As NY1 continues to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Week, Criminal Justice Reporter Solana Pyne explains what it took for a woman from a small town in Puerto Rico to become a New York City Judge.
“My father was a sugar cane field worker for all his life," says Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Evelyn Laporte. “My mother used to work as a domestic person, working for middle class and rich people in Puerto Rico cleaning and cooking.”
When she turned 20, Laporte moved to New York City to learn English and try to land her dream job.
“I first wanted to be an airline stewardess,” said Laporte. “I was fascinated with their uniform and the airplanes and everything, so that was my first choice.”
She spoke no English, and when she could not get hired by the airlines, she went to community college. She worked full-time to pay for school and send money home. It took her three colleges and ten years to get her degree.
“I had to adjust to the weather,” said Laporte. “I had to adjust to a different neighborhood. I had to learn the language and it was not easy. Many times I thought about going back, many times I thought about giving up.”
But she did not; instead she went on to get her master’s degree at John Jay College, pursuing her second career choice, law.
“The master’s degree, I was supposed to complete it in two years or two and a half, I completed in one and a half years, which was great,” said Laporte. “It was such a great feeling!”
She then went to law school in Washington, finishing a semester early.
“I returned to New York to seek employment,” said Laporte. “I was a little scared because of the competition, and you know how New York City is. So I said even if I have to start from the bottom, I'm willing to do that and that's exactly what I did.”
At one point, she worked five jobs to pay back her loans and pay for medical care for her parents. Eventually she became an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, working on domestic violence cases.
“You know when she was in the domestic violence bureau, every victim was like her sister,” said Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Matthew D’Emic. “You know that's a great thing for a prosecutor, a great, great thing.”
Two years ago, Laporte was elected a judge in Brooklyn. Her first posting was here at Manhattan Criminal Court, a job she says has brought with it a whole new set of challenges.
“When I was a prosecutor, I was a prosecutor,” said Laporte. “If I was defense counsel, I was defense counsel. Now, I'm neither. So, I have to interpret and evaluate what is in front of me, be just and at the same time make sure that I keep my community safe.”
“I think the people of this city are lucky to have somebody like that, who had a life that was not an easy life, and yet reacts to people with such compassion,” said D’Emic.