Judge Ramón Alvarado ’05: Celebrating a Life, Building a Legacy

A photo of the swearing in ceremony for Judge Ramon Alvarado, in which he is wearing judge's robes and a red tie, his hand is up with palm facing outward, and he has a pensive expression.
Judge Ramón Alvarado (Left)

Judge Ramón Alvarado ’05 often wore a Bucky Bad­ger sweatshirt as he ran through his Gwinnett Coun­ty, Georgia, neighborhood in early 2020. Though he’d completed many half-marathons in his lifetime, the one he was training for was special. He’d registered for the race as motivation to regain his strength after chemotherapy.

Appointed to the Gwinnett County bench in 2019, Ramón became the county’s first Hispanic judge; he was also the county’s first full-time judge of Korean descent. When he was sworn onto the bench, Ramón hoped to change the public’s percep­tion of the court system.

“I hate that people have to come to court and are stressed or are under this impression that court is an awful place,” he said. “What I want to do is provide people with a very positive experience of what the court system is.”

Even on what Ramón deemed the best day of his life, his thoughtful consideration for others was evident. This came as no surprise to the people who knew him.

Growing up, the Alvarado family — including his Puerto Rican father, Korean mother and older sister — relocated many times due to his father’s military service. They eventually settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ramón later earned his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, followed by his J.D. at University of Wisconsin Law School.

After graduating from UW Law School, Ramón moved to Georgia and began his career with the Coweta County Public Defender’s Office. He would later open his own firm in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where indigent clients comprised half of his caseload.

“Not only was Ramón a fierce and passionate advocate for his clients, but he was always ready to listen to others and give thoughtful advice,” said Lawrence Zimmerman of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

When Ramón and his wife, Drew, got married in 2015, the couple opted to forgo a traditional wedding registry, instead raising $25,000 for the Cystic Fibro­sis Foundation, a cause they supported due to Drew’s diagnosis with the condition.

Ramón was also an avid animal rights supporter, volunteering and fostering with several Atlanta-area rescue groups. He and Drew once adopted a senior beagle mix, and when the dog’s condition declined, Ramón slept on the couch for almost six months so the dog could sleep in her favorite location: in front of the fireplace. He also arranged a weekly slide show featuring animals in the county shelter, which he displayed in his courtroom to encourage people to adopt or donate to the shelter.

At his judicial investiture, Ramón said, “I prom­ise to, when I’m sitting on the bench, use all my life experiences to make the very best decisions.”

Many agreed that he did just that.

Despite making history as the first Hispanic person to serve as a judge in his county, Ramón said he’d done the easy task of walking through doors that others opened for him. But family, friends and colleagues know that Ramón’s hard work and dedica­tion led to his success. He didn’t just walk through doors; he made the passageways larger so others could join him.

“I prom­ise to, when I’m sitting on the bench, use all my life experiences to make the very best decisions.”

Just four months after his investiture in 2019, on his 40th birthday, Ramón was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Though his leukemia went into remission for eight months, he learned of its relapse the week after completing the milestone half-mar­athon in February 2020. Ramón received a stem-cell transplant in April 2020 but eventually died of complications on July 20, 2020.

To honor Ramón’s life, his classmates, family and colleagues have created the Ramón Alvarado Memorial Scholarship at UW Law School. The fund provides a scholarship to a UW Law student who has a demonstrated financial need and identifies as a member of an underrepresented group or popu­lation and/or has exhibited an interest as a public defender or in a role serving the indigent.

“We were deeply saddened at UW Law School to hear of Ramón’s passing but honored that his loved ones wanted to carry on his legacy by creating some­thing in his name,” said Dean Dan Tokaji. “Ramón’s life and the way he lived it should be celebrated. His family and friends have done a wonderful thing to honor Ramón by also creating and expanding a path­way for others to follow in his footsteps.”

In 2022, Gwinnett County unveiled the Judge Ramón Alvarado Bridge in his honor. At the dedica­tion ceremony, Drew recalled a time she and Ramón were running errands and were approached by a man asking for money. He told the couple he’d been released from jail and needed transportation money. They declined his ask. While in the store, Ramón disappeared for a while. When he reemerged, he said he’d decided the man was likely being truthful about his situation, so he went and gave him some cash.

“It can be hard to re-enter society,” Ramón ex­plained. “I just wanted to help.”

He’ll continue to help others through the Ramón Alvarado Memorial Scholarship. To join others in honoring Ramón, visit the Ramón Alvarado Memorial Scholarship Fund page.