PAW PAW, Mich. — Cirilo Martinez, a Van Buren County attorney and 1992 Paw Paw High School graduate, Saturday morning officially announced his candidacy for the 7th District Court seat being vacated by Judge Robert T. Hentchel, who is not seeking re-election.
The announcement was made at Historic Van Buren County Park overlooking the courthouse Martinez hopes to occupy and serve from effective in January. In attendance at the event were Martinez’s wife and children, friends and supporters, professional colleagues and two of his seven brothers, the youngest of whom introduced Martinez to the crowd in attendance.
“We rode thousands of miles together in the back of a pickup truck like that one when we were kids and working the fields to support our large family,” said younger brother Ruben, pointing to an older model pickup truck behind the stage. “There was a time when I hated my brother, hated him because he was always pushing us to work to earn money after school when all we wanted to do was bum around, and eventually pushing us to continue our education. So when people ask me who my hero is and who inspired me to be as successful as I am today, I tell them, my big brother, Cirilo.”
Martinez graduated from the University of Michigan in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and earned a juris doctor degree from Loyola University in Chicago with a concentration in international law. He was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 2003 and has been practicing civil, family, specialty and criminal law in Van Buren County since that time.
In addition to his private practice, Martinez is one of 43 public defenders entrusted to represent those individuals who cannot otherwise afford their own legal counsel. Martinez’s legal experience spans 15 Michigan counties and cross-jurisdictional courts.
“I have known Cirilo and his family for over 30 years and hold him and his extended family in high regard,” said Maria Maki, a retired state of Michigan employee from Paw Paw and longtime friend of Martinez.
According to data from the last census in 2010, the Hispanic population in Van Buren County stood at 11.1 percent, the largest percentage of all the counties in southwest Michigan. Hispanics also made up the fastest growing population, showing a nearly 40 percent increase from the 2000 census.
“Van Buren County’s master plan highlights one of its demographic objectives as ‘the promotion cultural awareness programs, celebrating the backgrounds and heritages of all racial and cultural groups throughout the county’. Maybe electing the first Hispanic District Court Judge was not what they had in mind, but it could certainly be viewed as helping accomplish that particular objective,” said Mike Margarito Colegio, a 43-year educator at the Van Buren ISD.
Martinez spoke about his passion and respect for the farming community in Van Buren County.
“I remember back in 1983 our family driving from South Haven to Lawton and a huge storm was ripping through Van Buren County, and my dad saw a cherry orchard that had been devastated by the storm – trees were down and the fruit was in danger of being lost,” recalled Martinez. “Me and my brothers were beside ourselves when my dad stopped the truck, thinking we could all help pick and save the fruit. As we went out into the field, farmer Al Mandigo is out there trying to rescue what cherries he could with a cherry harvester, and things did not appear to be going well. My dad offered to help, and the very next day, the entire family showed up with extra help and we did help rescue those cherries, by picking the fallen orchard within two days.
“Over those two days I learned a lot,” he said. “This is what drives me, and why I want to be your next district court judge.”