Brooklyn Boro

‘Camp Quinones’ celebrates 10 years of judicial internships in Brooklyn

July 15, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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Judge Joanne Quinones grew up in Bushwick at a time when people who looked like her lacked many opportunities. In fact, she credits getting out of the neighborhood as one of the biggest influences of her life.

However, she never forgot her roots, nor her old neighborhood. Not only does Quinones return to Bushwick every year to speak with kids from her former elementary school, but she also tries to open the doors for them the way those same doors were eventually opened to her.

For that reason, Judge Quinones has taken on interns each summer since she was appointed to the bench by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010, a tradition that was dubbed “Camp Quinones” by a former secretary at the Brooklyn Criminal Court at 120 Schermerhorn Street

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From left: Sabino Vargas, Nallely Shapiro, Betsey Jean-Jacques, Hon. Joanne Quinones, Shereece Mora and Erik Perez.

“We started with two interns in the first year, and then pretty quickly I moved on to six,” Judge Quinones said. “This year, I have eight. Overall, I’d say there were at least 50 and that number may actually be closer to 100.”

Quinones doesn’t simply draw interns from the top of a stack applications from elite law school students, she pulls from local programs that includes high school, college and law school students. She even has an incoming high school sophomore in Camp Quinones right now.

“I was lucky because I got into a program [Prep for Prep] where I was taken out of an inner city public school and placed into a prep school so I had an experience that was very different from the people who grew up around me,” Quinones said.

From left: Asia Lopez, Samantha Leftt, Estefani Rodriguez, Robert Brooks, Avi Walker and Hon. Joanne Quinones.

“Many doors were opened for me and I got to see worlds that I would not have otherwise seen,” she continued. “It’s all about giving people opportunities, exposing people to the court system as a whole and hopefully increasing the diversity of the legal profession.”

Each year, Judge Quinones advises and mentors all the students taken into the program, but also has the students mentor each other. Every year, she invites them all back for a pizza party so that past interns might be able to help current interns as well.

Quinones, for her part, tested into Prep for Prep, a program which helps inner city public school kids get into more well-off private schools. It’s why she left Bushwick after sixth grade to go to an all-girls private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in seventh grade.

From left: Cesar Ruiz, Pete Esser, Maria Neri, Layla Noriega and Hilola Mary Atham.

Quinones was only two students of color at the school and when her parents divorced a year later, she transferred to a boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts.

“I didn’t want to live with either one of them without the other, and I didn’t like feeling like the only person of color at my school, so I decided that boarding school was the way to go,” she recalled.

The move meant that she would leave her first mentor, her mother, whom she credits with instilling in her the tenacity necessary to take on entire groups of interns at a time. It was that toughness that she learned from her mother that made her feel compelled to go to boarding school.

From left: Anna Chuen, Ashley Gonzalez, Israel Rodriguez Rubio and Lourdes Vazquez.

“My mother was a tough, tough woman who taught me to be strong and independent, and she was actually against me going to boarding school at first, but she taught me to be so strong and so independent that I was set in my ways,” Judge Quinones said as she pounded on her desk to make a point.

Judge Quinones said that she never wanted to be a judge. Not only that, she didn’t even plan to go to law school. Instead, she attended Brown University as a pre-med student. Eventually, though, she realized that cadavers and medical school were not in her future so she took two years off after Brown to take the LSAT and plan her next move.

“I applied to law schools with the hope of becoming a child advocate,” Quinones recalled. “That’s all I wanted to do. All of my internships during law school were with child advocacy outfits — the Legal Aid Society, juvenile rights division, the Door, that sort of thing.”

From left: Andrew Rainey, Savannah Mangram, Lauren Shayo and Israel Rodriguez Rubio.

Before she left law school, Quinones had a discussion with one of her mentors, Professor Ann Moynihan, who steered Quinones towards joining the Legal Aid Society. After a brief stint there, she went to work for Judge Matthew Cooper, another mentor.

“I learned a lot from Judge Cooper,” Quinones said. “He was extremely generous with his time, knowledge and experience. To this day, if I have an issue, I will call Judge Cooper and he will talk me through it. Becoming a court attorney for Judge Cooper was one of the best decisions of my career.”

Eventually Judge Cooper, and Justice Deborah Kaplan, a past president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, both talked Quinones into applying to become a judge. After six rounds of interviews, she was appointed to the bench in 2010 and since that time Judge Quinones has left her mark on the legal community, based in part on how many people she’s helped bring into it.

Erik Perez (left) and Richard Velasquez.

Part of her mark has also been how active she is in many bar associations. She’s a member of nearly all of the local ones, including the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, the Brooklyn Bar Association and the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn. She’s also a member of citywide bar associations like the Puerto Rican Bar Association, and state and national bar associations as well. She just finished up a one-year term as the president of the Latino Judges Association.

“Everybody makes jokes about how I’m a member of all of these bar associations,” Judge Quinones said. “The reason I became active in all of these bar associations is because I wanted to make sure that there was an active person of color involved, a person of color sitting at the table. It’s good for the membership to see a Quinones. It’s why I’m a member of so many. It’s not just the local ones.”

This is no loose affiliation with these many organizations either as she is active in most, participating in committees and attending regular events. It’s not uncommon to see her at events huddled in the corner with members of Camp Quinones, explaining to them how they can get involved and giving lessons on how to network.

Camp Quinones alumni and friends.

Members of the bar associations Judge Quinones belongs to have noticed this leadership, and many have already begun giving her awards like the Brooklyn Bar Association or the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association did in 2018.

“Judge Quinones is truly in a Wonder Woman in black robes,” said Betsey Jean-Jacques, a Catholic Lawyers Guild board member. “Judge Quinones has an impressive and impeccable resume that is truly awe-inspiring.

“She is an inspiration to young attorneys. On a personal level, she is an inspiration to me. She energizes you to do good and to pay it forward. As a mentor, she is truly genuine and humble, she will be your biggest cheerleader and you consider yourself lucky to know her.”

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