Judge De La Cruz’s parents were born in Puerto Rico and worked as public servants and union workers. They modeled demonstrated service and a deep love for community. It is why she was recently a longstanding executive board member for Casa Central, a large non-profit social service agency in Humboldt Park for over ten years. Before her appointment to the bench, she was also active in her home community serving as the Board Secretary for the 39th Ward Democratic Organization.
For over twenty years Judge De La Cruz developed her legal abilities, professional skills and worked in a variety of public sectors. She takes great pride in having served crime victims, public transit riders, public consumers and public school children throughout her career. Judge De La Cruz brings her depth and breadth of experiences as a trusted and ethical public servant with her onto the bench.
Early on, while in law school, Judge De La Cruz worked as a Victim-Witness Specialist with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. She helped crime victims and witnesses navigate the criminal justice system, making certain they fully understood and had access to court proceedings. Today as a judge, she continues to ensure that all who come before her are heard and have access.
Judge De La Cruz began her legal career as an Assistant State’s Attorney, for over eight years she honed her litigation skills. She tried misdemeanor and felony jury trials, over one hundred bench trials and hundreds of evidentiary hearings. Judge De La Cruz handled matters in the Traffic Division, Child Protection Unit, Narcotics, Felony Review, Felony Preliminary Hearings, and the Special Grand Jury where she indicted homicide and sexual assault cases. While in the Special Prosecution section of the Narcotics Unit she managed vertical prosecution of narcotics cases. She also specialized in child victim sexual assault cases.
While the Chief Safety and Security Officer at the Chicago Transit Authority, Judge De La Cruz ensured regulatory compliance with state and federal safety and security standards. As the Chief of General Prosecutions at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations she managed prosecuting attorneys and ensured the interests of everyday Illinois public consumers were protected and that licensed service providers were held accountable when in violation of the state’s professional rules and regulations. In this capacity Judge De La Cruz also gained experience in working with pro se respondents.
Before her appointment to the bench, Judge De La Cruz served as the General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer for Acero Schools. In this role she safeguarded the educational and privacy interests of over 7,000 public school children. She also ensured compliance with the collective bargaining agreement between Acero’s schools and over 500 members of the Chicago Teacher’s Union. Her role included managing the legal team, conducting internal investigations, handling Title IX matters and overseeing additional outside attorneys that represented Acero Schools’ interests. Judge De La Cruz also supported and promoted fair and restorative practices within Acero Schools. During her tenure in this role, Judge De La Cruz successfully negotiated four memorandums of understanding to safely transition students and staff to remote, hybrid and then in-person instruction during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Judge De La Cruz is an active member of various bar associations, including the Chicago Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Hispanic Lawyer’s Association of Illinois and the Puerto Rican Bar Association.
Araceli’s husband was born in the Philippines and is an architect. They are the proud parents of two teenagers.