As a child, Ramona Mercado-Espinoza ’86 focused her energy on two fronts: family and schoolwork. She moved from Puerto Rico to New Britain when she was 10 years old. Both her parents worked in factories to support the family. To help out, she did chores around the house and looked after her younger siblings.
As Mercado-Espinoza grew, so did her desire to help others. She went on to study sociology and social work at Central Connecticut State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. While there, she decided she wanted to attend law school to help her community.
“While at UConn Law School, I participated in the Criminal Law Clinic with Judge Michael Sheldon,” she explained. “I developed a passion for criminal defense work and prepared to be a public defender at GA14.”
Mercado-Espinoza spent four years in that job, followed by 14 years of practice in personal injury, real estate and family law, first as a solo practitioner and later, as a partner in a small firm. For the last 12 years, Mercado-Espinoza has worked as a staff attorney for Greater Hartford Legal Aid Services, where she represents domestic violence survivors in family law matters.
“I love my work,” Mercado-Espinoza said. “The cases I handle are divorces, custody and temporary restraining orders. My objective is to take women out of difficult situations and attempt to take them out of poverty.”
She is especially proud of two cases she handled in that role. One involved a women whose husband assaulted her and sexually abused their 5-year-old daughter. Mercado-Espinoza won the mother sole custody of the child and court-ordered supervised visitation with the father. For another client - a mountain-climber physically abused by her husband - Mercado-Espinoza won her sole custody of her children. Both women are now working and safe from their abusive ex-husbands, she says.
Mercado-Espinoza called Judge Sheldon a mentor and says his clinic is where she acquired the skills and understanding required to effectively defend people accused of criminal offenses.
“Many people who are accused of crimes are actually innocent,” she said. “And the ones who are not deserve a litigator who makes sure they get due process. “
Mercado-Espinoza has served on the board of directors of GHLA for nine years. She is also secretary for the Innocence Project, which provides loans that enable individuals exonerated of crimes to stay in the community. She is a co-founder of the Latino Law Student Association at UConn Law and the student chapter of the Lawyer’s Guild.
As passionate about her work now as she was the day she started more than 30 years ago, Mercado-Espinoza said there is one professional goal that she still wants to reach. “I would love to be a judge,” she said.