A night of legal luminary: Judges Acosta and Zayas shine at the PRBA’s annual gala
Standing beneath the Williamsburg Bridge at the iconic Giando on the Water, the legal community gathered to celebrate the Puerto Rican Bar Association’s annual Scholarship Fund Gala on Thursday, Sept. 21, an evening where seasoned jurisprudence met budding legal talent.
Though the night was adorned with awards and recognitions, the contributions and achievements of Judges Rolando T. Acosta and Joseph A. Zayas, along with the leadership of PRBA’s 66th President Angélicque M. Moreno, Esq., rendered the event unforgettable.
The evening began with an emotion-stirring performance of the U.S. and Puerto Rican national anthems by Court Officer Lt. Jessica Hernandez. As the melodies gracefully danced through the air, anticipation for the forthcoming accolades and recognitions filled the room.
Moreno, with her esteemed presence and graceful leadership, steered the evening with eloquence. Her remarks punctuated the PRBA’s unwavering commitment to nurturing diversity and fostering excellence in law, setting the tone for an evening of celebration and recognition.
The big awards were the Judiciary Excellence Awards, which were given to Hon. Rolando Acosta, the former presiding justice of the Appellate Division, First Department; and Hon. Joseph Zayas, chief administrative judge of the New York State Unified Court System, the highest-ranking administrative position within the New York State Judiciary.
Justice Acosta (Ret.) is a renowned legal figure with a distinguished career, currently serving as a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP. With more than 25 years of judicial experience, Acosta is a veteran in navigating complex litigation landscapes.
He has served as a trial and appellate judge on the Supreme Court of the State of New York, with a notable 15-year tenure on the Appellate Division, First Department, including six years as presiding justice. Acosta is celebrated for his unwavering commitment to the rule of law and has spearheaded significant modernizations in the court, enhancing efficiency and public access to justice.
Similarly, Justice Joseph A. Zayas occupies a pivotal role in the New York legal ecosystem. Appointed as the chief administrative judge of the New York State Unified Court System by Chief Judge Rowan Wilson in May 2023, Zayas manages an expansive administrative and operational portfolio.
This includes overseeing a $3.3 billion budget and the coordination of more than 3,300 judges and 15,000 non-judicial employees. Before this prominent appointment, Zayas served as an associate justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, and as the administrative judge for the Supreme Court in Queens County, exemplifying a career marked by leadership and administrative excellence.
Amidst the celebration of judicial excellence, Lisa Martinez Wolmart, chief legal officer for the U.S. Businesses of Prudential Financial, Inc., was acknowledged as a force in the legal and corporate sphere with the Attorney of the Year Award.
Hon. Luis R. Sepúlveda was presented with the Public Service Award by Hon. Wanda Yvette Negron. Sepúlveda, a New York State senator, is renowned for his advocacy for economic opportunity, diversity and reforms impacting middle and working-class families.
Sepúlveda’s strides in criminal justice reform and his contribution to immigrant rights in New York, including the NY State Jose Peralta DREAM Act and the Green Light Bill, were celebrated with a Public Service Award.
The awards segment, guided seamlessly by President Moreno, highlighted these individuals’ valuable contributions to the legal landscape. Their combined narratives of unwavering commitment and their contributions to jurisprudence amplified the gala’s atmosphere of celebration and recognition.
Justice Zayas got an opportunity to be involved in highlighting the future of the PRBA when he presented the Puerto Rican Bar Association Scholarship Fund awards, a special moment dedicated to honoring the brightest young talents. This year’s recipients included Stephanie Argueta, Fabrizio Chamorro, Lauren Farfan, Gerson Martinez and Valeria Ortiz.
Additionally, Hon. Llinet Rosado presented the Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels Dare to Dream Scholarship to a deserving Odalmy Ruiz, applauding her aspiration and dedication. The Felipe N. Torres & Frank Torres Scholarship, honoring academic and personal excellence, was given to Israel Lopez by Hon. Lucas Torres, marking the culmination of a night that celebrated not only established legal luminaries but also the emerging stars destined to shape the future of jurisprudence.
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