His honor

Albany County Family Court Judge Richard Rivera ’86 at his swearing-in ceremony in December

Albany County Family Court Judge Richard Rivera ’86 at his swearing-in ceremony in December, flanked by his son and brother. (Photo courtesy of the Times Union)

Richard Rivera ’86

Throughout his legal career, working in the family court system, Richard Rivera ’86 has met a lot of young people — but one in particular stands out. When Rivera was a prosecutor in 2006, he met an African American teenager in Juvenile Drug Treatment Court. Outside of the courtroom, the teen asked him, “Are you the only one?” Rivera recalled. “I knew what he meant … and I realized that, rather than looking at me as his prosecutor — as sort of an enemy — he saw me in a different light. It dawned on me that they see me as someone they’re not used to seeing.”

Ever since, Rivera has considered it his responsibility to be a role model for the young people of color whom he encounters. He feels even more strongly about that since his election to family court judge in Albany, N.Y., in November 2014. The first person of color elected to a county judgeship in Albany, he is believed to be among the highest-ranking Hispanic officials ever elected in the region, according to the Times Union.

“I hope to, just by virtue of being a judge, be that example, and they can see that they can be judges one day if they want to,” he said.

Rivera has known he wanted to go into law — with the goal of becoming a judge — since his student years at Colgate. Entering his first year at the young age of 16 (he’d attended an accelerated middle school), Rivera admitted that it was a challenge at first. But, he found harmony with the Thirteen and the Sojourners.

Having been raised by parents who came from Puerto Rico, Rivera was often called upon to help his family members — and even family friends — navigate the system. He used his bilingual skills to assist with everything from dealing with the phone company to translating news from the doctor. As an adult, he provided information about the legal system.

For more than a decade now, Rivera has focused his career on helping other people’s families and children. In 2003, as staff attorney for the Albany Law School Family Violence Clinic, he began representing victims of domestic violence and helped with orders of protection. He then joined the Albany County Conflict Defender Office, aiding clients with custody and visitation, neglect and abuse, and other family offenses.

When Rivera became a prosecutor for Albany County, he saw his job as “a way to keep [young people] from becoming adult criminals. They go to a facility that would help them change their lives as opposed to locking them up forever.”

Right before becoming a judge, Rivera was a child support magistrate.

“It’s not easy,” he said of disassociating himself from the cases he’s seen. “You have to have a life outside of court, leave it at work and focus on your family,” Rivera said. And that’s exactly what he does, serving as a role model to the most important person in his life — his 12-year-old son with wife Janine Daniels ’86.

— Aleta Mayne