In 2011, Evelyn Padin represented a young man who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling off scaffolding at a construction site. “There were many safety violations, and the employer hadn’t trained him correctly,” Padin RC’83 recalls. She won the case, making sure her client—who, like her, is Latinx—received significant compensation.
“It was one of the most enriching experiences I had as an attorney—being able to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves,” Padin says.
After 30 years of practicing law and serving as the first Latina president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, she has embarked on a new career as a federal judge.
In November of 2021, President Biden nominated Padin for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. It took another six months for the U.S. Senate to confirm her, so she has had some time to process this part of her professional journey. “But for it to actually happen?” she says. “It’s kind of like winning the lottery.”
“Kind of” is the operative phrase. In addition to working diligently for decades, Padin credits two sources with her success: family and education.
Being Judged on Her Merits
Padin was raised in Hoboken by Puerto Rican-born parents who were significant influences. Her mother, who didn’t speak English when she arrived in New Jersey, started as a seamstress and eventually became a social worker. Her father was an insurance broker and bail bondsman who also owned and operated a travel agency.
He, in particular, “wanted me to do great things,” says Padin. In high school, a guidance counselor advised her to go the secretarial route. “My father said, ‘Absolutely not,’” recalls Padin.
Her father was wise. Good grades and participation in student government earned her a spot at Rutgers, where, before starting her first year, she attended the Educational Opportunity Fund Summer Institute for a crash course in transitioning to college life.
“They brought in economically disadvantaged kids from all over the state and taught us how to attend classes, study for exams, write essays, and form a community of people who, to this day, I still call my friends,” Padin says.
As a first-year student majoring in psychology, she lived on the Latin Images floor in Frelinghuysen Hall, which helped set the tone for the next four years. “There was a lot of integration on campus,” she says. “I don’t remember there being any discord.”
Taking Success to the nth degree
Beyond the campus, life proved to be more challenging. When Padin graduated in 1983, the economy was emerging from a recession and good jobs were scarce. Inspired by her mother, Padin enrolled at Fordham University, earning a master’s degree in social work, then began providing counseling to psychiatric patients. While she considered the experience “wonderful,” she soon realized that she wanted to do more to advocate for the disadvantaged. For her, that meant becoming a lawyer.
By 1992, Padin had done just that, earning a degree from the Seton Hall University School of Law. She soon started work at a firm co-helmed by Jose L. Linares, who would later serve as the first Hispanic Chief of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. “That’s where I learned to be a trial attorney,” Padin says.
After just two years, she opened her own firm in Jersey City, focusing primarily on Hispanic clients in the areas of criminal, municipal, and family law. “The idea,” she says, “was to help people from my community, to be their voice.”
Her advocacy extended to the legal community, where the award-winning attorney has sought to diversify the profession while serving as a member or trustee of several organizations, including the New Jersey Hispanic Bar Association.
Bringing Balance to the Nation
Now a federal judge, Padin will be busier than ever. The seat she occupies was vacant for seven years, and the number of unheard cases—ranging from civil to criminal—amounts to roughly 400. To a layperson, that may sound overwhelming. Padin, however, says, “I can’t wait.”
One aspect of the job does give her pause: today’s politically divisive climate has led to federal judges being threatened. But her dedication to the law—and its role in shaping our society—hasn’t wavered.
“The judiciary is one of the three branches of government,” Padin says matter-of-factly. “When an action takes place, and an argument is made, it’s our job to determine whether it’s legal. It’s an important part of our democracy—checks and balances.”