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Claims Court Judge Honored

Zayas Received D.A.’s Hispanic Heritage Award

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced that New York State Court of Claims Judge Joseph A. Zayas has been named the recipient of the District Attorney’s 2012 Hispanic Heritage Award for his long and distinguished career as a jurist and for his many accomplishments and contributions to the Hispanic community of New York City.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown (left) presents New York State Court of Claims Judge Joseph A. Zayas with the District Attorney’s 2012 Hispanic Heritage Award for his long and distinguished career as a jurist and for his many accomplishments and contributions to the Hispanic community of New York. Looking on is Judge Zayas’s wife, Catherine.

“As the proud son of immigrants and the product of city housing and the New York City public school system, Judge Zayas serves as an outstanding role model and inspiration not only for the many diverse members of the Hispanic community but for every New Yorker striving to realize the American Dream,” Brown said. “Here is an individual who took advantage of all the city has to offer and repaid his debt by dedicating his career to public service.”

In presenting the Hispanic Heritage award at a reception last Thursday, Oct. 11, in his Kew Gardens offices, Brown added, “Queens County’s greatest strength is in the diversity of its residents who represent scores of countries, making it the most diverse county in the nation. In our office we are particularly proud of the diversity of our staff.”

Zayas’s family immigrated from Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, in the 1950s and settled in upper Manhattan, where Zayas was raised in the Frederick Douglas Houses and in the West Harlem area. He attended both public elementary and secondary schools before enrolling in Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center, where he graduated, magna cum laude, in 1985. He received his juris doctor degree in 1988 from Columbia University School of Law, where he was a Charles Evan Hughes Fellow.

Following graduation from law school, Zayas worked as a senior staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Capital Defense Division, Criminal Appeals Bureau, and Criminal Trial Division. Thereafter, in 1998, he served as the principal law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Rolando T. Acosta (who now serves in 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.

Five years later, in June 2003, he was appointed as a judge of the Criminal Court of the City of New York by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and reappointed in January 2010. During those years, he was also appointed by then-Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals Judith S. Kaye as a member of The Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services.

Zayas also served as a panelist at a City Hall Forum entitled “How To Become A Criminal Or Family Court Judge In New York City,” which was sponsored by the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission on Minorities.

Additionally, he has lectured as a panelist at the Criminal Court Judges Association’s annual seminar regarding Drug Treatment Courts and the recent revision of the drug sentencing laws.

In May 2010 he was designated an Acting Supreme Court Justice by then-Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts Ann Pau and has served as the presiding judge of the Queens Misdemeanor Treatment Court and the Mental Health Recovery Court. In June, Zayas was appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as a judge of the Court of Claims, which is the forum for civil litigation seeking damages against the State of New York, and was assigned to his current post, presiding over jury trials and the county’s indicted domestic violence cases, as well as the county forensic cases.

In addition to his judicial work, Zayas presently serves on the Judicial Institute’s Criminal Law Advisory Committee as the Secretary of the Association of Judges of Hispanic Heritage, and is on the advisory board of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County, which honored him in 2008 for his dedication and commitment to the Latino community in Queens County.

Zayas resides in Queens with his wife, Catherine, and their three children.

Last year’s Hispanic Heritage Award was given to Richard M. Gutierrez, President of the Queens County Bar Association, for his hard work and dedication to the residents of Queens County.

Prior award recipients included: Assistant District Attorney Mariela Palomino Herring, Chief of District Attorney Brown’s Gang Violence and Hate Crimes Bureau, in 2010; Dr. Eduardo J. Martí, President of Queensborough Community College, in 2009; the Honorable Fernando Camacho, Administrative Judge of the State Supreme Court, Queens County, Criminal Term, in 2008; Assemblyman Jose R. Peralta, of the 39th Assembly District, in 2007; and the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County received the inaugural Hispanic Heritage award in 2006.

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