Carmen M Garcia, J.D.
Carmen M. Garcia is a first generation Puerto Rican American who was born in Yonkers, NY and raised in the North Camden and East Pennsauken areas of South Jersey. She is the eldest daughter of the late Carmen M. Montes and the late Esteban Garcia from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
Ms. Garcia graduated magna cum laude and valedictorian from St. Josephʼs University in Philadelphia, Pa. with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology. Her robust collegiate life included working full time during the entirety of her junior and senior year for the MidAtlantic Regional Training Center of the Internal Revenue Service. After her graduation, Carmen was awarded a Rotary International Graduate Fellowship to study social psychology at the University of Madrid in Spain.
Upon her return from Europe, Carmen gained admission to Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, N.J., receiving her Juris Doctorate degree in January of 1985. While in law school, Carmen founded both Alianza, the Latin American Law Students Alliance, and a law school women’s basketball team. Moreover, she assisted the administration with the recruitment and retention of minority law students and worked various jobs to finance her legal studies.
Carmen began her legal career as a corporate litigation associate at the law firm of Cohen, Shapiro, Polisher, Sheikman and Cohen in Center City Philadelphia. She left private practice to serve as a judicial law clerk to, the person who would become her lifelong mentor, the Honorable Joseph H. Rodriguez in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The following year, she began her tenure as an assistant counsel to former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean. In that capacity, she was responsible for the Departments of Higher Education, Labor and Personnel. Carmen also handled Petitions of Executive Clemency and Commutation of Sentence for the State of New Jersey.
In October of 1988, just three years after law school, Carmen was appointed by the late Mayor Arthur J Holland to serve as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Trenton. She was reappointed to the Municipal bench for consecutive terms by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer. On July 19th of 2001, Carmen was formally sworn in to serve as Chief Judge of Trenton Municipal Court. Notably, Carmen was the first Hispanic/Latino Lawyer to serve on the bench in the City of Trenton and the second Latina to be appointed to serve judicial office in the New Jersey Courts.
In total, Carmen served with distinction for over 16 years on the Municipal bench. During that time, Carmen instituted a number of case management reforms and protocols as well as developed effective rehabilitative programs. Of particular note, Carmen developed and administered a specialized diversionary treatment program for first time offenders known as drug court, the first of its kind at the municipal level in the State.
Ms. Garcia’s career continued thereafter as a gubernatorial appointee to the New Jersey State Parole Board. She served in that capacity for 14 years, before retiring from State service in 2019. As an associate board member, through various administrations, Carmen served as vice-chair of the Decision Making Processes and Procedures Committee, the Chairman’s designee on the Criminal Disposition Commission and on the State Council of the Interstate Commission for Juveniles.
A recognized community leader, Ms Garcia remains actively involved in numerous professional, civic and volunteer associations and activities. Ms Garcia currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council at Rutgers Law School, and as Co-Director of Endorsements for the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association. Further, she is an active member of the Hispanic Bar Association after previous roles as Vice President of the Southern Region, Regional Trustee and member of numerous and various HBANJ committees. Moreover, Carmen is a long-standing member of the American Bar Association and the Hispanic National Bar Association, recently serving as the HNBA liaison to the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services.
The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Ms. Garcia’s most significant achievements include her induction into the New Jersey Women (2012) and Camden Catholic (2015) Halls of Fame, the establishment of an annual scholarship award in her name at Rutgers Camden Law School and her recognition as one of “Las Primeras” in a Hispanic National Bar Association research publication. Moreover, she was honored by the Hispanic Leadership Summit of NJ with the Law and Justice Award (2016)and received a Recognition Award (2017) from the Rutgers Camden Law School Minority Student Program for her efforts to promote diversity on the Camden campus. Also in 2017, the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey conferred upon Carmen its annual Trailblazer Award.
In February of 2018, after the devastating onslaught of Hurricane Maria, Governor Philip Murphy appointed Ms Garcia to serve on the New Jersey Commission on Puerto Rico Relief. In July, the Puerto Rican Parade Association of Trenton recognized Carmen for her service and contributions with its Carlos Pacheco Award. Carmen also received a 2018 Professional Lawyer of the Year Award from the New Jersey State Bar Commission on Professionalism in the Law. During Hispanic Heritage Month last year, Carmen was lauded as a Top Lawyer by the Al DIA News Media at its 2019 Lawyers Forum and Reception in Philadelphia, PA. In November 2019, Carmen received the Annual Joseph Nardi Jr Distinguished Alumni Award for Service from the Rutgers Camden Law Alumni Association. During Women’s History Month this year, Ms Garcia will receive the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association coveted Annual Trailblazer Award at its 13th Annual WILL Platinum Gala.
Throughout the entirety of her career, Ms. Garcia has been a strong advocate for higher education and diversity/inclusion strategies at all levels. Her passion is grounded in the strong values instilled in her by her parents long ago and provides the fuel for her strong and joyous commitment to mentoring students at the high school, college and law school level.