KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville Latino Bar Association has been established by a group of attorneys and law students. The group plans to celebrate its launch by honoring Tennessee’s first Hispanic trial judge, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Hector Sanchez, in March.

The celebration honoring Judge Sanchez is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 10 at The Foundry at World’s Fair Park. Judge Sanchez was sworn in as the sixth judicial district criminal court judge in October 2022.

“Judge Sanchez’s appointment is a moment in Tennessee’s history I will never forget. Despite his busy schedule, Judge Sanchez ensured my family could attend my swearing-in ceremony last November — as a first-generation attorney, being sworn in by Tennessee’s first Latino trial judge in front of my entire family meant everything,” Esperanza Yáñez, KLBA vice president, said in an email on Friday. “It’s an honor for KLBA’s first official event to celebrate such a deserving leader in the Latinx community.”

“Judge Sanchez’s appointment to the bench is historic,” KLBA director of membership Willie Santana said in an email Friday. “He’s the first Latino trial judge in state history. That’s worth celebrating, but the man is too. I know him well, he is my former law school classmate, we worked together in the DA’s office, and he’s one of my closest friends. He has devoted his life to quiet leadership and public service. He deserved the appointment and deserves recognition.”

KLBA said membership is open to the bench and bar, law students and other legal professionals in the greater Knoxville area; the bar association was founded in order to “nurture and empower a community of Latino attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students in East Tennessee,” a news release states.

The KLBA has been recognized by the Tennessee Bar Association.

“The legal profession is historically, and persistently, one of the least diverse in the nation,” Santana said. “Nationwide, Latinos comprise around 20 percent of the population, but only 5 percent of lawyers. It’s easy to identify the problem, but we formed the Knoxville Latino Bar Association as part of the solution. The idea being that community breeds growth and stability.”

The organization’s inaugural board comprises legal professionals of Hispanic and Latino descent, including president Christina Magráns-Tillery, vice-president Esperanza Yáñez, secretary Eric Amarante, and treasurer Arléne Amarante. Sherley Cruz will serve as community legal education coordinator and Willie Santana as director of membership. Lincoln Memorial and Tennessee Law students Talton Dunn and Kevin Ross will represent their student organizations on the board. Finally, law students Sonsirez Robles will serve as special events coordinator and Ryan Valdez as sergeant at arms.

“I grew up in the Knoxville area and experienced first-hand the need for a community of Latinx lawyers to provide mentorship and empowerment to Latinx people interested in the legal profession,” Yáñez said. “Forming the Knoxville Latino Bar Association is only the first step towards increasing diversity in the courtroom and on the bench.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.