Surrogate's Court Judge Margarita López Torres
The passion Judge López Torres feels for serving the public is amply reflected in her professional journey as an educator, attorney and jurist. With 40 years of legal experience, she has enjoyed a career of many “firsts,” personally and professionally, and is the first Latina to be elected to the Civil Court in New York City, the first woman to be elected as Surrogate in Kings County, as well as the first Latinx person to be elected as Surrogate in the State of New York.
Judge López Torres began her professional service with MFY Legal Services, ultimately rising to become the managing attorney for its East Harlem Office where she advocated for clients in the areas of public entitlements, immigration, housing and family law. Following service as an Assistant Corporation Counsel with New York City, where she handled both civil and criminal proceedings, Judge López Torres became Director of Family Law at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. In that capacity, she supervised the unit representing litigants in proceedings involving child abuse, neglect, custody, foster care review, termination of parental rights, as well as representing victims of domestic violence. This experience led to her selection as Deputy General Counsel of Children and Family Services for the Human Resources Administration, where she led the citywide legal division representing the Child Welfare Administration in all child protection matters. In that capacity, she was a member of the Child Fatality Review Panel, which is dedicated to the goal of preventing risk to the children of our community.
Judge López Torres has over 26 years of judicial experience. She was first elected to the Civil Court in 1992, and re-elected in 2002. During that time, she was assigned to the Civil Court (including the Housing Court), as well as the Family and Criminal Courts. In 2005, she was elected to Brooklyn’s Surrogate’s Court, bringing her wide breadth of judicial and managerial experience to preside in a court which involves a large staff over multiple departments. In the Surrogate’s Court, she has undertaken many initiatives to make that court more accessible and user-friendly, including opening a Help Center, staffed full time with an attorney, to assist self-represented persons. She instituted other reforms to assure that assignments of attorneys are made on the basis of qualification. She has a reputation for running an orderly courtroom where litigants – whether represented or not – are treated with respect, and where matters are handled in a prompt manner. She is currently the longest serving Surrogate’s Court Judge in the greater metropolitan region.
Judge López Torres is actively engaged in judicial and bar association committee work, currently serving as a member of the Surrogate’s Court Advisory Committee, where she recently co-drafted proposed legislation to ensure greater due process rights for persons asserted to be developmentally disabled. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the New York City Bar Association, the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, and the National Lawyers Guild. She is a past member of the Committee on the Legal Needs of the Poor of the City Bar, for whom she co-authored a report on the need to ensure adequate interpreter services in the courts. In addition, she has served on the Family Court and Family Law committee and the Trust and Estate section of the City Bar, the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion of the State Bar Association, the Criminal Court Gender Anti-Bias Committee, and as a board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families.
In her prior judicial races she was found qualified by every screening panel that has reviewed her credentials, including the Judicial Screening Committee for the Kings County Democratic Party, the Judicial Screening Committee for the Working Families Party, the New York City Bar Association, the Brooklyn Bar Association, the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, and the Citizens Union. In her race for Surrogate in 2005, she was endorsed by the New York Times, the Daily News, and El Diario.
Judge López Torres is the recipient of a number of awards, including the 2002 Achievement Award from the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in recognition of her dedication to the public interest, first as an educator and then as an attorney and judge. In 2004 she received the Judicial Excellence Award from the Puerto Rican Bar Association, Women’s Committee, and in 2006 received its President’s Achievement Award. She has twice been selected by El Diario/La Prensa as an Outstanding Latina, and most recently received the President’s Award from the Catholic Lawyers Guild and the Annual Award of the Brooklyn Bar Association in 2018.
Judge López Torres was a licensed New York City teacher and an adjunct professor in the Women’s Rights Litigation Clinic at her alma mater, Rutgers University School of Law. She is proud to belong to a family dedicated to public service through education, as her four siblings have had careers as educators, and her daughter is an assistant principal in a Brooklyn high school. Her son is a lieutenant with the FDNY, and her husband is a legal services attorney and a leader in the prevention of childhood lead poisoning. Her four grandchildren are the joys of her life.