Hon. Joseph Zayas

Hon. Joseph Zayas

The Hon. Joseph A. Zayas was appointed by the Chief Judge as the Administrative Judge for Supreme Court (Criminal Term) in Queens County in 2013.  He was elected as a Justice of the Supreme Court in Queens County in 2016, and was appointed as a Judge of the Court of Claims by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012.  He was originally designated an Acting Supreme Court Justice in 2010 and was previously appointed as a Judge of the Criminal Court of the City of New York by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2003, and re-appointed in 2010. 

Justice Zayas attended public schools in New York City, having been raised in public housing projects (the Frederick Douglas Housing Projects) and in West Harlem, after his large Puerto Rican family came to New York City from Barranquitas, Puerto Rico in the 1950s.

Justice Zayas is a 1988 graduate of Columbia University School of Law, where he was a Charles Evan Hughes Fellow, and is a 1985 magna cum laude graduate of Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center. 

In addition to his Administrative responsibilities, Justice Zayas also presides over jury and bench trials, suppression hearings and the County’s backlog cases.  During the Chief Judge’s 2019 State of Our Judiciary Speech, the Chief Judge praised Supreme Court, Criminal Term, as a “bright spot” “where the number of felony cases over two years old has declined by 76% since the start of the Excellence Initiative,” an “effort . . . led from the top by Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas.”  Since 2015, Criminal Term has also reduced the number of felony cases over standards and goals (six months) by 26%, and the number of felony cases over one year old by 35%. 

Justice Zayas previously presided over the County’s youth cases (Youthful and Juvenile Offender Adjudications), indicted Domestic Violence cases, as well as the County’s forensic cases (competency and insanity cases).  He also previously served as Deputy Supervising Judge of Criminal Court in Queens County and as the Presiding Judge of the Queens Misdemeanor Treatment Court (QMTC) and the Mental Health Recovery Court (MHRC).   Justice Zayas has also written twenty-seven decisions which have been published in the official reporter, The Miscellaneous Reports, Third Series, many of which have engendered front page articles in the New York Law Journal. 

Justice Zayas has been appointed by the Chief Administrative Judge to work on the Office of Court Administration’s Working Group on Domestic Violence and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, Raise the Age Implementation Committee and the Mayor’s Justice Implementation Task Force, which is charged with the responsibility to develop strategies to close Rikers’ Island.

Justice Zayas has regularly served as a Presenter and/or Lecturer at various legal and Judicial Seminars, including Seminars for New Judges, Educational Broadcasts at the Judicial Institute on Criminal Law issues, Forums on How to Become a Judge and Seminars related to Drug Treatment Courts, Mental Health Treatment Courts and Youth Courts.  He gave the Keynote Address on the topic of Judicial Diversity at the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association Annual Gala Dinner in Commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month (see  Joseph A. Zayas, Lack of Latino Representation on the Bench, NYLJ, October 3, 2018, “Perspective” Column, p. 6) (adapted for written publication). Justice Zayas currently serves on the Board of the Council of State Government’s Justice Center,  and as a member of the Committee on Publications of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, which edits and publishes the Bench Book for Trial Judges – New York (2020 Edition).  He previously served on the Chief Judge’s Permanent Sentencing Commission, the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services, and on the Judicial Institute’s Criminal Law Advisory Committee. 

Throughout his judicial career, Justice Zayas was honored to receive various honors and awards, including the 2019 Award for his “Outstanding Leadership and Commitment to Diversity,” presented by the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens County; the 2018 Justice John Carro Award for Judicial Excellence presented by the Latino Judges Association; the 2018 “Judicial Excellence Award” presented by the Korean American Law Enforcement Council; the 2016 “Rufus King Service Award;” the 2014 “Trailblazer in Justice” Award presented by New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; the 2013 “Justice of the Year” Award, presented by the Asian American Council; the 2012 and 2008 Hispanic Heritage Award, presented by the District Attorney’s Office of Queens County and the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County, respectively.

Prior to his Judicial appointment, Justice Zayas served as the Principal Law Clerk for Supreme Court Justice Rolando T. Acosta (who now serves as the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department), at the Harlem Community Justice Center, a multi-jurisdictional, problem-solving court serving the communities of East and Central Harlem.  Prior to working with Justice Acosta, Justice Zayas served as a Senior Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Capital Defense Unit, Criminal Appeals Bureau, and Criminal Trial Division. Justice Zayas, who has lived in Queens County for over thirty years, has three adult children and currently resides with his bride, Catherine, of 37 years.