Damaris García wins judicial primary, becoming only Puerto Rican woman on the ballot heading to Philly’s Common Pleas Court
Damaris García, 44, is a North Philadelphia native with 20 years of litigating experience. She hopes to bring her learnings to the bench.
From one of the more obscure rows on the ballot, Damaris García emerged as one of 10 elected judges for Pennsylvania’s Court of Common Pleas, following the primary election Tuesday, May 16.
García, 44, is a Puerto Rican trial attorney from North Philly with over 20 years of litigating in Philly courts. Last year, García became a candidate for judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, hoping to bring the breadth of her career, coupled with her lived experience, to her work as a judge.
Aside from her work in the private sector, García told AL DÍA she took pro-bono work or cases where the attorney does not charge clients, with a specific focus on the city’s Spanish-speaking residents.
“I find that we have a tendency in our community to become complacent… when there's so much more help that can be provided. I know I can't do it all on my own, but I can try, you know, and so that's what gives me joy,” she said.
Recalling those cases, García said, she saw firsthand how folks who struggled with English were most commonly in the dark about legal issues affecting their businesses and day-to-day lives, citing instances with the homestead exemption and immigration issues.
“There aren't a lot of Latino attorneys out here, especially ones that speak Spanish. And they're familiar with the culture, and the culture in Philly. And I just wanted to be able to give that and provide that,” García said of her impressions in the legal field.
“We represent a lot of community members across the city and not just Latinos, but I really enjoy helping our Latinos because I know that there aren't enough resources for our communities, especially those that don't speak English very well that don't know the system very well.”
García — who was born and raised in the city’s predominantly Latino section — said that she plans to “check her personal opinions at the door” and will follow boilerplate courtroom guidance when presiding over cases.
Still, García maintains a belief that a more diverse judiciary will only improve how the courts serve citizens.
“I look at our judges now. They are not representative of our city, of the different cultures in the communities across our city,” she said.
García and her primary cohort of victors will need to run again in what’s known as a retention election in six years' time.
With 60 judicial districts spread through the Commonwealth, she’ll preside over cases in the Court of Common Pleas in Philly, dealing primarily with a myriad of issues ranging from family violence, adoption cases, family law, and even commercial matters.
“In Philadelphia, because we have so many people, so many cases, [judges] do tend to specialize just a little bit more,” said Kevin Levy, chair of the LGBTQ Philadelphia Bar Association.
“So it's a little unlikely, for example, that a judge might hear a murder trial on a Monday and then listen to an adoption case on Tuesday, followed by an eviction on Wednesday,” he said, contrasting the casework in the city with neighboring counties.
Because judges are elected and not appointed, judicial candidates embarked on a campaigning mission over the last year with the hopes of driving turnout in a city that struggles with galvanizing unengaged voters.
For judges, that endeavor is compounded by the fact that candidates have many more limitations concerning behavior on the campaign trail.