Rita Mella was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States at the age of twenty two. She obtained her undergraduate degree in the Dominican Republic and pursued her graduate studies in Latin American History at the University of Florida. She graduated from CUNY Law School in 1991.
After graduating from law school, Judge Mella worked for a small law firm concentrating on a criminal defense practice, where her responsibilities included significant client contact as well as court appearances. For the next thirteen years, she served as a court attorney in a variety of courts: Surrogate=s Court, Supreme Court, Civil Court, Family Court, and Criminal Court.
Judge Mella was elected to the Civil Court in November 2006 from the 7th Civil Court District in Manhattan, which covers all of Washington Heights, Inwood, and West Harlem. She was assigned to the Manhattan Criminal Court, where for two years she presided over the Manhattan Misdemeanor Treatment Court, an alternative-to-incarceration program that provides defendants whose nonviolent criminal conduct is caused by addiction the opportunity to enter a treatment program rather than go to jail. During her tenure, she expanded the reach of the program and increased the number of those entering it. Also in the Criminal Court, Judge Mella chaired the court’s Gender Fairness Committee. Under her leadership, the Committee organized a number of programs designed to raise awareness and address gender-related issues including the trafficking of young women for the sex industry, domestic violence among teenagers, and relations between the Criminal Courts and the transgender population. In November 2012, Judge Mella became the first Latina to be elected to the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court and she currently presides over that court.
Judge Mella is a member of the Board of Directors of the Dominican Women=s Development Center a community-based organization working to promote social justice in the Washington Heights area. She is a former board member and currently a member of the Advisory Board of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to educate the public about the disease and provide access to screening to women with limited income.
She is a member of the National Association of Women Judges, the Association of Judges of Hispanic Heritage, and the Judicial Friends. She is also a member of the New York State Bar Association, Trusts and Estates Section, the New York Women=s Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Dominican Bar Association, and the Puerto Rican Bar Association.
Judge Mella has taught administrative law as an adjunct professor at CUNY Law School.