education and community empowerment.

She continues to advocate for underserved communities as chair of the CSU Dominguez Hills Philanthropic Foundation, a position she's held since 2019. In addition to leveraging private support to advance the mission and goals of the university, she has also helped make CSU Dominguez Hills a better conduit for people of color to study and practice law.

In recognition of her leadership and advocacy for Latina lawyers, her commitment to creating professional and educational opportunities within the Latino/a community and her exceptional support for the university's academic and philanthropic missions, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Dominguez Hills are proud to confer upon Maria D. Villa the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.​