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Gwinnett’s first Hispanic judge joins ranks of recent history makers

A longtime local attorney became Gwinnett’s first-ever Hispanic judge on Monday, continuing a recent barrier-breaking trend in Georgia’s most diverse county.

In front of dozens of friends, family and colleagues, Peachtree Corners defense attorney Ramon Alvarado was sworn in as the newest judge on Gwinnett County’s Recorder’s Court. Born into a military family in Panama City, Panama, his father is Puerto Rican and his mother Korean. 

That makes Alvarado not only the county’s first Hispanic judge but also its first full-time judge of Korean descent, officials said.

“I promise to, when I'm sitting on the bench, use all of my life experiences to make the very best decisions,” Alvarado said during his emotional swearing-in ceremony.

Alvarado was appointed to Gwinnett County Recorder’s Court, which handles traffic citations and code ordinance violations, by the county’s state court judges. He will replace retiring judge Patti Muise.

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Alvarado earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and joined the Georgia bar in 2005. He has run his own criminal defense practice for the last decade.

Gwinnett has been a “majority-minority” community since at least 2010, and recent census figure suggest its population of around 920,000 is about 37 percent white; 29 percent black; 21 percent Latino; and 12 percent Asian.

Despite all that, Gwinnett has had a historical dearth of non-white leadership.

That has started to change over the last year-plus.

• In Nov. 2017, Gwinnett County got its first-ever non-white mayors

Rey Martinez, born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents, won his race for mayor of Loganville and the first Latino mayor in any Gwinnett city. 

Craig Newton, a longtime city councilman, became Norcross’ mayor and the first black mayor of any Gwinnett city.

• In May 2018, Gwinnett voters made Snellville attorney Ronda Colvin-Leary the county’s first elected black judge — and the first black candidate ever elected in a countywide local election, period.

Colvin-Leary fills a spot on Gwinnett’s State Court bench. 

• The same month, voters in Gwinnett’s Senate District 5 made Sheikh Rahman, an immigrant from Bangladesh, the first Muslim member of Georgia’s legislature.

• In November, Gwinnett got its first-ever non-white county commissioners

Ben Ku — who is of Chinese descent and also represents the county’s first openly gay leader — now represents District 2. Marlene Fosque, who is black, represents District 4. 

Ku and Fosque were both sworn in last month.

• Brian Whiteside also became Gwinnett’s first black solicitor general.

• During the same November election, Gwinnett’s school board got its first non-white member: Everton Blair Jr. 

At 26, Blair is also the school’s board youngest-ever member

Ku, the new county commissioner, spoke at Alvarado’s ceremony Monday afternoon. He said he was proud of Alvarado and happy to see more diverse representation — “because it allows us all to have role models that, for whatever reason, we can relate to.”

But he stressed that what’s happened in Gwinnett isn’t diversity just for diversity’s sake.

“The media loves to hype the diversity angle because it's groundbreaking, which it very much is,” Ku said. “But in doing so, however, they often gloss over the fact that we are not here because of our diversity. Ramon is well-qualified to be on the bench, with many many years of experience in the courtroom and as an attorney. ... We are all so much more than our labels.”

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