Raising the Bar

For Appellate Judge Jose Fuentes ’78, Montclair State is a symbol of overcoming obstacles and pushing through adversity. Despite the challenges of a physical disability, Fuentes has never let anything limit him – spending a career in law, eventually rising to the position of judge on the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, Part H.

Before coming to Montclair State, Fuentes was the valedictorian of his class at what he describes as a “segregated laboratory high school” in Jersey City, conceived and constructed in the 1920s and “dedicated to the proposition that physically handicapped children needed to be socially isolated for their own protection.”

Montclair State offered quite a contrast from his graduating class of six. The incoming freshman class of more than 2,000 students was overwhelming.

“In September of 1974, I went from a self-contained, intentionally cloistered, socially segregated, academically deficient, micromanaged one-floor school setting, to a thriving, vibrant, geographically sprawling, socially diverse, academically challenging and physically daunting college campus, accommodating more than 10,000 undergraduate students,” says Fuentes.

Additionally, navigating campus on his first day provoked anxiety. While walking to his first class, he noticed a screw missing from one of his crutches. “Panic immediately set in. If I tried to walk or put any weight on the crutch, it could collapse under me, throwing me to the ground,” Fuentes recalls.

A passerby stopped to help, locating a screw and fixing his crutch. Fuentes fondly recalls this story and says while he never saw the helpful student again, his generosity left a lasting impression.

“This anonymous gesture of kindness by a person I saw only once in my life, left an indelible positive mark in my heart and in my mind, forever associating this place, this campus, with wonderful memories of acceptance and inclusion,” adds Fuentes.
Fuentes says Montclair State, where he was president of the Student Government Association and worked at the radio station, provided him with practical experience and decision-making skills useful in his career.

After graduation, he went to Rutgers Law School to obtain a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1982. He worked as a lawyer in private practice, taught as an adjunct professor at Montclair State for a year, and became a municipal judge in Union City. In 1993, he became a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey and Trial Court of Hudson County. Currently, he is the presiding judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, a position he has held since 2002.

The Honorable Judge Fuentes P.J.A.D. returned to campus in November to share his story as the guest speaker at the third annual attorney alumni event: “I will always remember my time here as one of the great experiences of my life. The rich and diverse intellectual resources made available to us in the form of dedicated professors were matched by the academic freedom to explore, develop and test the limits of our youthful exuberance.”

-Stacy Albanese ’08