Eagle Q&A: Dominican immigrant Patria Frias-Colón seeks seat on Civil Court bench
This past March, Patria Frias-Colón, the Brooklyn borough chief of the Family Court Division of the New York City Law Department, received the Legal Excellence Award from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, along with the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association.
In accepting the award, Frias-Colón said, “Having lived as a prosecutor, everything I’ve learned is all about justice. Not only do I want to ensure that the people prosecuted are given justice, but also the victims in our cases and of course that justice has to translate to the community.”
Frias Colon is currently running for one of the five open seats on the Brooklyn Civil Court. There are 11 candidates for the position, which covers the entire county. The primary is Sept. 12 and Civil Court judges are elected to 10-year terms.
Frias-Colón has most recently served as the Brooklyn borough chief for the New York City Law Department’s Family Court Division, where she oversees the juvenile delinquency practice.
Prior to that, Frias-Colón served as assistant district attorney in Kings County and was an adjunct professor at St. John’s University’s School of Education. She then served as agency counsel to the NYC Department of Education in 1998 and later became assistant deputy counsel to the schools’ chancellor.
Frias-Colón was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to Brooklyn as a young girl. She graduated from Bushwick High School, received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Rochester, and graduated from Hofstra University School of Law. She was awarded a Public Justice scholarship.
Frias-Colón recently took the time to talk with the Brooklyn Eagle about her candidacy and background.
Brooklyn Eagle: So, you grew up in Bushwick. How old were you when you first came to New York?
Frias-Colón: My earliest memory is around 7. But it could have been a little earlier. I know I started first grade here. Maybe I was between 5 and 6. I was very young.
When we got here from the Dominican Republic, that was a very huge change in what we were used to seeing. And although we grew up modest there, I never realized how poor we were until we came here.
We were raised in Bushwick in a tenement apartment. My mother made a very modest income in the factories and she worked in a few of them. My youngest sister was born here and much later [so was] my brother, who is now a New York City police officer.
Eagle: How did your childhood and all the obstacles you had to face influence your desire to seek a career in law?
Frias-Colón: Two reasons: I remember being in my first-grade bilingual class at P.S. 274 in Bushwick. They had a corner library there in each class. One of the books on the shelf was a picture book about professions. The cover photo said lawyer and it had a woman’s face on it. I thought a woman can become a lawyer. That was my first recognition that we could do anything that we set our minds to.
You know, growing up I watched TV shows like “Perry Mason,” and there were no women lawyers; the judges were not women and certainly not people of color. So [seeing the book] was my first exposure. That planted the seed in my head. And while growing up, we had to change apartments periodically because the landlords wouldn’t give us heat, or we would lose hot water. And I always remember my mother being so diligent about paying her rent because she didn’t want us to be forced out of a home.
Those were basically the two things that motivated me. I said when I grow up I’m going to be a lawyer and I’m going help people to make sure they get heat and hot water. And here I am now.
Eagle: What are your current responsibilities?
Frias-Colón: Well, today I am the borough chief for juvenile crimes and interstate child support in Brooklyn. So, I work for the New York City Law Department and I have since 2009. And I’ve worked with a wonderful team of people, including support professionals, investigators and attorneys. We are charged with handling the investigations and prosecutions of juvenile crimes. And I also have a team of people who handle all interstate child support work.
Eagle: As a successful attorney, what made you want to run for the Civil Court bench seat?
Frias-Colón: Once I became a lawyer, I knew that for me the ultimate transition was to become a judge. It did become increasingly difficult for me to do that because I loved the work that I did at every stage of my professional career. So, for example, when I hit my 10-year mark, which is what you need to become a Civil Court judge or a Supreme Court justice, I knew that I was going to begin to do the work that needed to be done to try to ascend to the bench, whether it was the appointed route or whether it was the elected route.
At the time, I was with the Department of Education (DOE) doing some great work with the Administrative Trials Unit, as well as with then-President of the board Ninfa Segarra.
I never would have left the DOE; I was very happy there. But then I got this amazing opportunity to apply for the NYC Law Department. I did it with trepidation. But I had someone to nudge me and ultimately I got the job to lead their Brooklyn office and it’s been a wonderful marriage ever since.
Eagle: You and your husband Robert Colón are the parents of three children. Do you still live in Brooklyn?
Frias-Colón: I do. When I got married in 1990 I moved from my parents’ house in Bushwick to his parents’ house three blocks away. We then moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2001 and we’ve been there ever since.
Eagle: Congratulations on being endorsed by Frank Seddio and the Kings County Democratic Party.
Frias-Colón: [Frank is] wonderful and he’s done so much for others. I am thrilled to have his support. There are five open seats in the Civil Court and I was found qualified by the independent judicial panel for the Kings County Democratic Party, for both the Civil and the Supreme Court.
Eagle: Do you have opponents for the judge’s seat, and who will make the ultimate selection?
Frias-Colón: Well, there are only five seats and there are currently 11 candidates, including myself. So, the people of Brooklyn are going to make that decision. The ones who have the most votes on Sept. 12 will move forward to the general election.
Eagle: What will be your judicial district?
Frias-Colón: It will be countywide seat that covers all of Brooklyn.
Eagle: What are some activities you do within the community?
Frias-Colón: Something people may not know is that I am a member of the Coney Island Polar Bears. Our season begins the first Sunday in November and our season ends the last Sunday in April. I’m really proud of that group of people and the work that we do. On Jan. 1, we always do a huge fundraiser for the Camp Sunshine family organization. We usually raise thousands of dollars.
I’m involved with the Brooklyn chapter of Jack and Jill, a national organization for mothers. We pool our resources together to provide financial and other support to our Brooklyn community and we do legislative work as well. We’ve given money to the New York Public Library [and] we do Toys for Tots for children in shelters, which is something very close to my heart.
I’m also a member of numerous legal professional organizations like the Dominican Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bar Association all of which do phenomenal work. It’s all volunteer work but it’s all about paying it forward.
Eagle: Do you feel that your background as an immigrant brings something new and unique to the bench that has been missing?
Frias-Colón: I’ll tell you what I think my uniqueness is: I have a very well-rounded perspective. I’m the daughter of struggle, I know how certain things can weigh you down and I know how things can lift you up.
Eagle: Do you ever go back to visit the Dominican Republic?
Frias-Colón: Absolutely. Not only do I have family there, and my mother has impressed upon us the importance of family, and we’ve done the same with our kids. I’ve been here now over 40 years and she’s been here longer than that. She made it a point that we always went there during school breaks. My family and I still try to go at least once a year.
Eagle: What do you hope to accomplish as Civil Court judge?
Frias-Colón: Well, you know, in Brooklyn there’s never been a Dominican-born elected to the Civil Court. And this will be a first. It’s historic for me, and historic for our borough.