judge-esther-salas
Graphic via Desirée Tapia for The Americano

Federal Judge Esther Salas, the first Latina to serve in New Jersey’s federal courts, lost her son tragically in a brutal attack in her home. 

On Sunday evening, Federal Judge Esther Salas was in her home basement in North Brunswick, N.J., when a man disguised as a FedEx delivery person came to her door. What ensued next was nothing short of a heinous ambush. The perpetrator fatally shot her only child, 20-year-old Daniel, and her husband, defense lawyer Mark Anderl. He remains in critical condition. 

The FBI Newark said they are investigating one particular subject in the case and are asking the public for help. 

Who is Federal Judge Esther Salas?

In 2010, former President Barack Obama nominated her for the U.S. District Court for New Jersey, and in 2011 her position was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Her appointment made her the first Latina to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court. 

“I am humbled and honored by President Obama and the Senate’s confidence in me,” Salas said in an interview with NJ.com in 2011. “For this little girl from Union City to grow up and become a U.S. District Judge — it’s beyond words.”

Judge Salas, who is now 51, previously served as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of New Jersey. According to the White House, Salas also previously served as an “Assistant Federal Public Defender for the District of New Jersey from 1997 to 2006. From 1995 to 1997, Judge Salas was an associate at Garces & Grabler PC. Before joining the firm, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Eugene J. Codey, Jr., of the Superior Court of New Jersey. She received her J.D. in 1994 from the Rutgers University School of Law and her B.A. in 1991 from Rutgers University.”

From Southern California to New Jersey

Salas was born in Monterey Park, Calif., in 1968. According to the Hudson Reporter, she is the youngest of five and is the daughter of Cuban and Mexican immigrants. New Jersey Monthly reported that her mother, Aurelia Valdivia is Catholic and emigrated from Cuba. Her Jewish father, Carlos Salas, is from Mexico. “Our father gave all of us Jewish first or middle names to go with our Mexican last name,” Salas told the magazine. When she was five years old, Salas moved to Union City, N.J., with her family.

“One of the things Salas remembers most is growing up and having to interpret for her mother at the Welfare office and later helping friends with life issues, which attracted her to a field of study focused on human services”, according to New Jersey Monthly.

Notable Cases

In recent years, her highest-profile case was the financial fraud case involving husband and wife “Real Housewives of New Jersey” reality TV stars, Teresa and Joe Giudice, whom Salas sentenced to prison for crimes including bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion. Salas staggered their sentences so that one of them could be available to take care of their four children.

In 2017, she barred federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against an alleged gang leader charged in several Newark slayings, ruling the man’s intellectual disability made him ineligible for capital punishment. Salas later sentenced the man to 45 years in prison.

More recently, Salas has presided over an ongoing lawsuit brought by Deutsche Bank investors who claim the company made false and misleading statements about its anti-money laundering policies and failed to monitor “high-risk” customers including convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.