For Judge Lourdes Ventura, who was recently elected to the New York Supreme Court’s 11th Judicial District after presiding in the New York City Civil Court for Queens County, the new role seemed part of her destiny.
Indeed, her successful legal career was recognized in Spring 2019, when Thomson Reuters’ Sharon Sayles Belton had the privilege of presenting the American Bar Association Liberty Achievement Award to her.
Judge Ventura’s path to the law was not intentional, though her advocacy for others had been with her from the beginning. As a little girl growing up in a Spanish-speaking community, she would translate for people that needed help with English. In fact, her first encounter with a lawyer happened when she was home from college and she was asked to translate for a person from her community who was a defendant in a legal case. That lawyer was one of the first individuals who suggested Ventura go to law school.
The opportunity to attend law school was fortuitous as well. She earned it through the Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Fellowship, which offered tuition-free with stipend to graduate studies for a four-year period. After discovering that the time it would take her to earn a joint JD/MSW program at the University of Buffalo would line up with the scholarship, Judge Ventura decided to pursue her goal of advocacy “as a social worker with a legal background.”
After graduating with her JD, her first job was at the Queens District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor. “I struggled with the idea of working at the DA’s office because I was born and raised in… a community where people were accused of crimes or going to jail, and I would be prosecuting similar people,” she says, adding that she then remembered that there were victims, too, and thus, she could apply her social work credentials in this role.
Even though Judge Ventura never used her social work capabilities in an official capacity, these skills were useful in her practice, uniquely positioning her to be effective. In social work, working with different populations and communities is a must — and for Ventura, the convergence of social work, advocacy, and being a judge came together in 2018.
Judge Ventura says she recalls a small claims matter between a former couple that, as she sorted it out, she found the case also involved family court and criminal court actions involving the same couple. “Everything I had worked for and in, all that knowledge came into play for that one case,” she explains.
Her Path to Politics and Judgeship
Judge Ventura’s career and path to politics intersected multiple times during her career. Early in her legal career, a mentor encouraged her to get involved with local politics in Queens County. She spent a few years at the Democratic Conference of the New York State Senate, the Attorney General’s Office in the civil rights bureau, and in private practice. “My first run for an election was actually in 2009 where I attempted to run for an assembly seat in the New York State Assembly, and I was the only woman and the only Hispanic that was running at that time for that seat,” Ventura says. Ultimately, she did not receive the nomination for the Democratic Party and decided to drop out with the intention of finding another opportunity to run.
Then, many of her mentors and others suggested she would make a good judge, and suggested she run for that office. Her first attempt at seeking judicial office was for the New York City Civil Court for Queens County in 2011. It took tenacity and commitment and seven years to get that nomination from the Democratic party in Queens County, despite being past president of the Latino Lawyers’ Association in Queens County and past president of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association.
If she could leave people with one thought, Judge Ventura says she’d state emphatically, “Never give up.” Indeed, those words helped her as she pursued the nomination for the Queens County judgeship amid several disappointments. “If you’re told no about getting the nomination, don’t give up and don’t walk away,” Judge Ventura says a friend told her. “Just keep trying and keep focused. If this is what you want, whatever it is that you want, no matter how challenging it can be, you will be stronger when you finally get what you want, and you will be ready for it.”