A Latina trailblazer: Esther Salas, federal judge whose son was killed, described as 'mentor'

As New Jersey's first Hispanic U.S. District judge, Esther Salas has long been seen as an accomplished and admired Latina legal trailblazer.

Now the federal judge seen as a mentor to many has been thrust into the national spotlight. On Sunday evening, a gunman reportedly posing as a delivery man allegedly shot and killed Salas’ only son Daniel Anderl, 20, and critically injured her husband Mark Anderl, 63, at their home.

The shootings have drawn national attention, not only for their brazen nature, but also because Judge Salas was recently assigned to a high-profile case involving convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and Deutsche Bank.

“A lot of hearts are breaking right now,” David Lopez, co-dean of Rutgers Law School told NBC News. “There is a tremendous amount of love in our law school community for Judge Salas. I’ve been hearing such an outpouring of sadness and pain – and also support.” Lopez describes Salas as an “outstanding” alumnus who always takes time to meet with and mentor law students.

Judge Esther Salas. (Rutgers University)
Judge Esther Salas. (Rutgers University)

Salas is the first Hispanic to serve as a federal district court judge in New Jersey; President Obama nominated her to District Court in 2010. Prior to that, she was New Jersey’s first Latina federal magistrate judge and worked as a public defender and in private practice.

“As a first-generation lawyer, she has had an incredible path to the federal bench,” Lopez said of Salas. “People are very sad, because she is known as someone who always gives back. She is a ‘pay it forward’ kind of person, and we are all praying for her, pulling for her, and sending our love her way.”

According to her official judicial questionnaire, Judge Salas was born in 1968 in Los Angeles, California, and is a graduate of Rutgers University (1991) and Rutgers Law School (1994).

Between 2001-2002, Salas served as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey (HBA-NJ).

"Family is everything to Judge Salas"

In a statement, current HBA-NJ president Melinda Colon Cox said: “Words cannot begin to express the depth of our sorrow and pain for Judge Salas and her entire family. Judge Salas is not only a Past-President, but most importantly, she is a mentor, a friend and our family."

"Family is everything to Judge Salas and we know just how proud her and Mark are and will always be of Danny – a bright, dynamic young man with a zest and passion for life. We pray that the gunman is promptly located, apprehended and brought to justice, so that Judge Salas and her entire family can begin to heal from this horrendous crime," Cox stated.

On Monday morning, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) tweeted “I know Judge Salas and her husband well, and was proud to recommend her to President Obama for nomination to NJ’s federal bench. My prayers are with Judge Salas and her family, and that those responsible for this horrendous act are swiftly apprehended and brought to justice.”

On July 15, Judge Salas was assigned to a class action suit brought by Deutsche Bank investors who allege that the bank made misleading statements about its anti-money laundering policies, and that the bank did not monitor high risk clients like the late Jeffrey Epstein. Yet this was not the first case that brought her national attention; in 2014, Salas sentenced “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice and her husband Giuseppe (Joe) to separate prison terms for bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion.

In her capacity as a district judge, Salas is among an elite group. A 2018 report by the Hispanic National Bar Association found that only two percent of federal and state judicial positions are held by Latinas.

Irene Orio, president of the Hispanic National Bar Association said in a statement about Salas: "In her various roles including federal judge, public servant, and bar leader, she has been and continues to be a courageous community leader and trailblazer, and also serves as a role model and mentor for countless young attorneys.” She noted that Salas is the recipient of the HNBA’s Latina Judge of the Year award in 2016.

A child of Mexican and Cuban parents, spoke proudly of her son

In a 2018 interview with New Jersey Monthly, Salas described growing up as the youngest child of Cuban and Mexican immigrant parents. She playfully mentioned that her son Daniel could have a future in the legal profession.

Salas recounted how she taught her son her own mother’s mantra. “Tu no eres mejor que nadie, pero nadie es mejor que tu," she quoted in Spanish, which translates to "you are not better than anyone, but no one is better than you.

“It’s a profound way to live your life—to speak to the janitor with the same respect that you would show to [U.S. Supreme Court Chief] Justice Roberts," Salas told NJ Monthly.

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