Growing up in a tough neighborhood in West Harlem, Justice Joseph Zayas never considered a future in the justice system.
Fast forward, and today he is Administrative Judge of the Queens County Supreme Court.
In January, Zayas was appointed by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti as the Administrative Judge for Criminal Term of the Supreme Court in Queens.
“I’m humbled by the way that the Lord has blessed me,” said Zayas. “I never had dreams that I could become a lawyer.”
The judge, who lives in Little Neck, started in night school and made his way to Fordham University where he began interning for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others. After deciding to follow law in order to fight for the rights of poor people, Zayas enrolled and graduated magna cum laude from Columbia Law School.
“I went from being in a public housing project in a tough neighborhood to going to an Ivy League,” said Zayas.
Under the mentoring of Supreme Court Justice Rolando T. Acosta, Zayas served as the principal law clerk at the Harlem Community Justice Center.
Previously, he had served as Deputy Supervising Judge of Criminal Court in Queens County and as the presiding judge of the Queens Misdemeanor Treatment Center and the Mental Health Recovery Court. Zayas then was appointed as a judge of the Criminal Court of the City of New York by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2003 and later reappointed in 2010. In 2012, he was appointed as a Judge of the Court of Claims by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Maintaining his deep Hispanic roots, Zayas serves on the Advisory Board of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County, is the Secretary of the Association of Judges of Hispanic Heritage, and is an active member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association.
“We’re always fighting to see that number [of Latino judges] grow across the state because we all believe in a diverse bench,” said Zayas. “Diversity makes us all better, diversity makes the whole bench better.”
For his dedication and commitment to the Latino and legal community in Queens, Zayas was honored by the Latino Lawyers Association and District Attorney Richard Brown in 2008 and 2012 during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Zayas hopes to mentor Latino attorneys in the future while enjoying life with his high school sweetheart, three children and grandson. “I’m just taking it one week at a time,” said Zayas. “We’ll see what the good Lord has planned for me later on.”
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