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Name: Martínez, Vilma
Current Position: Previous Ambassador

While not a career diplomat, Vilma S. Martínez, the U.S. ambassador to Argentina, has a long history of straddling the worlds of corporate boardrooms and legal defense of minorities.  One of the leading voices in Hispanic civil rights since the 1970s, Martínez has run the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and been a part of legal fights on behalf of both documented and undocumented immigrants from Latin America. She also served on the board of directors of beer giant Anheuser-Busch for 25 years.  Martínez was confirmed as ambassador by the Senate July 24, 2009.

Martínez was born October 17, 1943, in San Antonio, Texas. The daughter of a construction worker, she grew up in a segregated world that helped push her towards a legal career dedicated to breaking down racial barriers. “We weren’t allowed to go into some of the parks,” Martínez remarked in a 2000 article published by the American Bar Association. “When we went to the movies, we had to sit in the back of the theater.”
Her first taste of the legal profession came when she was 15, while volunteering for the firm of a local Hispanic lawyer, Alonso Perales. When her high school guidance counselor refused to help her apply to college, Martínez wrote to the University of Texas at Austin and asked how she could apply. She financed her education at UT by washing beakers and test tubes in the biochemistry lab. She received her Bachelor of Arts in 1964, after just two and a half years, and then attended law school at Columbia University, earning her law degree in 1967.
That same year Martínez’s professional career began with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she worked for three years defending poor and minority clients. She also was part of the legal team involved in the landmark affirmative action case Griggs v. Duke Power Company, which was decided by the Supreme Court in 1971. 
In 1970, Martínez accepted a position as an equal employment opportunity counselor for the New York State Division of Human Rights in New York City. The next year she joined the firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel in New York as a litigation associate specializing in labor law.
Martínez’s association with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund began in the early 1970s, when she became one of the first two women to join its board of directors. In 1973, when she was 29 years old, she was selected president and general counsel of MALDEF, and served in that capacity for nine years. Under her leadership, MALDEF helped push to expand the Voting Rights Act in 1975 to cover Mexican-Americans.
In 1976, she was appointed to the University of California’s Board of Regents, where she served until 1990, including a stint as chair from 1984 to 1986.
In 1982, Martínez became a partner at the Los Angeles law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, where she specialized in federal and state court litigation, including defense of wrongful termination and employment litigation and other commercial litigation. In 1994, she helped in the fight against California’s Proposition 187—which sought to ban illegal immigrant children from attending the state’s public schools—while representing the Los Angeles Unified School District
Among the corporate boards Martínez has served on was that of Anheuser-Busch, for which she was a director for 25 years, beginning in 1983. When the company was sold to Belgian-Brazilian InBev in 2008, she received $4.8 million in stock options and deferred compensation. Anheuser-Busch was the number one corporate donor to MALDEF.
Her participation on other company and banking boards includes Fluor (1993), Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad (1998), Shell Oil (1998),Sanwa Bank California, and Bank of the West. She also served as a member of Wal-Mart’s Employment Advisory Panel.
According to her financial disclosure statement when she was nominated to be ambassador to Argentina, Martínez received $361,044 in salary from Munger, Tolles & Olson, $147,800 in board fees from Anheuser-Busch (in addition to $4.8 million from its sale), $135,000 in fees from Flour, $92,250 in board fees frm Burlington Northern Santa Fe and $35,700 in board fees from Bank of the West.
During the 1990s, Martínez was also vice-chair of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation and a member of the board of People for the American Way and The Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society, and she has served on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.
Martínez has contributed more than $9,800 to Democratic candidates and groups since 1989, including at least $1,900 to Obama, according to
Martínez married attorney Stuart R. Singer in the early 1970s and the couple had two sons.
Obama Donor Named Ambassador (by Jim McElhatton, Washington Times)
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