Lourdes M. Ventura currently serves as a Justice in the New York State Supreme Court in the 11th Judicial District (Queens County). Judge Ventura was born and raised in Queens, New York from parents who immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Growing up, Judge Ventura did not always know she would pursue a career in law, “it was God who pushed me this way,” she told Latina Republic.
As a young girl, Supreme Court Justice Ventura grew up in a Spanish speaking community where she would help translate for those who did not speak English. This practice was inspired by her mother’s love of helping others. Interestingly enough, through translating for a neighbor who was a defendant in a legal case, Ventura interacted with the lawyer representing the defendant who suggested law school to her.
In 2019, Judge Ventura served as a judge in the Civil Court of the City of New York in Queens County. Judge Ventura was previously a partner at the law firm, Ahmuty, Demers & McManus and served as a former Deputy Attorney General for the Office of Civil Rights of the Attorney General’s Office, New York State General. She also served as a former Queens District Attorney and in the New York State Senate in various roles, including Special Advisor to the State Senate Majority Conference of New York, Latino and Immigrant Affairs Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff who oversees the departments of Politics and Finance.
Currently, Judge Ventura serves as an officer of the of Latino Judges Association and the Supreme Court Justices Association of the City of New York. She has also served in various colleges of lawyers and was the first Latina to serve as an official of the State Women’s Lawyers Association of New York. Judge Ventura was also the first Latina to serve as president of the venerable Queens County Women’s Bar Association.
Furthermore, Judge Ventura was also president of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County. Judge Ventura has obtained numerous state and local awards and recognition for her community service and her work as an exemplary citizen. Judge Ventura was awarded a Medal of Merit by the President of the Dominican Republic in celebration of the International Day of the Woman. Judge Ventura goes in depth about her experiences in her career with Latina Republic.
In this interview, she recalls her personal journey to reach the position she currently occupies. It is important to Judge Ventura to represent her community, her Latinx and Dominican community, and also represent her community, geographically. Through her work she aims to represent everyone in the stride toward equality.
Lourdes M. Ventura in Conversation with Latina Republic:
What inspired you to get into the career field that you are in?
I say that it was God who pushed me this way. And when I say that it’s because quite frankly, you know I was born and raised in Queens County in New York City, and my parents had both immigrated from the Dominican Republic, separately. They did not know each other, they actually met here in New York City, in Queens. And, you know, the life that we had was a very humble life in Queens County, and as a kid I never thought I would be a lawyer. At some point during my upbringing, we fell on hard times, financially. My parents were no longer together, and at that time I was the only English-speaking person in the household with my mother, and I had two younger siblings.
She used to take me to different places to translate and interpret for her. So, I would say that’s where the love of helping people came from. Because my mom forced me to do it and at the time, I did not understand why I was doing this. But ultimately it helped me love what she loved, and that’s what it really was about, helping people. We used to be, for example, at a Social Services Agency and she saw other Spanish-speaking people struggling and she would be like, “Lourdes go and help them, they need help.” And I would go over and I would help them, this little kid translating and interpreting for other people. And that’s how I started my advocacy, I would say, and the love of helping people. Seeing my mother do it, having her having me do it.
And having the actual opportunity in getting engaged with the law ultimately was when I found out I was eligible for a Post College Graduate Fellowship to go to Grad School, and it was a four-year Fellowship. And I had already applied to get my Master in Social Work, and I had been accepted and that was only a two-year program.
When I found out I got four years of free money to go to graduate school, I also found out about the JD/MSW, the Law Degree combined with the Master of Social Work at the University of Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo, so I applied, and here I am. So that’s how I got involved, you know, directly applying to law. So, it was not something I was interested in, or that it was a dream or anything like that.
The funny thing is that when I was a freshman or Sophomore in college, and I was home from college, because I was at the University of Buffalo, I came back to Queens. There was a neighbor that was seeking assistance with her sons’ case. And he had been accused of a crime. His English-speaking lawyer had come to their home, and he needed translation.
So, they contacted me, and that’s where we met, and I still consider him a mentor to this day. I met Jerrold Savage. And he always kept in touch with me from that moment on. So, he was with me throughout the process when I decided to apply for law school. He was there for me. Any questions I had during law school he was there for me. And that was instrumental, and he was the first person to tell me, “You should become a lawyer someday.” And I’m like, “what is this man talking about? I don’t want to be a lawyer; I don’t know what that is. I see what he’s doing but I’m not interested like that.” So that’s why I say God had a hand in it.
Did you ever imagine that you would successfully reach the position you are in in a male dominated profession? Especially as a Latina here in the U.S?
Again, because it was never my dream, I never saw myself in this position until I got into it. So, once I was in this position, and it’s interesting because there are a lot of women going to law school and graduating from law school which is quite interesting. Right now, the numbers are changing. I would say I went into the school back in 1994. I started in the school of social work and eventually went into law school. So, I graduated with my master’s and my Law Degree in 1998.
I would say, at that time, my first job was at the Queens District Attorney’s Office, and we had a class of about 27 prosecutors. And we had a good mix of men and women, but I was the only Latina in that group of 27. There was also a Latino in that group of 27. So, when it comes to being Latina or a woman, yes, you could visibly see that there were a few of us.
Obviously, before I got into that office there were other Latinos who eventually became my mentors and also assisted me in that office. But you could see the difference. I remember one time as a young prosecutor, being in the courtroom and getting my cases ready for the day, and an older Caucasian attorney male approached me and said,
“Hey, sweetie, can you get the prosecutor for me?” And you know, I was taken back a little. I was new, I was nervous, and I said, “I am the prosecutor.” And he apologized and what not, and there are certain assumptions because I looked so young, Latina or a woman, I don’t know what made him believe that I was not the prosecutor. But that was not the only time that that happened, you know what I’m saying? So those were some of the challenges. Did I ever imagine reaching this point? No. But now that I’m here, I’m not surprised that I’m here. I embrace it and I own it. And that’s what you have to do when you reach these heights because the obstacles and the challenges still have not stopped. Even though you get to where you are and you think, “Oh! that’s the top, that’s the pinnacle for Judge Ventura.” There’s still challenges and people that do not necessarily wish you well. So of course, years have gone by and I’m more assured and secured in what I feel and the work that I’m doing. You know, I’m not young anymore, so I don’t feel that insecure. It’s all experience and time.
What advice would you give to the next generation of females entering the justice system or any other male dominated field?
To always be prepared, to be clear in what they are seeking. Again, for me the opportunity to go to law school and to be in this career emanated from having access to that fellowship. But once you decide what you want to do, then make it happen. Make sure it is what you want to do so you can live a happy life. I decided I wanted it for myself and I tried it. The opportunity arose. I took it. I liked it and I stayed in the field. But then I have people that say, “I have my dream, I want to be a lawyer,” and then they get into the field, they try it, and they don’t like it.
I have a friend from law school who practiced law for a while, and then one day decided, “you know what? I have always wanted to do nursing.” And he actually went back to school, and he’s a traveling nurse. You have to be happy, you only have one life. Don’t get stuck doing something you don’t want to do. Some people will say, “don’t get into this field, it is horrible,” I’m not one of those. I say, you do what you want to do, and try it, and if you like it, then stay in it, and if you don’t like it then try to find the next thing that is going to make you happy. You will find more satisfaction. The work that I’ve done, I started at the D.A’s office, I was there for four years.
Then another opportunity arose and that is how I kept changing jobs. Someone told me, “Oh Lourdes, at the New York State Attorney General Office, there’s an opening at the civil rights bureau.” Civil rights, discrimination, I went to South Africa for that externship, because of discrimination. I studied that in South Africa and would love to reconnect with that. So I went for it, I applied and I got it.
So I spent another four years at the Civil Rights Bureau at the General Attorney’s office. Then, I went to a law firm for five months, doing civil and private work for five months. Then someone from the New York Senate said, “They’re looking for people to fill a cabinet, to be in the leadership of the New York State Senate Democratic Conference.” I love politics, so I said, “you know what, let me apply.” I applied, I got the job, and I was there for another four years. Ultimately, and this is where another advice comes in, to not burn your bridges. I kept in touch with that law firm, and I went back to that law firm, and that’s where I stayed for the next eight years until I became a judge. I have a diverse background.
How has being a member of the Dominican diaspora shaped your experiences and identity in the U.S?
Well, the traditions, culture, values definitely have shaped me, again, having my mother who kept insisting you have to help others. Even though we didn’t have much, she would cook more, just in case somebody would come hungry to the house. We always had to have enough, not just for us, but for anybody who came into our home. Those types of things, those types of values and traditions. You know, learning Spanish so I can keep in contact with my family in the Dominican Republic. Even though I was born and raised in the United States, my parents still wanted me to have the ability to communicate with the people they left behind in the Dominican Republic. So as a child, I didn’t travel much to the D.R because we did not have those financial resources to do that. But you know, when I had attained my first job at the D.A’s office as a lawyer, at some point during that job I took a three week vacation, and I took my mom back. She hadn’t been back in over 20 years to her country, so it was the first time we’d been back in a long time.
We went all over the country, and because my mom taught me Spanish, she taught me to eat the food, taught me all the things I did, I was able to interact and do well in the Dominican Republic. And here in the United States when people travel to the D.R., they say “your people are so hospitable, they are so nice, they remind me a lot of you, you’re so humble,” and it’s like, I’m both. I always say I’m American because I was born and raised here, but I also say, I’m Dominican. I’ve always said that because my parents are Dominican and my grandparents.
But, just this past year I obtained my dual citizenship with the Dominican Republic. Because I had the right as a child of parents born in the Dominican Republic to have citizenship, as well. So I feel like that competed, to me, it was a full circle. And now I am a U.S and Dominican citizen. And I think that it’s important, just for me and my identity. I always said, I was Dominican, and now it’s on paper that I am. And I love both countries; to the United States, I am loyal to, and I love the Dominican Republic, and the family that I still have there and still keep in touch with.
What unique contributions do women bring to the justice system? Especially Latina women?
I think first and foremost, when I had my courtroom, (pre-Covid it used to be open), I used to handle a lot of cases in person in lower civil court, and in the Supreme Court. You know, when they come in the first thing that they see is a woman on the bench. Like ‘’Oh wow, there’s a female judge, amazing.’’ Then they see, ‘‘Oh! she might be a person of color,’’which they don’t know, but they might assume it and what not. That I think helps certain people feel comfort in a way. When a litigant comes in and they don’t speak English, we have translators of all languages.
Queens county is one of the most diverse counties for languages, I mean I think we have over 150 spoken languages. We might be the most diverse in the nation from what I’ve read and been told. So we have a variety of translators that are available via the phone. But I do know another language, Spanish, so when a litigant comes in and they are not understanding, and maybe the people around me can’t communicate with them, I speak to them in Spanish. I say, “You know, wait one moment, we are going to find an interpreter.” And when they hear that they are like, “Oh! She speaks Spanish.” It just gives you a sort of comfort, and I want to make people feel, not just Latinos, just anybody that walks in my courtroom, that you are going to be treated fairly, you’re going to be treated with respect.
So as a female judge in a courtroom, I think what women bring to a courtroom is patience. Not that a man doesn’t, but I know, I do. I have a lot of patience. My perspective might be a little different. My woman’s intuition kicks in, my time management because I deal with a lot. Not only am I a judge that’s working, I work with a lot of different tasks and things I have to do. I also am a mother, and I have to handle my kids with anything that happens during the day. I have to be available on the phone, you know, God forbid anything happens. I do all extra curricular activities, like, I’m on the board of the Latino Judges Association, here, in the State of New York.
I’m active with the Supreme Court Judges Association in the City of New York. I’m active in all these different associations, so my relationships with that did not end because I became a judge. I’m committed to the community, to my work. I think that our contributions are plenty, you know in the court system and in the justice system. And as a Latina, again, even just the visibility and representing my community. In Queens county there’s at least 28% of Latino population, so the bench hopefully reflects what the population is outside of Queens county. We have a few latinos on the bench in Queens county.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career and personal life?
Watching my parents watch me succeed. Because you know they each came to the United States alone with dreams and aspirations, and they both worked as hard as they could. My mom came to the Dominican Republic with an eighth grade education, and somehow she has this daughter that’s a judge, and she has a son that is a retired NYPD sergeant, and she has another daughter whose at a school, a bilingual guidance counselor, and she’s in our community where we grew up in Corona.
That’s where she is a guidance counselor, which is amazing. So my mother with the limited English she had, the limited education, I always used to see her reading the Bible, and reading. And math, she would teach me by getting the fruits and say “2 plus 2 is 4,” and she would make the best. So her seeing me get to where I am is reflective of what she’s done with what she had. And the same thing with my dad, my dad was a police officer in the Dominican Republic when he came here to the United States.
And that was during war and strife in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Around that time he became a cop, and he came here in 1969. And when he came here, he was a cab driver, he worked at factories, all the things he could try to do to make ends meet. So when I had my induction as a judge, I didn’t do it at the courthouse, I did it in Queens Borough Hall. And I did it there because my first interaction with the legal system was when there was a housing proceeding against my mom when I was young. She took me to court because she doesn’t speak the language, and that was the first time I went to court. It happened to be a housing court in Borough Hall. So I went back to the place. I went for housing court and that’s where I had my induction and they have a beautiful atrium now. So having my mother walk through those doors again to see me as a Judge, that was another full circle moment for me.
And, another time was, I was honored in March of 2020, right when the pandemic hit, I was honored for International Women’s day in the Dominican Republic. At El Palacio Nacional, that is our equivalent of the White House. And the President of that time was giving the award to 13 women, and I was one of them. I was the only one from outside the country that got this award that year, and I flew my parents in so they were in the Palacio Nacional with me. It’s for them, for all the sacrifices and they had to be there. I wanted them to go to the Dominican White House so they could see and meet everyone. They met the vice president at that time, they were mingling, it was amazing to have them there with me and for me to give them that. Personally and career wise that fulfilled that for me.
What challenges have you faced in your profession?
Again, I would say looking young. Like you said, “Oh, but you are young.” So even when I was trying to become a judge that was one of the challenges. “Why do you want to become a judge? You look so young.” You know, and I was like “I have a lot of experience, but I look young.” So what I did, one of the things I did, plans of action, cause you have to think, “How am I going to achieve this goal?” Somebody put in my head, “You will make a good judge someday,” so, okay, let’s go with that. Somebody believes I can be a good judge, a judge and a good one. So what I started to do was that I stopped dying my hair.
Seriously, this is one of the things I did, they’ve grown beautifully in my grays. A lot of times I get asked if it’s highlights, and I’m like, -“Yeah! God given highlights.” So you know, little things like that, because people believe, “Oh! She’s too young, or maybe she is going to be too inexperienced.” Sometimes I used to walk into a room because I was the attorney who was going to handle a deposition. A deposition is when you’re going to take testimony of a witness before trial. And I would walk in with my little rolling bag and the question that I would be asked is, “Are you the court reporter? Are you the interpreter? Are you on this case? Are you the witness?”
They would ask me all these questions, and they were women who would ask me these questions on one occasion. Ultimately I said, “No, I’m the attorney. I’m actually one of the attorney’s on the case and I’m questioning a witness today.” And again, what makes people think that I’m not an attorney? I was wearing a suit, I was dressed decently. I had my rolling bag because I had a lot of papers, I didn’t want to carry it on my shoulders. So those kinds of obstacles, because people have these sort of stereotypes of you and what you are supposed to look like to be an attorney.
What has been your unique Path to Politics and Judgeship?
Another connection to a mentor. So in 6th grade I had a math teacher and his name was Mr. Rich Farkas, and I kept in touch with him throughout the years. I don’t know how exactly that happened but we did. So from 6th grade to all the way to law school. So when I graduated from law school he said, “Oh! that’s great you’re going to be a lawyer in Queens. But if you really want to do something more with your life someday, you should really get involved with the politics in Queens.”
And he tells the story how I was this quiet little girl in his class who was very smart and he tried to make me tutor kids to get me out of my shell. And that’s how he took interest in me, so it was funny. And he was a teacher at that time, I think he was a rather new teacher in math. So I graduated from law school and he is no longer a 6th grade math teacher. He is the Vice President of the UFT, The United Federation of Teachers in New York. He introduced me to my first political club in Queens, and I got active politically in Queens through that. So while I was working as a lawyer, while I was active with all these bar associations, I was also active with the political side of things in Queens county, and active with my community.
There were a couple things that I was active in, so when I was ready to run for a judgeship, I did receive the support of a party that I helped out for many years. I also had the support of the lawyers I interacted with in the bar associations. I had the support from my community, so I had support from what I created without me even knowing. I was creating all these bases of people that will ultimately support my judgeship and my run. Because I did obtain the judgeship through election. There’s different ways to do it, you can do it through appointment or through election. So I did it through the vote of people. And when I ran, that was amazing for my community. I was born and raised in Queens, I went to all public schools. So being active in my community, being active in my church, being active in so many things ultimately really helped me get to this judgeship, because I had support on various levels. Your base will be your people and your community.
How does your profession as a judge affect your personal life?
Well it does affect my personal life cause like I said, I love politics and I was involved one way or another. I was either petitioning, I even have my kids doing it. They love going around with the green sheets and petitioning. I can’t do any of that stuff anymore. So as a judge in my personal life it is kind of isolating. I have to be aware and ever present in the rooms I walk into. I have to make sure that I’m safe, that my kids are safe. You know, I don’t live scared, but I always have in the back of my mind that I have to think about where I’m going to socialize and who am I going to interact with and things of that nature. I always thought about it, but now I really gotta think about it.
What case has affected you personally?
I think it was probably one of my first trials as a prosecutor. I had a case of a nine-year-old. It was a charge involving a 76 year-old gentleman who touched this nine-year-old child. Thank God that was just it. It didn’t proceed to something else. At first when I got this case, I had to meet with the nine-year-old and discuss this case, and make sure that she was able to testify. And the gentleman did want to go to trial, so ultimately it wasn’t a jury trial. It ended up being a bench trial before a judge. But I had to speak to the young lady about the incident, which was touchy. It wasn’t that she reported it, the incident occurred in a bodega. She went to the bodega and the cashier at the store, el bodeguero, observed the gentleman patting the little girl on her buttocks, touched her. And he whispered something into the little girl’s ear, and thankfully the little girl ran out the store. So when I was asking her about that incident, you know it was a little touchy. Her mom was there and I asked her, “what was it that this person whispered into your ear?” And the gentleman had asked her to go upstairs with him, but she chose to run. So I always live with, what if she chose not to run? What would have happened to her?
What are some misconceptions about Judges?
I think first and foremost, we are people too, we are human. Sometimes people forget that we are human. We encounter people everyday and we do have to make a decision on all their cases and their matters. I personally feel and hope that I am fair and just. A lot of times people won’t walk away happy, because there is a decision either for or against them. But it’s not because I didn’t consider their case or I didn’t consider the facts. I try to consider everything given to me. Both sides of the story if I’m given two sides of a story. I take the law and I apply the law to every situation, and the facts and see how it applies. And ultimately, I have to make a decision, and that can be difficult. As a judge you have to live with your decision. Some people might think that’s easy too, and that is not necessarily easy. I’m in the civil term, I’m not in the criminal term, but you know, I would say on behalf of my colleagues I would imagine that every decision is not that easy to make. Sometimes I’m home and I wonder, “Oh, did I do the right thing?” Even in the smallest cases. That is the result that I believed should be the result, but I could still feel bad. I’m human about it.
Vanessa Campa is a Senior student at Florida International University majoring in English and minoring in Psychology. Vanessa grew up with a huge Latinx community in Miami, Fl where the majority of the population is Hispanic, and was raised by two amazing immigrant parents. She has a passion for art, photography, humanitarian issues, human rights issues, and telling stories that have an impact on shifting perspectives and educating audiences. She hopes to get into the journalism field to continue her love of storytelling. In her time with the Latina Republic, Vanessa wants to contribute to change the stereotypical narrative of her people and tell inspiring unrecognized stories that need to be brought to light.