Seton Hall Law Alumnus, Evelyn Padin '92, First Latina To Be Sworn In As NJSBA President
From the New Jersey Journal and New Jersey State Bar Association:
Padin Ready to Take Her Place in NJSBA History as First Latina President
When Evelyn Padin stepped up to the microphone on stage at Union City High School to address local residents in Spanish on a recent evening this month, the energy of the room cranked up to 11. That’s because when Padin talks everyone listens.
Not only did her bright red blazer stand out amid the other lawyers sharing the stage in a sea of conservative black and navy suits and dresses, but Padin, whose trademark is boundless energy, captivated the audience as she spoke with enthusiasm and passion about ensuring access to the justice system for the disadvantaged.
Charismatic and driven, the Jersey City lawyer will make history this week when she is installed as the New Jersey State Bar Association’s first Latina president at the Annual Meeting and Convention at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. The association is New Jersey’s leading organization for lawyers, judges and legal professionals.
“It’s a thrilling opportunity,” said Padin, a family law and personal injury attorney who founded the Law Offices of Evelyn Padin nearly 30 years ago, at a time when few women, especially Latinas, were attorneys.
“Society has made a lot of progress. The law profession is ready to accept a Latina as its leader. It means a lot of young women who will follow in my steps will know absolutely that they can accomplish it,” Padin said. “I am proud and humbled to accept this historic role. I look forward to devoting the efforts of the association to remove barriers that keep them down in society and the legal profession.”
Karol Corbin Walker, a former NJSBA president, described Padin as an extraordinary lawyer and said it’s essential the association that represents the state’s legal profession “reflect the microcosm of our society here in New Jersey.
“She will soar,” Walker said. “She’s an incredible businesswoman, an incredible mother, an extraordinary lawyer, and she’s a fierce, loyal friend. She is the type of person who will roll up her sleeves and do what is necessary to ensure that the NJSBA raises its own level of excellence.”
Blazing a Path to the Law
Although Padin’s road to a legal career was not a straight line, in many ways her upbringing and the paths she chose led her toward becoming an attorney. Padin, who is of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in largely Hispanic communities in Hudson County.
Her father was a small businessman and community organizer, and her mother was a nurse who served those who were among the most vulnerable in society. Padin earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University and pursued a career in social work after obtaining a master’s in social work from Fordham University. Her father, whom she says was a great influence in her life, always encouraged her to be an attorney. After five years as a social worker at a hospital, she heeded her father’s advice and realized a career in law could be a powerful tool to help the disadvantaged.
“I wanted an opportunity to advocate more for people who lacked a voice,” she said.
After graduating from Seton Hall Law School, Padin clerked for then-state Superior Court Judge Lorraine C. Parker, who sat in Sussex County and became a mentor and role model.
“I was determined to do the right thing and be the best I could be,” Padin said.
She went on to work at Linares and Coviello in Bloomfield, where Jose L. Linares, now the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, taught her how to be a trial lawyer.
“He taught me when I walk into the courtroom to walk in with confidence. Show no fear. You let them know this is where you belong,” Padin said.
“Those words always stuck with me.”
A Return to Her Roots
Padin again decided she needed to do more. She wanted to return to her roots and started her own firm in Jersey City with a mission to give back to the community. With nothing but a computer, printer and a telephone, she opened her firm inside a section of her father’s small travel and insurance business.
It didn’t take long for the community, particularly the burgeoning Hispanic population, to embrace her and for her firm to grow.
“It was important to have someone who spoke in their language and listened to them,” she said. “What I love about the law is that it gives people the opportunity to resolve their differences in a very civil manner, with dignity and fairness. I appreciate that I’ve been able to represent people who don’t speak English, give them a voice in court and represent them in a fashion that they should be represented.”
As Padin grew her law practice, the roots she established extended into the community. Along with running her law firm and raising her 10-year-old daughter, Sophia, Padin owns several commercial properties, including the Hard Grove Café, a Cuban-Latin restaurant in Jersey City that she has owned for the last 13 years.
“I love to cook,” said Padin, who has her own chef’s jacket always at the ready and still plans the restaurant’s menu.
Her latest project is a from-the-ground-up construction of a 17-unit building in the heart of downtown Jersey City that is part of the city’s ongoing revitalization. She seamlessly moves between the law office, restaurant and construction site throughout the day, deftly managing the responsibilities of all three.
“They always say that if you want something done, give it to a busy woman. I’m a busy woman and I like to get things done,” Padin said.
A Fearless and Compassionate Leader
Padin’s friends and peers describe her as an energetic, fearless leader, yet approachable and compassionate.
She is a founder of Carevel Foundation in Jersey City and is involved in organizing a 5K charity run every year that has raised money for causes such as autism, domestic violence, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
And every Thanksgiving, Padin feeds the poor and homeless a turkey dinner at her restaurant and doesn’t sit down to eat until the last person has been fed.
“Evelyn has such an incredible amount of energy that drives her through so many aspects of life,” said Thomas H. Prol, a former NJSBA president.
“In addition to being a great businesswoman, she has compassion and empathy for the world around her and translates that into action and doing good and changing lives for the better.”
“She’s a real leader and visionary, committed, passionate with a belief in the rule of law. I believe she can inspire lawyers,” said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rosemary Gambardella, who summed her up this way: “She does it all. I guess she doesn’t sleep.”
State Superior Court Judge Kimarie Rahill said Padin is invigorated by her passion for life, which includes finding time for fun like annual trips to the Oscars and visits overseas with friends and family.
“We just have so much fun from the beginning of the experience to the end of the trip,” Rahill said.
A Mission for the Year Ahead
Over the years, Padin has been extensively involved in the NJSBA, including serving on its Nominating, Diversity, Meeting Arrangements and Program, Finance and Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments committees. She is a member of the Women in the Profession and Family Law sections. Padin is a trustee of the Hudson County Bar Association and a former trustee of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. She is a founding member of the Justice Virginia Long American Family Inns of Court in Hudson County.
Padin’s primary focus for the year ahead is to ensure the doors of the courthouse are open to all.
Her energy and passion to make that goal a reality was evident the night Padin spoke to hundreds of people who came for free legal advice provided by volunteer attorneys at Union City High School. Padin said the event will be one of several that will be held in inner cities around the state during her one-year presidency as part of the association’s efforts to provide access to the justice system.
Her other priorities include plans to launch the next phase of Lawyers Helping Lawyers, a program that aids attorneys facing a medical crisis; to expand diversity and inclusion efforts in the NJSBA and legal profession; to continue to press for passage of malpractice insurance legislation that would stabilize lawyers’ costs and lower the statute of limitations for filing a malpractice claim to two years, in line with other professionals; and to hold fundraisers in the legal community to help feed children in the state who do not have enough to eat.
It is an ambitious agenda, but as Prol said, Padin is a strategist who gets the job done and “leads with her heart in all that she does.”
As for Padin, she said she is ready and anxious to get started.
“I am grateful for the incredible opportunity to work on behalf of our members, and I vow to devote myself tirelessly in the year ahead,” she said.