In a story that proves the American dream is still alive and well, a man named Angel Cruz is aiming to go from “public enemy to public champion” by running for Civil Court Judge in the Bronx.
He isn’t shy about his criminal past, even mentioning it in his campaign ads. At the age of 13, he was arrested for burglary and officially became a juvenile delinquent. He was convicted of attempted murder in 1982, at the age of 17.
“I had a gun. Shots were fired,” he admitted, though he maintains that it was his accomplice who fired the shots, not him.
Regardless, Cruz served his time and was released in 1988 and returned to the streets to continue his criminal undertakings. At 22 he was convicted of an armed robbery that stemmed from a heroin sale dispute. While incarcerated, he decided to become his own legal advocate after using the prison library to figure out if the prosecution in his case had given him the shaft.
“The prison library became my church,” he explained to the New York Post.
In a fit-for-film style twist, Cruz was able to get the Appellate Division to toss out the case, requiring the trial judge to resentence. To this day, he still credits then-Brooklyn Judge Cesar Quinones for giving him a second chance by cutting his sentence.
“I asked Judge Quinones if he had enough courage to give me an opportunity. You’re talking about a twice-convicted felon who’s been in the criminal justice system since the age of 12,” Cruz explained. “In the end, Judge Quinones exercised grace. The judge paid my debt to the devil. After that, I belonged to God. From that moment, I changed my life.”
And change it did. Cruz went from jailbird to legal eagle over the course of many years, graduating from John Jay College and CUNY Law School. He then clerked for judges and now owns his own legal practice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that simple to run from his checkered past.
Despite the fact that he passed the bar, the Appellate Division rejected his first application for a law license when they determined that he may not have the proper “character” to practice law. Once he reappeared, however, they granted him the license.
Now married with three children, Cruz is aiming to bring “measured grace” to the legal system. After noting that he may eventually end up hearing criminal cases, he assured the public that he won’t always be a softie and that public safety comes first.
“I suspect I will hear criminal cases. The first obligation is to public safety. Punishment is necessary. But we must measure that with grace,” he said.
He is running as a Democrat but does not necessarily have the full backing of the party. He is running against Jessica Flores, the party favorite, John Rodriguez; Verena Powell and Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor. However, former Bronx Democratic Party chairman Jose Rivera signaled his support for Cruz, in whom he has the utmost confidence.
“Angel has done his time. He has redeemed himself. He has nothing to be ashamed of and a lot to be proud of. I’m proud of his candidacy,” he noted. “Angel will be a fair judge. He won’t be controlled by anyone.”
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