On June 15, 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Gina Raquel Méndez-Miró, who currently sits on the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals, to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Prior to her 16-year career in public service, including three years as Chief of Staff for a Puerto Rico Senator and six years in her current position, she worked in private practice at the firm O’Neill & Borges. Judge Méndez-Miró would be the first openly LGBTQ+ individual to join the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.
Judge Méndez-Miró was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1974. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 1996, magna cum laude, with a B.A. in liberal arts and comparative literature. She subsequently received an M.A. in romance languages and literature from Princeton University in 1998 and a J.D. from University of Puerto Rico School of Law in 2001. In law school, Judge Méndez-Miró participated in the Criminal Legal Assistance Clinic and spent her summers in the Litigation Department of the law firm Goldman Antonetti & Córdova. She is married to Maite Oronoz Rodríguez, Chief Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, and the two are mothers to four-year-old twins.
After law school, Judge Méndez-Miró spent five years as an associate at O’Neill & Borges LLC, primarily representing employers in civil matters related to labor and employment law. She advised companies in the pharmaceutical, product-distribution, restaurant, and telecommunication industries on matters such as collective bargaining, discrimination, workplace harassment, drug testing, medical leave, and immigration. During this time, Judge Méndez-Miró gained trial and appellate experience practicing before federal, state, and administrative judicial forums.
In 2006, Judge Méndez-Miró entered public service by joining the Puerto Rico Department of Justice as an Assistant Attorney General for Human Resources. In this position, she advised the Attorney General on compliance with labor laws and regulations while overseeing human resource matters. She also argued before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination and supervised the litigation of sensitive cases relating to public policy matters of the Department. She was designated as a Special Prosecutor in 2008, managing criminal cases ranging from domestic violence to illegal appropriations.
Judge Méndez-Miró next spent five years with the Puerto Rico Judicial Branch; two years as the Director of Judicial Programs and three years as the General Counsel and Director of the Legal Affairs Office. In the first position, she managed different programs within the Judicial Branch including Adult and Juvenile Drug Courts, Specialized Domestic Violence Courts, Justice for the Elderly, Protocol for Access to Courts for Homeless Persons, and other initiatives. In the latter position, she advised the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Director of Courts Administration on legal matters, in addition to representing the Judicial Branch in civil and administrative proceedings.
Notably, Judge Méndez-Miró was charged with investigating and litigating violations of judicial ethics. In In re Santiago Concepción, she served as lead counsel in a case involving a trial judge who allegedly committed domestic violence and illegal substance possession. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court unanimously decided to remove the judge from office, disbar him, and refer him to the Attorney General for further action. She litigated numerous other ethics cases, including the disciplinary proceedings of a trial judge who fled the scene of a traffic accident he caused and a judge who incarcerated a pro se litigant for ten days for representing himself in court.
In 2013, Judge Méndez-Miró left the Puerto Rico Judicial Branch to become the Chief of Staff for the President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Eduardo Bhatia. In this position, she dealt with legal matters arising from public administration, government ethics, and contracting. In the legislative realm, she assessed the constitutionality of different measures and led the efforts to achieve policy reform in the areas of energy, education, and criminal law.
In December 2016, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla nominated Judge Méndez-Miró to the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals. The Puerto Rico Senate Judiciary Committee provided a report endorsing her appointment and she was unanimously confirmed. In her six years as an appellate judge, just four of her 586 authored majority opinions, — less than 1% — have been subsequently reversed by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. The following cases present a balanced portrait of Judge Méndez-Miró’s judicial record.
In Pueblo v. Martínez Ruiz, David Martínez filed a motion to suppress evidence after police officers detained him and searched his car without a warrant. Judge Méndez-Miró analyzed the protections of the U.S. Constitution and Puerto Rico Constitution under the specific facts of the case and reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress; she determined that the officers’ testimony was ambiguous and contradictory regarding the legality of the search. Additionally, Judge Méndez-Miró found that a warrantless search was not justifiable because the defendant had already been detained and there was no danger of evidence being destroyed. The case was remanded to the trial court with further proceedings in accordance with her decision.
In Rentas Sanabria v. ELA, the Puerto Rico Police seized nearly $12,000 during a raid of José Rentas Sanabria’s home but found no criminal material during the search. When Sanabria challenged the state’s confiscation as a deprivation of property without due process of law, the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals disagreed with him. However, Judge Méndez-Miró filed a dissenting opinion arguing that the money was illegally seized and should therefore never have belonged to the state, meaning that Mr. Rentas should be able to repossess the property.
In Pueblo v. Centeno, defendant Nelson Daniel Centeno was charged with murder. Judge Méndez-Miró wrote an opinion arguing that, although a unanimous guilty verdict would be required to convict Mr. Centeno, nonunanimous not-guilty verdicts are permitted under Puerto Rico law. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court reversed her decision, reasoning that the Puerto Rico Constitution requires voting proportionality between guilty and not-guilty verdicts and because the Sixth Amendment requires a unanimous guilty verdict, Mr. Centeno’s case must require a unanimous not-guilty verdict as well.
In Pueblo v. Reyes del Valle, defendant José Reyes del Valle was convicted of felonies by non-unanimous jury verdicts and raised several errors by the district court on appeal. While Judge Méndez-Miró wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that the court must first consider the errors raised on appeal, the majority opinion vacated and remanded the convictions due to new U.S. Supreme Court precedent requiring unanimous verdicts to convict of serious criminal offenses in state courts. On review, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico adopted Judge Méndez-Miró’s position and required a review of sufficiency before a retrial in the district court.
In Pellot Feliciano y Otros v. Monsanto Caribe, LLC y Otros, Iris Pellot, a pregnant agronomist, sued Monsanto, a multinational seed producer, after she was ordered to run tests on experimental chemicals and suffered respiratory problems as a result of the exposure. After the trial court denied summary judgment for Monsanto, Judge Méndez-Miró wrote an opinion affirming the decision due to a genuine issue of material fact about whether the employer’s acts were intentional. She has affirmed rulings against other prominent employers as well, including Gómez Rivera v. Walmart Puerto Rico, Inc, where she upheld the trial court’s finding of wrongful termination due to Walmart breaching its own disciplinary rules and regulations.
In Rodríguez v. Santiago Buono ER Services, Judge Méndez-Miró concluded that plaintiff employee, Glenda Rodríguez, could not prevail on a wrongful termination claim against the hospital that formerly employed her. She made her determination based on evidence that Ms. Rodríguez had signed an agreement expressly identifying herself as an “independent contractor” that Santiago Buono could terminate at any time with 30 days notice. Judge Méndez-Miró’s opinion directed the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit.
In Plan de Bienestar de la UTM-PRSSA v. AIG Insurance Company-Puerto Rico, she reversed the trial court’s dismissal of an insured party’s complaint against the multinational insurance corporation, AIG. Although the plaintiff had not promptly notified AIG of damages, Judge Méndez-Miró required AIG to demonstrate that late notice resulted in substantial prejudice or injury to the insurance company before the claim could be dismissed. She also authored the majority opinion in Pérez Velázquez v. Hospital Menonita de Caguas, reversing the trial court’s decision against the family of a deceased patient in a medical malpractice suit. She reasoned that the case was improperly decided because there was evidence that the hospital ignored findings in exams, disregarded the patient’s symptoms, and took inadequate notes of surgical procedures.
Judge Méndez-Miró has a consistent record of defending the welfare of children. Writing for a unanimous Court of Appeals, Judge Méndez-Miró reversed the trial court’s decision in Rosario v. Academia Presbiteriana Villa Carolina. She held that schools can be subject to civil liability when students experience bullying if the school has not met a “rigorous standard of care” to prevent such harm. In Díaz León v. Santiago Santiago, she filed a dissenting opinion arguing that, in a custody battle between divorced parents, the child’s welfare should take precedence over contractual freedom of the parties.
Community Engagement and Professional Activities
In addition to her outstanding professional record as a lawyer and jurist, Judge Méndez-Miró has been recognized for her work in support of animal rights and for developing judicial education courses for newly appointed judges regarding the Judicial Branch’s policy on pro se and indigent litigants. She is a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, International Association of LGBTQ+ Judges, and International Association of Women Judges. Judge Méndez-Miró served as a delegate for Hilary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and was Vice Chair of the Puerto Rico Democratic Party, a position that she resigned from once nominated to the Puerto Court of Appeals in 2016.