News at WilmU

A Distinguished Journey to the Bench

Chief Judge Demetrica Todd-Ruiz

On March 20, 2023, Demetrica Todd-Ruiz made history as the first African American Superior Court judge appointed in Salem County, New Jersey. The confirmation by the New Jersey Senate marked a milestone in her journey to the bench — one that exemplifies the Wilmington University mission of excellence, leadership, and service.

Todd-Ruiz has a long and distinguished career in the legal profession, beginning with her studies at Widener University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s in Taxation. She then earned her J.D. at Rutgers Law School, gaining additional skills and knowledge necessary to make a real difference in her community.

Growing up in Cumberland County, New Jersey, Todd-Ruiz had humble beginnings, but her strong work ethic and drive propelled her forward. After graduating from Bridgeton High School in 1991, she set out to achieve her dreams. She served as a public defender, prosecutor, and eventually the head prosecutor for the City of Bridgeton. 

“Being the product of public education, public housing, and public assistance, I am proud to say that my upbringing instilled in me the importance of hard work and determination,” says Todd-Ruiz. “My parents always encouraged me to soar, even if that first meant learning how to crawl. They taught me that mistakes did not define me and that failure was just a stepping stone to success. These values have guided me throughout my career, and I hope to inspire others to persevere and reach for their dreams, no matter where they come from.”

“My parents always encouraged me to soar, even if that first meant learning how to crawl.” — Chief Judge Demetrica Todd-Ruiz

In 2017, Todd-Ruiz achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first African American woman to serve on the Vineland bench. She continued to break barriers by also working as a municipal judge in Salem in 2018 and Deptford Township in 2019. Her trailblazing journey culminated in 2023, when she made history again by being appointed the first African American female Superior Court judge in Salem County, solidifying her place in the annals of legal history.

Throughout her career, Todd-Ruiz has demonstrated a deep commitment to serving her community, both in and out of the courtroom. She has been an active member of numerous community organizations, including the Bridgeton Police Athletic League, Seabrook House, and Cumberland County Habitat for Humanity Board. She has also served on the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Advisory Council, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Gloucester and Camden Counties Board, United Way of Greater Cumberland County Board, Pittsgrove Township Recreation Committee, and the Cumberland County Empowerment Zone Corporation Advisory Council.

In addition to her community service, Todd-Ruiz has also been an influential educator, sharing her knowledge and expertise with Wilmington University students. Since 2016, she has been an adjunct faculty member in the Human Resource Management program in the College of Business, where she has helped shape the next generation of HR professionals. She also served on the Human Resource program’s advisory council, providing guidance and insight into the industry. She taught for WilmU’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

College of Business Dean Dr. Kathy Kennedy-Ratajack praised Judge Todd-Ruiz’s work at WilmU and her influence on its students. “Judge Todd-Ruiz is an extraordinary individual who has motivated numerous students through her unwavering commitment to justice and hard work,” says Dr. Kennedy-Ratajack. “She serves as a shining example to all students who aspire to positively impact the world, and we appreciate her contributions to our institution and society at large.”

“Judge Todd-Ruiz is an extraordinary individual who has motivated numerous students through her unwavering commitment to justice and hard work.” Dr. Kathy Kennedy-Ratajack

Todd-Ruiz’s dedication to education has been recognized by her students, who have praised her teaching methods and her ability to motivate them to do their best. As one student noted, “She had incorporated various methods of teaching that help to ensure that the students learn the material in which she is very knowledgeable.” Another student said, “She helped me improve the quality of my work.” Todd-Ruiz’s impact on her students extends far beyond the classroom. She has inspired many to pursue their dreams and make a positive difference in their communities.

While Todd-Ruiz’s appointment to the Superior Court bench means she can no longer teach at the University, she will continue to be an essential member of the WilmU family. As a guest lecturer and member of the Human Resource Management Program Advisory Committee, she will continue to share her knowledge and expertise with students and faculty, helping to ensure that the university remains a leader in the field of education.

“My advice to students is to seek a mentor and pursue a career that you are truly passionate about,” says Todd-Ruiz. “Find someone who can guide you, provide feedback, and help you navigate the challenges that come with achieving your dreams. It’s also important to remember that success is not just about achieving a particular goal but about doing your absolute best in whatever you do. Whatever your path, remember to work hard, stay focused, and always be open to learning and growing.”

“Whatever your path, remember to work hard, stay focused, and always be open to learning and growing.” — Chief Judge Demetrica Todd-Ruiz

Todd-Ruiz’s career personifies what can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and a commitment to excellence. As the first African American female Superior Court Judge in Salem County, she has broken down barriers and opened doors for others to follow in her footsteps. Her impact on the legal profession and her community will be felt for years to come. 

If you asked Todd-Ruiz about her personal legacy, she’d say it would have nothing to do with titles or positions. Instead, she hopes to be remembered as someone who greeted others with a smile, treated everyone with kindness and respect, and always gave her best effort.

By Robin Weinstein

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