A historic all-Latino bench takes the helm in Brooklyn

Lasalle, Barros, Voutsinas and Ventura presiding

September 11, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The storied courtroom in Brooklyn Heights witnessed a historic moment on Tuesday, Sept. 5, when the Appellate Division, Second Department, for the first time ever, seated an all-Latino bench when Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle was joined by associate justices Hon. Betsy Barros, Hon. Helen Voutsinas and Hon. Lourdes Ventura to hear oral arguments.

This significant stride forward in representation reaffirms the ongoing evolution and inclusivity in the New York judiciary.

Standing back row from left to right: Hon. Ariel Belen, Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, and Hon. Joseph Zayas. Sitting from left: Hon. Lourdes Ventura, Hon. Betsy Barros, Hon. Hector LaSalle, and Hon. Helen Voutsinas.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, serves a broad jurisdiction that includes counties such as Kings, Queens, Richmond, Nassau and Suffolk. It is the intermediate appellate court responsible for hearing appeals from the trial courts. Given its expansive scope, which envelops more than half of New York State’s population, it stands as one of the busiest benches not only in the state but across the nation.

With the courtroom echoing his passion and commitment, Presiding Justice LaSalle spoke on the importance of the day and the nuances of representation.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Hon. Hector LaSalle, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department.

“We are the children of the working class, all born and raised in New York,” began Justice LaSalle. “Every one of us is a first-generation college graduate. This bench today symbolizes the rich diversity within the Latino community of the Second Department. Representing four different counties, our families trace their roots back to varied locales in Latin America.”

Justice LaSalle, born in Brentwood on Long Island, has made significant contributions to New York’s judicial landscape. After earning a Bachelor of Arts from Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School, he began his legal career as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County and later rose to the position of deputy bureau chief.

His professional journey also includes roles at the Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, P.C. law firm and the New York Attorney General’s Office. LaSalle’s judicial career has been marked by several significant appointments by Governor Andrew Cuomo, such as Associate Justice of the Appellate Term for the Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, and his current role as the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department.

“I must highlight that for the first time, our court has more Latinas than Latino men presiding,” LaSalle said.

Hon. Betsy Barros.

Justice Betsy Barros, a Brooklyn native of Chilean descent, is a trailblazer in New York’s legal realm, being the first Latina woman to serve as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department and a Kings County Supreme Court Justice. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts and Sciences from Cornell University in 1979 and her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1982.

Beginning her career as a public defender with the Legal Aid Society, Justice Barros transitioned into prosecuting corruption as a Special State Prosecutor, later serving as chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Elected to the Civil Court bench in 1995, she’s known for her dedication to alternative incarceration programs and guardianship matters, particularly the protection of at-risk individuals.

Justice Voutsinas has previously served as a Nassau County Appellate Term Judge and was elected as a Nassau County Justice in 2018. Her professional journey began in a private law firm, later transitioning into public service as an Assistant Town Attorney for North Hempstead and Deputy Majority Counsel to the Nassau County Legislature. Her tenure as Principal Law Clerk to Justice Steven Jaeger from 2005 to 2011 saw her manage serious criminal felony cases, including specialized Domestic Violence and Drug Diversion cases.

A dedicated leader, Justice Voutsinas presided over the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, co-founded the Nassau County Women’s Bar Foundation, and has held various esteemed roles in legal associations. Recognized for her contributions, she received awards from the NCWBA and the Consulate General of the Dominican Republic. Pioneering change, Justice Voutsinas is the first Latina elected to the District and Supreme Court benches in Nassau County, as well as the Appellate Term in the 9th and 10th Judicial District.

Hon. Lourdes Ventura.

Justice Ventura previously served in the Supreme Court of Queens County and the Civil Court of New York City. Prior to that, she was a partner at Ahmuty, Demers & McManus and held pivotal roles in the New York State Senate and the NYS Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau. Notably, she was an Assistant District Attorney in Queens, where she dealt with a range of cases from economic fraud to drug charges.

She was the first Latina to hold leadership positions in both the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York and the Queens County Women’s Bar Association. Her tenure as president of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County saw the organization recognized by the New York State Bar Association and the Queens District Attorney’s Office for its contributions.

Justice LaSalle took the opportunity to address the issue of underrepresentation of Latinos in New York’s judiciary system. He also said that he wished to see elected leaders move beyond mere words of acknowledgment towards actionable inclusivity and representation.

“As we reflect on this milestone, it’s crucial to remember that Latinos, constituting 20% of our state, are still underrepresented in our judiciary, making up merely 10%,” LaSalle said. “The essence of New York lies in its vibrant communities, and Latinos form an essential piece of this intricate puzzle.”

“Hispanic Heritage Month will soon be upon us, and New Yorkers will undoubtedly hear our elected leaders reiterate the significance of inclusion and diversity,” he concluded. “My hope is that, soon, their actions will truly reflect the depth of their spoken words. To echo national youth poet laureate’s words in ‘The Hill We Climb’, ‘We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be.'”

Justice LaSalle took a moment to acknowledge the presence of three luminaries of the state’s judiciary: Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, Hon. Joseph Zayas and Hon. Ariel Belen. He reserved special praise for Justice Rivera, remarking, “A person who broke down a door so the six of us could walk through it.”

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