Amplifying her voice through law
Carmen M. Garcia credits much of her professional successes to her parents and historical pioneers who have paved the way.
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Carmen M. Garcia never planned to pursue a career in law.
While in college, she became penpals with a liberation theologist from Brazil named Bom Helder Camara, whose writings greatly influenced Garcia and her understanding of justice, helping her define her worldview as a young person passionate about creating change.
“I pursued the study of law simply because I wanted to legitimize my voice,” she said during an interview with AL DÍA.
While in Spain during her graduate fellowship, Garcia made the decision to pursue a law degree as a foundational tool for a future career in public policy.
“But life is unpredictable and as such I fell in love with the dynamic polemic and juxtaposition that is the law,” she said. “I have remained because the Law in its purest form is a catalyst for change.”
As a lawyer, Garcia feels it’s her responsibility to continue challenging, questioning, pushing and prodding the profession towards ultimate fairness and justice.
Garcia is one of three law professionals who will be honored with the 2019 Top Lawyer Award during the annual AL DÍA Lawyers Forum & Reception event on October 1, 2019. She will specifically be named the recipient of the Top Government/Non-profit Counsel Award.
Neither had finished third grade, nor spoke a word of English, but remained devoted to creating a better life for themselves and for their children.
Garcia was profoundly inspired by her parent’s vigorous work ethic, their strong value of education, their selfless commitment to community and their deep pride in the Puerto Rican culture — those values are what have guided her life’s work.
Her legal career began as a corporate litigation associate at a law firm, before she left private practice to serve as a judicial law clerk to the person who would become her lifelong mentor, the Honorable Joseph H. Rodriguez in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
After a tenure as an assistant counsel to former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean and later being appointed to serve as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Trenton, Garcia made history on July 19, 2001, when she was formally sworn in to serve as the Chief Judge of Trenton Municipal Court.
Notably, she was the first Latinx lawyer to serve on the bench in the City of Trenton and the second Latina to be appointed to serve judicial office in the New Jersey Courts.
“The pressure was definitely on,” she recalled. “To be clear, it was exciting being the ‘first’ but the challenge was to ensure that I would not become the ‘only.’”
Garcia is a strong community leader, as she remains very active in numerous professional, civic and volunteer associations and activities.
When she accepts her Top Lawyers award on Oct. 1, Garcia wants to make sure she also acknowledges the fact that she “stands on the shoulders of so many.”
“Shoulders of individuals who have sacrificed a great deal so that I could advance. And sadly many of those individuals have not received any recognition whatsoever for their efforts,” she added.
Garcia considers herself a beneficiary of many, including her parents, as well as the historical pioneers who make the the “colorful vibrant legacy of achievement which is La Hispanidad in the United States,” such as Dolores Huerta, Sonia Sotomayer, Joseph H. Rodriguez and Juan Sanchez.
“I humbly accept this honor in the name of ‘all those’ who have contributed, however great or slight, to paving my way,” said Garcia.
To purchase a ticket for the 2019 AL DÍA Lawyers Forum & Reception, click here.