While he wasn’t the first person in his family to attend college, he was close. That honor belonged to his cousin Dr. Katherine Flores who would routinely invite Jim to visit her while she was attending Stanford University. It was during these visits that Jim saw first-hand the value of an education and the doors it could open not just for him but for kids just like him.
After attending Pepperdine University, Jim attended law school at Hastings in San Francisco. For Jim, the decision to attend law school was easy and was rooted in two key experiences he had as a child.
When he was 7 years old, his parents were facing a dispute with their landlord. As Jim puts it, the stress created by these issues essentially took his parents away from him. Running out of options, they decided to meet with an attorney. The attorney provided his parents with legal advice and helped them create a strategy to fairly deal with their landlord. As they were leaving the attorney’s office, Jim saw something on his parents’ faces that he still carries with him to this day. What he saw was a look of happiness and relief. It was a look that showed him that the happy carefree parents that had raised him had returned. It was this event that conveyed to him the positive affect attorneys could have on people’s lives through problem resolution.
The second key event occurred five years later. While living in Fresno, he was riding his bicycle one day and saw a campaign office. Without hesitation, he went inside and asked how he could help. What he didn’t know at the time was that this was the office of Armando Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez would go on to become the first Latino elected to the Fresno Board of Supervisors and would later become a Fresno County Superior Court Judge.
After the campaign was over, 12-year old James Sanchez would be officially and formally recognized by the Mexican American Political Association for his hard work and tireless dedication. Jim was now wedded to a lifetime of politics and the law. Jim’s relationship with Mr. Rodriguez continued after the election and Mr. Rodriguez would go on to mentor Jim and introduce him to former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso. While at Hastings, Jim would clerk for Justice Reynoso at the Supreme Court. Jim already knew from personal experience the positive impact the law could have on a family or on a single person, his time with Justice Reynoso showed him the law’s potential impact on a city, county, and even an entire state.
After law school, Jim began working at the Fresno City Attorneys’ Office in 1984. Here, Jim learned how the City Attorney’s Office exists at the intersection of law and politics and how it was the City Attorney’s job to work with elected leaders to accomplish what is best for not only their cities, but for the people living in those cities. For example, as the newly appointed Salinas City Attorney in 1997, Jim fought tirelessly to ensure a crime-free community with the introduction of a civil gang injunction. He also sought the stabilization of home prices and affordable housing opportunities in Salinas in the face of new development in Silicon Valley during the peak of the dot-com era. Jim would continue this work as the Fresno City Attorney, where he worked just as hard to provide creative legal options to aid the city through the economic downturn during the most recent recession.
His December 2012 appointment as the Sacramento City Attorney hasn’t allowed him time to rest as he was almost immediately thrust into the details of the city’s successful efforts to keep the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento. In addition, and given Sacramento’s position as California’s capital, he continues to present options and advice to elected officials on a wide range of critical issues such as Civil Rights, Gun Control, and Environmental protection.
Like his parents, Jim is focused on educating and encouraging individuals of all ages so that they are better equipped to walk through the doors education can open. To that end, when he’s not giving his valued legal advice to elected leaders, he acts as a mentor and role model to students and lawyers alike. He was also the former President of La Raza Lawyers in Fresno and is an active participant in local efforts aimed at improving communities like the Salinas Rotary Club and nonprofits who provide resources to the underserved.
Ask a dozen law students why they are attending law school and you will likely get dozens of different altruistic reasons ranging from the fight against injustice to the protection of the Constitution. Re-ask those same questions fifteen; ten, or even one year later and the answers you receive will be different, not so much in their substance, but in their delivery. They will no longer be the theoretical and philosophical answers of law students; they will be the pragmatic answers of attorneys who have seen how difficult it is to truly be an agent of change.
Jim has managed to maintain his optimism and idealism by measuring his success in terms of the people he has helped and the gratitude he has shown to the people who have helped him. This quality was instilled in him not only from the very beginning of his legal career but from the very beginning of his life. It has served him well as an attorney but, maybe more importantly; it has also obviously served him well as a person.