Governor names Oronoz to top court
Oronoz has been serving as director of the San Juan municipal government’s legal affairs office under Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz since 2013. At 38, she will be the youngest justice on the nine-member court. She will bring the number of women justices on the court to four.
“Attorney Oronoz Rodríguez is an example of what this generation has to offer Puerto Rico,” García Padilla said during a press conference at La Fortaleza. “This is a brilliant young woman who will contribute from the Supreme Court in defining the guidelines for our society in this new century.”
Oronoz earned her law degree from the University of Puerto Rico and a master’s in law from Columbia University. She completed her bachelor’s degree in history at Villanova University.
Gay activists lauded the designation as “historic,” saying Oronoz is the first openly gay member of the island’s top court.
Oronoz has a varied resume in the private and public sector. She was a partner at the Sepulvado & Maldonado law firm (2009-2013), acting solicitor general of Puerto Rico (2008) and deputy solicitor general (2005-2008). She clerked for former Chief Justice Federico Hernández Denton from 2002-2004.
Her mother, Dolores Rodríguez de Oronoz, is a former appeals court judge and member of García Padilla’s post-election transition committee.
Oronez was tapped to fill the vacant associate justice sport left open by Liana Fiol Matta’s appointment as chief justice in April.
García Padilla elevated Fiol to chief justice to replace Hernández Denton, who was forced out by a mandatory retirement provision in the Puerto Rico Constitution that requires top court judges to step down when they turn 70. He was on the top bench for 29 years.
Hernández Denton’s exit opened the door for García Padilla to make his first appointment to the nine-member Puerto Rico Supreme Court, which will need to be confirmed by the Senate.
A second appointment opening looms before the 2016 election because Fiol will turn 70 before then. She has been on the top court for a decade.
Fiol, appointed to the top court by former Gov. Sila Calderón in 2003, is considered a leading liberal voice in the Puerto Rican high court. She was the second woman named to the Supreme Court. The first, Miriam Naveira Merly, also served as chief justice for a short period after a long tenure as associate justice.
With Hernández Denton’s exit there was just one other justice, Annabelle Rodríguez, who was named by a governor from García Padilla’s Popular Democratic Party.
The other six — Rafael L. Martínez Torres, Mildred Pabón Charneco, Erick Kolthoff Caraballo, Edgardo Rivera García, Roberto Filiberti and Luis Estrella — were all named by former New Progressive Party Gov. Luis Fortuño, who pushed legislation to expand the top court from seven to nine members during the last term. That marked the first time NPP appointees have made up a majority of top court positions in Puerto Rico’s history.