“The fellow who was supposed to move the walls was not in today,” said Hudson County Bar Association President Lester Miller, referring to the large crowd that assembled to watch Lilia Munoz get sworn in as Union City’s new chief municipal court judge at a ceremony on Dec. 1 in the Union City Courtroom at City Hall.
Munoz will be the first Hispanic woman to serve as a chief municipal court judge in Hudson County. Sworn in by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Jose Fuentes, she will occupy the position until Nov. 27, 2003.
“Beginning history at this point,” said Deacon Frank Gonzalez, who gave the invocation at the swearing in of Munoz, “She will pave the way for other Latin women in the county.”
“I am honored to be the first Hispanic female in Union City and in the county,” said Munoz, who immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 8 years old. “This is a city with changing ethnicity and a city I know well.”
Munoz is also the first woman to serve as the chief municipal court judge in the city.
“It gives me great satisfaction to see the mayor and commissioners make history in Union City,” said Commissioner Ralph Fraguela at the Nov. 28 Board of Commissioners meeting when Munoz was voted to the position. “This is the first time we are going to have two municipal judges of the race I represent. It is also the first time that we have a female in this capacity.”
“Being in a male dominated society, it is good to see a woman succeeding,” said Commissioner Ray Lopez. “I believe that a woman can be more sensitive to the needs of the women that go before the court.”
Augustin Sanchez was also reappointed as the municipal court judge at the meeting and will have a three-year contract beginning on Nov. 13 and ending in 2003.
“During the past year we interviewed many candidates,” said Commissioner Michael Leggiero at the meeting. “We feel that Munoz will be a very strict judge and very fair in all dealings. The people in Union City need their fair day in court.”
More than qualified
Munoz, who received her law degree from Rutgers Law School in 1984, began her career as a law clerk to Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) She became an associate with his office in 1984 and a partner in the law firm of Menendez and Munoz in 1989.
She has also served as the West New York Alcoholic Beverage Control Board prosecutor and the city’s municipal prosecutor.
“The mayor and commissioners in Union City couldn’t have picked a better person for the job,” said West New York Mayor Albio Sires. “She did a very fine job in West New York. We hate to lose her.” Since 1990, Munoz has been in private practice dealing with family law, landlord and tenant litigation, residential and commercial real estate, wills and estates, personal injury, workers compensation, municipal court, bankruptcy and immigration.
“Anybody who wants to be anybody in Hudson County has to be a member of the Bar Association,” said current president of the Hudson County Bar Association Lester Miller.
Munoz is the president-elect of the Hudson County Bar Association and a member of the National Hispanic Bar and the Federal Bar associations. She will take office as president on Jan. 21.
“She is a fine lawyer,” said Miler. “She is going to do an excellent job here.”
Big shoes to fill
Munoz will fill the position left open when long-time Judge Joseph Falbo passed away in October. However, Munoz, who made her first court appearance before Falbo in the Union City courtroom, remembers Falbo and is up to the challenge.
“I will be sensitive to the ever-changing needs of this community,” said Munoz, who added that the Union City Municipal Court is one of the largest in New Jersey in the number of cases it hears.
“You have your own history to follow,” said Rep. Robert Menendez (D-33rd Dist.) at the ceremony. “I am sure you will set your own mark in the days ahead.”
“Munoz is very competent and well respected,” said Sires. “She knows the community well and will be a great asset to the municipality and the community.”
“I sincerely believe that Lilia Munoz is the best choice for the community,” said Union City Mayor Brian Stack.
“By the way, court starts promptly at 9 a.m. on Monday,” reminded Munoz at the end of the ceremony.