Hon. Walter Rivera
Greetings and congratulations to the newly elected Officers and Board of our Association.
I am humbled and honored to serve as President and look forward to working closely with each of you as we work together to further the mission of this Association. These have been trying times. Yet, I am sensing a new wave of optimism and hope as New York State continues to open on many fronts not seen since before the pandemic.
First, I want to thank our outgoing President, Justice Sallie Manzanet Daniels, for her tireless efforts over the past two years and for leading our Association to many milestones. Just to highlight a few of these accomplishments, the LJA Foundation project inspired under Judge Joanne Quiñones’ leadership was finalized and this website was created. Additionally, Justice Manzanet Daniels is co-chairing, along with Justice Wilma Guzman, the committee that is developing the LJA History Project which will trace the history of our founders and members throughout the state. It will be broadcasted later this year by the Historical Society of the New York Courts.
Significantly, Justice Manzanet Daniels testified for the Association before the joint NYS Senate & Assembly Committee considering the Court Merger Proposal. Thereafter she prepared, on LJA’s behalf, a report analyzing the state of the Latino judiciary entitled “Overview of Latinos/Hispanics in the New York State Court System – 2020.” The report and its findings played a pivotal role in the recent round of appointments of Latinos by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the First and Second Departments of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court and to the Court of Claims. I congratulate each of the newly appointed judges and look forward to their engagement in the Association.
Our Association will work closely with the court system’s leadership in the ongoing efforts to implement the recommendations of Secretary Jeh Johnson to foster diversity and inclusion on the state bench and to eradicate bias in the court system. Also, we will continue to collaborate with The Judicial Friends Association, Inc., the Asian American Judges Association of New York, and with bar associations such as the recently formed Hudson Valley Hispanic Bar Association to address these concerns.
In that regard, Secretary Johnson’s report also highlighted the dire number of Latino and diverse judges in the upstate region of New York. To address this problem, LJA will sponsor workshops and seminars on the process of becoming a judge and establish a pipeline program. A recent development is the election to our Board of a judge from the upstate region, Buffalo City Court Judge Betty Calvo-Torres. This development followed on the heels of LJA’s outreach efforts to the judges that sit in the upstate region as well as a well-received program that addressed the unique challenges faced by our judicial colleagues from the upstate region. My goal is to organize an in-person conference in that region and to create a plan of action to enhance greater participation in our Association from our judicial colleagues from that region.
As I mentioned in my acceptance speech, I plan to build on the many initiatives and programs already in place and to establish new initiatives. One of our immediate priorities will be to confirm a date for our next in-person Gala. With the recent opening of New York State, we are excited about having this event and will work closely with the newly formed LJA Foundation to make it happen. We will send out a “Save the Date” as soon as the date has been confirmed with the venue.
I would also like to organize a trip for our Association to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to foster exchanges with the judiciary and establish a dialogue with our counterparts in both islands. In a similar vein, I organized a conference in 2019 for the Court of Claims Judges Association to Cuba which enabled the participants to meet with judges, lawyers, and law professors in Havana, Cuba.
My agenda will also include establishing affiliations with the Latino Judges Associations in other states, such as the Illinois Latino Judges Association. Similarly, LJA’s engagement and collaboration with the Judicial Section of the Hispanic National Bar Association will continue under the guidance of our longtime board member, Judge Javier Vargas.
The membership of our Association will be called upon to continue to engage in numerous ways, including participating in our successful and impactful Speakers Program headed by our board member, Judge Connie Mallafre Melendez; hosting our summer interns; serving as mentors to new judges and Latino lawyers that aspire to become judges; participating in pipeline programs; serving as a panelist at seminars and CLE’s; and serving on committees.
Much work remains to be done and together we will march forward to achieve our objectives and fulfill our mission. Finally, let us not forget that we stand on the shoulders of the founders of our Association and are duty bound to continue their legacy for the next generation.
Please reach out to me with any ideas and suggestions during my term. I pledge to work to the best of my ability as your incoming President.