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He wants to go from a prison jumpsuit to judicial robes.
An ex-con who peddled heroin and spent more than 10 years in prison for attempted murder and armed robbery says he has turned his life around to become a lawyer — and is now running to be a Civil Court judge in The Bronx.
“Only in America is this possible. I’ve gone from public enemy to public champion,” Angel Cruz, 56, told The Post.
Cruz is using his sordid past as part of his campaign for judgeship, admitting he did wrong while growing up in Kingsbridge during the turbulent “The Bronx is Burning Days” of the 1970s and early 1980s. He even mentions his criminal past in a campaign video.
Cruz says he was a juvenile delinquent as a young teen, getting arrested for burglary as a 13-year-old, and again in 1981 for chain snatching.
He was busted and convicted for attempted murder during a robbery in 1982 — at the age of 17.
“I had a gun. Shots were fired,” he said, though insists it was an accomplice who fired shots and no one was hurt.
But upon his release in 1988 after serving time, Cruz returned to a life of crime — and was busted again at 22 and convicted for armed robbery in a dispute over a heroin sale in Brooklyn.
Cruz was sentenced to eight to 16 years after a jury trial. But while incarcerated, Cruz hit the prison library, believing the prosecution railroaded him. He became his own legal advocate.
“The prison library became my church,” he said.
Cruz, with assistance of a public defender, represented himself when he appealed his conviction. The Appellate Division tossed out the case and kicked it back to the trial judge for resentencing.
He credits then-Brooklyn Judge Cesar Quinones for cutting his sentence to five years or time served at his hearing. Quinones died in 2018.
“I asked Judge Quinones if he had enough courage to give me an opportunity. You’re talking about a twice-convicted felon who’s been in the criminal justice system since the age of 12,” Cruz said.
“In the end Judge Quinones exercised grace. The judge paid my debt to the devil. After that, I belonged to God. From that moment, I changed my life,” Cruz said.
After graduating from John Jay College and CUNY Law School, Cruz clerked for judges, did legal work for the Bronx borough president’s office and now has his own law practice.
But initially, his criminal past was still a hindrance. After passing the bar exam, Cruz applied for his law license with the Appellate Division, which rules on whether a citizen has the “character” to practice law. The court first rejected Cruz’s his first bid, but gave him the green light when he reapplied.
He recently represented fellow ex-con and former Councilman Hiram Monserrate, unsuccessfully challenging a law approved by the City Council that bars people like Monserrate convicted of public corruption crimes from running for public office.
Cruz, who now resides in Throggs Neck, also got married and now has three children.
His wife, Lumarie Maldonado Cruz, was elected to a Queens judgeship in 2019, defeating the Queens Democratic Party’s hand-picked candidate.
Last year, Cruz lost when he ran for a state Assembly seat in Queens.
Cruz has been endorsed by Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the former Bronx Democratic Party chairman and Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a candidate for Bronx borough president.
“Angel has done his time. He he has redeemed himself. He has nothing to be ashamed of and a lot to be proud of. I’m proud of his candidacy,” said Rivera, who noted that Cruz provided legal assistance when he headed the Bronx Democratic Party.
“Angel will be a fair judge. He won’t be controlled by anyone,” Rivera said.
Cruz noted that he could wind up being moved onto criminal cases if elected, but insisted he will be a fair-minded judge and not a softie, let-em-loose jurist despite his past.
“I suspect I will hear criminal cases. The first obligation is to public safety. Punishment is necessary. But we must measure that with grace,” he said.
The state Board of Elections said it had no record of Cruz filing paperwork for his candidacy. His campaign said it is filing paperwork.
Other candidates for Civil Court Judge in the Bronx’s 2nd Municipal District include lawyers Jessica Flores, who is backed by the Bronx Democratic Party; John Rodriguez, Veronica Powell, has works in the mayor’s office of criminal justice and Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor.
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