HON. Camelia M. Valdes, ESQ.
Passaic County Prosecutor, The Honorable Camelia M. Valdes, Esq. is known for many things - Being smart, a staunch advocate for justice, a voice for underserved communities, and a proponent for empowering youth to reach their fullest potential.
What many people may not be aware of is that Ms. Valdes is also an Aspiranté from ASPIRA Inc., of New Jersey!
As a proud Latina, and alumna of the program, her hope is to be an example for others through hard
work, discipline, and focus.
Born to Dominican parents in the Bronx and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Ms. Valdes
is a product of Newark Public Schools. She received her undergraduate degree in
sociology from Seton Hall University in 1993, her law degree from Rutgers Law
School-Newark in 1996 and her LL.M. in Trial Advocacy from Temple University in May 2001.
As the first Latina county prosecutor in the State of New Jersey, Ms. Valdes was named by
then-Governor Jon S. Corzine to be the first woman prosecutor in Passaic County and the
first lead prosecutor of Dominican ancestry in the United States. Governor Chris Christie
re-appointed Ms. Valdes to a second term on June 26, 2015. As the chief law enforcement
official in Passaic County, Ms. Valdes is responsible for the management of approximately
185 assistant prosecutors, detectives, victim advocates, and support staff, a $20 million
office budget, and the oversight of 16 municipal police departments, the police
departments of William Paterson and Montclair State Universities and the Passaic County
Our Academic Advisor Christian Martinez-Gonzalez had the honor and pleasure
to speak with Ms. Valdes in a one-on-one conversation. Let's check out what they talked about!
Christian (CMG): Hello, Ms. Valdes! It's a pleasure to meet you!
Camelia (CV): Christian! And it's a pleasure to meet you as well. And please,
call me Camelia!
CMG: Will do. Let's get right down to business. Where did you grow up and
where did you go to school?
CV: I grew up in the North Ward section of Newark, New Jersey. I attended Roberto
Clemente Elementary and later, Barringer High School.
CMG: What was it like growing up in the North Ward?
CV: The North Ward was and remains a wonderful community of people and
cultures. No matter where life may take me, I will always consider the North Ward
CMG: So... when exactly did you first become an Aspiranté?
CV: I became an Aspiranté as a freshman when I attended Barringer High School in 1987.
CMG: What does ASPIRA Inc., of NJ mean to you?
CV: ASPIRA was one of my very first windows into the world. As an Aspiranté, I had the opportunity to be engaged in a multitude of different academic activities and fun experiences. ASPIRA provided me a safe environment for me to connect with other young people who ethnically and culturally had similar life experiences like my own. Being raised in a traditional Latino household, my family had very little trust with unfamiliar situations or people. But from the onset of my introduction to ASPIRA, it gave my family peace of mind that I was involved in something positive and productive.
CMG: You've attended some very prestigious schools. How did ASPIRA help you with the college process? In what other ways has ASPIRA "empowered you?"
CV: As a first-generation college graduate, the process of applying to colleges and obtaining financial aid is an extremely daunting task. There wasn't a "Google" to help you look up resources or point you in the right direction back then. It really took a degree of focus and awareness of the resources and opportunities that were available for students who hailed from underserved communities.
My parents never went to college so there wasn't any real past experience to draw from. That's where ASPIRA comes in.
ASPIRA provided me with all the things my parents couldn’t. College visits, sessions on FAFSA, exposure on the different types of colleges and universities, and identifying the differences between a college and a university. All of these tools empowered me to
make the best decisions that I could for my future college career.... something I could have never done on my own.
Going through that process with ASPIRA's guidance, taught me how to be an advocate for me - It gave me insights on how to position myself to receive the best opportunities to be successful.
CMG: That's wonderful to hear. Let's talk about your job. As the Passaic County Prosecutor, what are your day to day responsibilities?
CV: There isn't a “typical day at the office” for me. Each day comes with its own unique set of challenges and obstacles. My job is to find the best solutions utilizing the law, policies, and my relationships with the hundreds of people under my purview.
Being a Prosecutor is very much a "reactive role." I respond to crime by coordinating the multitude of resources in law enforcement to impact short and long term investigations. My cases vary from gun, gang and domestic violence, drug offenses, arson and child abuse. Each crime area and case poses its unique set of ways to deal with the problems, threats and obstacles.
CMG: What is the best part of your job?
CV: I get to support victims and their families when they are at their lowest point, due to an assault or trauma that they've experienced. My passion is to prosecute the individuals who negatively impact children, families and their communities.
CMG: What are some of the biggest cases that you have prosecuted?
CV: Most of my largest cases dealt with prosecuting police misconduct. However, one of the biggest prosecutes was that of the death of Newark Police Detective Michael Morgen Jr., who was shot and killed while attempting to take action during a robbery while he was off duty in Paterson, New Jersey. Another big case that I involved in was the arrest and transfer of suspects that participated in the demise of 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz when he was ripped out of a bodega in the Bronx and later killed.
CMG: Let's switch gears - What do you like to do in your off time?
CV: I am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) and I am passionate about mentoring the next generation of young people. I love interacting with girls of color and serving as a role model for their aspirations and goals. It's truly important for me to provide a positive image for them to associate themselves with. I want them to know that their background, ethnicity, or gender should never deter them from who and what they want to become. If anything, those things should enrich who they want to be.
I am also the proud mom of two wonderful teenage daughters with Autism. My girls are the most important people in my life. They are boundless with their energy and they don't let their disability hamper their ability to be the best that they could be. Needless to say, I am an advocate for individuals with disabilities, and I look for any opportunity to better inform and educate people. For example, I have strengthened and supported crisis intervention training for police departments to train officers on how to deal with individuals with disabilities.
CMG: Last question - What were your thoughts on Sen. Kamala Harris becoming the first female VP of color, who happens to be a member of your sorority?
CV: Sen. Kamala Harris is an inspiration and has done some amazing things with her career. It goes without saying that I am proud to see my "soror," a proud AKA, be elected to one of the highest offices of the land. However, it's equally as important that she has now become a role model for millions of young girls, especially young girls of color who can now see that they can aspire to highest levels of accomplishment if they work hard and stay the course.
And there you have it! ASPIRA Inc., of New Jersey, would like to thank The Hon. Camelia M. Valdes for her time. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Valdes, please click here or check out the YouTube Interview below with Steve Adubato, Jr.