Combining two successful legal careers with a successful marriage is no easy feat. The following Hispanic power couples, Carol and Nelson Roman, Georgina and Frank Angones, and Holly and Marlon Paz, prove that it is indeed possible—and more often than not, prosperous for the entire community.
Long before Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina to serve on the nation’s high court, she was well-known and well-respected by a network of influential Hispanic attorneys. Back in the late ’90s, one such group, the Puerto Rican Bar Association (PRBA), decided to launch a grassroots campaign to get a Latino justice on the Supreme Court, and Sotomayor was on the organization’s short list.
To rally support for their cause, PRBA officers headed to the nation’s capital, where they literally knocked on lawmakers’ doors. Among them was then-president Nelson S. Roman, now an associate justice on the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division.
For Judge Roman, who is of Puerto Rican descent, advocating for other talented Latino attorneys was a no-brainer. The highest court in the land needed a diversified bench, he believed, and he was determined to help all the qualified candidates he knew get on the radar of empathetic legislators.
“We talked to a lot of congressmen and -women,” Judge Roman recalled. “Many were receptive…We told them, ‘These are candidates that you should look at.’ We were promoting the idea of diversity and excellence. We hear the term ‘merit selection.’ And we had candidates who had the scholarship, the academic credentials, and the merit for serious consideration.”
A little more than a decade after Judge Roman’s prescient trip to Washington, his vision—and the vision of the PRBA—came to fruition. Sotomayor made history last summer when she was appointed to the Supreme Court. And, fittingly enough, sitting among the crowd at her confirmation hearings was Carol Robles-Roman, Judge Roman’s wife of 19 years.
Carol, New York City’s deputy mayor for legal affairs and counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was, like her husband, a longtime supporter of Sotomayor. By chance or by fate, she found herself working alongside Bloomberg as he prepared his congressional testimony on Sotomayor’s behalf.
It was as if everything had come full circle. Judge Roman had lobbied so hard for the day when a Latino would don the robes of a justice, and his wife got to witness it in action.
“I felt like this is the message Judge Roman and I had been sending our whole lives,” noted Carol. “We have excellent Hispanic judges and attorneys, and it feels like it’s been our job to shine a light on that.”
It’s a job the couple has been doing since the start of their careers. Judge Roman, a former New York City police officer, has remained committed to a lifetime of public service since retiring from the force in 1982. He put himself through law school and then joined the King’s County District Attorney’s office, where he served as an assistant D.A. for five years. He started his judicial career in 1997, when he was appointed to the New York City Housing Court. He was later elected to the civil court and then to the State Supreme Court bench. Last year, New York Gov. David Paterson appointed him as an associate justice. Looking back, his career pursuits ideally prepared him for his current role as an appellate jurist.
Carol’s professional career includes executive positions in law, business, and management. She served as a court administrator and an assistant attorney general for the New York State Department of Law Division of Civil Rights. She later became senior vice president of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company, where she promoted the relocation of Fortune 500 Companies to the island. New York’s deputy mayor since 2002, she advises the mayor on legal policy and spearheads numerous public-private initiatives, such as Family Justice Centers, or as Carol calls them “state-of-the-art one-stop centers for domestic violence victims.” She also oversees New York’s “Let’s End Human Trafficking” campaign, which is designed to raise awareness about human trafficking in New York and elsewhere.
At a time when Hispanics are becoming the fastest growing minority group in the nation, the Romans represent a new kind of power couple. They’ve developed considerable influence as a result of their individual and collective successes in the legal field. Yet despite their achievements, or perhaps because of them, they’ve made it a point to create opportunities for others.
More than 1,000 miles away in Miami, the same is true for Francisco and Georgina Angones. Back in the ’60s, Frank and Georgina (better known as Georgie) came to this country from Cuba following the 1959 revolution. Georgie fled with her family, while Frank arrived on U.S. shores as a part of Operación Pedro Pan, or Operation Peter Pan, a program that supervised unaccompanied child sent to The States to seek a better life. As is the case with many of their peers, Frank and Georgie were the first in their families to go to college. Their parents and grandparents stressed the importance of higher education, and they both took heed. Frank, now a partner at Angones, McClure & Garcia and past president of the Florida Bar, and Georgie, assistant dean for alumni relations and development at the University of Miami School of Law, studied hard and worked even harder, intelligently navigating their careers and propelling themselves into America’s upper-middle class.
Like the Romans, the Angoneses are dedicated to nurturing the next generation of Hispanic attorneys. They consider the time they spend helping young law school students secure financial aid or land interviews at reputable firms in South Florida as more than just a way of giving back. In many ways, their work is a natural extension of who they are and the principles that make up the very core of their relationship.
“I entered the academic world to put a husband through law school,” notes Georgie. “Frank got accepted to a university in Chicago, but he had to turn down a full scholarship because we both couldn’t manage to go to school and work at the same time.” To ensure that they each had a chance to pursue their legal dreams, these high school sweethearts enrolled at the University of Miami, where Georgie landed a job. With her tuition remission, and her decision to take the maximum number of credits possible each semester, Georgie freed up time for Frank to hit the books—all the while ensuring that they both graduated with minimal debt.
“My wife is a problem-solver,” Frank says. “What first caught my attention to her was that she was a natural leader. She was the person who organized everything. She has always had the ability to take the bull by the horns and get things done. I’m not like that. I worked at becoming a leader and coming out of my shell. I was incredibly shy growing up. But Georgie was not, and I admire that.”
The couple, who count former teachers, employers, and mentors among those who’ve contributed to their professional successes, fondly remember the sacrifices of those who came before them, and that keeps them motivated to reach out to those following in their footsteps.
“If I can touch just one or two people a year, then I’ve done something absolutely fabulous,” says Georgie, who is a member of the Judicial Nominating Committee for the Southern District of Florida. “It’s our responsibility to point out resources and to encourage young Hispanic students to remember that education is the way up for every minority group. The next generation wants to be part of the melting pot, but it’s also important to retain your culture, no matter if it’s Cuban, Portuguese, or Puerto Rican. It’s important to speak the native tongue of your parents because that will open doors for you. Kids who are bilingual are extremely marketable. In Florida, young attorneys who are interested in doing public interest work can get a job at the public defender’s office, or they can work for a nonprofit. There’s also a lot of immigration work. It’s not as lucrative as going to a big firm, but it can be rewarding work for recent grads.”
Recruiting notable talent has also been a driving factor for Marlon and Holly Paz. And for this Washington, D.C.- based couple that has included identifying opportunities for the hardest-working attorneys they know—each other.
After meeting at University of Pennsylvania Law School, the couple married, started a family, and set out on what, at times, has seemed like parallel career paths. Marlon, who is originally from Honduras, and Holly, who grew up in Illinois and Pennsylvania, both landed positions as tax lawyers soon after graduating. Marlon got his start at a firm and then made the leap over to the corporation litigation world, but working at the Securities and Exchange Commission had always been his dream job. Holly eventually made her way to the IRS, where she now works as a managing attorney. With her government position, she often came across federal job postings, but one in particular, with the SEC, caught her eye.
It was an “obscure posting,” Marlon recalls, but Holly nevertheless encouraged him to apply. Marlon got the job and eventually rose through the ranks to become senior counsel to the director, where he worked for six years before becoming the principal integrity officer for the Inter-American Development Bank in July.
“All lawyers are naturally competitive people,” Holly notes. “But the one thing I appreciate about our marriage is that we’re not competitive with each other. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments.”
“And it’s usually Holly helping me,” Marlon interjects. “Law is a tough business, whether you’re in private practice or work for the government. It helps to have an ally and someone to share ideas with.”
The Pazes have since done a lot of recruiting for the federal agencies where they’ve been employed. With firsthand knowledge of the confusing and often difficult application processes, they’ve participated in discussions sponsored by the Hispanic bar associations, the African American counsels, and universities in D.C. to talk to young attorneys interested in tax law and government work about how to get their foot in the door.
“I sent in my materials at least 10 times to several agencies and never heard anything,” adds Marlon, the past president of the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. “I felt like it went into a black hole. But Holly kept the hope alive. She helped me get an interview, and that led to a job where I spent years doing something I loved. But there are a lot of people like me out there who are unaware of the steps you need to take. It’s not rocket science; there’s just no guidance. We’re trying to help explain the process.”
Although Latinos remain largely underrepresented in the legal field, their future in the profession seems bright if the growing number of Hispanic power couples is any indication. From city to city, Latino attorneys understand the benefits of building a strong network for themselves and for a country that is becoming increasingly diverse.
“My hope is that there are more and more Latinos interested in the field—a flood of people waiting in the wings,” Marlon says. “But it should never be couched as a feel-good thing. It’s a business case. We ought to promote inclusion because it makes an organization, a law firm, or a government agency stronger.” DB
Chana Garcia is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger based in New York City.
From the September/October 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®