“Let me get this out of the way from the beginning,” said Esther Suarez, newly sworn in as the first Hispanic and first woman prosecutor in Hudson County history. “There is a lot of discussion and negative media. This is the face of immigration.”
She made it perfectly clear that she felt immigrants built this country, often not for themselves but so that their children could succeed just as she has.
Suarez, a Secaucus resident, was sworn in to a five-year term in office by Judge Yolanda Ciccone at a ceremony in Dickinson High School in Jersey City on Sept. 17.
Asking her parents to stand, Suarez thanked them for the opportunities they gave her. She pointed out that they were immigrants from Spain who came to the United States without a support system and unable to speak English.
“Yet they gave their children a far better life than we would have had in Europe,” Suarez said.
A Bayonne native who now lives in Secaucus, Suarez was approved as the county’s lead prosecutor in July, replacing Guy Gregory, who had been acting Hudson County prosecutor since 2012. Suarez was previously a superior court judge in Passaic County.
“She knows how to talk to people. She will become a role model.” – Juan Perez
But she said this was an opportunity and a challenge that she wanted to embrace. Hudson County, exemplified by Jersey City, is the most diverse county in New Jersey and possibly the nation.
Goals to work on
Saurez said that her aim is to make sure “justice is done” in Hudson County.
“This is not just for the victim, but for the defendant, witness, and law enforcement people,” she said. She noted that pay for the 300 employees of the prosecutor’s office is the second lowest of all prosecutor offices in the state.
“This is unacceptable,” she said. Talented people get experience in Hudson County, she said, but are lured away to other counties that will pay higher. “I do not want the HCPO to become the training ground for other counties. I want to keep our talented people here.”
She said she intends to work to improve working conditions, meaning the office space that the prosecutor’s office uses. She said she will pursue confiscating forfeiture money from crimes to pay for these improvements. She also said the office will move into the 21st century by better using technology and social media.
“I also intend to increase our conviction rate, which is not where is should be,” she said. “It is not enough to simply make an arrest. We need to get convictions.”
Part of her mission, she said, is to increase cooperation with other law enforcement bodies.
She promised to seek programs for mentally ill to get them out of the criminal justice system and get them the help they need.
Praise from around the county
Many of the several hundred prominent civic and political leaders who witnessed her swearing in said she was the perfect person to head the prosecutor’s office.
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham said Suarez, as a woman and a Hispanic, will be able to build relationships with the county’s diverse communities.
“This doesn’t mean she’ll be soft on crime,” Cunningham said. “I know enough about Esther to know that she does not play.”
Former Hudson County Sheriff and current Bayonne Councilman Juan Perez said he attended a conference with Suarez in 2009.
“She knows how to talk to people,” he said. “She will become a role model.”
Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Assembly candidate in the 31st District, said he went to law school with Suarez.
“She’s a great choice for prosecutor,” he said. “She has experience as an attorney in the public and private sectors, and as the first Latina prosecutor in the state, she reflects the makeup of Hudson County. She is someone who should be there.”
Freeholder Tilo Rivas of Union City, who knew Suarez when she worked in the Union City law department, called her “an excellent choice.”
State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco called her “extremely competent,” and predicted she will bring a lot of positive changes to the prosecutor’s office.
“Esther Suarez’s appointment as Hudson County Prosecutor marks a historic moment in our County’s history,” he said. “She is not only the first woman but also the first person of Hispanic heritage to be appointed as prosecutor. Her impeccable record, relentless work attitude and vast legal experience will work to her advantage during her time in office. She is a true testament to the diversity that makes Hudson County the vibrant community we all love. I couldn’t think of a more qualified and appropriate person to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the prosecutor’s office.”
Bayonne Mayor James Davis said he worked with Suarez when he was a member of a county task force investigating a murder more than a decade ago. He played down her ethnic background and emphasized her abilities.
“She is going to make changes for the good in the prosecutor’s office,” he said. “I think she is the ideal person for the job, and the fact that she is originally from Bayonne is a great thing for me.”
Davis said that many changes were put on hold because the lack of a permanent prosecutor.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.