We remember Judge Quiñones, who passed away at 93, as someone who tempered retribution with compassion. He was fair, committed and effective. For instance, when a Spanish interpreter was not available, he would assume the role in order to expedite the proceedings and not deny the parties language access.
Judge Quiñones was intolerant of overzealousness in law enforcement. During his 25-year stint in the criminal and family courts, he would dismiss unwarranted charges. For example, in presiding over a matter involving a sidewalk incident of dicing and gambling he was able to get the police officer involved to admit that the man then in court had been only standing and watching. “Watching is not an offense, thank you both,” said the judge, dismissing the ticket.
Later, he gave a slap on the wrist to a Rockaway man arrested for wading in the ocean when no lifeguards were present and refusing a police officer’s order to come out of the water. The judge told the man the case would be sealed if he stayed out of trouble for six months. At the same time, he chastised the man for his behavior. “The officers are out there to protect you,” he said. “When an officer tells you to do something, you shouldn’t give them a hard time.”
I had the privilege of having Judge Quiñones as my partner in the law firm of Erazo & Quiñones. Our practice represented many neighborhood civic and social organizations, including the Puerto Rican Community Development Project. We were able to secure federal funding through the offices of then Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. to support the hundred or so not-for-profit organizations scattered throughout the city providing social, employment and educational services to our communities.
Our law firm was critical in creating community political empowerment within Puerto Rican communities in the ‘60’s, and it was César who allowed me to begin to operate in the public arena. In 1970, as a member of Mayor John V. Lindsay’s cabinet, I strongly endorsed the appointment of Judge Quiñones to the New York City Family Court. He became the eighth Hispanic judge then serving, and was reappointed in 1976 by Mayor Abraham D. Beame. In 1987, he was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to the Court of Claims, assigned to the Supreme Court Criminal Division presiding over felony cases until his retirement in 1995. In 1996 he became a judicial hearing officer in the domestic violence part.
Judge Quiñones was a founding member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and the Association of Judges of Hispanic Heritage (now Latino Judges Association). In addition, he served as chairman of the board of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services Corporation, the boards of Medgar Evers Community College, Brooklyn Association for Mental Health, Mercy Home for Children and the Center for Family Life.
He also was an adjunct professor at St John’s University Law School, where he taught juvenile justice. It was his diligence and commitment to these causes, and his stellar work as a jurist that led former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to appoint Judge Quiñones to the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission on Minorities, established to address racial disparities in the court system.
Judge Quiñones was a graduate of the High School of Music and Art and City College of New York; he paid his way through Brooklyn Law School, by playing piano with a group at “El Club Caborojeño” in Manhattan. He liked to say that he played on the same bandstands as Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri—just not at the same time.
We will miss his kindness, sense of humor and friendship. A memorial service is planned for September.
Joseph R. Erazo is an attorney in private practice in New York City. Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, former Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals, is of counsel to Greenberg Traurig.