From the Classroom to the Bench

Justice Joseph Suarez ‘80

After spending 30 years on the bench, Haub Law alumnus Justice Joseph Suarez has recently retired. Born in Cuba, Justice Suarez attended City College in New York while working as an electrical worker in NYC Transit to help support his family. After a tragedy hit home, he and his fiancée became guardians of three children. “I had a responsibility to my family and at that point, I knew I had to support them,” said Suarez. “I decided that obtaining my teaching license would be prudent and I started a career as a science teacher in the South Bronx.” During that time, Justice Suarez supplemented his teaching salary as a S.E.C. registered Investment Adviser and Tax preparer and continued his educational studies, ultimately receiving an MBA in finance from Baruch. With a passion for learning and a drive to go further, he ultimately pursued and obtained a MS in Educational Administration and a NYS license as a District Administrator.   

“By the time I had started thinking about law school, I had moved my family to Rockland County,” Suarez recalled. “I was interested in law, I truly enjoyed being a student, and there was a competitive value of a law degree that was appealing.” Ultimately, he was accepted to a number of law schools, but once he heard that Pace was to open a law school in White Plains, the choice was made. “It was the perfect circumstances for me. I would not have to commute far, and I could attend at night.”  

Once enrolled at what was then known as Pace Law School, Justice Suarez immersed himself in his legal studies. “Immediately I knew I was in the right place. And, fortunately, despite having a young family, I had the unwavering support of my wife, Della, without which none of this would have been possible.” During his time at Pace, Justice Suarez recalls the many professors who helped him along the way. “I was most impressed by Professor Jay Carlisle, Professor Bennett Gershman, and the late Ralph Stein. Their passion and skills for imparting knowledge on the particular subject matter was amazing.”  

After graduating from Pace in 1980, Justice Suarez remained very involved with the School, serving as a member of the alumni association for thirteen years, as president, treasurer, and on various committees of the association. “I developed strong friendships with classmates during my time at Pace. We all fostered a mutual sense of wanting to give back to Pace through our involvement, which included scholarships, outreach to minorities, and more.”

Once he was admitted to the bar, Justice Suarez accepted the position of District Director of Management Services in his South Bronx School District. When the position of labor negotiator for Rockland County became available, he applied and became the first Hispanic Assistant County Attorney in the process. During this time, he also helped found the Village of Chestnut Ridge, becoming the Village Attorney for the first 6 years of its operation and serving as the first Hispanic Village Attorney in the County. 

With a passion for involvement in community causes, Justice Suarez was deeply involved with the Haverstraw community, helping to form: the Hispanic Coalition of Rockland County, the Alliance of Latino Leaders; and HOGAR (Home), an organization which focused on establishing first-time home buyers. Ultimately, through HOGAR, Justice Suarez helped close for nearly 200 families, over the years.  “Giving back to the Hispanic community has always been a passion and priority of mine.”  

It was in 1992 when the Acting Village Justice of Chestnut Ridge moved away that the mayor asked him to assume the position of Acting Village Justice and he accepted- becoming the first Hispanic judge in the Hudson Valley. For the next nearly 5 years, Justice Suarez served in that capacity. With a need for a second justice, it was in 1997 that Justice Suarez was elected to fill that role and since then, he has been re-elected continuously. “Being on the bench was not something I foresaw all those years ago when I was pursuing different educational paths and degrees. My career and the path of my career has been circuitous and rewarding. The ability to effect change, and ensure justice is served, has been life changing. It was the honor of my lifetime to have served in that capacity.”  

Now that he is retired, Justice Suarez looks forward to taking the time to reflect on how he can efficiently effect positive change. “I am excited for the next chapter, connecting with friends, spending time with family, and a Havanese puppy we recently got, who takes up much of our time. I also look forward to continuing my work with the Hudson Valley Hispanic Bar Association.”