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Hispanic Heritage Month: Judge Betty Calvo-Torres breaking barriers in the legal realm

Judge Betty Calvo-Torres
Judge Betty Calvo-Torres swearing in for New York Court of Claims judge role
Posted at 12:34 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 14:10:30-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — With 15 years of thousands of criminal cases under her belt as a city court judge, Judge Betty Calvo-Torres has stepped into a new role.

She is the first western New York Hispanic to achieve the office of the New York Court of Claims judge.

Judge Betty Calvo-Torres said, "I think that it's important for us to recognize when these firsts occur, so that they are not the last."

However, this is not first barrier she has broken along the way.

In 2007, the Binghamton University and University at Buffalo Law graduate was honored to be appointed to the Buffalo Court Bench by Mayor Byron Brown.

She became the first Latina to sit on the bench.

She added, "By far, the most fulfilling role I had in city court, was presiding over drug court, mental health court and veterans court. There, I was truly able to help people by referring them to counseling, referring them to housing, referring them to whatever it was that lead them to be where they were, or that may be keeping them from a life of recovery."

Calvo-Torres also worked on domestic violence cases to ensure victims were protected.

She said, "Making sure that they had safe havens, that they had an escape plan, that they had a support in place to be able to make the decision to leave a violent relationship."

In her new role as the New York State Court of Claims judge, she is sticking with criminal cases but is expanding. Judge Calvo-Torres was sworn in during a ceremony, on July 27, in Erie County Hall.

"To hear folks talk about how I impacted their lives, sometimes unknowingly, was overwhelming", Judge Calvo-Torres said. "It was evidenced by my son's coming to tears and it was heartwarming."

The New York State Court of Claims is the court of the NYS unified court system.

It handles lawsuits against the state of New York and certain state agencies.

The Court of Claims is a court that was legislatively created. All other courts are created under the constitution. People refer to this court of claims as Part A.

The Court of Claims also has a Part B section which handles felony level criminal matters.

Judge Calvo-Torres has been cross designated as an Acting Supreme Court Justice and assigned the criminal term where she handles felony level crimes.

"My hope is that every person who walks into this courtroom, feels and knows that their concern, their gripe, whatever it is, that they were heard. And while they were heard, they were treated with respect and dignity."

All of this did not come easily. For Calvo-Torres, it took hard work and determination.

She said, "Whatever your passion is, work hard and you too can do it."

The 52-year-old was raised by her mom, who was born in the Dominican Republic.

Growing up, Calvo-Torres faced adversaries, including poverty and domestic violence.

Judge Calvo-Torres said, "It was one of those, where I thought, 'Wow. Who would have thought that a girl who grew up in Harlem, in subsidized housing with a mother who was first generation immigrant to this country, and who worked as a factory worker would have become a judge. That was surreal."

Pheben: What have been your challenges?

"I think, it's always hard to be the first, of course, and it's always hard to be the only one. Sometimes it can be a little lonely in that respect. It's always tough to be in a room, where folks talk to you as if you represent an entire culture or an entire race. So, there's this constant, I wouldn't say pressure but certainly and awareness of who and what you are, and what you represent, and a mindfulness of the need to do so, in a way that is dignified and meaningful," she added.