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Women’s History NJ: Esther Salas

Judge Esther Salas was born on December 29, 1968, in Monterey Park, California. Her mother Aurelia, was from Cuba, and her father was from Mexico. When Salas was just five-years-old, Aurelia moved the kids to Union City. However, growing up on the East Coast as the youngest of five with only one parent, Salas and her siblings did not lead a lavish lifestyle.

When she was 10-years-old, her home in Union City burned down, and her family lost everything. Salas, a bright child, helped her mother negotiate at the welfare office to ensure her family wasn’t snubbed or ignored. She would even help her friends with any number of problems they faced in their lives, which was the catalyst in her choosing a career in human services.

Going to College

In 1987, Salas graduated from high school and enrolled at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. While at Rutgers, she stayed active in clubs and other extracurricular activities; in 1991, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. Three years later, she earned her law degree from Rutgers University School of Law in Newark.

After graduating from law school, Salas began her career as a law clerk for Judge Eugene J. Codey, Jr., of the New Jersey Superior Court. The following year, Salas became an associate at Garces & Grabler PC, where she worked until 1997 when she took a job as an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the District of New Jersey.

Women's History NJ: Esther Salas

Making History

In 2006, Esther Salas became the first Latina U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of New Jersey. She was picked for the position from a group of nearly 100 applicants. On December 1, 2010, President Barrack Obama – by recommendation of Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez – nominated Salas to a seat on the District Court for the District of New Jersey. The American Bar Association rated her Unanimously Well Qualified for the position. Six months later, the Senate confirmed Salas as a U.S. District Court judge, making her the first Latina on the District Court of New Jersey.

During her career, Salas never forgot her roots. She became an active member of the Governor’s Hispanic Advisory Committee for Policy Development and served as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey as well as the Hispanic Bar Foundation of New Jersey. She was also a member of the Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns and the Supreme Court Committee on Women in the Courts.

Salas has always considered her mother a stoic role model who, since childhood, has inspired her and motivated her to succeed. She now carries on that legacy as a figure of inspiration and success in her own right.

Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Joe Proudman / The Star-Ledger (via NJ.com)