Judge Shirley A. Tolentino was appointed to the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey on January 11, 1984. She was the first African American female appointed to that position. She had previously been appointed as the first African American female to the Jersey City Municipal Court in 1976. She was elevated in 1981 and became the first African American Presiding Judge of the Jersey City Municipal Court.
Judge Tolentino was born in Jersey City and graduated from Henry Snyder High School as an honor student. She attended the College of Saint Elizabeth and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin with honors.
After graduating, she taught Latin and English and attended Seton Hall University School of Law as an evening student. She was the only African American female in her class when she received her J.D. degree in 1971.
In January of 1973, she was appointed as a Deputy Attorney General of the State of New Jersey where she remained until her appointment to the Jersey City Municipal Court in July of 1976.
Judge Tolentino received her L.L.M. from New York University Graduate School of Law in Criminal Justice in 1980.
She regards as one of her major accomplishments as a Judge the fact that she was appointed to the Original Coleman Commission, which later became the New Jersey Supreme Court TASK force on Minorities appointed by Chief Justice Wilentz. Judge Tolentino served on that Commission for about 10 years and was Chair of its Sub-Committee on Juvenile Justice. She was also Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice and the Minority Defendants. Judge Tolentino is extremely proud of the monumental changes that have benefited not only minorities but also everyone who participates in the Justice System as a result of the major efforts of that TASK force. She has also served on the Supreme Court Committee on Criminal Practice.
She has been a community activist since her early days as a lawyer and has served on many boards including the Jersey City Hudson County Urban League, St. Peter's College, St. Aloysius Academy, Hudson County C.Y.O., the Hudson County Girl Scouts Board, and the Visiting Homemakers Board of Hudson County. Her article "The Runaway Train" was published in the National Bar Association magazine, pgs. 20-22, Vol. 12 No.5, November/December 1998.
In 1980, she joined the National Association of Women's Judges and became its President in 1996-1997. She is a member of the Hudson County Bar, the Garden State Bar, and the American Bar Association. Judge Tolentino currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the College of Saint Elizabeth and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the College in 1980.
Judge Tolentino is named in Johnson's Publications "1,000 Successful Blacks." She is a member of the North Jersey Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and The Girlfriends-New Jersey Chapter. She has served as the National Parliamentarian from 1998 to 2002. She served another term as Parliamentarian from 2004 to 2006. Judge Tolentino was elected as their National President in May of 2008. Judge Tolentino is also a member of the Links, Inc. another National Organization whose purposes are friendship and service. She is also the Immediate Past President of the North Jersey Chapter of Links. Inc.
She is also a Jersey Journal Woman of Achievement and received the Witney M. Young Award from the Hudson City Urban League and has received many other awards from organizations, schools, and colleges too numerous to mention. She has also served as the Grand Marshall of the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.
Judge Tolentino presented a program at Seton Hall Law School in December 2001 called the Color of Justice sponsored by The National Association of Women Judges, which encourages female high school students of color to pursue a legal career. She presented the same program at Rutgers Law School in April 2002, and has encouraged and participated in the presentation of the program at New Jersey City University and Rutgers Law School in Camden in 2003.
She is the wife of Dr. Ernesto Tolentino and the mother of two daughters-Ana-Ramona, an attorney, and Candida, an actress and entrepreneur. She and her husband are also the proud grandparents of Ramon Tolentino Flowers.