Justice Jaime Rios knew he wanted to help others when he began teaching public school. And when he got the chance to go to law school, he got a bigger opportunity to make a change.
Rios was born in the Bronx and moved to Queens when he was 18 years old. Although he wanted to be a teacher, he always had law in his blood, as his grandfather was appointed by the governor of Puerto Rico as a federal judge.
Rios received his Bachelor of Science in Education from the City College of New York and got his Master of Arts in Education from New York University. He then taught sixth grade at a public school in the South Bronx.
He recalled as New York was hit with an economic crisis in 1974, he decided to attend Fordham University School of Law during the day, while continuing to work as a teacher at night.
“It just became natural to apply my willingness to help people as a teacher and translate it to helping people as a lawyer,” said Rios. “Then when the professional opportunity arose to be a judge, I saw it as a further extension of my natural inclination for public service.”
After graduating law school, Rios’ first job was as assistant district attorney in Brooklyn. Then in 1980 he became counsel to the NYPD police commissioner and in 1982 was named Deputy Police Commissioner of New York.
He then went on to open his own law office in Jackson Heights, working as a community lawyer. In 1985 he was appointed Judge of the Housing Court for the City of New York. Eight years later Rios was elected to the Civil Court in Queens County, becoming the first member of the Latino community to be elected as a judge in Queens.
In 1995, Rios was elected to the State Supreme Court. In 2001 he became associate justice of the Appellate Term of the State Supreme Court, a position he currently holds. He is the only judge from Queens that make up the term. As an appellate judge, Rios reviews all the appeals taken from lower courts throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
“It’s a continuation of that which started when I was a young person just trying to help kids get an education,” said Rios. “It’s another way to continue helping people and make sure the law is applied evenly.”
When he is not in the courtroom, Rios is teaching as an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law where he also began the Fordham Law Minority Mentors Program in 2006 along with Federal Judge Denny Chin. The program helps first year minority law students get help from alumni.